Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616)

The Alphabet

Alphabet Origins


Ugaritic, the earliest known phonetic alphabet in the world, was discovered in Syria. It dates from 1500 BC. The cuneiform symbols were found in the ruined city of Ugarit (Ras Shamra) on the Syrian coast in 1929. It had 30 letters and was written from left to right.
 
We owe our own alphabet to the Phoenicians. Their 22 letter alphabet had no vowels but it was used as the basis of the ancient Greek alphabet, which in turn was adapted by the Romans and is essentially the same as the one we use today.

Azeri Alphabet


The modern Azeri alphabet has one letter which isn’t found in any other alphabet in the world. It's an upside-down, back-to-front 'e' known as a schwa, it represents a weakly stressed or neutral vowel sound, similar to the last syllable in sofa.
 
The existence of the schwa in the Azeri alphabet has caused havoc with Azeri communications over the last ten years, especially on the internet, because no standard Western computer keyboard has the letter. Despite the creation of special new fonts, file-sharing, e-mail and website viewing is still a problem.

JERRY SEINFELD

I wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup.

GIORGIO ARMANI

I've always thought of the T-shirt as the Alpha and Omega of the fashion alphabet.

Even Physicists Like a Joke...


Ralph Alpher, a physics PhD student, and his supervisor George Gamow, published a paper in 1948 about the Big Bang. As a joke, Gamow decided to add the name of his friend, the eminent physicist Hans Bethe to this paper to create the whimsical author list of Alpher, Bethe, Gamow. Gamow also tried to persuade another scientist named Herman to change his name to Delter to make the joke even better, but Herman refused.
 
Alpher was unhappy about the inclusion of Bethe's name on the paper. He felt that the inclusion of another eminent physicist would overshadow his contribution to the work, him being a graduate student.
 
But the paper was published in The Physical Review and has been known ever since as the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper or the αβγ paper.

Lipograms


A text that deliberately excludes a letter of the alphabet is called a lipogram. An early example is the Odyssey of Tryphiodorus, which had no alpha in the first book, no beta in the second and so on.
 
The best known example in English is Ernest Vincent Wright's novel Gadsby: Champion of Youth (1939) - a story of more than 50,000 words in which the letter ‘e’ never appears.
 
A later French lipogram is George Perec’s novel La Disparition (1969) which doesn’t contain the letter ‘e’. Its English translation, A Void by Gilbert Adair, also avoids using the letter ‘e’ which is the most common letter in both languages.

Chinese Characters


The Chinese language does not have an alphabet. The Chinese use a system of symbols. Unlike an alphabet, which represents sounds, each Chinese character has a unique meaning. Not all Chinese words are made using a single character; many are made up of a combination of characters.
 
Although large dictionaries contain over 50,000 characters, you need about 2 - 3,000 to read a newspaper. University-educated Chinese people will know 6 - 8,000 characters.
 
The earliest recognisable Chinese characters date back over 3,000 years and were discovered carved into tortoise shells and cattle bones. Written Chinese is the oldest system of writing in continuous use as a living language.

The word alphabet is derived from the first two letters in the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta.

An abcedarian is a person who teaches the alphabet.

The first letter of the Yiddish alphabet - alef - is silent.

A sentence that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet is called a pangram.

The dot over the letters i and j is called a tittle.

The Runic alphabet is called the 'futhork' or 'futhark' after its first six letters f, u, th, o or a, r and k.

ROGER MOORE

I didn't learn the alphabet until I was 11.

Catherine the Great wrote an ABC for children which sold 20,000 copies in a fortnight.

Benjamin Franklin invented a phonetic alphabet that did without the letters c, j, q, w, x and y.