The Latin alphabet, which is used in English and many other languages, has its roots in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. This script was used to record a variety of languages, including Egyptian and Semitic languages like Hebrew and Aramaic. It was written using hieroglyphs, which were symbols representing sounds, words, and concepts. Eventually, the hieroglyphic script was replaced by the demotic script, which was easier to write. However, hieroglyphs continued to be used for religious texts and inscriptions. The Greek and Roman civilisations adapted and modified the hieroglyphic script, leading to the development of the Latin alphabet we know today. It is worth noting that the Latin alphabet has been influenced by many other sources, not just the hieroglyphic script.
The Latin alphabet is a modification of the Greek alphabet, which was itself derived from the Phoenician alphabet. The Greek alphabet was adapted by the Etruscans, who lived in central Italy, and it was then borrowed by the Romans, who modified it to create the Latin alphabet and is why the Latin alphabet has many letters that are similar to the Greek alphabet, such as A, B, C, D, E, and so on.
The Phoenician alphabet is an early alphabet that the ancient Phoenicians used to write their language, which was a Semitic language spoken in the Near East. The Phoenician alphabet was developed around 1200 BC and was the first alphabet in which each letter represented a single sound instead of a word or a concept. It made it much easier to write and read words and revolutionised how people communicated. The Phoenician alphabet was also the first alphabet to be written in a linear, left-to-right fashion rather than in a cuneiform script, which was written in a series of wedges. The Phoenician alphabet consisted of 22 letters, all of which were consonants. It was written from right to left and did not include vowels. The Phoenicians spread their alphabet throughout the ancient world, and it was eventually adapted by the ancient Greeks, who added vowels and a few additional letters to represent sounds that did not exist in the Phoenician language. The modern alphabet that we use today is based on the original Phoenician alphabet, with some additional letters added to represent sounds that have developed since the alphabet was first used. Phoenician is the oldest verified alphabet known and is called ‘The Mother of all Alphabets’.
Picture Credit: Egyptian hieroglyphs with cartouches for the name Ramesses II, from the Luxor Temple, New Kingdom
Attribution: Asta, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LuxorTemple03.jpg
There’s a good history of the alphabet available on Wikipedia.
The following detailed explanation of different systems of writing will provide clarification:
- Aramaic: This is a Semitic language spoken in ancient times in the Middle East and is still spoken today by some communities. It was one of the languages written using the hieroglyphic script in ancient Egypt.
- Coptic script: This script was used to write the Egyptian language in the Christian era. It was developed from the Greek alphabet and was used by the Coptic Church in Egypt. The Coptic script was used from the 2nd to the 17th centuries AD, and it is still used today by the Coptic Church.
- Demotic script: The hieroglyphic script was eventually replaced by the demotic script, which was derived from the hieroglyphic script and was simpler and easier to write. The demotic script was used for everyday purposes such as writing letters and conducting business, and it became the primary script used in ancient Egypt from the 7th century BC until the 5th century AD. It eventually replaced the hieroglyphic script as the primary script used in ancient Egypt.
- Greek alphabet: In addition to the hieroglyphic and demotic scripts, the ancient Egyptians also used the Greek alphabet to write the Egyptian language. This was particularly common during the Ptolemaic period when Egypt was ruled by the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty (323-30 BC).
- Hieratic script: This was a simplified form of the hieroglyphic script that was used in ancient Egypt for religious texts and everyday purposes such as writing letters and conducting business. The hieratic script was written using a reed pen and was easier to write than the hieroglyphic script. It was primarily used by scribes, who were trained professionals responsible for writing and keeping records in ancient Egypt.
- Hieroglyphic script: This was a system of writing used in ancient Egypt to record a variety of languages, including Egyptian and various Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic. Hieroglyphs were symbols that represented sounds, words, and ideas that were used to write a variety of languages, including Egyptian and various Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic.
- Semitic languages: These are a group of languages that are part of the Afroasiatic language family and are spoken in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. Examples of Semitic languages include Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic.
There were a few other writing systems used in ancient Egypt. These include:
- Meroitic script: This script was used to write the Meroitic language, which was spoken in ancient Kush (modern-day Sudan). The Meroitic script was used from the 2nd century BC to the 4th century AD, and it is still not fully understood.
- Demotic Greek script: This was a script used to write the Greek language using demotic characters. It was used in Egypt during the Ptolemaic period (323-30 BC).
