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Alphabet facts for kids

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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.
Alphabet world distribution
Different alphabets are used over the world:      Latin Alphabet      Cyrillic alphabet      Arabic alphabet      Brahmic alphabets      Mixed: Latin and Cyrilic Alphabet      Mixed: Latin and Arabic Alphabet      Mixed: no alphabet and other alphabet      Other alphabet      Non-alphabetic writing systems

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.

The name alphabet comes from Aleph and Beth, the first two letters in the Phoenician alphabet.

The Roman alphabet (or Latin alphabet), was first used in Ancient Rome to write Latin. Today many languages also use the Latin alphabet: it is the most used alphabet today.

Alphabets

Causa 10
13th century calligraphy & illustration

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

Chinese writing at the Angkor Wat
Chinese writing at the Angkor Wat

A list of alphabets and examples of the languages they are used for:

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.

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