Alphabet facts for kids
- This article is about alphabets in writing. The article about alphabets in computing is at Alphabet (computer science), and the company is at Alphabet Inc.
An alphabet is a writing system, a list of symbols for writing. The basic symbols in an alphabet are called letters. In an alphabet, each letter is a symbol for a sound or related sounds. To make the alphabet work better, more signs assist the reader: punctuation marks, spaces, standard reading direction, and so on.
It seems that the idea of an alphabet – a script based entirely upon sound – arose only once, and has been copied and adapted to suit many different languages. Although no alphabet fits its language perfectly, it is flexible enough to fit any language approximately. It was a unique invention.
Our alphabet is called the Roman alphabet, as compared with the Cyrillic and other alphabets. All of these come from the ancient Greek alphabet, which dates back to about 1100 to 800BC.p167 The Greek alphabet was probably developed from the Phoenician script, which appeared somewhat earlier, and had some similar letter-shapes.
No ancient script, alphabetic or not, had pure vowels before the Greeks. The Greek alphabet even has two vowels for 'e' and two for 'o', to distinguish between the long and short sounds. It is fairly clear from this that careful thought went into both the Phoenician invention and the Greek adaptation, but no details survive of either process.
Short list of alphabets
A list of alphabets and examples of the languages they are used for:
- Proto-Sinaitic script
- Phoenician alphabet, used in ancient Phoenicia.
- Greek alphabet, used for Greek
- Roman alphabet (or Latin alphabet), most commonly used today
- Arabic alphabet, used for Arabic and Persian
- Hebrew alphabet, used for Hebrew, Ladino (only in Israel) and Yiddish
- Devanagari, used for Hindi
- Cyrillic alphabet, which is based on the Greek alphabet, used for Russian and Bulgarian
- Hangul, used for Korean
Other writing systems
Other writing systems do not use letters, but they do (at least in part) represent sounds. For example, many systems represent syllables. In the past such writing systems were used by many cultures, but today they are almost only used by languages people speak in Asia.
- Originally, 1200 BC in the Shang dynasty, Chinese writing was mainly "pictographic", using pictures to show words or ideas. Now only 1% of Chinese characters are pictographic.
- Japanese uses a mix of the Chinese writing (kanji) and two syllabaries called hiragana and katakana. Modern Japanese often also uses romaji, which is Japanese written in the Roman alphabet.
- The Koreans used the Chinese writing in the past, but they created their own alphabet called hangul.
Images for kids
A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic script, one of the earliest (if not the very first) phonemic scripts
Alphabet Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.