- Enchorial script: This script was used to write the Egyptian language using Greek letters. It was used during the Roman period (30 BC – 395 AD) and was primarily used for everyday purposes such as writing letters and conducting business.
It should be noted that in ancient Greece (as you would expect), the main language spoken was Greek, which belongs to the Indo-European language family. Greek has been spoken from around the 15th century BC to the present day, with a long and rich history of literature, philosophy, and science. In addition to Greek, Latin was also used in ancient Greece, particularly during the Roman period (27 BC to AD 1453).
Table showing the evolution of hieroglyphic signs (left) through several stages of hieratic into demotic (right).
[Recoloured]. Attribution: Unknown – see the source. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:C%2BB-Egypt-Fig2-LetterDevelopment.PNG
The hieroglyphic script used in ancient Egypt was a complex writing system that incorporated elements of logography, syllabic writing, and alphabetic writing. Hieroglyphs were used primarily for inscriptions on monuments and other public buildings, as well as on objects such as statues and funerary equipment.
Hieroglyphs were written using a set of more than 1,000 distinct characters, each representing a word, syllable, or concept. Some hieroglyphs represented specific objects or ideas, while others represented sounds or syllables. The hieroglyphic script could be written in various styles, including a more formal version used for inscriptions on stone and a more cursive version used for writing on papyrus and wood. In addition to hieroglyphs, ancient Egyptians also used other writing systems, such as hieratic and demotic.
Hieratic was a simplified form of hieroglyphic writing used for everyday purposes, such as writing on papyrus and ostraca (pottery shards). Demotic was an even more simplified form of hieroglyphic writing used for everyday documents, such as legal and administrative texts.
The Proto-Sinaitic script is thought to have developed from the hieroglyphic script and was used in the Sinai Peninsula and the southern Levant around the 15th century BC. The Proto-Sinaitic script is the precursor of the Phoenician alphabet, used in the eastern Mediterranean region from the 15th to the 4th centuries BC. In turn, the Phoenician alphabet is considered the ancestor of many modern writing systems, including the Greek, Latin, and Arabic scripts and the Brahmic family of scripts.
Brahmic scripts are a family of scripts used in South and Southeast Asia, as well as parts of Central and West Asia. The scripts are named after the ancient Indian scholars known as Brahmins, who were responsible for preserving and transmitting knowledge of the Vedas, the sacred texts of Hinduism. There are many Brahmic scripts, including Devanāgarī, Bengali, Gurmukhi, and Tamil, each used to write one or more languages. The Brahmic scripts are distinguished by their distinctive shapes and patterns, as well as the use of diacritics and other marks to represent vowel sounds and other features of the languages they are used to write.
Origins of the Alphabet
Strange as it may seem, the letter “A” has a long and interesting history that can be traced back to ancient Egypt. The hieroglyph for an ox was one of the first symbols used to represent a specific sound in the development of the alphabet. This symbol was later adapted by the ancient Greeks and became the letter “alpha,” which was the first letter of their alphabet. From there, the letter “A” has been passed down through the ages and is now used in many different alphabets around the world, including the Latin alphabet.
The Latin alphabet, also known as the Roman alphabet, is the alphabet that is used for the English language and many other languages as well. The origins of the alphabet can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where the hieroglyphic script was used for writing. As already mentioned, the hieroglyphic script was a complex writing system incorporating elements of logography, syllabic writing, and alphabetic writing. It was used for inscriptions on monuments and other public buildings and on objects such as statues and funerary equipment.
According to some theories, the hieroglyphic script was adapted by turquoise miners in ancient Egypt, who used it as graffiti on the walls of their mining camps. It is thought that these miners simplified the hieroglyphic script by representing sounds or syllables with individual characters instead of representing entire words or concepts. The Sinai Peninsula has a long history of mining, dating back to ancient times. The turquoise mines, in particular, were a significant source of wealth and economic activity in ancient Egypt. The mines were located in the mountainous region of Serâbît el-Khâdim, and they were a major source of turquoise, a valuable gemstone that the ancient Egyptians highly prized. In addition to turquoise, the Sinai Peninsula was also home to several other mining sites where various raw materials were extracted, including copper, gold, and other minerals. The region was an important hub of quarrying and mining activity, and it played a significant role in the economy of ancient Egypt. This process is thought to have led to the development of syllabic alphabets, such as the Latin alphabet.
