This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Nuts and Bolts: how many letters?

How many letters are there in the alphabet?


All right, all right. Sorry. 

In English there are twenty six letters in the alphabet (although a few hundred years ago & was counted as a letter - and J wasn't).

The first alphabet system in the world was probably what's now called Proto-Sinaitic, but there aren't enough examples to be sure how big its alphabet was. The slightly later cuneiform and Phoenician alphabets had thirty and twenty four letters, respectively.

It all seems quite reasonable and straightforward so far, doesn't it. 

File:Georgian Alphabet Letters.jpg
This is the Georgian alphabet. Image by GeorgianJorjadze

How about some modern languages?

Welsh, say the Welsh (who should know) has twenty nine letters, though those include LL and PH, which in English don't count as single letters at all. Hungarian has forty four letters, including SZ, ZS and Ő.

Arabic gets by with twenty eight letters, and Hawaiian uses only thirteen.

Chinese doesn't really use letters at all, though it has a system of thirty seven signs that come in useful for telling you how to say stuff.

Russian uses thirty three letters, though two of them (strangely to an English writer) don't represent a sound; Hindi has forty six letters, of which officially eleven are vowels. Traditionally, though, Hindi's vowels number thirteen (and there are two fewer consonants).

Italian has twenty one letters, except that it's quite happy to use j, k, x, y and w if it feels it needs them.

So, has the alphabet system of writing led the world into a glorious hodgepodge or a bit of a mess?

I'm going for the glorious hodgepodge, myself.


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