Proto-Canaanite alphabet

Infobox Writing system
name=Proto-Canaanite alphabet
languages= Canaanite languages
time=ca. 1400 BC to 1050 BC
fam1=Egyptian hieroglyphs
children=Phoenician alphabet
Paleo-Hebrew alphabet
Aramaic alphabet
Greek alphabet
Many hypothesized others

The Proto-Canaanite alphabet is a consonantal alphabet of twenty-two acrophonic glyphs, found in Levantine texts of the Late Bronze Age (from ca. the 15th century BC), by convention taken to last until a cut-off date of 1050 BC, after which it is called Phoenician. About a dozen incriptions written in Proto-Canaanite have been discovered in modern-day Israel and Lebanon.

Relationship with other writing systems

While a descendant script from the Egyptian hieroglyphs, it is also the parent script of Phoenician, itself the ancestor of nearly every alphabet in use today, from Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Roman and Berber in the West to Thai, Mongol, and perhaps Hangul in the East. The Hebrew alphabet remains the closest to its predecessor, as only the form of the letters has been modified - unsurprising, since Hebrew is a Canaanite language and had, in its original pronunciation, roughly the same set of consonants as the dialect that the alphabet was devised for.

Predecessor scripts, possibly still partly logographic, were discovered in central Egypt in 1905 and 1999 (see Wadi El Hol). These early scripts may have had more letters than are found later, and may also have included letter variants (different letters that could be used to express the same phoneme).


The names of the letters, which survive in the Greek, Arabic and Hebrew alphabets, were probably already present. The names are based on the acrophonic principle, presumably from Semitic translations of the names of Egyptian hieroglyphs. For example, Egyptian "nt" (water) became Semitic "mem" (water), ultimately evolving into Latin M, while Egyptian "drt" (hand) became Semitic "kapp" (hand), and ultimately Latin K.

The alphabetic order is unknown. The related cuneiform Ugaritic alphabet had two alphabetic orders, an ABGD order similar to that of the Hebrew, Greek and Latin alphabets, and an transl|sem|HLḤM order attested in the South Arabian and Ge'ez alphabets.

One reconstruction of 22 letters, equivalent to the Phoenician alphabet which evolved from it, follows. The Hebrew, Greek, and Latin descendants follow.


*Cross, F.M. (1991) "The Invention and Development of the Alphabet" in Senner, Wayne M. (ed.) "The Origins of Writing". Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-9167-1. Paperback
*Diringer, David and Freeman, Hilda (1983) "A History of the Alphabet". Headley-on-Thames: Gresham Books. ISBN 0-946095-03-5
*Healey, John. (1990) "The Early Alphabet". London: British Museum.
*Naveh, Joseph. (1982) "The Early History of the Alphabet". Leiden: E.J. Brill; also: (Magnes Press: The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1987)

ee also

*Armenian Alphabet
*Byblos syllabary
*Egyptian hieroglyphics
*Greek Alphabet
*Hebrew Alphabet
*Middle Bronze Age alphabets (including Sinaitic)
*Phoenician alphabet
*South Arabian alphabet
*Ugaritic alphabet

External links

* [ Hebrew Alphabet - Chart 1]
* [ Hebrew Alphabet - Chart 2]
* [ Hebrew Alphabet - History]

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