Evolution of the Alphabet

Languages

 

=== PRINTS HAVE SOLD OUT ===

 

Unfortunately, all of the limited edition signed & numbered prints are now gone and I will not be printing any more. However, you can download the chart and print it yourself using the below links. Or you can check out this related poster.

Note that the images below are licensed as "Creative Commons BY-SA-NC" so you're free to use them, print them, and/or post them anywhere on the internet so long as you give credit to Matt Baker, UsefulCharts.com and do not sell them.

 

I created this "Evolution of the Alphabet" chart as part of a Kickstarter campaign for a much larger Writing Systems of the World chart. I included it as a bonus reward but when the original printed version ran I out, I decided to make it available as a free download for everyone. 

In April 2018, an image of the chart went viral on Twitter (over 24,000 RT's & 54,000 likes) resulting in many comments. Here are a few notes based on the discussion:

  • I originally titled the chart "Evolution of the English alphabet" and many people commented that there is no such thing as an English alphabet and that the chart should be titled "Evolution of the Latin alphabet". Actually, both titles are correct. Obviously, many European languages use the same Latin script. But some use a slightly different number of letters. When one is referring to the set of Latin letters used for a particular language, it's ok to refer to that set as the "[language name] alphabet". However, in the end, in order to be more inclusive, I decided to change the title to simply "Evolution of the Alphabet" and use the row titles to make it clear that it is the evolution of the standard Latin script that is being shown (as opposed to say, the Cyrillic or Hebrew scripts).
  • During the medieval period, there were certain letters, such as wynn and thorn, that became part of the English alphabet. These are not shown on the chart but are included on the Writing Systems of the World chart
  • The fonts used include ProtoSinaitic (free), Alphabetum (commercial; used for the Ancient Greek/Latin lines) and Google Noto (free; used for Phoenician).
  • Sources used include:
    • Coulmas, F. (1999). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. Blackwell: Oxford.
    • Drucker, J. (1995). .The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination. London: Thames & Hudson.
    • Haley, A. (1995). Alphabet: The History, Evolution, and Design of the Letters We Use Today. New York: Watson-Guptill.
    • Robinson, A. (2007). The Story of Writing. London: Thames & Hudson.
    • Sacks, D. (2003). Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of the Alphabet from A to Z. New York: Broadway Books.
    • Several linguists were also involved in fact-checking the project, including Peter T. Daniels, the world's foremost expert on writing systems.
  • If you want a more detailed explanation of how the alphabet evolved and why certain letters flipped and changed, I actually did a YouTube video on the subject:

 


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  • Maria-Ester on

    Incredible, this to me is a discovery, I have a passion for words and letters and especially the form on specific writing methods, so this is part of my treasure, thank you for sharing this in FaceBook. Have a good day.

  • inga johansson on

    About the W – double U, that is a real letter in Esperanto alfabet Ŭ ŭ
    it is a little u above the U – two U – a double U
    not a double V like you write in English.
    The dog barks Ŭaŭ Ŭaŭ Ŭaŭ and a baby cry Ŭaaa….

  • Erwin van den Buys on

    Absolutely astonishing what this guy is doing….. I order several posters now!!!
    Nicely explained as well on YouTube!!
    I am blown away……

  • Emily Canter-Amthor on

    Thanks TONS for this chart! I’d seen a similar one in an English gift shop 22 years ago and regretted not buying it then. this one even better! I use it to teach students before introducing them to Calligraphy.

  • Celest on

    Thanks for your hard work and generous sharing



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