Alphabet font

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When alphabetic writing or alphabet is called a signature , the phonemes (sounds) of a language as a discrete character units are based. These units - usually around 20 to 40 different characters - are called letters . They have no meaning in terms of content and can be summarized in their entirety in an alphabet .

Each alphabetic writing is a phonographic writing , the principle of the most strictly phonetic alphabet is represented: A sign indicates a loudspeaker. In contrast to this are the syllabary fonts, which are based on visualized syllables (sound combinations), and the logographic fonts, which recognize symbols for semantic units (words, concepts, “ideas”).

In the 11th century BC In the eastern Mediterranean, the Phoenicians developed the Phoenician script , from which almost all later alphabetic scripts descended, including all modern European alphabets including Greek, Latin and Cyrillic. Only the Korean alphabet can be traced back to another source.

History and Development


The Vinča characters found in Southeastern Europe (approx. 5300-3200 BC) were probably not yet part of a writing system. The oldest documented finds come from the Sumerians in Mesopotamia . For administrative purposes they initially used a picture script (from around 3500 BC) and a cuneiform script , which was recorded on clay tablets. A little later, around 3200 BC. BC, the Egyptian hieroglyphs originated , then around 2300 to 2000 BC. The Akkadian syllabary .

The weakness of the up to 1500 BC The writing systems known to BC were their complexity. They were difficult to learn because of the large number of different symbols. The cuneiform script contained up to 600 characters, half of which served as syllable characters. The Egyptians used several thousand different hieroglyphs at times.

Phoenician alphabet

The Phoenician alphabet (middle column) is the mother of various modern alphabets. V. l. n. r .: Latin , Greek , Phoenician , Hebrew , Arabic .
The modern equivalents of the Phoenician letters are on the same level as the "originals" in the middle column.
Related letters are highlighted in the same color. Arrows assign letters to their respective equivalents.

The Phoenician script is considered to be the origin of most of the later alphabet scripts . It derives from the Protosinaite script , which dates from around 1700 BC. BC and was based on the single consonant characters of the hieratic script of the Egyptian language as a model. The Phoenician language was a Semitic language . One therefore also speaks of the "North Semitic" alphabet.

What was new about this font was the reduction of the meaning of the characters to the smallest units that differed in meaning. This made it possible to use a comparatively small set of only 22 characters. At first only consonants were written ( consonant writing ). The characters are simplified illustrations of the objects identified by the letter names (based on the hieroglyphs).

Relatives and descendants

References can be made to the much older Ugaritic script , although it is a cuneiform script . Closely related to the Phoenician script is the ancient Hebrew script , from which the Samaritan script branched off. The old Hebrew script was replaced by the square script in the 2nd century . This is the Hebrew alphabet in use to this day .

Direct descendants of the Phoenician alphabet are the old South Arabic alphabet , the Aramaic alphabet and the Greek alphabet with further descendants:

The alphabets of the Semitic languages, which were derived from the Protosinaite script , initially only contained consonants. For Hebrew and Aramaic , however, He (the final wording initially for a, e, o, later almost only for a), Vav and Jod (initially only the final, later also the internal for u and o or i and e) in addition to its consonantic meaning also used as a sign for long vowels, later also aleph in Aramaic (for a). For a more precise designation of the vocalized pronunciation were later u. a. Different systems of vowel signs developed for the Hebrew, Syrian and Arabic script , mostly in the form of dots or lines above or below the letters.

Spread in Europe

Around 800 BC The Greeks took over the alphabet from the Phoenicians, including the Semitic names of the letters. They expanded the Phoenician alphabet with additional characters, replaced various characters and reinterpreted some characters. The Greek alphabet contained letters for all vowels - it visualized vowels as well as consonants, making it the first complete phonetic alphabet. The direction of writing was initially counterclockwise. Around 700 BC On the Greek mainland the direction of writing from left to right prevailed around 500 BC. Also in Crete.

From the Greek alphabet the old Italian alphabet developed with several variants, including the Etruscan alphabet , from this in turn the Latin alphabet . Through the Roman conquests and the spread of the Latin language, the Latin alphabet prevailed in Western Europe, whereby it was adapted to the respective languages.

The Etruscan script and the Latin script of the Romans can also be considered as models for the Germanic runic script. However, from the deviating shape of the runic symbols and differences in the alphabetical order (see rune series ) it is clear that there is no direct relationship.

The Cyrillic alphabet is derived from the Greek. It was designed around 900 by students of the Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Method who operated the Slavic mission . In addition to the Greek alphabet, some characters from the Glagolitic alphabet created by Cyril and Method were also used as a model for the Cyrillic script.

Offshoot in Asia

At the latest in the 3rd century BC The Brahmi script , the ancestor of the Indian scripts , developed in India - probably based on an Eastern American model . The Indian scripts have characteristics of alphabet scripts and at the same time of syllable scripts, their font is called Abugida .

Descendants of the Aramaic alphabet reached far into Asia via trade routes. The Syrian alphabet was reproduced in the Sogdian alphabet and this in the Uighur alphabet . After the establishment of the Mongolian Empire , Genghis Khan had the Uighur script revised. This is how the classic Mongolian script came about , which is still in use today in Inner Mongolia (in the north of the People's Republic of China ).

Systematics of the alphabet fonts

With regard to their relation to phonology , the alphabetic scripts can be classified according to their sound fidelity as follows:

Type a letter represents: Sample language
Phonetic writing a sound IPA
Phonemic writing a phoneme Finnish , Turkish , Georgian
Morphophonemic script a morphophoneme German , English , Korean

No culture has developed a complete phonetic script ; the only working phonetic writing systems were artificially developed, for example the IPA . A writing system based on the phonetic principle would be useless as an orthography of use.

See also


  • Eric A. Havelock : The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from the Antiquity to the Present . New Haven (Conn.), 1986 (German translation. When the muse learned to write . Frankfurt 1992)
  • Eric A. Havelock: The Literate Revolution in Greece and it's Cultural Consequences . Princeton NJ, 1982 (German translation. Written form. The Greek alphabet as a cultural revolution . Weinheim 1990)
  • Burkhard Kienast : Cuneiform and cuneiform literature . In: Early written testimony of humanity , Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1969, ISBN 3-525-85537-0
  • David Sacks : Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z , ISBN 0767911733 (in English)
  • David Sacks: The Alphabet . Arrow Books, London 2004, ISBN 0099436825 (in English)

Web links

Wiktionary: Alphabet writing  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Letter writing  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations