Language and Linguistics

Alphabetic Writing Characteristics and Examples

Alphabetic Writing

The alphabetic writing is a mechanism in which the symbols can be used to represent all types of individual sound of a language. An alphabet is a set of written symbols where each one represents a single type of sound or phoneme. The script can be defined as the symbolic representation of language using graphic signs. It is a system that is not simply acquired but has to be learned through conscious and sustained effort. In this article we will provide you the information about Alphabetic Writing.

Not all languages ​​have a written form and even among cultures that have a well-established form of writing, there are large numbers of people who are not able to use the system. It is important to note that a large number of languages ​​in the world today are used only in a spoken form and do not have a written form. In fact, writing is a relatively recent phenomenon.

It is possible to trace human attempts to visually represent information in cave drawings made at least 20,000 years ago or in discoveries of clay pieces from about 10,000 years ago, which appear to have been an early attempt at accounting. These findings can be considered as precursors to writing.

The earliest writing for which there is clear evidence is known as a marked cuneiform on clay fragments from about 5,000 years ago.

An ancient script that has a more obvious connection to the writing systems used today can be identified in inscriptions dated around 3,000 years ago.

Much of the evidence used in the reconstruction of ancient writing systems comes from inscriptions on stone. If the ancient civilizations used other perishable materials such as wood and leather, these evidences have been lost.

From the available inscriptions, it is possible to trace the development of a writing tradition and its evolution over thousands of years, with which humans have tried to create a permanent record of what happens.

Origin of alphabetic writing

The first writing systems correspond to Semitic languages ​​such as Arabic and Hebrew.

The words written in these languages ​​largely consist of the association of different symbols to represent consonant sounds, which when combined with vowel sounds, which must be provided by the reader, allow the definition of words in common use.

This type of writing system is often called the consonantal alphabet . The early version of Semitic alphabetic writing  originates from the Phoenician writing system, which is the basic source for most other alphabets found in the world.

The Greeks perfected the literacy process, adding separate symbols to represent vowel sounds as distinct entities, thus creating a new system that included vowels.

This change added different symbols for each vowel sound, for example the ‘alpha’ sound, to accompany existing symbols for consonant sounds, for example the ‘beta’ sound, resulting in alphabetic writing.

In fact, for some authors the origin of the modern alphabet corresponds to the Greeks, who transformed the purely syllabic system of the Phoenicians to create a writing system in which there is an association of each sound with a symbol.

This revised alphabet passed from the Greeks to the rest of Western Europe through the Romans and underwent various modifications along the way to suit the needs of the different languages ​​spoken on the continent.

As a result, the Roman alphabet is used as the writing system used for the Spanish language. Another line of development that adopted the same basic Greek writing system was Eastern Europe, where Slavic languages ​​were spoken.

The modified version is called the Cyrillic alphabet, in honor of Saint Cyril, a Christian missionary from the 9th century whose role was decisive in the development of this system. The Cyrillic alphabet represents the basis of the writing system used today in Russia.

Characteristics of alphabetic writing

Alphabetic writing systems are based on the principle of graphemes , that is, letters and strings of letters that correspond to the phonological units of speech.

However, these systems can differ from each other in many ways. Various terms, such as spelling depth, transparency, consistency, and regularity have been used to describe and compare them.

An ideal system that is transparent, consistent and regular should contain a consonant set of grapheme-phoneme (spelling) and phoneme-grapheme (correspondence between spelling and loudness).

Therefore, there must be only one way to pronounce any given grapheme, and only one way to spell any given phoneme.

However, in practice only a small minority of alphabetic writing systems such as Finnish, Turkish and Serbo Croatian come close to this ideal. Most alphabetic scripts encode information differently from the phonetic content of words.

Alphabetic spellings differ to the extent that the aforementioned variations are allowed, and these differences determine the degree of consistency and regularity between spelling and sound.

English is considered the most inconsistent and irregular system of alphabetic writing because:

  1. The relationship between graphemes and phonemes is usually opaque, for example, the letter t in ” listen ” does not have a corresponding phoneme.
  2. The correspondence between grapheme-phoneme and phoneme-grapheme is inconsistent, for example, the grapheme ” ea ” has different pronunciations in ” head ” and ” heal “, on the other hand despite the fact that the words ” beef “, ” chief ” and ” leaf ” contain the same phoneme / i / and are assigned a different spelling in each word.
  3. There are many exceptions to acceptable spelling patterns, for example, spelling in trek violates the rule that monosyllables ending in / k / with short vowels are spelled using the grapheme ck.

Examples of alphabetic writing

A particular type of writing system may actually use different letters. Alphabetic writing systems take many forms, for example, the scripts used in the Devanagari, Greek, Cyrillic or Roman alphabets.

The Roman and Cyrillic alphabets are the most common alphabetic systems in use. The Roman alphabet is used in much of Western Europe and in other regions of the world that have been influenced by European settlers.

The Cyrillic alphabet is used where the influence of the Eastern Orthodox Church has been strong, such as in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Russia.

In general, alphabetic systems are preferred for introducing local language literacy as they tend to use fewer symbols than semi-syllabic or logographic systems and are more compatible with computer keyboards.

Also, these writing systems tend to be used more widely in global communication.

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