How many letters in the alphabet?

How many letters in the alphabet? Knowledge of an exact number of letters in the alphabet depends on which language’s alphabet you want to know. For example, in English language, there are 26 letters in the alphabet. When someone talks about the number of letters in the alphabet, many of us assume that he is talking about the English language, this is not a good assumption because there are many different languages around the world. The surprising fact is that every language has a different alphabet and every alphabet has a different and unique number of letters. If you want to know the answer to the question, “How many letters in the alphabet?”, then you should tell that which language’s alphabet you want to know.

Alphabet

The word “alphabet” was derived from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, “alpha and beta”. An alphabet is a set of basic written characters, symbols, graphs, or graphemes (the smallest functional unit of a writing system, also called letters) that represent the phonemes (a unit of sound that differentiate one word from others in a particular language) or phonemic structure of different spoken languages.

The Proto-Canaanite script was the first fully phonemic script. It was later known as the “Phoenician alphabet”. This script is the ancestor of all modern alphabets, including Arabic, Cyrillic, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Brahmic. This script was created by Semitic-speaking workers and slaves in the Sinai Peninsula.

Latin alphabet is the most popular in all other dozen of alphabets. Latin alphabet was derived from the alphabet of the Greek language. In many languages, alphabets have letters composed of lines (linear writing). The Khmer language has the longest set of letters in the alphabet. The Khmer language has 74 letters.

:arrow_right: History

:pencil2: Egyptian alphabet

The history of the alphabet started in ancient Egypt with the set of some 24 hieroglyphs that were called unilateral. These 24 hieroglyphs were used to represent syllables that begin with a single consonant of their language, and a vowel to be supplied by the native speaker. These 24 hieroglyphs were also used as pronunciation guides for logograms (a written character that represents a word or morpheme).

In the Middle Bronze Age (the prehistoric period that was characterized by the use of bronze), 15th century BC, Proto-Sinaitic script appeared in Egyptian turquoise mines. In 1999, John and Deborah Darnell discovered an even earlier version of this first alphabet at Wadi el-Hol dated to circa 1800 BC.

The South Arabian alphabet, called the sister of the Phoenician alphabet. Vowels were called “abjads” in Arabic, Hebrew, and the Syriac language. In Greece, the Proto-Sinaitic script was modified to add vowels. This gave rise to the ancestor of all alphabets in the West because it was the first alphabet in which vowels were separate from consonants.

:pencil2: European alphabet

The Greek alphabet gave rise to the Italic alphabet and Latin alphabet. Elder Futhark was another notable script. It is believed that the Elder Futhark script has derived from Old Italic alphabets. This script gave rise to many other alphabets which are called Runic alphabets. Runic alphabets were used to write Germanic language when the Latin alphabets were not evolved. In the 20th century, these alphabets have been replaced by Latin alphabets.

Slovak alphabet is derived from the Latin alphabet and it is the longest European alphabet which has 46 letters.

:pencil2: Asian alphabet

The Arabic alphabet, Hebrew alphabet, Syriac alphabet, and other abjads were derived from the Aramaic alphabet. Most alphabetic scripts of Eastern Asia and India were derived from Brahmi scripts.

In Korea, Hangul (Korean alphabet is called Hangul) was created by Sejong the Great. Sejong the Great was the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. Hangul is a unique and featural alphabet. In Hangul, the letters are designed from a sound’s place of articulation.

Summary:

How many letters in the alphabet? The answer to this question depends on the language of which alphabet you want to know. The word alphabet is derived from two Greek words, alpha and beta. Alphabet is the set of basic written characters, symbols, and graphs. Every language has a different alphabet. The alphabets are originated in ancient Egypt and 24 hieroglyphs are the ancestors of all alphabets. These 24 hieroglyphs are also called uniliteral. They gave rise to the Greek alphabet, Italic and Latin alphabets were originated from the Greek alphabet. Aramaic alphabet was the origin of the Arabic alphabet, Hebrew alphabet, Syriac alphabet, and other abjads.

:capital_abcd: English alphabet

The modern English alphabet is the Latin alphabet. They have both upper and lower cases. English alphabet was originated in the 7th century from Latin script which is also known as Roman script. Many letters have been added and removed from the Latin alphabet to form 26 letters of modern English. The word alphabet is the compound word of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta. The modern English alphabet consists of 26 letters which are,

An a, B b, C c, D d, E e, F f, Gg, Hh, I i, J j, K k, L l, M m, N n, O o, P p, Q q, R r, S s, T t, U u, V v, W w, X x, Y y, Z z.

