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History of the alphabet

The history of the alphabet is believed to have begun in Ancient Egypt, more than a millennium into the history of writing.

The first consonantal alphabet found has emerged around 2000 BCE to represent the language of Semitic workers in Egypt (see Middle Bronze Age alphabets), and was at least influenced by the alphabetic principles of the Egyptian hieratic script.

Nearly all alphabets in the world today either descend directly from this development or were inspired by its design.

The most widely used alphabet is the Latin alphabet.

The latin alphabet derives from the Greek, the first true alphabet in that it consistently assigns letters to both consonants and vowels. The Greek alphabet in turn was derived from the Phoenician alphabet (it was an abjad – a system where each symbol usually stands for a consonant).


Latin, Greek, original Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic

Chart showing details of four alphabets’ descent from Phoenician abjad, from left to right Latin, Greek, original Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic.

VERBIX Verb Conjugator

Online Writing Assistant  

Spelling and Typing   

Differences between British, Canadian, and American Spelling  

Business English

Improving English for Business Purposes


Military Alphabet   . . . “N” as in “Nancy” . . .  Spelling Alphabet


This manner of speaking may be used to spell out words when speaking to someone.   Giving one’s name over the telephone is a common scenario where a spelling alphabet is often used. 

Spell words aloud in English / Spell your name aloud with better  clarity using the standard alphabet by speaking as follows:  “Aas inApple”, “Bas inBoy”,  “C as in “Cat”, “Das inDog”,  etc., …

Note:   Many unofficial phonetic alphabets are in use that are not based on a standard, but are based on words the transmitter can easily remember.  

Spelling alphabets are especially useful when speaking in a noisy environment, or when clarity and promptness of communication is essential. 

English Grammar Online - Writing

ABC Printouts ~ Perfect for Kindergarten

 (0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9)

Two  styles  of  printing by hand.

William Shakespeare‘s will, written in secretary hand: a script difficult for modern readers to interpret.

Formal written English

A version of the language almost universally agreed upon by educated English speakers around the world is called formal written English. It takes virtually the same form regardless of where it is written, in contrast to spoken English, which differs significantly between dialects, accents, and varieties of slang and of colloquial and regional expressions.

Local variations in the formal written version of the language are quite limited, being restricted largely to minor spelling, lexical and grammatical differences between British / American, and other national varieties of English.

Western handwriting

For more details on this topic, see Palaeography.

The Romans in Southern Italy eventually adopted the Greek alphabet as modified by the Etruscans to develop Latin writing.  Like the Greeks, the Romans employed stone, metal, clay, and papyrus as writing surfaces.

Roman cursive or informal handwriting started out as a derivative of the capital letters, though the tendency to write quickly and efficiently made the letters less precise.

At the end of the eighth century, Charlemagne decreed that all writings in his empire were to be written in a standard handwriting, which came to be known as Carolingian minuscule.  Alcuin of York was commissioned by Charlemagne to create this new handwriting, which he did in collaboration with other scribes and based on the tradition of other Roman handwriting.

Uncials were rounded capitals (majuscules/uppercase) that originally were developed by the Greeks.  Carolingian minuscule/lowercase was used to produce many of the manuscripts from monasteries until the eleventh century and most lower-case letters of today’s European scripts derive from it.

Gothic or black-letter script, evolved from Carolingian, became the dominant handwriting from the twelfth century until the Italian Renaissance (1400 AD – 1600 AD). This script was not as clear as the Carolingian, but instead was narrower, darker, and denser. Because of this, the dot above the i was added in order to differentiate it from the similar pen strokes of the n, m, and u. Also, the letter u was created as separate from the v, which had previously been used for both sounds. Part of the reason for such compact handwriting was to save space, since parchment was expensive.

By the eighteenth century, schools were established to teach penmanship techniques from master penmen, especially in England and the United States.  Penmanship became part of the curriculum in American schools by the early 1900s, rather than just reserved for specialty schools teaching adults penmanship as a professional skill.

