Evolution of the Alphabet

Languages

 

Note: Signed & numbered prints of this chart are available for a limited time here.

 

 

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 printed versions ran I out, I decided to make it available as a free download for everyone. It's available under a Creative Commons BY-SA-NC license so you're free to use it or post it elsewhere so long as you give credit to Matt Baker, UsefulCharts.com and do not sell it.

 

Click the below links for the latest versions:

 

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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  • Patrick on

    I printed this for my kindergartner who is learning to write and LOVES the history of letters (we got Ox, House, Stick from the library that started it all). She is ecstatic, and now I’m going to get a bigger version printed. Thank you, we’re going to make a donation too and make a second person very pleased.

  • Noel Khan on

    Thank you so much for this work and for making it available! Interesting how symbols evolved gradually, but phonetics changed significantly in some cases.



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