The shape of these letters depends upon the type of font and handwriting of a person. English alphabet has 26 letters, 5 letters are vowels and the rest are consonants.

:abc: Consonants:

Consonant is a basic speech sound that is produced by human beings in which when the breath flows out through the mouth is blocked by teeth, lips, and tongue. There are 21 consonants in the modern English alphabet. These are,

B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y, Z.

:abc: Vowels:

A vowel is a basic speech sound made by changing the shape of the upper vocal tract or the area in the mouth above the tongue. In vowels, breath is not blocked by lips, teeth, and tongue. There are 5 vowels in the modern English alphabet. These are,

A, E, I, O, U.

:capital_abcd: History of English Alphabet

:abc: Old English

In the 5th century, the English language was written in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc runic alphabet. Anglo-Saxon futhorc is runes used by early Anglo-Saxon as an alphabet in their writing system. This Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet, along with the proto-form of language itself was brought to England by Anglo-Saxon natives. Few examples of the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet have left, mostly in the form of short scripts and fragments.

In the 7th century, Christian missionaries introduced the Latin script. This Latin script was used to replace the Anglo-Saxon futhorc runic alphabet. The Anglo-Saxon futhorc runic alphabet greatly influenced the emerging letters of English’s alphabet by providing the letters “thorn (Þ þ)” and “wynn (Ƿ ƿ)”. The letter “eth (Ð ð)” was also added and it was formed by modifying the modern English letter “D”. The letter “yogh (Ȝ ȝ)” was added into the alphabet and it was created from “insular g (a form of letter “g” resembling the tailed “z”)” by Norman scribes. The letter a-e “ash (Æ æ)” was added. It is a ligature (two or more letters or graphemes are joined as a single glyph).

In 1011, a person named, Byrhtferth (priest and monk who lived at Ramsey Abbey in Huntingdonshire in England) recorded the traditional order of the alphabet of the Old English. He wrote 24 letters of the Latin alphabet first and then added 5 additional English letters.

A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z & ⁊ Ƿ Þ Ð Æ

The Old English did not contain “J”, “U”, and “W” as compared to modern English.

:abc: Modern English

In modern English, thorn (Þ þ), eth (Ð ð), wynn (Ƿ ƿ), yogh (Ȝ ȝ), ash (Æ æ) œ are removed. These letters are replaced by ligatures. Thorn and eth are replaced by “th”. In the 15th century, yogh was replaced by the modern English letter “g”. “ð” is still used in Faroese (North Germanic language). In the 14th century, Wynn (Ƿ ƿ) disappeared from the English alphabet and was replaced by “uu”, which developed into modern “w”. In the 16th century, two letters “u” and “j” were added to the alphabet and these letters are distinct from “v” and “I” respectively. The status of the independent letter was given to the letter “w” in the 16th century. “&” was also removed from the old English alphabet. The modern English alphabet consists of 26 letters having both upper and lower cases.

A a, B b, C c, D d, E e, F f, G g, H h, I I, J j, K k, L l, M m, N n, O o, P p, Q q, R r, S s, T t, U u, V v, W w, X x, Y y, Z z.

Modern English has many diagraphs, but the status of independent letters is not given to these diagraphs.

:sparkles: Diagraphs:

Diagraph or diagram is a pair of characters that are used in the orthography of a language to write a single phoneme or a sequence of phonemes that do not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined.

These diagraphs are,

ch, ci, ck, gh, ng, ph, qu, rh, sc, sh, th, ti, wh, wr, zh

Summary:

The modern English alphabet is the Latin alphabet. There are 26 letters in the modern English alphabet. There are 21 consonants and 5 vowels in the modern English alphabet. The English language was written in the Anglo-Saxon alphabet. The old English had 29 letters and didn’t have “j”, “u”, and “w” while the modern English has 26 letters. Few letters were removed from the old English alphabet and few letters were added to them to form the modern English alphabet. The alphabet of modern English has both upper and lower cases. Modern English has many diagraphs but there are no specific letters for these diagraphs.

