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Alphabet - Part1

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Alphabet - Part1 Empty Alphabet - Part1

Post by Admin on Mon Jul 09, 2007 10:55 pm


Bengali Script
India developed a number of different writing systems over the course of its history. Bengali, which developed toward the end of the 14th century, belongs to the Indo-Aryan language group. But its writing system is used not only for Bengali, Assamese, and other Indian languages in that group, but also for writing several languages in the Tibeto-Burman language subfamily. The photograph shows a page with letters of the Bengali alphabet and their pronunciations in Roman letters.
V.H. Mishra/Dinodia Picture Library
Alphabet, set of letters or other symbols, each representing a distinctive sound of a language. These letters can be combined to write all the words of a language. The letters of an alphabet typically have names and a fixed order. Alphabets are the most common type of writing in the world today. Only a few languages, such as Chinese and Japanese, do not use an alphabet.

Braille Alphabet
In the Braille alphabet, each letter, number, and punctuation mark consists of one to six raised dots. Blind people can read the characters by feeling the arrangement of the raised dots with their fingers.
© Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
The first alphabet was probably developed at least 3,500 years ago by people who lived on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and spoke a Semitic language. The earliest surviving alphabet is that of the Phoenicians (see Phoenicia). Around 3,000 years ago the Phoenician alphabet spread east to other Semitic peoples and west to the Greeks. The word alphabet comes from alpha and beta, the first two letters of the Greek alphabet. The Greeks helped spread alphabetic writing to the Etruscans and the Romans and through much of the rest of the ancient world.
There are about 50 individual alphabets in use today. They vary greatly in appearance, historical descent, and the degree to which they conform to the ideal of one letter for one sound. Like the Roman alphabet used for English, most alphabets have between 20 and 30 letters. Languages with comparatively few sounds require fewer letters. The sounds of the Hawaiian language, for example, are written using only 12 letters of the Roman alphabet, the fewest letters of any language. Other alphabets, such as Sinhalese, the alphabet of Sri Lanka, have 50 letters or more.

An alphabet attempts ideally to indicate each separate sound by a separate symbol. The Romans more or less achieved this ideal with a 21-letter alphabet, which they used for writing their Latin language. Later European languages that adopted the Roman alphabet approached this goal with varying success. Finnish and Turkish were highly successful, whereas English, French, and Gaelic have strayed quite far. English, for example, can represent the long o sound with a single o (as in go), the letters ow (as in glow), the letters oa (as in throat), and the letters ew (as in sew). The Korean alphabet, which was invented by scholars in the mid-1400s, most completely achieves the ideal of one symbol for one sound (see Korean Language).
Some writing systems represent a combination of sounds that form a syllable, rather than a single sound. The syllables usually consist of a consonant and a vowel, such as su, but they can also represent an entire word, such as sun. Such systems, called syllabaries, can come close to the ideal of a symbol for each sound, but they are not considered true alphabets because each syllable represents more than a single sound. Syllabic writing systems are also more difficult to learn than alphabets, because they have so many more symbols. Written Chinese, for example, uses thousands of symbols, or characters. Each character represents a syllable, and the syllable also is a word that carries a meaning. Japanese has two complete syllabaries—the hiragana and the katakana—which were devised to supplement the characters that Japanese took over from the Chinese writing system.

A Pictographic and Ideographic Systems
Early systems of writing used pictures to represent things and then to represent the sounds of those things. Pictographic writing, in which a simplified picture of the sun stood for the word sun, was probably the first step toward a written language. Chinese began as a pictographic language. To represent abstract ideas, the Chinese writing system combined pictographs. For example, the pictographs for sun and tree were combined to represent the concept of east. This method of combining pictographs to represent the words for ideas is known as an ideographic system. In written Chinese today, however, most of the characters for tangible items no longer resemble specific objects.
Pictographs and ideographs provide an inefficient system for writing: There are simply too many things to represent. Moreover, a string of pictures cannot reproduce what language creates: a sentence with a grammatical structure. A crucial step in the development of writing was freeing the pictograph or ideograph from the thing it represented and linking it to a sound. The ancient Sumerians generally receive credit for this advance.

B Phonetic Systems
The Sumerians began writing about 3200 BC by drawing pictures on tablets of wet clay. In time they found it more efficient to press the pictures into the clay with a writing instrument made from a reed. The wedge-shaped marks produced by the reed, which are now known as cuneiform, soon lost their resemblance to the original pictures. Because the Sumerian language was largely monosyllabic (consisting of single-syllable words), the sign for a word could equally well stand for the sound of that syllable. Sumerian cuneiform was a mixture of word signs and syllables; some symbols served both purposes, some were simply word signs.
The Akkadians, an early Semitic people, turned cuneiform into a syllabary about 2300 BC. Although they spoke a language unrelated to Sumerian, they adopted the syllabic sound values associated with the cuneiform wedges, without their meanings. The Akkadians then used the wedge shapes to create a phonetic (sound-based) system for writing their own language. Whereas each symbol carried a meaning in the Sumerian language, the symbols provided only a guide to pronunciation in Akkadian. During the centuries after 2300 BC other Near Eastern peoples, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Hittites, also began using syllabic, sound-based cuneiform for writing (see Assyro-Babylonian Language; Hittite Language).
A phonetic, or sound, system greatly reduces the number of written characters needed, because languages have only a limited number of sounds. The change from a pictographic-ideographic system to a phonetic system did not happen immediately, however. Several ancient cultures employed both the old ideographs and the new phonetic symbols. The ancient Egyptians created a pictographic system shortly after the Sumerians, about 3100 BC, by drawing on papyrus—a paperlike material made from the papyrus plant. Egyptian hieroglyphs represented not only entire words but also sounds whose meanings were unrelated to the pictures. Scholars do not know whether the Egyptians developed a phonetic system independently or borrowed the idea from the Sumerians. Recent studies of the picture writing of the Maya of Mexico and Central America indicate that their system also represented syllables. Such a word-based system becomes an alphabet (single-sound based system) or syllabary (sound-group based system) when pictographs or ideographs are used to represent a spoken sound without an associated meaning.
In many ancient cultures the symbol for a sound came from a pictograph for a common word, signifying the word’s initial sound. In early Semitic languages, for example, the pictograph representing the word for house, beth in the spoken language, eventually came to represent the sound of the consonant b, the first sound in beth. This Semitic symbol, which originally stood for the entire word beth and later for the sound b, became the β of the Greek and Roman alphabets and finally the uppercase B of the English alphabet. If English used the system of a picture to represent the first sound of a word, we might write the word sat by drawing sun + apple + table. We would have to learn not to interpret those pictures as circle + fruit + furniture.


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