It is important to note that the exact origins of the alphabet are not definitively known, and there are multiple theories about how it developed. The process of adapting and simplifying the hieroglyphic script is thought to have been a gradual one that took place over a period of time rather than a single event. It is also worth noting that the development of the alphabet was not limited to ancient Egypt, and it was influenced by other writing systems and cultures as well.
According to some theories, the hieroglyphic script was first adapted by turquoise miners in ancient Egypt around the 15th century BC, although this is not certain. It is also possible that the process of simplification and adaptation began earlier or even later than this. The development of the alphabet was a complex process influenced by various factors and is still not fully understood.
The Latin Alphabet
The Latin alphabet is an alphabet that is used to write many modern languages, including English, Spanish, French, and Italian. It is thought to have developed from the Etruscan alphabet, derived from the Greek alphabet. The Etruscan alphabet was used in central Italy from the 8th to the 3rd centuries BC.
The Latin alphabet, as it is known today, is thought to have developed from the Etruscan alphabet around the 7th century BC. The earliest known inscriptions in the Latin alphabet date back to the 6th century BC, and it is thought that the alphabet was fully developed by the 5th century BC. The Latin alphabet was initially used to write the Latin language, which was spoken by the ancient Romans. The alphabet was eventually spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world through the expansion of the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity. Today, the Latin alphabet is used to write many languages in addition to Latin, and it is the most widely used alphabet in the world.
According to some theories, the Etruscan alphabet was influenced by the hieroglyphic script used in ancient Egypt. It is thought that the Etruscans may have encountered the hieroglyphic script during their trade and cultural exchanges with the ancient Egyptians. The hieroglyphic script was a complex writing system incorporating elements of logography, syllabic writing, and alphabetic writing. It is thought that the Etruscans may have adapted and simplified the hieroglyphic script to create their own alphabet.
The Latin alphabet can be traced to several writing systems, including the Etruscan, Greek, and Phoenician scripts. The earliest known inscriptions in the Latin alphabet include the Praeneste Fibula, a cloak pin dating from around the 7th century BC, and a vertical inscription on a small pillar in the Roman Forum. These inscriptions are considered some of the oldest extant examples of the Latin alphabet. It is worth noting, however, that there is some debate among experts about the exact dating of these objects, and further research may be needed to clarify the timeline of the development of the Latin alphabet.
The Praeneste Fibula, dated to the 7th century BC, is housed at Museo Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini in Rome, Italy. Its inscription, written in Old Latin, reads MANIOS MED FHE FHAKED NVMASIOI, but the third and fourth words are generally rewritten as FHEFHAKED.
Attribution: Pax:Vobiscum, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
Picture URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Praeneste_fibula.JPG
An Introduction to Proto-Writing
Proto-writing refers to early forms of writing that predate the development of fully developed writing systems. These early forms of writing often consisted of symbolic representations of objects or ideas but did not necessarily encode language in the way fully developed writing systems do. Some examples of proto-writing include using tokens, or small, physical objects that were used to represent objects or ideas; pictures or symbols inscribed on clay tablets or other surfaces; and other forms of symbolic representation used to record information. Proto-writing is an important topic in studying the history of writing and the development of human civilisation.
Proto-writing is thought to have emerged independently in several regions of the world, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. In each of these regions, early forms of writing developed out of a need to record information and communicate ideas in a way that was more efficient than oral communication alone. Proto-writing is often distinguished from true writing because it does not encode language systematically. Instead, it consists of symbolic representations of objects or ideas that may be understood by those familiar with the system but are not necessarily capable of conveying complex or abstract concepts.
Despite its limitations, proto-writing was an important step in developing fully developed writing systems and played a crucial role in advancing human civilisation. It allowed for the recording and transmission of important information, such as laws, religious texts, and historical records, and laid the foundation for the development of more sophisticated writing systems that would follow.
It isn’t easy to pinpoint specific dates for the emergence of proto-writing, as it is thought to have developed independently in different parts of the world at different times. However, some of the earliest known examples of proto-writing date back to the 4th millennium BC in Mesopotamia, where early forms of writing known as cuneiform were used to record information on clay tablets.
In Egypt, early forms of writing called hieroglyphics emerged around the same time, while in China, the earliest known examples of proto-writing date back to the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BC).
Picture Credit: “File: Proto-cuneiform lexical list of places – BM 116625.jpg” by Zunkir is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
The development of fully developed writing systems followed the emergence of proto-writing in each of these regions. For example, the cuneiform writing system of Mesopotamia eventually evolved into a fully developed writing system that was used to record the Sumerian language, while the hieroglyphic writing system of Egypt developed into a system for recording the Egyptian language. Similarly, the Chinese writing system evolved from early forms of proto-writing into a fully developed system for recording the Chinese language.
