What is ALPHABET?…

An alphabet is made up of the letters of a language, arranged in the order fixed by custom. Adjective: alphabetic.


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The basic principle of alphabetic writing is to represent a single sound (or phoneme) of a spoken language by a single letter. But as Johanna Drucker notes in The Alphabetic Labyrinth (1995), “This phonetic writing system is at best an approximation. The orthography of English, for instance, is notoriously plagued by inconsistencies and peculiarities.”

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Alphabet

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Letters of the alphabet

Letters of the English alphabet. Getty Images

by

Richard Nordquist

Updated April 06, 2017

An alphabet is made up of the letters of a language, arranged in the order fixed by custom. Adjective: alphabetic.

The basic principle of alphabetic writing is to represent a single sound (or phoneme) of a spoken language by a single letter. But as Johanna Drucker notes in The Alphabetic Labyrinth (1995), “This phonetic writing system is at best an approximation. The orthography of English, for instance, is notoriously plagued by inconsistencies and peculiarities.”

The First Alphabet


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“In about 1500 B.C., the world’s first alphabet appeared among the Semites in Canaan. It featured a limited number of abstract symbols (at one point thirty-two, later reduced to twenty-two) out of which most of the sounds of speech could be represented. The Old Testament was written in a version of this alphabet. All the world’s alphabets descend from it. After the Phoenicians (or early Canaanites) brought the Semitic alphabet to Greece, an addition was made that allowed the sounds of speech to be represented less ambiguously: vowels.

The oldest surviving example of the Greek alphabet dates from about 750 B.C. This is, via Latin and give or take a few letters or accents, the alphabet in which this book is written. It has never been improved upon.”

(Mitchell Stephens, The Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word. Oxford University Press, 1998)

The Greek Alphabet


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“[T]he Greek alphabet was the first whose letters recorded every significant sound element in a spoken language in a one-to-one correspondence, give or take a few diphthongs. In ancient Greece, if you knew how to pronounce a word, you knew how to spell it, and you could sound out almost any word you saw, even if you’d never heard it before. Children learned to read and write Greek in about three years, somewhat faster than modern children learn English, whose alphabet is more ambiguous.”

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