ALPHABET (from alpha and beta, the first two letters of the Greek alphabet), the ordinary series of the letters or syllables (in syllabic alphabets) of a language. For an ac count of what is known or conjectured of the origin of alphabetic and other systems of writ ing, see WRITING. The English alphabet, like the most of those of modern Europe, is derived directly from the Latin, but owes its ultimate origin to the Phcenician, which give birth also to the ancient Greek, the Etruscan, the Gothic, etc. According to tradition the Phoenician Cadmus introduced writing into Greece, the let ters first used being the same as the Phcenkian, but afterward undergoing changes both in sound and form. It would appear that the Phoenicians borrowed their alphabet from the hieratic alphabet of Egypt, whence also the He brews may have obtained theirs during their long stay in that country, though it is more probable that like the Aramaans they were content to receive it at second-hand from the Phoenicians. The Egyptian origin of the Phoenician alphabet, however, has not been definitely established, and some hold to the opinion that Crete rather than Egypt is the original home of our alphabet.
The Hebrew alphabet now employed is not the original one, but has an Ara maic origin, having been adopted some time after the Captivity. The Hebrew alphabet proper, as we find it on ancient coins, is evi dently the same as that of the Phcenician in scriptions. The names of the letters in Phceni cian and Hebrew must have been almost the same, for the Greek names, which, with the letters, were borrowed from the former, differ little from Cie Hebrew. By means of the names we may trace the process through which the Egyptian characters were transformed into letters by the Phoenicians. Some Egyptian character would, by its form, recall the idea of a house, as for example, in the Phcenician or Hebrew beth. This character would subse quently come to be used wherever the articula tion b occurred, whether in the beginning, mid dle or end of a word. Its form might be after ward simplified, or even completely modified, but the name would rem in, as beth still con tinues the Hebrew name for b, and beta the Greek. Our letter m, in Hebrew called mini, water, has still a considerable resemblance to the zigzag wavy line chosen to represent water, as in the zodi.cal symbol for Aquarius. The
letter i the Hebrew name means eye, was originally intended to represent that organ.
The Semitic alphabets are written from right to left. The earliest Greek inscriptions, at Thera, are written in a character much like Phcenician, either from right to left, or from left to right, or boustrophedon, with the lines alternating in direction. The Greek alphabet did not definitely assume its final form until comparatively late. It is the Ionian (see accom panying plate (Eastern Greek) in the form which it assumed at Halicarnassus) which gave rise to the modern Greek *capitals,* while the alphabets of Italy, such as Latin, Etruscan, etc., were offshoots from an Eubcean stock.
The later Greek alphabet furnished elements for the Coptic, the Gothic and the old Slavic alphabets. The Latin characters are now em ployed by many nations, such as the Italian, the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Eng lish the Dutch, the German, the Hungarian, the Polish, etc., each having introduced such modi fications or additions as at necessary to express the sound of the latignag peculiar to it. The Greek alphabet has only 17 letters, taken directly from the Phcenician, though the Phcenician al phabet had 22 letters. These were the five vowels, a, e, o, v, (a, e, i, o, u, as in French) and the 11 consonants, fi, y, 6, it, X, p, v, x, p, e, r, (b,g, d, k,1, m, n, p, r, s, I). According to one tradition, Palamedes, a contemporary of the Trojan war, invented f (x) and the three aspirates 0, 0, x, (th, ph, ch guttural). To Simonides was attrib uted the invention of the double consonants C and * (ds or z, and ps) and the two long vowels * and w (e and e), which completed the Greek alphabet of 24 letters as still used. Be sides these, there were anciently the digamma, a character corresponding pretty nearly to v, which afterward slipped out of the Greek alphabet; and the character ' representing an aspirate at the beginning of words. The origi nal Latin alphabet, as it is found in the oldest inscriptions, consisted of 21 letters; namely, the vowels a, e, i, o and u (v), and the con sonants b, e, d, f, z, h, k, 1, us, st, p, r, s, t, x.