Grammar and Syntax of Ancient Egyptian.
A breakthrough came with the decipherment of the word b`lt, (B`alat) by Sir Alan Gardiner in 1916. Gardiner concluded that the Sinaitic signs were created by reforming Egyptian Hieroglyphic signs based on their acrophonic value.
Alan Gardiner was an eminent British Egyptologist who made significant contributions to the study of ancient Egyptian language and culture. He was born in 1879 and studied at Oxford University before embarking on a career as an Egyptologist. Gardiner is best known for his work on the grammar and syntax of ancient Egyptians, which he analysed in great detail and recorded in his book “Egyptian Grammar.” He also made significant contributions to the understanding of ancient Egyptian religion and wrote several important works on the subject, including “The Royal Canon of Turin” and “The Library of Alexandria.” Gardiner was a leading figure in the field of Egyptology, and his work had a lasting impact on the study of ancient Egypt.
Alan Gardiner, British Egyptologist and philologist (photo taken in 1938).
Author or Copyright Holder: Lafayette Ltd
Page URL: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/9b/Alan_Gardiner%2C_British_Egyptologist.png
Writing Systems around the World
There are many writing systems in use around the world, and each one has its own unique features and characteristics. Here is a brief overview of some of the most prominent writing systems ever used:
- The Arabic alphabet is used to write Arabic, Persian, and several other languages. The Arabic alphabet consists of 28 letters in total, each letter representing a specific sound in the Arabic language, and the alphabet is used to write a wide range of languages in the Middle East and North Africa. It is written from right to left, but it can contain additional letters when writing in other languages. It was developed in the 4th century AD and is based on the Nabataean alphabet, which was used in ancient Arabia. The Arabic alphabet has undergone several reforms over the centuries, and it is now used to write a wide range of languages in the Middle East and North Africa.
- The Armenian alphabet consists of 36 letters written from left to right. It was developed in the 5th century AD and has been used to write Armenian, a language spoken in Armenia and parts of Eastern Europe. The Armenian alphabet was developed in the 5th century AD by the Armenian monk Mesrop Mashtots, who was commissioned by the Armenian king Vramshapuh to create a writing system for the Armenian language, which had previously been written using the Greek alphabet. It is an alphabetical script, with each letter representing a specific sound in the Armenian language. The Armenian alphabet has undergone several reforms over the centuries, and it is still used today to write the Armenian language and several other languages spoken in the region. The creation of the Armenian alphabet was a significant event in the history of the Armenian people, as it allowed them to preserve and promote their language and culture. The Armenian alphabet is considered a masterpiece of Armenian culture and is revered by Armenians all over the world.
- The Chinese writing system consists of characters that represent individual words or concepts. There are over 50,000 characters in the Chinese writing system (this number includes both simplified and traditional characters), which is used to write Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. The total number of Chinese characters is much higher, as there are many rare and obsolete characters that are no longer in use. The writing system has a long and complex history, with the earliest known examples dating back to the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BC). The Chinese writing system has undergone several reforms over the centuries. The simplified character set, which is used in mainland China and Singapore, consists of about 2,500 commonly used characters, while the traditional character set, which is used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, consists of approximately 8,000 characters.
- The Cyrillic alphabet is used to write languages such as Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Serbian. It is based on the Greek alphabet and consists of 33 letters. It was developed in the 9th century AD by the Byzantine monk St. Cyril. It was designed to be a more accessible writing system for the Slavic languages, and it was based on the Greek alphabet. The Cyrillic alphabet has undergone several reforms over the centuries, and it is still used to write many languages in Eastern Europe and Asia.
- The Devanāgarī alphabet is used to write languages such as Hindi and Marathi. It consists of 11 vowels and 33 consonants and is written from left to right. It was developed in the 11th century AD and is used to write several languages in India, including Hindi and Marathi.
- The Ethiopic alphabet is an alphabet that is used to write several languages spoken in Ethiopia, including Amharic, Tigrinya, and others. The Ethiopic alphabet consists of about 250 consonants and about 50 vowels and is written from left to right. The Ethiopic alphabet was developed in the 4th century AD and has been in continuous use ever since. It has been used to write several languages spoken in Ethiopia, including Amharic, Tigrinya, and others.
