Alphabet – What is it, concept, origin, types and history

We explain what an alphabet is, its history, signs and its variants according to the languages. Also, the braille alphabet and morse.

The alphabet represents the total of the sounds of the language.

What is an alphabet?

An alphabet is the total set of graphic or written characters used to conventionally represent the sounds of the language. In other words, it is the total of the sounds of the language, expressed graphically in an organized and sequential way.

In this it is distinguished from other methods of graphic representation of ideas, such as ideograms or hieroglyphs, which do not represent the sounds of the language, but directly the referent or the idea in which it is thought.

The word alphabet comes from the Greek alphábeton, a term in which the first two Greek letters (alpha and beta). These, in turn, are derived from the first two letters of the Phoenician alphabet: ‘alp (“ox”) and bêt (“house”), since the Phoenician civilization was the first in history to create a complete and organized functional alphabet, around the XIII century a. C.

From that alphabet come both the Greek and Latin alphabet, as well as the Hebrew and Arabic. Similarly, in Spanish and other languages ​​derived from Latin we usually call the alphabet “abecedario” since it begins with the first four letters: a, b, c and d.

Another historically relevant alphabet was the Semitic, belonging to the Hebrew peoples of the Red Sea, of a syllabic type, in which only the consonants were represented with signs. In addition there were the proto-alphabets of the Canaanites from 3500 BC. C., and certain Egyptian approximations to the representation of its consonants by means of specific hieroglyphics in 2700 a. C.

Nevertheless, the Greek and Latin alphabets were those that defined the western way of representing language to this day, due to the historical and political importance of their nations.

In alphabets, all the sounds of the language are usually represented visually, but diacritical marks are also often included, and it is one of the main tools for teaching language to children. Currently, each language has its own alphabet, with coincidences and differences with respect to other languages ​​with which it is related.

Other alphabets

Morse code
Braille and Morse alphabets were not the result of a spontaneous historical-linguistic process.

In modern times, the development of new communication methods gave rise to “artificial” alphabets, that is, they arose by convention and not as the result of a spontaneous historical-linguistic process. Obviously, all alphabets are artificial, that is, they are a technology, but in this case we refer to cases such as:

  • The braille alphabet, developed from a tactile dot matrix, to allow blind people to read and write. It was an invention of Louis Braille (1809-1852) in the mid-19th century.
  • The morse alphabet, also known as Morse code or Morse code, represents the letters and numbers of the traditional alphabet through signals or impulses emitted intermittently, either by electricity, light or sound. It was invented by Samuel Morse (1791-1872) and Alfred Vail (1807-1859) for the use of the telegraph.