December 9, 2011

Book 101 - The Alphabet

If it weren't for the good old ABC this blog post would look somewhat different. Maybe Greek! No, wait! How about hieroglyphs? Either way, no matter where (or when) you live(d) chances are you are accustomed to some way of writing down your grocery shopping list, or blog post for that matter.

What we are using is the Latin alphabet that uses letters of the original Roman Latin alphabet. It is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today and evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome. The Etruscan alphabet was in turn adopted and further modified by the ancient Romans to write the Latin language. So much for a (very) short history on our ABC.

But, and there is always a but, just because many countries today share the Latin alphabet does not mean it's all the same where ever you go. While there are many languages who're using the 26 letters of the alphabet, such as Afrikaans, Danish, English (obviously), and Zulu, there are others that don't. So you may find 22 in Icelandic or 18 in Scots Gaelic or 12 in Mohawk. Now take a wild guess which letters can be found in all languages? A, E, I, and N. Who'd have guessed! I mean, N!?

To spice things up a bit some languages have extended the Latin alphabet with ligatures, modified letters, or digraphs. Those are especially fun to tackle when you learn another language. Let's take my mother tongue German, which flashes the mysterious letters Ä, Ö, and Ü. Yep, those dots above the letters are of utmost importance, trust me. While these don't seem all that bad, how about this one? ß And no, this isn't some kind of fancy B, it's basically a double S, though of course it's not written ss but ß (in some cases anyway, I don't want to send anyone into a coma by explaining this now). Still interested in learning the German language? Good for you!

The German examples are just one of many in the world's variations on the alphabet. I remember the fun that wasn't to be had when I had French classes in school, constantly trying to figure out when to write è or î or ... alright, like I'd even be able to find shortcuts for the rest on my keyboard.

As much as we can be thankful for having the alphabet it can also be quite the challenge to learn about the differences to other languages. Did you ever learn a language that sported some interesting "additional" letters compared to your own alphabet? Or did you even go for a language that doesn't even use the Latin alphabet? Hello Hieroglyphs!


  1. Well, I don't know how to write stuff with hieroglyphs, but I do know how to write with the Greek alphabet! Living in a country that has a rather different alphabet to the universally known (with some small differences) Latin alphabet, is kind-of weird, to say the least! You might not think the Greek alphabet is all that different, but in actual fact it is! We have 24 letters and some of the ones we have in common are in a completely different place in the alphabet (like z)!

    But, I do know what you mean about all those special characters! I did both German and French in school, and while I was ok with all the German special characters, the French ones baffled me! To this day, I have no idea what accents to use on the e's depending on where they are.... :/

    A great post, as always! :)

  2. I wanted to learn Russian when I was at school (in the end there weren't enough of us to run the class). That was in the days before we had to type everything, can't imagine trying Cyrillic on a Qwerty keyboard!

  3. Yes, I learned Greek fo a while which was good, and I didn't have too many problems with the alphabet. Other than that, Japanes, but I gave that up very quickly. And French in school, didn't have any problems with that. I kinda liked all those different accents. Makes a language look unusual and nice!