the emergence of the modern-day alphabet

Alpha - Beta letters image

Alpha – Beta

Conversation, in a well-developed language, can express thoughts pretty closely and it became necessary to be able to emulate that discussion, in writing, in such a way that you could understand it as if it were actually being talked about. This is where the power of the alphabet lies.

The Greeks eventually adapted the Phoenician writing system to better fit their own spoken language and the first truly alphabetic lettering system was born (“Alphabet” = Alpha and Beta, the first two letters of the Greek alphabet). This method drastically reduced the total amount of characters needed to be able to make any combination of sounds in a spoken language.

Roman lettering inscription on stone

Roman lettering inscription on stone

Latin was derived from the Greek alphabet and the Romans took it with them on their march across Europe thus introducing us to the writing system we use today. Apart from the addition of a few letters, such as J, U, W, Z, our alphabet is much the same as it was when the Romans began to use it. Many styles of the same alphabet were produced across Europe but the letters remained the same.

The use of the Roman alphabet in Europe came under threat when the Moslem Armies advanced through Europe in the 6th century. Bearing in mind they were bringing their culture and writing systems with them, this posed the very real possibility that if they had conquered Europe we would be writing in an Arabic script today! The reason we don’t is down to one Charles Martel, son of one of the forefathers of the Charlemagne Emperors, who defeated the advancing armies at Tours in 732AD. As it is, we adopted Arabic numerals somewhere along the way.

The extraordinary intelligence of human beings, along with our creativity and imagination, has enabled cumbersome pictures to be replaced by a fantastic choice of symbols that can be transported to far-flung places easily. From the simple clay tablet to books and email, the principle of the tool, and its application in some cases, remains the same but the method of using it has changed enormously.

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