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How Did We Get the Alphabet?

More of this Feature

• Part 2: One Symbol, One Sound

On This Site

• Ancient Civilizations

Elsewhere on the Web

• The Greek Alphabet
History of the Written Letters
The Sumerian Language
A History of the Roman Alphabet

Fun Stuff

• Retail Alphabet Game
The Hieroglyph Translator

Part 1: The Early Days

How did we get the alphabet? It was a long process, spanning thousands of years. It is a fun story, beginning in the early days of civilization.

The first people to write things down carved symbols onto rocks or shells. These symbols represented people or things. For instance, a drawing of a person might mean a person. Put a hat on that person and it meant someone different.

These people who lived a long time ago had simple lives with simple needs. One of the most basic needs (then as now) was food. Before the introduction of agriculture, people were called Hunterer-Gatherers because they hunted animals and gathered nuts and berries for food. To tell each other about how to hunt animals or where to find them, these people drew on cave walls or on animal hides.

Soon, people were growing their own crops. They were also using a system of symbols to stand for people, places, and things. The best ancient example of this was found in Egypt, where hieroglyphs were used. These people believed in many different gods. Each god had its own symbol. Symbols were also used to stand for water, buildings, food, and other parts of life.

But these picture drawings and hieroglyphs represented whole words, not just sounds. How did we get an alphabet?

Next page > One Symbol, One Sound > Page 1, 2

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