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The Alphabet

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Saved by Kate M. Fisher
on January 14, 2009 at 4:08:00 pm

Overview of Alphabet

     The Alphabet is a system of written and printed language in which each symbol generally represents one sound. [2An Alphabet is a standardized set of letters, or in other words, basic written symbols, with each letter roughly representing a phoneme, a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. [3] The English alphabet is nowhere near ideal in phonographic significance. There is not always a proper distinction between the alphabet letters and their syllabaries. Syllabic signs, like letters, represent small units of pronunciation, typically a spoken consonant followed by a spoken vowel. [2] The letters in the alphabet consist of some signs that have nothing to do with the alphabet itself. Things such as punctuation marks, diacritics, ideograms, and logograms, are a few examples of this phenomenon. [2] "The most fundamental distinction among writing systems, however, is between the phonographic principle and the ideographic or logographic principle." [2]  Chinese letters are usually notified as ideographic, meaning, they have numerous characters that represent meanings, not sounds. Phonographic systems are just the opposite, due to the fact that phonographic symbols represent sounds and not meanings. 


     "The alphabet system of writing, theoretically contains a one-for-one relationship between character and phoneme." [4] 


     Alphabetic languages use the typical alphabet to make up words within our own vocabulary,  along with the standard American dictionary. English is the most frequently used language within the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.  There are other countries that use English as one of their preliminary languages; however, they also learn numerous other languages.


      Here is an article that counteracts with mine that will provide more yet different information!  Ideographic vs Alphabetic languages 


 Ivan Illich and Barry Sanders stated, "History remains a strict discipline only when it stops short, in its description, of the nonverbal past." [5] These authors discuss how new writing is not just known as a reversion. They put it in a phrase such as a new song. [5] "Thinking itself takes wing; inseparable from speech, it is never there but always gone, like a bird in flight.  The storyteller spins his threads, on and on, never repeating himself word for word." [5]  Basically what the authors are trying to get across is that words/things are overlooked when reading and writing. Illich and Sanders went on to state, "Every original text is the record of something heard." [5] They viewed things when they were written down they did not vary.  [5] They said they were original.  Writing is not the only context of speech flow.  "When melody, meter, and rhythm combine with a proverb, the result is often an indestructible nugget of language." [5]  Words do not actually appear or emerge until they are written down somewhere.  "Only the alphabet has the power to creat "language" and 'words'. "  [5]  The sounds and pauses between words are syllables, phrases, strophes.  They generally describe what is going on between the words.  [5]  We as people think that when we speak it is just our language.  We use our language to provide our speech.    "Without a listener, speech could not be perceived as anything but madness, neacuse speech courts attention." [5]


Language is different from speech.  Illich and Sanders said its different because the fact that language is always neuter, while speech is always genered. [5]  The convention is what actually makes things sound feminine and/or masculine.  [5]  The actual vocal cords have nothing to do with it.  They talk about how the way that male and females talk is completely different.  The ways are:  "linguists, anthropologists, and sociologist recognize about two dozen criteria describing these contrasts." [5] 


Illich and Sanders stated that, "The alphavet records only sounds, and it is only through sounds that it provides meaning.  The alphabet does exactly the opposite of what more hieroglyphics and ideograms and , more importantly, what Semitic letters were created to do." [5]


Alphabets Versus Other Writing Systems:

"Alphabets can represent phonemes and thus, alphabetic texts typically remain close to the familiar spoken language." [6]   When there is a large number or symbols it is difficult to read, write, print, and comprehend.  [6]  There are numerous things that differenciate alphabet from other writing systems. [6]   It is stated by many that the body of literature in Chinese is greater than that in Eurpean languages.  [6]   "It is argued that  an alphabetic systsem is better because it is phonetic." [6]  This is because it is clearly easy to learn and easy to pronuciate.  [6]  William Jenner states, "It may be easier to express laws less ambiguously in an alphabetic language, but the possibilities for poetry may be inherently greater in a language that is less tied to precise replication of spoken forms.




The alphabet and the history of it comes from ancient Egypt.  Around 2000 BC is when the first pure alphabets came about in anciet Egypt.   It appeared as a, "representation of language developed by Semitic workers in Egypt." [1]  There are numerous different alphabets that exist in the world.  They either descended from a discovery of some kind, or some how came about from the design.  The designs where either the Phoenician alphabet or the Greek alphabet. 