Several different penmanship methods have been developed and published, including Spencerian, Getty-Dubay, Icelandic (Italic), Zaner-Bloser, and D’Nealian methods among others used in American education.

Other copybook styles comprise more than 200 published textbook curricula, many differing from these and from each other in often confusing ways: particularly as regards cursive. (E.g., the cursive capital “T” of the Harcourt-Brace handwriting program closely resembles the cursive capital “F” of most other American handwriting programs and in fact looks much more like their “F” than it looks like the “T” of those other cursive programs.)

Videos on Calligraphy and Penmanship

Schools in the East

Eastern handwriting

Countries such as China and Japan have incredibly complex characters which are difficult to learn. Chinese children start by learning the simplest characters first and building to the more complex ones. Often, children trace the different strokes in the air along with the teacher and eventually start to write them on paper.

Example of semi-cursive style Chinese calligraphy

While Roman handwriting has influenced American and European text, different writing systems have developed in the East, including Chinese and Japanese.

Chinese characters represent whole morphemes rather than individual sounds, and consequently are visually far more complex than European scripts; in some cases their pictographic origins are still visible.

The earliest form of Chinese was written on bones and shells (called Jiaguwen) in the fourteenth century BC. Other writing surfaces used during this time included bronze, stone, jade, pottery, and clay, which became more popular after the twelfth century BC.

Chinese handwriting is considered an art, more so than illuminated manuscripts in Western culture. Calligraphy is widely practiced in China, which employs cursive scripts such as Kaishu, Xingshu, and Caoshu.  Chinese calligraphy is meant to be represent the artistic personality in a way western calligraphy cannot, and therefore penmanship is valued higher than in any other nation.

Japanese writing evolved from Chinese script and Chinese characters, called kanji, or ideograms, were adopted to represent Japanese words and grammar.  Kanji were simplified to create two other scripts, called hiragana and katakana. Hiragana is the more widely used script in Japan today, while katakana, meant for formal documents originally, is used similarly to italics in alphabetic scripts. 


English Language Spelling Reform

English language spelling reform is the collective term for various campaigns and efforts to change the spelling of the English language to make it simpler and more rationally consistent. There exists a small-scale movement among amateur and professional linguists, but one with a long history and some mixed successes.

Supporters assert that the many inconsistencies and irregularities of English spelling lead to severe difficulties for learners. They believe this leads to a lower level of literacy among English speakers compared with speakers of languages having a spelling system that is more consistent in representing meaning as well as pronunciation. Many reformers think that it should more faithfully conform to how the language is spoken, and have pointed out costs to the environment and business and other users in retaining traditional spelling.

English does in fact have a very poor phonemic orthography, or correspondence between how the words are written and how they are spoken. This is due in part to changes in commonly accepted dialects of English from older pronunciations.

There is opposition to spelling reform from traditionalists who feel that something is to be lost from simplifying the spelling of English.

After the invention of the printing press in the 1440s, English spelling began to become fixed. This took place gradually through printing houses, whereby the master printer would choose the spellings “that most pleased his fancy”. These spellings then became the “house style“.

Many of the earliest printing houses that printed English were staffed by Hollanders, who changed many spellings to match their Dutch orthography. Examples include the silent h in ghost (to match Dutch gheest, which later became geest), aghast, ghastly and gherkin. The silent h in other words—such as ghospel, ghossip and ghizzard—was later removed.

There have been two periods when spelling reform of the English language has attracted particular interest.

Arguments for reform

Advocates of spelling reform make these basic arguments:

Spelling changes should match pronunciation changes

  • Pronunciations change gradually over time and the alphabetic principlethat lies behind English (and every other alphabetically written language) gradually becomes corrupted. If the maintenance of regularity in the orthography of English is desired, then spelling needs to be amended to account for the changes.
  • Spellings do change, regardless of conscious public resistance, just slowly and not in any organized way. Music was spelt as musick until the 1880s, and fantasy was spelt as phantasy until the 1920s.

