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|Language is written by using a
series of letters. The name means exactly what the term ABC 's means as a
name for the 26 letters of our alphabet. This word comes from the two
letters of the Greek alphabet called 'Alpha' and 'Beta'.
Nowadays, the Roman alphabet, which is made up of 26 letters is used to print most books, magazines and newspapers. But the Romans did not invent it. They only improved a system that has been growing for thousands of years.
The earliest writing
In early times, people could communicate with one another only by speaking or by making gestures. They had no way to keep records of important events, unless they memorized the story of a great battle or important happening. They had no way to send messages over long distances unless they passed them from one person to the next by word of mouth, or had one person memorize the message and then deliver it.
The first stage in writing came when people learned to draw pictures to express their ideas. In ideography, each picture conveyed an idea. Ideography enabled even people who did not speak the same language to communicate with each other. Then people learned Logography, expressing ideas indirectly by using signs to stand for the words of the idea. Instead of drawing pictures of five sheep to show a herd of five animals, a person could draw one sign for the numeral "five" and one for "sheep." Gradually people learned to use a syllabic system, in which a sign that stood for one word could be used not only for that word but also for any phonetic combination that sounded like that word. This is what we call rebus writing. If we used rebus writing in English, we could draw a sign for the word "bee" followed by a sign for the word "leaf" to stand for the word "belief." Finally, people developed alphabets in which individual signs stood for particular sounds. Today, most written languages in the world use alphabetic writing systems. For more information, see writing.
The earliest alphabets
Several hundred signs were used by Egyptians and these stood for full words or for syllables. For example, they could write the word good with a single symbol for the whole word. These symbols showed the consonants in syllables, but not the vowels. Around 3000 BC ,Egyptians developed a kind of picture writing, including a word and a syllable.
The Semites worked out an alphabetic writing about 1500 BC They also used signs to show the consonants of syllables. They seem to have adapted Egyptian hieroglyphs, symbols for sounds in their own language.
About 1000 BC Phoenicians used a system of 22 symbols. Their system structure was related to those of the Semites and Egyptians, with signs for consonant sounds, not vowel sounds. Their writing consisted partly of pictographic forms borrowed from older pictographic systems together with some modifications of their own.
The Cypriots invented an alphabet consisting of 56 signs of unknown word syllable system, each of them consisting of a different consonant and vowel.
The Greeks traders learned to write individual sounds of the Phoenician's language. In 800 BC, they modified the symbols and invented the Greek alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet included more consonants than the Greeks needed for their language, so they used the extra signs for vowel sounds. Thus they improved on both Cypriot's and Phoenician's ideas so that they could spell any word they wanted.
The Greeks took over the Phoenician names for their signs, and in most cases the signs themselves. The first letter of the Phoenician alphabet, aleph, meaning ox, became alpha in Greek. The second letter, Beth, meaning house, became beta in Greek. Modifications were brought about by the Greeks with shapes of these letters, adding and dropping some letters, to form the 24-letter Greek alphabet of today.
The Roman alphabet
After 1000 BC, coming from the Eastern Mediterranean region the Romans moved to central Italy, carrying with them the Greek alphabet. The Etruscans taught the alphabet to the Romans and it has more or less the same form as it is today. The early Roman alphabet had about 20 letters, and gradually gained 3 more.
For hundreds of years, only capital letters were used. By AD 114, the Roman alphabet reached perfection. Sculptors used one of the most beautiful lettering style in the world for emperor Trajan's memorial column.
Roman stonecutters carved beautiful letters, they rounded or squared, simplified, and polished them. They developed the beautiful thick-and-thin strokes we use today and added serifs at the tops and bottoms of many letters. The practical reason for serifs was that the carvers found it difficult to end wide strokes without ugly blunt lines. And if a chisel slipped while squaring off an end, they could not erase the mistake. But serifs also added a touch of strength and grace to Roman lettering, and are still used today.
Small letters gradually developed from capitals. Scribes who copied books often used uncials (rounded letters) that were easier to form than some capitals. True lower-case letters developed later, when scribes saved space in books by using the smaller letters.
The alphabet today is not well suited to writing words in English. It does not have a separate character for every distinctive sound in English, and it has several characters with more than one sound. Many other languages written with Roman letters use accent marks to show changes in sounds. Linguists use an almost perfect alphabet, the International Phonetic Alphabet, which has more than 80 characters (see Phonetics).
Other systems of writing
Arabic and Hebrew, as well as Sanskrit and many alphabets used in various parts of India, developed from the Phoenician system. Arabic and Hebrew were influenced by the Aramaic alphabet and vocabulary.
The Cyrillic alphabet
In the 800's, Saints Cyril and Methodius, two brothers, invented the Glagolithic alphabet while serving as missionaries among the Slavic peoples. They based this alphabet on Greek and on a Slavic language called Macedo-Bulgarian. About 900, the Glagolithic alphabet was modified into the Cyrillic alphabet, which was named for Cyril, the more literary of the brothers. Missionaries from Constantinople (now Istanbul) carried the Cyrillic alphabet with them when they converted the Russians, Serbs, Bulgars, and other Slavic peoples. Missionaries from Rome used the Roman alphabet when they converted the Poles and Czechs. They made spelling changes and used accent marks for special sounds. Serbs and Croats speak Serbo-Croatian. But Serbs write with the Cyrillic or the Roman alphabet, and Croats use the Roman alphabet.
Chinese is the only major language that does not have an alphabetical system of writing. Chinese has thousands of characters that stand for words. Most characters are derived from pictographs of objects. Others are combinations of pictographs used to form abstract words. Still others have no pictographic background at all. Some Chinese characters can be used to express the syllables of proper names or foreign words.
Japanese is based on Chinese, but the characters represent either syllables or words. Most of the Japanese characters are taken directly from Chinese, because Japanese scholars copied the forms, as well as the structure, of the Chinese language.
Source: World Book Encyclopedia