The Phaistos Disk:

This disk was found by an archeologist.  People were (just like today) curious out there.  So as they were being curious they came across this disk.  "Its purpose, meaning, and geographical place of manufacture, reamin disputed, making it one of the most famour mysteries of archaeology."[1]  There has yet, to this day, been something even comparable to the Phaistos Disk.  It is significant.  The Phaistos disk has a small number of comparable symbols, which are known from Cretan inscriptions.  Cretan inscriptions are also known as Cretan hieroglyphs.  The Phaistos Disk can be found in the archaeological museum of herakleion in Crete, Greece on display.  [1]

This picture of the phaistos disk is to give an example of what they looked like and see the creation they have made in the past.

The Phaistos Disk


"As you can see in the image above there are numerous things on these disks.  There are a total of 241 tokes on the disc, comprising 45 unigue signs." (The Alphabet).  Around 45 of these signs represent things of the everyday life.  "There is a small diagonal line that occurs underneath the final sign in a group a total of 18 times.  The disc shows traces of corrections made by the scribe in several places." [1]  This disk caught numerous people's eye.  The imagination of the archeologists was captured by this disk also.  


The Phoenician:

This alphabet continued intothe Proto-Canaanite alphabet.  "The Phoenicians are the descendants of the Broze Age Canaanites who, protected by tthe Lebanon mmountains and the sea, did not succumb to the Israelites or the 'Sea Peoples'." [1]  When they first appeared in the western historiography, The Phoenicians possed scores throughout the colonies.  "The Phoenciana alphabet was based on the prinicple that one sign represents one spoken word." [1]  The Phoenician alphabet helped awaken the Greek alphabet.  "All of the names of the letter of the phoenician alphabet started with consonants, and these consonants were twhat the letters represented." [1]  These consonants were very hard to pronounce.  Basically almost impossible so the Greeks started to pronounce things with initial vowels.  After that...the letters now stood for the vowels.  "This fortunate development only provided for six of the twelve Greek vowels, the Greeks eventually created digraphs and other modifications, such as ei, ou, and o, or in some cases simply ignored the deficiency as in long a,i, u." [1]

This is an example of the writing the took place.


The Greeks:

This is how the Greeks displayed their ways of writing.


The Greek provided the alphabet as its scripts to Europe.  "The History of the Greek alphabet starts with the adoption of Phoenician letterforms and contrinues to the present day. "[1]  Therefore, The Greek alphabet is considered the "true alphabet."  Romans used the Greek alphabet in the form of our upper case letters.  Romans made their own art of writing.  They made numerous different styles and different forms of letters.  "Serif's originated withthe carving of words into stone in ancient italy.  Roman stonemasons started addding little hooks to the tips of letters to prevent the chisel from slipping, which turned out to be the very aesthetic as well as legibility increasing addition to type that we use to this day." [1] The Romans also invented soething called the baseline.  "In typography and penmanship, the baseline is the line upon which most letters "sit" and under which desceneders extend.  By these additions Romans ensured that tupe, in opposition to the higgeldy piggedly writing of the Greeks, was perfectly aligned in rows." [1]


As the Romans continued to write, they distinguished lower case letters.  They eventually added some types of punctuations.  The next Roman discovery/invention was the Codex.  "A codex is a handwritten book, in general, one prodcued from late Antiquity through the Middle Ages." The codex eventually was thw written medium.  The codex was known as a major improvement when compared to the scroll.  The codex could be opened as a flat page.  Therefore, that made it easier for people to read.  It was very easy to carry around and could be written on.  "The alphabet used by the Romans cosnisted only of capital letters . The lower case lettters developed in the Middle Ages from cursive writing, first as the uncial script, and later as minuscule script.  The old Roman letters were retained for formal inscriptions and for emphasis in writtin documents.  The languages that use the latin alphabet generally use capital letter sto beging paragraphs and sentences and for proper nouns."[1]


The Greek alphabet came about in the 9th century BC.  The Greek alphabet is considered the oldest of all writing systems.  Greek has history of using two different scripts:  The Eastern and Western Greek.  They were different because they wrote different symbols.  The alphabet that came from Greece appeared to have 27 different letters.  These letters were written from left to right...as we read them today.   



[1] No Author.  "The History of Visual Communication- The Alphabet."  Retrieved November 24, 2008,

          from http:www.citrinitas.com/history_of_viscom/alphabet.html


[2]  McArthur, Tom.  (1998).  "Alphabet."  Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. 


[3]  Alphabet, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphabetic_language>


[4] "Alphabet." (2008).  The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 


[5]  Illich, Ivan and Sanders, Barry. (1988).  The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind.   North Point Press.


[6]  Author not identified.  <a href="/http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/6417/Alphabets-and-Writing.html">Alphabets and Writing - Development of the alphabet, The origin of print culture, Alphabets versus other writing systems, The mythical story of alphabets, Modern alphabets</a>

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