- The Georgian alphabet is an alphabet that is used to write Georgian, a language spoken in Georgia and parts of Eastern Europe. It consists of 33 letters and is written from left to right. It was developed in the 4th century AD and has been in continuous use ever since it has roots that go back much further. The Georgian alphabet is thought to have developed from the Asomtavruli script, which was used as early as the 4th century AD. It has been used to write Georgian, a language spoken in Georgia and parts of Eastern Europe.
- The Greek alphabet is an alphabet that is used to write Greek, and it is the basis for the Latin alphabet. It consists of 24 letters and is written from left to right. The alphabet was developed around the 8th or 9th century BC (but see below) and has been in continuous use ever since. It has been used to write Greek, a language spoken in Greece and parts of the Mediterranean region, and several other languages. The Greek alphabet has its roots in the Phoenician alphabet, which was developed around the 12th century BC. The Greek alphabet as we know it today was developed around the 8th century BC.
- The Hangul alphabet is an alphabet that is used to write Korean. The alphabet has 14 consonants and ten vowels, and it is written in syllable blocks. It was developed in the 15th century AD, by King Sejong, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea. Before the creation of Hangul, Korean was written using Chinese characters, called hanja in Korean. However, hanja was difficult for most people to learn, and it was not well suited to the Korean language, which has a different grammatical structure and phonetic system from Chinese. It is a relatively simple writing system to learn, and it has played a key role in developing and preserving the Korean language and culture. It is still in widespread use today, and it is considered a national treasure in South Korea.
- The Hebrew alphabet is an alphabet that is used to write Hebrew and Jewish languages, such as Yiddish. It consists of 22 letters in the standard Hebrew alphabet, and it can contain additional letters when writing in other languages. It is written from right to left. It was developed around the 10th century BC and has been in continuous use ever since. It has been used to write Hebrew, a language spoken in Israel and parts of the Middle East, and Jewish languages such as Yiddish.
- The Japanese writing system consists of a combination of Chinese characters (kanji) and two native syllabaries (hiragana and katakana). Kanji are Chinese characters that are used to write most words in Japanese. Hiragana and katakana are syllabaries that are used to write words that do not have kanji representation, as well as to write grammatical elements such as particles. The system has a long and complex history, with the earliest known examples dating back to the 8th century AD. The Japanese writing system is based on a combination of Chinese characters (kanji) and two native syllabaries (hiragana and katakana), and it has undergone several reforms over the centuries.
- The Korean writing system consists of a combination of Chinese characters (called hanja in Korean) and a native alphabet called hangul, used to write Korean. Hangul consists of 14 consonants and ten vowels, and it is used to write Korean. It has a long and complex history, with the earliest known examples dating back to the 3rd century AD. It is based on a combination of Chinese characters (hanja) and a native alphabet (hangul), and it has undergone several reforms over the centuries.
- The Latin alphabet has its roots in the Etruscan alphabet, which was used in ancient Italy. The Etruscan alphabet was derived from the Greek alphabet, which was developed in the 8th century BC. The Latin alphabet as we know it today developed over time through the influence of various cultures, including the Etruscans, the Romans, and the Catholic Church. It is the most widely used alphabet in the world, and it is the basis for the alphabets of many languages, including English, Spanish, French, and others. The Latin alphabet consists of 26 letters and is used to write a wide range of languages, including Romance languages, Germanic languages, and many others.
- The Tamil alphabet is an alphabet that is used to write Tamil, a language spoken in India and Sri Lanka. It consists of 12 vowels and 18 consonants, and it is written from left to right, although it can contain additional letters when writing other languages. It was developed around the 5th century AD and has been in continuous use ever since.
- The Thai alphabet was developed in the 13th century and has been in continuous use ever since. It has been used to write Thai, a language spoken in Thailand and Southeast Asia. It consists of 44 consonants and 32 vowels and is written from left to right.
These are just a few examples of the many writing systems, each with unique features and characteristics, and they are used to write a wide range of languages spoken in different parts of the world.
The word alphabet comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta. It was first used, in its Latin form, alphabetum, by Tertullian during the 2nd-3rd century AD and by St. Jerome. The Classical Greeks customarily used the plural of to gramma (“the letter”); the later form alphabētos was probably adopted under Latin influence.
The Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. It was discovered in a town called Rosetta on the coast of Egypt and was made up of three translations of a single piece of writing. The upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion is Demotic script, and the lower portion is Ancient Greek. Because it presents essentially the same text in all three scripts (with some minor differences between them), it provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The hieroglyphic inscriptions on the stone are written in the form of Egyptian called hieroglyphic script, which was used to inscribe royal decrees, monumental inscriptions, and other important documents in ancient Egypt. The script was a combination of logographic and syllabic signs, totalling some 700 distinct characters. However, the script had not been used for several centuries, and its meaning was lost to scholars. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone gave scholars the key they needed to begin deciphering hieroglyphs.
The Rosetta Stone was discovered by a French soldier named Pierre-François Bouchard in 1799 during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign. It was subsequently seized by the British, who defeated the French in Egypt and took possession of the stone. The British Museum has possessed the stone since 1802.
Picture Credit: The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum.
Attribution: © Hans Hillewaert
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rosetta_Stone.JPG
The Greek portion of the text on the Rosetta Stone is written in the form of Ancient Greek called Koine Greek, which was the common language of the eastern Mediterranean during the Hellenistic period. The Demotic script, which appears in the middle portion of the text, was a simplified form of hieroglyphic script used in Egypt from the 7th century BC until the 5th century AD. It was mainly used for administrative documents and everyday texts, rather than for monumental inscriptions.
The decipherment of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone was a major achievement in the field of Egyptology and was largely the work of the British scholar Thomas Young and the French scholar Jean-François Champollion. It was a crucial step in the understanding of ancient Egyptian civilisation and culture. The stone, carved in black granodiorite during the Hellenistic period, is now housed in the British Museum in London.
Over the years, there have been calls for the return of the Rosetta Stone and other ancient Egyptian artefacts to Egypt, but the British Museum has argued that it has a legal right to possession of the stone and that it is an important part of the museum’s collection. In addition, some have argued that the stone is a symbol of the international cooperation that was crucial to the decipherment of hieroglyphs and that it should remain in a museum where it can be studied and appreciated by people from around the world.
It is worth noting that the issue of the return of cultural artefacts to their countries of origin is a complex one, and there are often competing claims and considerations involved. The return of cultural artefacts can be a sensitive and politically charged issue. It is not uncommon for different parties to have different views on the most appropriate course of action.
The Ancients: Learning to Write and Speak their Parents’ Language
As the Alphabet has such an important role in our lives today, you might expect that it has existed since the dawn of civilisation. No so. In Mesopotamia, considered the oldest civilisation in the world, a writing system known as the Sumerians invented the cuneiform script towards the end of the 4th millennium BC. By comparison, the history of the alphabet can only be traced to the 2nd millennium BC, which places it around a millennium after the invention of the cuneiform script.
Today, many of the world’s writing systems are based on what we commonly think of as an ‘alphabet’. Alphabets (or alphabetic systems) can be subdivided into three different groups:
- ‘alphabets’ are writing systems with individual characters for consonants and vowels, like the Roman and Korean alphabets.
- ‘abjads’, whose main characters stand for consonants only (e.g. Arabic and Hebrew).
- ‘abugidas’, where different character sets represent combinations of a consonant with the vowel sounds attached to it (for example, the Indian script Devanāgarī).
Before the development of written language, people would have relied on oral traditions to transmit information from one generation to the next. This could include stories, songs, and other forms of verbal communication. Children would have learned to speak by listening to and imitating the speech of those around them, just as they do today. It is likely that the process of language acquisition has remained largely the same throughout human history and that parents have always played a central role in teaching their children to speak and understand language.
It is difficult to say exactly who taught the first parents to speak and communicate. Language is a complex and nuanced communication system that has evolved over time and is believed to have originated with the first humans. It is thought that the ability to speak and use language is a characteristic that distinguishes humans from other animals and has played a crucial role in our evolution and development as a species. The origins of language are not well understood and are a subject of much debate and research among linguists and other experts. Some theories suggest that language may have arisen spontaneously and naturally, while others propose that it may have developed as a result of cultural or environmental influences. Ultimately, the exact origins of language may never be fully understood.
There is a school of thought that children’s first words are similar across languages, but there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this claim. Some studies have suggested that certain sounds or words may be more common as a child’s first word, regardless of language, because they are easier for children to pronounce or because they are commonly used in the child’s environment. For example, a child’s first word may be a word for a common object, such as “Mumma”, “Dada”, or “milk”. However, it is also possible that a child’s first word may be specific to their language or culture. More research needs to be done on this topic.
