Alphabets, or phonemic alphabets, are sets of letters, usually arranged
in a fixed order, each of which represents one or more phonemes, both
consonants and vowels, in the language they are used to write. In some
case combinations of letters are used to represent single phonemes, as
in the English sh, ch and th.
The Greeks created the first phonemic alphabet when they adapted the
Phoenican alphabet to write Greek.
They used a number of Phoenician letters that represented consonant
sounds not present in Greek to write Greek vowels.
The word alphabet comes, via the Latin word alphabētum, from the Greek
word αλφάβητος (alphabētos),
which itself comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, α
(άλφα/alpha) and β (βήτα/beta).
The names of the Greek letters were based on Phoenican letter names. The first
two letters of the Phoenican alphabet are 'āleph (ox)
and bēth (house).
The best-known and most widely-used alphabets are the Latin or Roman
alphabet and the Cyrillic alphabet, which have been adapted to write
numerous languages. Most other alphabets are used for a single language
or just a few languages.
Alphabets currently in use
Alphabets used to a limited extent
Alphabets that are no longer used
transcriptions in the International
Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) are used extensively throughout this website.
The IPA transcriptions are the letters and other symbols which appear
in square bracketts, like this [b], [p]. etc.
You can learn which sounds are represented by these letters and symbols at:
http://www.unil.ch/ling/page12580.html (en français)
Other writing systems
Semanto-phonetic writing systems,
Alternative writing systems,
Languages by writing system,
Languages by family,
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