:arrow_right: Letters in the alphabets of different languages

:pencil2: Arabic language’s alphabet

There are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet, just 2 more than the English alphabet. It sounds simple but it is not because all the letters of the Arabic alphabet are consonants. It doesn’t mean that the Arabic language doesn’t have vowels. In the Arabic language, vowels are represented by a “diacritical mark”. A diacritical mark is a glyph that is added to a consonant. There are two main sequences for the Arabic alphabet. These are abjad and hija.

Abjadi sequence

The abjadi order is derived from the Phoenician alphabet and this order is used for lettering.

غ ظ ض ذ خ ث ت ش ر ق ص ف ع س ن م ل ك ي ط ح ز و ه د ج ب أ

Hijai sequence

Modern dictionaries and reference books do not use abjadi order. They use hijai order in which letters are grouped on the basis of similarity in shape. There are two types of hijai orders.

:small_blue_diamond: Common hijai order

ي و ه ن م ل ك ق ف غ ع ظ ط ض ص ش س ز ر ذ د خ ح ج ث ت ب ا

:small_blue_diamond: Maghrebian hijai order

ي و ه ش س ق ف غ ع ض ص ن م ل ك ظ ط ز ر ذ د خ ح ج ث ت ب ا

:pencil2: Chinese language’s alphabet

The standard Chinese writing system uses a non-alphabetic script. Chinese writing system uses the “Pinyin (developed in the 1950s by a group of Chinese linguists including Zhou Youguang)” system that uses characters. There are more than 100 thousand characters in the Chinese writing system. It is impossible to learn them but the most important characters are only three thousand to six thousand. Most Chinese words require two characters. For example, the word house is written as 屋 (Wū).

Various attempts were made to replace the whole Chinese non-alphabetic script but all the attempts were failed in the end. However, simplified Chinese characters were replaced by traditional Chinese characters. Simplified Chinese characters are still used today in mainland China and Singapore.

:pencil2: Japanese language’s alphabet

In the Japanese writing system, there are 2000 symbols from three alphabets. These alphabets are “kanji”, “hiragana”, and “katakana”.

Kanji

Kanji consists of pictograms that originated in China. It is used to write most content words of native Japanese or Chinese origin which include the following:

:small_orange_diamond: Most nouns

:small_orange_diamond: The stem of most verbs and adjectives

:small_orange_diamond: The stems of many adverbs

:small_orange_diamond: Most Japanese personal names and place names.

:small_orange_diamond: Most kanji have more than one pronunciation and some common kanji have much possible pronunciation. According to pronunciation, kanji are divided into on’yomi and kun’yomi. But there are many kanji terms having pronunciation that correspond to neither the on’yomi nor the kun’yomi. For example, “明日”(Ashita, “tomorrow”) and “大人”(otona, “adult”).

Hiragana

Hiragana are used to write,

:small_blue_diamond: Okurigana (kana suffixes following kanji stems in Japanese written words).

:small_blue_diamond: Furigana (Japanese reading aid consisting of syllabic character).

:small_blue_diamond: Various function words, such as grammatical particles and postpositions.

:small_blue_diamond: Miscellaneous other words of various grammatical types.

Katanaka

It is used to write the following:

:small_orange_diamond: Translation of foreign words and names.

:small_orange_diamond: Common names of animals and plants.

:small_orange_diamond: Miscellaneous other words whose kanji are rare.

:small_orange_diamond: Onomatopoeia (the process of creating a word that phonetically imitates).

:small_orange_diamond: Emphasis like italicization of European language.

:pencil2: Korean language’s alphabet

Korean alphabet consists of 24 characters and vowels are also present in the Korean alphabet. Although there are only 24 letters the Korean writing system is difficult because the Korean characters are arranged in blocks that become syllables. The Korean alphabet is also called “Hangul”. The writing system for the Korean language was created by King Sejong the Great in 1443. Hangul is a featural writing system. Four basic alphabets were used in the Korean writing system but now they are removed. These alphabets are “ㆍ”, “ㅿ”, “ㆁ”, “ㆆ”.

Modern Hangul consists of 24 letters. 14 letters are consonants (ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ) and the remaining10 are vowels (ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ). There are also 27 letters in the Korean writing system. These 27 letters are formed by combining the basic letters. These letters are given below,

:small_blue_diamond: 5 tense consonant letters (ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ).

