The first alphabet dates back to the Middle Bronze Age (1500–1200 B.C.). Egyptians were already using hieroglyphs. However, hieroglyphs consisted of pictures that represented letters. Hieroglyphs were commonly used in depicting aspects found in sacred writings. The Canaanites eventually created actual letters resulting in an alphabet.
Here are a few known facts about the alphabet:
Phonetics and the Phoenician Alphabet
Letters are not only written down on paper. They also have sounds when people pronounce words. In fact, the word phonetics, a word concerned with studying sounds, derives from the Phoenician alphabet. From 800 to 701 B.C., wise philosophers and writers living in the ancient civilization of Greece began to make use of the Phoenician alphabet.
A is the First Letter of All Known Alphabets
Throughout history, civilized people somehow understood that alphabets should start with the letter A. Alpha is the first letter in both the Phoenician and Greek alphabets. The Jewish people also created their own Hebrew alphabet. In the Hebrew alphabet, the first letter bears an uncanny resemblance known as alef or aleph.
Hebrew Words are Read from Right to Left
Unlike the Latin alphabet, Hebrew words are written from right to left. Additionally, books written using the Hebrew alphabet are read from right to left. The Hebrew alphabet resembles the Phoenician alphabet in that they both contain 22 letters. These 22 letters do not contain any vowels.
The Greeks Invented Vowels
In approximately 1000 B.C., the Greeks developed their own version of the alphabet incorporating Greek vowels. In fact, the ancient Greeks were the first scholars to invent vowels. Although the letter aleph sounds as though it is a vowel, it is technically classified as a consonant. After introducing vowels into the Phoenician alphabet, Greek scholars began to blend their own Greek alphabet with Latin letters.
Romans Invented the Latin Alphabet
The alphabet as known in contemporary society is largely based on the Latin version. Roman soldiers introduced the Latin alphabet to other areas. The Latin version of the alphabet became the cardinal example of a desirable and useful alphabet. Eventually, the Latin letters evolved into an English alphabet reflecting the particular nuances associated with English word spellings.
Alphabetization Introduced a Practical Purpose for the Alphabet
During the Middle Ages, people realized that they could make better use of the alphabet by way of alphabetization. Alphabetizing words became the key to organization and clarification. Instead of writing random words on a piece of paper, people began to understand that they could arrange words in alphabetical order.
Scholars had a Passion for Creating Alphabetized Lists
Imagine the excitement at being able to create lists and catalogs using an alphabet that began with the letter A and ended with the letter Z. The possibilities were endless. For instance, scholars could now make alphabetize lists composed of the latest scientific and archaeological findings.
Sorting and Reading Lists
Throughout history, books have always been esteemed by intellectuals. Consequently, sorting lists composed of past and present authors must have delighted people with scholarly minds. Besides the fact that these lists made more common sense, reading alphabetized listings were easier on the eyesight and, due to greater efficiency, afforded people more time for leisurely activities.
Lists Served Useful Purposes
Even though the creator of the alphabet is a mystery, historians know that the Roman author Varro compiled alphabetized lists sometime between 1 B.C. to 100 B.C. His lists consisted of the names of authors and book titles. From 101 to 200 A.D., Sextus Pompeius Festus alphabetized the works of Verrius Flaccus. In the year 1604, Robert Cawdrey compiled an alphabetical table instructing people how to find words in a dictionary.
Today, technology enables people to alphabetize lists by way of free online tools. Instead of spending hours compiling alphabetical lists, a person can insert the words in an online tool, click a web button and view a completely alphabetized list.
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