The fact that you are reading this right now, means you are reaping the benefits of one of the most significant inventions in human history – the alphabet.
Click start to play today’s Crossword, which only features words beginning with the letter ‘A’.
The American novelist Richard Price once said: “Writers spend years rearranging 26 letters of the alphabet. It’s enough to make you lose your mind day by day.” Since its invention, people across cultures have been using the alphabet to convey messages, hide them (through codes and encryptions), invent computing languages, and create important literature. Needless to say, the alphabet is a significant component of our lives.
As with many human ‘firsts’, the alphabet started in ancient Egypt, through their system of hieroglyphs. By 2700 BC, Egyptian writing had developed into a set of some 22 symbols to represent syllables. But it was not an established system and was never used to encode Egyptian speech.
By the Middle Bronze Age, a new script began to be developed in central Egypt by Semitic workers. Initially, it was based on hieroglyphs, but it evolved into the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, and then refined into the Phoenician alphabet. Originally comprising 30 letters, it was used all across ancient Phoenicia, beginning around 1600 BC. Consisting of signs for consonants only, this script is considered to be the first major phonemic script and the ultimate ancestor of virtually all later alphabets.
The Phoenician script was simple and easy for common traders to learn. Through the spread of the Phoenician empire, Arabia and the Mediterranean were able to develop their own versions of the script. And the English alphabet had a similar fate.
Around 1000 BC, the Greeks adopted a shorter version of the Semitic alphabet, and added symbols for vowels. The Romans adopted the Greek or Ionic alphabet, and from them, it spread across England in around the 5th century.
Today, about 100 world languages rely on the Roman alphabet – used by over 2 billion people, it’s the most popular global script.