Amending spelling to reduce ambiguity

Unlike many other languages, English spelling has never been systematically updated and, as a result, today only partly observes the alphabetic principle. As a consequence, English orthography is a system of weak rules with many exceptions and ambiguities.

Most phonemes in English can be spelled in more than one way. Conversely, many graphemes in English have multiple pronunciations, such as the different pronunciations of the combination ough in words like through, though, thought, thorough, tough, and trough. This creates ambiguity and can be a barrier to reading comprehension[citation needed].

Such ambiguity is particularly problematic in the case of homographs with different pronunciations that vary according to context, such as bow, desert, live, read, wind, and wound. Ambiguous words like these make it necessary to learn the correct context in which to use the different pronunciations and thus increase the difficulty of learning to read English.

A revision of English orthography that creates a closer relationship between phonemes and spellings may eliminate most exceptions and ambiguities and make the language easier to master for students. If done with care, such a revision would not impose an undue burden on mature native speakers.

Reinstate older, simpler spellings

The epitaph on the grave of William Shakespeare spells friend as frend.

  • Some proposed simplified spellings — such as frend for friend (see Shakespeare’s grave, right) and ake for ache— already exist as variant spellings in old literature. Reinstating these old forms would not create new spellings.
  • Some exceptions in English spelling are the result of attempts by scholars to “correct” older spelling by adding silent letters to reflect the word’s Latin or Greek origin, or create a false correlation with those. For example, the word island was thought to come from Latin insula, but is actually of Anglo-Saxon origin and was once spelled igland, and later, iland (compare with the corresponding Dutch word eiland).
  • Doubt and debt have never been pronounced with a [b] sound; they came to English from French, and the ‘b’ was taken in from their Latin antecedents dubitum and debitum.

Increase coherence with etymological roots

Many English words are based on French modifications (e.g., colour and analogue) even though they are derived from Latin or Greek. Spelling reform by reason of etymological origin should not be confused with phonetic spelling reform, even though the spelling of some words may converge; in other cases, the objectives may be divergent (e.g., fibre). See American and British English spelling differences for greater detail.

Remove redundancy

  • Most reform proposals would reduce the number of letters per word on average.

Spelling reform proposals

See also: List of reforms of the English language

Most spelling reforms attempt to improve phonemic representation, but some attempt genuine phonetic spelling, usually by changing the basic English alphabet or making a new one. All spelling reforms aim for greater regularity in spelling.

Using the basic English alphabet

Common features:

  • They do not introduce any new letters, symbols or diacritics.
  • They rely upon familiar digraphs.
  • They try to maintain the appearance of existing words.

Notable proposals include:

Extending or replacing the basic English alphabet

Among other things, these proposals seek to eliminate the extensive use of digraphs such as “ch”, “gh”, “kn-“, “-ng”, “ph”, “qu”, “sh”, voiced “th”, voiceless “th” and “wh-“. The impetus for removing digraphs is so each letter represents a single sound. In a digraph, the two letters do not represent their individual sounds but instead an entirely different and discrete sound, which can sometimes lead to mishaps in pronunciation.

Notable proposals include:

Advocates of reform

A number of respected and influential people have been active supporters of spelling reform.

See also

Wikipedia Multilingual Encyclopedia

Selected Links for ESL & EFL Students

Bilingual Activities

Babel Fish Translation

English / German / Spanish Pronunciation

Dave’s ESL Café

Dictionnaire de la langue française

Google Translate

Multilingual Word Search Dictionary

French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Word Reference

Free Automatic Translators

Omniglot Writing Systems and Languages of the World  


Please punctuate the following “Dear John Letter“:

Dear John I want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men  I yearn for you  I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart I can be forever happy will you let me be yours Gloria    




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