Alphabet, Alphabetical order

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Summary

An alphabet is a standard set of letters (basic written symbols or graphemes) which is used to write one or more languages based on the general principle that the letters represent phonemes (basic significant sounds) of the spoken language. This is in contrast to other types of writing systems, such as syllabaries (in which each character represents a syllable) and logographies (in which each character represents a word, morpheme, or semantic unit).

Details

Alphabets often come to be associated with a standard ordering of their letters, which can then be used for purposes of collation – namely for the listing of words and other items in what is called alphabetical order.

The basic ordering of the Latin alphabet (A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

J

K

L

M

N

O

P

Q

R

S

T

U

V

W

X

Y

Z), which is derived from the Northwest Semitic "Abgad" order, is well established, although languages using this alphabet have different conventions for their treatment of modified letters (such as the French é, à, and ô) and of certain combinations of letters (multigraphs). In French, these are not considered to be additional letters for the purposes of collation. However, in Icelandic, the accented letters such as á, í, and ö are considered to be distinct letters of the alphabet. In Spanish, ñ is considered a separate letter, but accented vowels such as á and é are not. The ll and ch were also considered single letters, but in 1994 the Real Academia Española changed the collating order so that ll is between lk and lm in the dictionary and ch is between cg and ci, and in 2010 the tenth congress of the Association of Spanish Language Academies changed it so they were no longer letters at all.

In German, words starting with sch- (which spells the German phoneme ) are inserted between words with initial sca- and sci- (all incidentally loanwords) instead of appearing after initial sz, as though it were a single letter—in contrast to several languages such as Albanian, in which dh-, ë-, gj-, ll-, rr-, th-, xh- and zh- (all representing phonemes and considered separate single letters) would follow the letters d, e, g, l, n, r, t, x and z respectively, as well as Hungarian and Welsh. Further, German words with umlaut are collated ignoring the umlaut—contrary to Turkish which allegedly adopted the German graphemes ö and ü, and where a word like tüfek, would come after tuz, in the dictionary. An exception is the German telephone directory where umlauts are sorted like ä = ae since names as Jäger appear also with the spelling Jaeger, and are not distinguished in the spoken language.

The Danish and Norwegian alphabets end with æøå, whereas the Icelandic, Swedish and Finnish ones conventionally put åäö at the end.

It is unknown whether the earliest alphabets had a defined sequence. Some alphabets today, such as the Hanuno'o script, are learned one letter at a time, in no particular order, and are not used for collation where a definite order is required. However, a dozen Ugaritic tablets from the fourteenth century BC preserve the alphabet in two sequences. One, the ABCDE order later used in Phoenician, has continued with minor changes in Hebrew, Greek, Armenian, Gothic, Cyrillic, and Latin; the other, HMĦLQ, was used in southern Arabia and is preserved today in Ethiopic. Both orders have therefore been stable for at least 3000 years.

The historical order was abandoned in Runic and Arabic, although Arabic retains the traditional abjadi order for numbering.

The Brahmic family of alphabets used in India use a unique order based on phonology: The letters are arranged according to how and where they are produced in the mouth. This organization is used in Southeast Asia, Tibet, Korean hangul, and even Japanese kana, which is not an alphabet.

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