:small_blue_diamond: 11 complex consonant letters (ㄳ ㄵ ㄶ ㄺ ㄻ ㄼ ㄽ ㄾ ㄿ ㅀ ㅄ).

:small_blue_diamond: 11 complex vowel letters (ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅢ).

:pencil2: Russian language’s language

Russian is an official language of Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and also spoken throughout Eastern Europe. The modern Russian alphabet has 33 letters, 21 consonants, 10 vowels, and 2 signs (ь, ъ). The letters of the Russian alphabet are taken from the Cyrillic alphabet. The Cyrillic alphabet was introduced in 998 AD. Russian is a phonetic language. The Russian alphabet is given below.

А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я.

The two signs ь, ъ are used to separate other letters. Ъ is called “silent back vowel” and ь is called “silent front vowel”.

:pencil2: Spanish language’s alphabet

There are 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet. English speakers are familiar with these alphabets because the Spanish letters are taken from the Italian alphabet. The Spanish alphabet has one additional letter as compared to English letters. This letter is “ñ”. It comes after the letter “n”. Before 2010, there were 29 letters in the Spanish alphabet, but the 3 letters were removed. These three letters were “ch”, “||”, and “rr”.

:pencil2: Italian language’s alphabet

The Italian language contains only 21 letters. The Italian alphabet is the same as the English alphabet but 5 letters are missing. These missing letters are “J”, “K”, “W”, “X”, and “Y”. The Italian alphabet has 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u). The vowel “a” represents one sound value while each of the others has two.

:pencil2: French language’s alphabet

French language’s alphabet has 26 letters. These letters are taken from Latin script. French and English languages are closely related and the letters of their alphabets are also the same. However, there are some accent marks in the French language. These accent marks are è, é, or ç. These accent marks are not the additional letters but just modifiers. The pronunciation of the letters of the French language’s alphabet is different from the English language. The letters with their pronunciation are given below,

A (aah), B (beh), C (say), D (day), E (euh), F (eff), G (jay like “j” in English), H (ash), I (ee), J (gee as “g” in English), K (kah), L (el), M (em), N (en), O (oh), P (pay), Q (coo), R (err), S (es), T (tay), U (oo), V (vay), W (double way), X (eex), Y (ee-grayk), Z (zed).

:pencil2: Greek language’s alphabet

There are 24 letters in the Greek language’s alphabet. Greek is an ancient language and it gave rise to Latin script. The letters of the Greek language’s alphabet are

Alpha Α α
Beta Β β
Gamma Γ γ
Delta Δ δ
Epsilon Ε ε
Zeta Ζ ζ
Eta Η η
Theta Θ θ
Iota Ι ι
Kappa Κ κ
Lambda Λ λ
Mu Μ μ
Nu Ν ν
Xi Ξ ξ
Omicron Ο ο
Pi Π π
Rho Ρ ρ
Sigma Σ σ
Tau Τ τ
Upsilon Υ υ
Phi Φ φ
Chi Χ χ
Psi Ψ ψ
Omega Ω ω

:pencil2: German language’s alphabet

There are 26 letters in the German language’s alphabet. These letters are the same as the English letters. The German language is not so tough and you can easily learn it by learning its letters.

:pencil2: Hebrew language’s alphabet

The Hebrew language is spoken by more than 9 billion people in Brazil, Canada, Israel, Germany, France, and Australia. This language is also called the language of the Israelites. There are 22 letters in the alphabet of the Hebrew language. These letters are different from the letters of the English alphabet. The alphabet of the Hebrew language is called square script, blocks script of Jewish script. The letters of the Hebrew language’s alphabet are written from right to left, unlike the English language.

The letters of the Hebrew language’s alphabet are given below,

Alef Bet Gimel Dalet He Waw or Vav Zayin Chet Tet Yod Kaf
א‎ ב‎ ג‎ ד‎ ה‎ ו‎ ז‎ ח‎ ט‎ י‎ כ‎
Lamed Mem Nun Samech Ayin Pe Tsade Qof Resh Shin Tav
ל‎ מ‎ נ‎ ס‎ ע‎ פ‎ צ‎ ק‎ ר‎ ש‎ ת

:pencil2: Burmese language’s alphabet

Burmese is a Sino-Tibetan language. It is spoken in Myanmar where it is an official language and the language of the Bamar people. There are 41 letters in the Burmese alphabet. 33 letters are consonants and the remaining eight are vowels. The Burmese alphabet is called the most beautiful alphabet in the world. These are composed of circular shapes that are always drawn clockwise.