Comparative evolution from pictograms to abstract shapes – in cuneiform, Egyptian and Chinese characters
Picture Attribution: Maspero, G. (Gaston), 1846-1916, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons [Recoloured]
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Comparative_evolution_of_Cuneiform,_Egyptian_and_Chinese_characters.jpg
The word, hieroglyph, means “holy carving” in the Ancient Egyptian language, and the Egyptians would regularly use these images to carve prayers to the gods or pharaohs on temple walls, inside the pyramids, or on public monuments. Ancient Egyptian people believed that if someone’s name were remembered (by carving it or writing it down), that person would survive forever in the afterlife. That is why pharaohs’ names were written in their tombs.
Sources and Further Reading
- Egypt of the Pharaohs: by Sir Alan Henderson Gardiner, published by Oxford University Press USA (1 January 1961), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Egypt-Pharaohs-Galaxy-Books-Gardiner/dp/0195002679/
- Egyptian Grammar, Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, by Sir Alan Henderson Gardiner, published by University Press (1 January 1964), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Egyptian-Grammar-Being-Introduction-Hieroglyphs/dp/B0007K0UQC/
- Egyptian Grammar – Being An Introduction To The Study Of Hieroglyphs, by Sir Alan Henderson Gardiner, originally published on 1 January 1927, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Egyptian-Grammar-Being-Introduction-Hieroglyphs/dp/B000RPWX3A
- Egyptian Hieroglyphics: How to Read and Write Them, by Stephane Rossini (Author), Illustrated, published by Dover Publications Inc. (1 June 1989), available at: www.amazon.co.uk/Egyptian-Hieroglyphics-Read-Write-Them/dp/0486260135/
- Egyptian Hieroglyphic Grammar: A Handbook for Beginners, by Gunther Roeder, published by Dover Publications Inc. (28 March 2003), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Egyptian-Hieroglyphic-Grammar-Handbook-Beginners/dp/0486425096/
- Hieroglyphic Sign List & Vocabulary: Extended Edition (Kemet Scribe Series), by Bernard Paul Badham (author) and Luke Badham (illustrator), published by Ark Publishing (1 August 2019), available at: www.amazon.co.uk/Hieroglyphic-Sign-List-Vocabulary-Extended/dp/1912418061/
- Hieroglyphics: The Writings of Ancient Egypt, by Maria Carmelo Betro, published by Abbeville Press (19 October 2020), available at: www.amazon.co.uk/Hieroglyphics-Writings-Maria-Carmelo-Betro/dp/0789202328/
- Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets: Volume 1 (Contexts of and Relations Between Early Writing Systems), by Philip J. Boyes (Editor), Philippa M. Steele (Editor), published by Oxbow Books (31 October 2019), available at: www.amazon.co.uk/Understanding-Relations-Between-Scripts-Alphabets/dp/1789250927/
- Voices in Stone; The Decipherment of Ancient Scripts and Writings, by Ernst Doblhofer (Author), Mervyn Savill (Translator), published by Kelley, Clifton (1 January 1973), available at: www.amazon.co.uk/Voices-Decipherment-Ancient-Scripts-Writings/dp/B00005X3W5/
- The History of the Alphabet, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6yonf-SAXw
- History of the Alphabet (Khan Academy), at: https://youtu.be/6NrTrBzC6dk
- The Alphabet – Origins of Writing – Extra History, at: https://youtu.be/yPrcfawo9UM
- Evolution of the Alphabet: Earliest Forms to Modern Latin Script, at: https://youtu.be/3kGuN8WIGNc
CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials covered in this paper for any particular purpose. Such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this paper meet your specific requirements and you should neither take action nor exercise inaction without taking appropriate professional advice. The hyperlinks were current at the date of publication.
