Who invented the alphabet? Until modern times, the alphabet has been a work in constant improvement dating back to ancient Egypt. We know this because the earliest evidence for a consonant-based alphabet in the form of graffiti-like inscriptions was discovered in the Sinai Peninsula.

Not much is known about these mysterious inscriptions other than that it is likely a collection of characters adapted from Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is also unclear whether these early texts were written by the Canaanites (who inhabited the area around the 19th century BC) or a Semitic population that occupied central Egypt in the 15th century BC.

Who Invented the Alphabet?

In any case, it was not until the rise of the Phoenician civilization, a group of city-states scattered across the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, that protosinaitic writing began to be used. Written from right to left and consisting of 22 symbols, this unique system would eventually spread throughout the Middle East and across Europe through merchant seafarers who traded with nearby population groups.

For the 8th century BC. C., the alphabet had made its way to Greece, where it was modified and adapted to the Greek language. The biggest change was the addition of the vowel sounds, which many experts believe led to the creation of the first true alphabet that allowed for a clear pronunciation of specific Greek words. The Greeks would also make other significant modifications later, such as the writing of the letters from left to right.

More or less at the same time, but in the east, the Phoenician alphabet would end up laying the foundations for the Aramaic alphabet, which in turn is the foundation of the Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic writing systems. As a language, Aramaic was spoken throughout the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and perhaps most notably it was spoken between Jesus Christ and his disciples.

Outside the Middle East, traces of its use have also been found in parts of India and Central Asia.

Back in Europe, the Greek alphabet system reached the Romans around the 5th century BC. C. through exchanges between the Greek and Roman tribes that lived along the Italian peninsula. Latinos made some minor changes, removing four letters and adding others. The practice of modifying the alphabet was common as nations began to adopt it as a writing system. For example, Anglo-Saxons used Roman letters to write in Old English after the kingdom’s conversion to Christianity and made a number of modifications that would eventually become the foundation for modern English in use today.

Interestingly, the order of the original letters has managed to stay the same, even though the variants of the Phoenician alphabet were modified to suit the local language. For example, a dozen stone tablets unearthed in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit (dated to the 14th century BC) displayed an alphabet that was somewhat reminiscent of the Latin alphabet in its standard letter order. Those added to the alphabet were normally placed at the end, as was the case with the letters X, Y, and Z.

But although the Phoenician alphabet can be considered the father of almost all Western writing systems, there are some alphabets that bear no relation to it.

This includes the Maldivian script, which borrows elements from Arabic but derived many of its number letters. Another is the Korean alphabet, known as hangul, which groups several letters into blocks that are reminiscent of Chinese characters to produce a syllable. In Somalia, the Osmanya alphabet was conceived for Somalis in the 1920s by Osman Yusuf Kenadid, a local poet, writer, teacher, and politician. Evidence of independent alphabets was also found in medieval Ireland and the ancient Persian Empire.