A-Z is for alphabet

It’s Wednesday and it’s over to my guest blogger, Rambler5319, to sum up the last month’s blogging challenge with a fascinating look at the alphabet as we know it….

Given that LLM has been doing the letters from A to Z through April, I thought it might be an idea to close the whole thing with a look at the alphabet as a concept. How many letters do you think are in the English Alphabet? I’ll tell you – it’s 18. Now before you start shooting me down…. Think about it!

How did we get our letters? Who said eventually there should be only 26? Why 26 anyway as opposed to 25 or 27? Were there more or less at any time during its history?

Even the word alphabet itself, as you know, is made from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: “Alpha” & “Beta”. (I do wonder why we don’t use a term like A-Z to represent it as they are the first and last letters and kind of encompass what the whole thing is. What about the revolutionary phonetic 8-2-Z or just 82Z? Following the Greek it would of course come over to us as the “Alpha-ome” or “Alpha-omeg” as “Omega” is their last letter not “Z”.

I suppose one thing is difficult to comprehend is how do you think outside of this set of letters which we have all known since we learnt them in primary school and from early reading books at home. We can express all our thoughts using these 26 so why would there be more? What use would they be anyway?

Of course it does make a difference which country’s alphabet you are referring to. Think of Germany where they have 30 letters in their alphabet; Albania has 36; Greece 24 and so on. It’s interesting to ponder how all the different alphabets developed and how time has changed what is deemed useful and what not.

Apparently it all goes back to an alphabet from around 1600BC from ancient Phoenicia from which many of our modern day alphabets derive. It was made up of consonants and didn’t have any vowels. Now already, if you’re like me, you’re thinking how can you write without vowels? It can’t make sense. However if you grow up never using vowels in their written form you don’t have a problem. You learn the way to write that the culture you’re in writes. Put simply, it means you make a sound with the letters which is taught to you. So if, for example you learn the word dg but you hear it as “dog” when spoken by others you will simply say “dog” when you see the letters dg and so the “o” is not needed. The problem comes if you need to represent “dig”. It might be “dg” again but you would have to tell correct pronunciation by the context. Just think of “refuse” and “refuse” in English: one sound is “reff use” for rubbish, one is “re fuse” for turn down or deny. I remember years ago I did write a number of letters to various people and did just that – missed out all the vowels. Surprisingly there was very little problem. The most issues came when using the short words like an which would appear as just “n” (so could also be an, in, on or even one and so on) but often the context would enable correct interpretation. The single letters I and a were just not shown so would require a bit of reasoning to see if they should be in at a particular point. Try this paragraph below – each group of letters is actually one word so single letters need something adding in front/behind or both:

Th s f twnty-sx lphbt lttrs n r nglsh systm nbls s t rprsnt ds, cncpts nd snds sng wrds md p frm ths

dffrnt lttrs. Ths s why lrnng t rd s s mprtnt s t nbls cmmnctn; t nbls s t ndrstnd wht smn ls s syng nd

wht thy wnt. t s ssntl fr s t b bl t pss n nfrmtn frm gnrtn t gnrtn, frm tchr t ppl, frm mnngr t shp flr

wrkr nd s n. f w mss t th vwls t shrtns ll r wrds (s lss ffrt nvlvd sm wld sy) bt ls my prdc msndrstndngs.

I’ll give you the full version at the end but, seriously, just stop for a moment and see what you can make of it.

English didn’t really standardise until printing came along (late 15th century) which required people to use a particular method of spelling for the presses. There are a number of letters (symbols?) now defunct but which explain some of the oddities in English pronunciation.

As an example, one letter pronounced “yog” but written “yogh” looks like a number 3 but is actually like a copperplate “z” with a tail. One of our current Liberal Democrat MPs is called Sir Menzies Campbell. Hands up everyone who thinks his name is pronounced “Men-zees” (and yes that was me when I first saw it). When he appeared on TV he was introduced or mentioned in the news as Sir “Ming-iss” Campbell. How did that happen? Well apparently it’s all down to this letter “yogh” which is written like the “z” but pronounced with a “g” sound; it’s a bit more complicated than that but I reckon the detailed phonetics explanation may bore you. You have the same with the surname “Dalziel”. (There was a UK detective prog called “Dalziel & Pascoe”.) Again you want to say “Dal-zeel” or “Dal-zee-ell” but it’s pronounced “Dee-ell”. In my youth I visited a place spelt Cholmondeley and I said “Chol-mon-dell-ee” to the telephone operator and she said “Oh, you mean “Chum-lee”? Think of the surname “Featherstonehough” – Feather-stone-huff? Nope – It’s “Fanshaw”.

And finally a gem from the John Menzies own website (http://www.johnmenziesplc.com/history.aspx)

Can you read this correctly:

A lively young damsel named Menzies

Inquired: “Do you know what this thenzies?”

Her aunt, with a gasp,

Replied: “It’s a wasp,

And you’re holding the end where the stenzies.”

Remember the Menzies to Ming-iss and do the same for the other “enzies” endings. Got it?

The other area which is already producing additional letters to our alphabet is the whole text-speak thing. Think of some of the abbreviations which are replacing phonetic sounds from our words: gr8 for great mean 8 = ”eat”, 4 means “for” or “four” (context to decide) and so on. I even thought of one which I don’t think is out there yet (and probably not likely to be) –

LOL

Have you got it? It’s lol written as capital LOL: move O left into L and flip the other L through 180⁰ and move left to make the square and there you have it. I’ve invented a new letter! You saw it first here, you are looking at the future.

And, of course, if you want to finish a message an “x”, you could maybe get

LOLX

Now back to that paragraph with the challenge. Here’s how the full version reads:

The use of twenty-six alphabet letters in our English system enables us to represent ideas, concepts and sounds using words made up from those different letters. This is why learning to read is so important as it enables communication; it enables us to understand what someone else is saying and what they want. It is essential for us to be able to pass on information from generation to generation, from teacher to pupil, from mananger to shop floor worker and so on. If we miss out the vowels it shortens all our words (so less effort involved some would say) but also may produce misunderstandings.

Hope you got it ok.

PS I’m standing by for some tricky replies/comments as I’m sure some of you will want to have a go at me.

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