Scientists have found the roots of the English Alphabet

Scientists have discovered the roots of the English Alphabet by researching how writing developed during the 2nd and 1st millennia BC. The origins of the English Alphabet can be traced back thousands of years, originating in the ancient city of Ugarit, located in modern-day Syria.


The project which thoroughly examined how writing developed during the 2nd and 1st millennia BC, has uncovered the roots of the English Alphabet. According to experts, the ancient inhabitants of Ugarit wrote in a type of cuneiform script which was composed of wedge-shaped signs on clay.

Ugarit was a sea port city in the Northern Levant and became an important economic center in the Ancient Near East. It also was known as a major trading hub between Egypt and the major powers of Bronze Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. And although it was inhabited close to the Neolithic period (c. 6500 BCE), it was not until c. 1900 BCE that Ugarit begins to establish itself as a major center of trade.
Ugarit’s importance was rooted not in its military prowess, but in its political and economic pragmatism. The ancient civilization fell around the 12th century due to the combined pressure of the steady collapse of the palace-temple economy due to the ruralization of the Ugaritic countryside, and the migration of the Sea Peoples from the west.

All of the texts found at Ugarit come from the Late Bronze Age.

Eight different languages have been taken from Ugarit: Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, Luwian, Hurrian, Egyptian, Cypriot-Minoan and Ugaritic.
There are also five distinctive writing systems were used at Ugarit, the two most common were the Sumero-Akkadian logo-syllabic and Ugaritic.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia

Phoenicians who inhabited parts of modern-day Syria used the same order in their ancient alphabet and it is known that the ancient Greeks borrowed Phoenician systems and even use some of its parts today, meaning that nearly everything can be traced back to its origin.

This is how researchers were able to find out that what we today known as ‘Modern English Alphabet’ actually appeared thousands of years ago. The ancient alphabet was used over 3,000 years ago in the ancient city of Ugarit, located in modern-day Syria.

Now, experts firmly believe that because of the high level of interconnectedness in the ancient Mediterranean and other parts of the world, the alphabet used in the English language could have spread as people moved to different regions, traded and interacted in every-day life.

Thanks to a project called Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems (CREWS) established by the University Of Cambridge, we will finally better understand how writing developed during the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE.

The project is exploring how different writing systems of the past together with cultures that used this system related to each other.

‘The project researchers will be working on specific case studies relating to inscriptions of the ancient Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean and Levant (c.2000-600 BC),’ Dr. Philippa Steel, principal investigator of ERC project Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems, shared about the project.

‘By looking at the ways in which writing systems were developed and used, we can study not only the systems themselves and the languages written in them but also the cultural settings in which they were adapted and maintained.’

This concept is supported by evidence uncovered by researchers in the ruins of Ugarit and is known as ‘the abecedarian system, found on surviving tablets with letters meticulously arranged in an alphabetical order.

Researchers believe that the wedge-shaped signs, impressed on clay tablets were used by teachers to training young scribes.

Even though the Ugaritic collapsed by the middle of the twelfth century BCE, its alphabet didn’t end. Ancient Phoenicians who inhabited parts of Syria and Lebanon were found to use the same type of alphabet. And while their language was related to Ugaritic, scholars have concluded that their writing methods were different.

Interestingly, the ancient Phoenician alphabet began with the letters Alep, Bet, Gimel, Dalet – similar to our A, B, C and D.

‘The links from the ancient past to our alphabet today are no coincidence. The Greeks borrowed the Phoenician writing system (Many argue Hebrew alphabet and they are correct) and they still kept the same order of signs: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta,’ said Dr. Steele.

‘They transported the alphabet to Italy, where it was passed on to the Etruscans, and also to the Romans, who still kept the same order: A, B, C, D, which is why our modern alphabet is the way it is today.’

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