The ABC of ABCs – Global Alphabets uncovered

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How many different alphabets are in use around the world? Did you know the alphabet we use in the UK today – the Latin, or Roman alphabet – is the most widely used writing system in the world? It dates back to around 1100BC and is used by around 100 different languages and roughly two billion people. But it’s not the only alphabet in existence.

There are actually around 46 different alphabets in use today.

Some widely used ones include Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese script, Cyrillic, Devanagari, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese script, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Latin, Sinhala, Thai and Tibetan.

While a ‘true’ alphabet is one which uses both consonants and vowels, other writing systems have no vowels at all, or indicate vowels using a diacritic mark.

A – Amharic, Arabic and Armenian alphabets
B – Bengali and Burmese alphabets
C – Chinese script has symbols to represent the whole word or idea
D – Devanagari uses symbols to represent syllables instead of sounds
E –  Everyday, about 2 billion people use the Latin and Roman alphabet
F – Fictional alphabets total 25 from books and films etc.
G – Georgian and Greek alphabets
H – the Hobbit, & Lord of the Rings have their own alphabets created by JRR Tolkien
I – International Phonetic Alphabet
J – Japanese alphabet includes the kanji character set with the hiragana and katakana scripts
K – Khmer and Korean alphabet
L – Latin and Lao alphabet
M – Morse code
N – No vowels in some alphabets, but they’re sometimes indicated by using diacritic marks
O – One Hundred languages use the Roman or Latin alphabet making it the popular
P – Papyrus was commonly used for the Egyptians to draw Hieroglyphics
Q – Quantities of Daggers in various positions make up the ‘Daggers’ alphabet
R – Roman or Latin alphabet dates back to 1100BC
S – Sinhala and Semaphore are both forms of communication
T – Tibetan alphabet
U – Used alphabets around the world total 46
V – Vowels and consonants make up ‘true’ alphabets, while others use markings
W – Witches alphabet is called Theban and is used to write spells
X – ‘X’ is a classic example of a letter that is also used as a symbol – ‘X marks the spot’
Y –Yi is part of the Chinese family of scripts
Z – Zhuang alphabet

Alphabets come in all shapes and sizes, literally

Some alphabets bear no resemblance whatsoever to the one we are familiar with. One such example is the Indian Devanagari alphabet which uses symbols to represent syllables instead of sounds. And the Chinese script has symbols representing a whole word or idea.

Other writing systems around the world include the international phonetic alphabet, syllabic alphabets and communication systems such as the Morse code and semaphore.

Magical alphabets used by witches

Interestingly, there are also several ‘magical’ alphabets, including the Theban alphabet which is used by witches to write spells and ‘Daggers’, which is literally made up of images of daggers in different quantities and positions. This is also apparently used for magical purposes.

25 fictional alphabets

There are also over 25 fictional alphabets around the world that have been created for books, films and computer games. You may already be familiar with Tolkien’s Scripts, invented by JRR Tolkien for his novels The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

While all of these alphabets and writing systems may look to be very different, they all have one important thing in common – they help us to communicate. And without them we’d literally be lost for words.

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