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Alphabe Thursday … A is for Alphabet and A.

May 23, 2013

 2013-05-22 08.11.32

One of the earliest forms a written language was the ‘picture writing’ of the Sumerians who roamed the then-fertile valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates. (c. 3500 – 6 B.C.)  It was written by pressing small wedge-shaped marks into clay, however over time the symbol lost any resemblance to the object it was supposed to represent.  

As language is made up of syllables it seemed easier to develop a  writing in which a character stood for a syllable and not an idea.  Syllable-characters can be interchanged and used for other languages, such as Assyrian, Chaldean or Babylonian, as each civilization fell under a new invader.


It is suggested that, it was the Phoenicians who made the complete break from the ideogram and invented the phonetic alphabet. Inscriptions have been found in the Sinai Peninsula and dated around 1800 BC.  

The Greeks acquired the alphabet from the Phoenicians between 11th and 7th century, although it took a long time for the Greek capital letters to form, as we know them today. The cursive smaller letters like the Roman lower case were a later development.

They did not hesitate to adapt unnecessary letters or invent a new sound. Also some characters from ancient Greek were later discarded.

Phoenician, like Hebrew and Arabic was written from right to left, then there was a period of ‘boustrophedonic’ writing; back and forth, literally as the ‘ox turns in ploughing’ Finally the Greeks and the Latins settled down writing from the left to right . The Greeks with their strong sense of design replaced the careless sprawling  Phoenician style to a more regular form.

The Romans acquired the alphabet from the Greeks via the Etruscans; they adapted it easily to the sounds their own tongues made.  The Latin alphabet was developing while the Greek was in its formative state. The Latins did not need the theta and one or two other characters changed use and sound slightly.

The ‘A’ has remained the head of the alphabet during the whole of its history.  It was known by the Semites as Aleph, not a vowel but a consonant, and sounding like a soft breath. It became the the vowel alpha, which provided the first part of our modern word ‘alphabet’

The letter passed from the Greeks to the Etruscans then the Romans and is retained as a capital letter in most modern alphabets.  The letter ‘a’ took a bit of time to evolve through the uncials and then the Caroline form, until we have the Venetian miniscule or italics and the Northern Italian minuscule known as the Roman type that we know now.  

History of the alphabet

alphabet thursday

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura Bloomsbury permalink
    May 23, 2013 10:51 am

    thank you for a most interesting elucidation and the word for today – boustrophedonic 🙂

    • May 23, 2013 10:53 am

      Dead posh! Ready for next week B is for … Thanks for dropping by with your 🙂

  2. May 23, 2013 12:02 pm

    Very interesting ost!

  3. May 23, 2013 12:02 pm

    *post* 🙂

  4. May 23, 2013 8:29 pm

    I did not know a has always been at the head of the alphabet. And, I love the tree of languages. Thanks!

  5. May 24, 2013 12:05 am

    I had no idea the A had such significance. Thank you for my “something new” learned today. 🙂

  6. May 25, 2013 1:30 am

    Interesting. I’ve always just taken the alphabet for granted and now I know better.

    • May 25, 2013 8:10 am

      Off all the things that have happened in the last 3000 years the alphabet has changed the least … _/\_ xx

  7. May 25, 2013 3:59 pm

    Wonder what made the Latins (?) and the Greeks change their writing to left to right?! Very interesting post! {:-D

    • May 25, 2013 7:20 pm

      I believe was simply because it is easier for right handed people !

  8. June 5, 2013 7:30 am

    The history of the alphabet is absolutely amazing.

    An awesome post for the start of this round.

    It’s always a wonderful adventure visiting your blog.

    Thanks for linking!


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