Summary

There are 28 letters in the Arabic language. Abjadi and hijai are the two main sequences of the Arabic language’s alphabet. The non-alphabetic script is used in the Chinese writing system. There are more than 100,000 characters in the Chinese writing system. There are three types of the alphabet in the Japanese language and it consists of more than 2000 symbols. Korean alphabet has 24 characters and the Korean alphabet is called Hangul. Russian alphabet has 33 letters and the Spanish language contains 27 letters. The French language has 26 letters as in English but they are different in pronunciation. The Greek language consists of 24 letters and it is an ancient language. The German language contains 26 letters. The Hebrew language has 22 letters. The Burmese alphabet is the most beautiful alphabet having 41 letters.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

:one: Do all writing systems represent languages in an alphabetic way?

No, not all the writing systems represent languages in an alphabetic way.

:sparkles: For example,
:small_blue_diamond: In “Syllabary (the linguistic study of written languages)”, every character represents a syllable (unit of organization for a sequence of a speech sound).

:small_blue_diamond: In “logographic systems”, semantic units or morphemes (smallest meaningful unit in a language) are used to represent languages.

:two: Is there a sentence that contains all the letters of English’s alphabet?

Yes, there is a sentence that contains all the 26 letters of English’s alphabet. This sentence is, “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”.

:three: Does communication depend upon the alphabet of a language?

No, communication doesn’t depend on the alphabet of languages. Communication is something different. It is the act of transferring information from one place, person, or group to another. Communication is the name of transferring emotions and emotions don’t need alphabets for their transfer.

:four: What is an ampersand (&)?

Ampersand was the 27th letter of the English alphabet. In 1936, it was removed from the English alphabet because it was not used to spell words. It was taken from Latin script. Now the ampersand is used as conjugation for “and”.

:five: Which language has the longest set of the alphabet?

The Khmer language has the longest set of alphabet. The Khmer language’s alphabet consists of 74 letters. It is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia. The Khmer language is hard to learn because of its 74 letters.

:six: Which language has the shortest set of the alphabet?

The Rotokas language has the shortest set of alphabet. It contains only 12 letters. The Rotokas language is spoken by about 4320 people on the island of Bougainville (an island located to the east of New Guinea).

:seven: Which language’s alphabet has the most consonants?

The Ubykh language’s alphabet has the most consonants. It has 84 phonemic consonants and consists of only 2 phonemic vowels. Ubykh is an extinct Northwest Caucasian language once spoken by the Ubykh people. In 1996, the Ubykh is cited in the Guinness book of world record because it is the language that has the most consonants.

:eight: What is thorn?

Thorn (Þ, þ) is a letter. It was used in Old English, Gothic, Old Norse, and Old Swedish. In English, it was replaced by the digraph “th”. Thorn is still used in the modern Icelandic alphabet.

:nine: What is syllabary?

A syllabary is a set of written symbols used to represent the syllables of the words of a language. Some syllabaries include separate symbols for each possible syllable that may occur in the language and others use a system of consonant symbols that include an inherent vowel.

:keycap_ten: What is the difference between syllabary and alphabet?

Alphabet is the standard set of letters that represent speech sound. While in a syllabary, each symbol correlates to a syllable or mora. It is a system where each symbol represents a spoken syllable, consonant + vowel.

Conclusion

Alphabet is the set of basic written letters or symbols. How many letters in the alphabet? The answer to this question depends on the language of which alphabet you want to know. The history of the alphabet started in Egypt with 24 hieroglyphs. Then Greek alphabets were originated and they gave rise to Italic and Latin alphabets. There are 26 letters in the modern English alphabet. These were taken from Latin script. Many diagraphs are also present in modern English but they have not given the status of a separate letter. The Arabic language has 28 letters. It has two main sequences that are Abjadi and hijai. Chinese writing system contains more than 100,000 characters but only 3000 to 6000 are more important than the remaining. The Korean alphabet is called Hangul. French and English alphabets are the same but their pronunciation is different. The Burmese alphabet is the most beautiful alphabet having 33 letters.

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