End Notes and Explanations
- Source: Acknowledgement to various Wikipedia websites and also Machine-based artificial intelligence at: https://chat.openai.com/chat and other references as shown. ↑
- Explanation: Cited at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_hieroglyphs. Egyptian hieroglyphs were the formal writing system used in Ancient Egypt, used for writing the Egyptian language. Hieroglyphs combined logographic, syllabic and alphabetic elements, with some 1,000 distinct characters. Cursive hieroglyphs were used for religious literature on papyrus and wood. The later hieratic and demotic Egyptian scripts were derived from hieroglyphic writing, as was the Proto-Sinaitic script that later evolved into the Phoenician alphabet. There were about 1,000 graphemes in the Old Kingdom period, reduced to around 750 to 850 in the classical language of the Middle Kingdom, but inflated to the order of some 5,000 signs in the Ptolemaic period. (Source: Antonio Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995), p. 12.). The standard inventory of characters used in Egyptology is Gardiner’s sign list (1928–1953). A.H. Gardiner (1928) (Source: Catalogue of the Egyptian hieroglyphic printing type, from matrices owned and controlled by Dr Alan Gardiner, “Additions to the new hieroglyphic fount (1928)”, in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 15 (1929), p. 95; “Additions to the new hieroglyphic fount (1931)”, in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 17 (1931), pp. 245–247; A.H. Gardiner, “Supplement to the catalogue of the Egyptian hieroglyphic printing type, showing acquisitions to December 1953” (1953). Unicode Egyptian Hieroglyphs as of version 5.2 (2009) assigned 1,070 Unicode characters.). Sources: (1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_hieroglyphs, (2) Jones, Daniel (2003) , Peter Roach; James Hartmann; Jane Setter (eds.), English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-3-12-539683-8, (3) “hieroglyph”. Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and (4) Michael C. Howard (2012). Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies. P. 23. ↑
- Source: https://charchitgarg27.medium.com/historia-of-type-the-evolution-of-letters-93fd84e81859 ↑
- History of the Alphabet, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_alphabet ↑
- Explanation: The Levant is a geographical region in the eastern Mediterranean that encompasses modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. The term “Levant” comes from the French word “levant,” which means “rising” and refers to the direction in which the sun rises. The Levant has a long and rich history, with a diverse cultural and linguistic heritage that has been shaped by the various civilizations that have inhabited the region over the centuries. The Levant is home to a number of important historical and cultural sites, including the ancient city of Jerusalem, the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, and the ruins of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. ↑
- Explanation: Diacritics are small marks that are added to letters to indicate a different pronunciation or a special meaning. They are often used in languages that have many distinct sounds, or in which the same letter can be pronounced in different ways depending on the context. Diacritics can be used to indicate stress, vowel quality, tone, or other features of pronunciation. They can also be used to distinguish between homophones (words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings), or to indicate that a letter should be pronounced in a different way than it normally would be. Some examples of diacritics include the acute accent (é), the grave accent (è), the tilde (ñ), and the umlaut (ü). Source: Machine-based artificial intelligence at: https://chat.openai.com/chat ↑
- Source: https://www.ancientoriginsunleashed.com/p/from-an-ox-to-an-a-the-ancient-egyptian ↑
- Explanation: Proto-writing consists of visible marks communicating limited information (see Robinson, Andrew (2009). Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-19-956778-2.) Such systems emerged from earlier traditions of symbol systems in the early Neolithic, as early as the 7th millennium BC in Eastern Europe and China. They used ideographic or early mnemonic symbols or both to represent a limited number of concepts, in contrast to true writing systems, which record the language of the writer (see Gross, Michael (4 December 2012). “The evolution of writing”. Current Biology. 22 (23): Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-writing ↑
- Explanation: Acrophony is the naming of letters of an alphabetic writing system so that a letter’s name begins with the letter itself. For example, Greek letter names are acrophonic: the names of the letters α, β, γ, δ, are spelt with the respective letters: άλφα, βήτα, γάμμα, δέλτα. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrophony ↑
- Explanation: The Hellenistic period was the period of ancient Greek and eastern Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as the dominant power in the Mediterranean world in the last part of the 1st century BC. The Hellenistic period is often considered to be a time of transition between the classical world of the Greek city-states and the Roman Empire. It was a period of great cultural and intellectual achievement, characterised by the spread of the Greek language, culture, and ideas throughout the Mediterranean world. The Hellenistic period saw the rise of the large Hellenistic kingdoms, such as the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt and the Seleucid Empire in the Middle East, and the development of a cosmopolitan culture that blended Greek, eastern, and native elements. It is believed the stone was originally displayed within a temple, possibly at Sais. It was probably moved in late antiquity or during the Mamluk period and was eventually used as building material in the construction of Fort Julien near the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta. Sources: Machine-based artificial intelligence at: https://chat.openai.com/chat and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_Stone ↑
- Source: https://www.ancient-origins.net/history/z-alphabet-origins-and-most-ancient-written-languages-007873 ↑
- Source: British Library – https://www.bl.uk/history-of-writing/articles/the-evolution-of-the-alphabet ↑