The Articulatory Basis of the Alphabet

Allott, Robin (2000) The Articulatory Basis of the Alphabet. [Book Chapter]

Full text available as:



The origin of the alphabet has long been a subject for research, speculation and myths. How to explain its survival and effectiveness over thousands of years? One approach is in terms of the practical problems faced by the originator of the alphabet: another would examine the archaeological record; a third might focus on the perceptual process by which the alphabet makes rapid reading possible. It is proposed that the alphabet originated in an intellectual sequence similar to that followed by Alexander Bell and Henry Sweet in constructing their Visible and Organic Alphabets.The originator of the alphabet used the same kind of introspective analysis of his own speech sounds and of the manner in which they were articulated. This was the vital step. The next step was to represent the articulatory differences in terms of visual patterns. One way to understand what might have been involved is to attempt to replicate the process oneself.

Item Type:Book Chapter
Keywords:alphabet, hieroglyphics, cuneiform, articulation, Henry Sweet, Visible Alphabet
Subjects:Linguistics > Historical Linguistics
Biology > Evolution
ID Code:3311
Deposited By: Allott, R M
Deposited On:13 Dec 2003
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:55

References in Article

Select the SEEK icon to attempt to find the referenced article. If it does not appear to be in cogprints you will be forwarded to the paracite service. Poorly formated references will probably not work.

Bernal, M.G. (1987) On the Transmission of the Alphabet to the Aegean before 1400 B.C. BASOR [Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research] 267: 1-19

Blakiston, J.R. (1883) The Teacher: Hints on School Management. London: Macmillan.

Brunner, H. (1976) Hieroglyphic Writing. Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol. 8

Davy, Charles. (1772) Conjectural Observations on the Origin and Progress of Alphabet Writing. London. Cadell & Elmsly.

Diack, Hunter. (1965) In Spite of the alphabet. London: Chatto & Windus.

Diringer, David. (1968) The Alphabet: A key to the history of mankind. London: Hutchinson.

Diringer, David. (1976) Alphabets. Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol. 1.

Doblhofer, Ernst. (1973) Voices in Stone. London: Paladin.

Driver, G.R. (1954) Semitic Writing: From Pictograph to Alphabet. London: OUP.

Gelb, I.J. (1952) The Foundations of Grammatology. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Gelb, I.J. (1976) Forms of Writing. Encyclopaedia Britannica 19: 1033-1044.

Harris, Roy. (1986) The Origin of Writing. London: Duckworth.

Herodotus. 484-425 B.C.[1858]. The History. Trans by G. Rawlinson ed. by E.H. Blakeney. London: Dent.

Jensen, Hans. (1970) Sign, Symbol and Script: An Account of Man's Efforts to Write. 3rd edition. Trans. George Unwin. London: Allen & Unwin. [In German (1935)Revised German edition (1958).

Ladefoged, Peter. (1967) Three Areas of Experimental Phonetics. London: OUP.

Martinet, André. (1993) L'Alphabet: Un concours de circonstances. La Linguistique 29: 17-24.

National Autistic Society. (1981) Language Development. London: National Autistic Society.

Naveh, Joseph. (1982) Early History of the Alphabet. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University.

Paget, R.A.S. (1929) The Origin of Alphabets. Letter in Nature 124: 228.

Park, Clara Claiborne. (1972) The Siege. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Pearson, P. David ed. (1984) Handbook of Reading Research. New York: Longman.

Powell, Barry P. (1991) Homer and the origin of the Greek alphabet. Cambridge: CUP.

Sass, Benjamin. (1991) Studia Alphabetica: On the Origin and early History of the Northwest Semitic, South Semitic and Greek Alphabets. Freiburg, Switzerland: UP Freiburg.

Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. (1992) The Origin of Visible Language. In Language Origin: A Multidisciplinary Approach ed. by Jan Wind et al., pp. 225-241. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Senner, Wayne M. ed. (1989) The Origins of Writing. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Sweet,Henry. (1971) The Indispensable Foundation: A Selection from the writings of Henry Sweet. ed. by Eugenie J.A. Henderson. London: OUP.

Trevarthen, C. (1990) Growth and education in the hemispheres. In Trevarthen, C., ed. Brain circuits and functions. CUP, pp. 334-363.

Watt, W.C. (ed.) (1994), Writing systems and Cognition: Perspectives from Psychology, Linguistics, and Semiotics. Dordecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


Repository Staff Only: item control page