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How Egypt invented the alphabet – History of Writing Systems #7 (Abjad)

How did Egyptian hieroglyphs give birth to
the alphabet? Even in these ancient times, Egyptian monuments
have been sitting and weathering for thousands of years. On their great murals and pillars,
you find rows of little pictures. Sorry, not pictures. Hieroglyphs. Sacred symbols. But,
despite appearances, this isn’t some mysterious Pharaonic picture writing. It’s consonants. One consonant signs! Two consonant signs! Three consonant signs! A wall of consonants!! Plus a sprinkle of logographs for determinatives. It’s not that Egyptian was a harsh, vowelless desert of a tongue.
It simply did not write its vowels. Imagine if you wrote this way. Would that work? And
then imagine if you could add in logographs to make sure you really got your point across? Imagine you wrote like that, and you’re
thinking with hieroglyphs. Too difficult? Fine, off to the caves with
you, where you toil away with with ancient miners on the Sinai peninsula. You and your
fellow miners would find it handy to leave messages for one another. But there’s no
time for deep studies of rows of fancy hieroglyphs in here. You need to keep it simple if you
want another “Major Moments in the History of Writing”! Your characters look like scratchy, rushed
versions of those glamorous Egyptian symbols, but their meaning doesn’t matter anymore.
Nothing but consonants. And the same symbol for the same consonant every time. Take this
character. In Egyptian, it means “house”. These Semitic miners are calling a house a
“bet”. Acrophony, or “top sounds”, suggests that you can just take the first
letter of a word, like the Egyptians had already been doing with much of their consonant writing.
You end up with a letter for your sound “b”. Do the same thing with “water”, which
the Semitic speakers are calling “mem”, and you now have an “m” sound. With a
couple dozen elegant simplifications, you create a simple, reliable list of consonants.
An alphabet! And you’ve given generations of future children the joy of reciting their
ABC’s. Actually, at this point in history, their a-b-g-d’s, sometimes called an abjad
or abgad, because who needs that wishy-washy C when you can just use an S or a K! After a long hard day of mining and etching,
you turn to find that someone’s been watching you this whole time. She’s a trader. A Phoenician
merchant who knows a good thing when she sees it. She’s already made major cash in the
paper business, where they turn tufty, stalky, swampy Egyptian papyrus into flat, inkable
sheets of paper. She rushes back home to Phoenicia and smirks. Think of the advantage she has…
keeping track of whatever anyone else tells her just by remembering about as many characters
as she has fingers and toes. Old kings can keep their obtuse hieroglyphs and their stone
monuments. The future of the Mediterranean will belong to alphabets and paper. Writing
is going portable. She uses this newfound alphabetic leverage
to turn a huge profit across the entire Eastern Mediterranean, leaving people inspired to
adopt and adapt her alphabet wherever she goes. All this and she doesn’t even write
you a thank you card! How hard could it be? Writing is easier than ever! It feels universal, like writing’s here
to stay, for everyone. But there’s a peculiar quirk that’s easier to spot in hindsight.
You and your mining crew were communicating in a Semitic language. Phoenician’s a Semitic
language. All of these friendly shades of the Phoenician alphabet were being used for
languages that sounded similar and worked much the same way. Even Egyptian, though no
Semitic language itself, is at least a distant relative of the Semitic languages, with a
similar personality. This consonant alphabet is being tested in easy waters. But history’s
shaking things up. Your merchant friend comes back for your help. She needs you to deliver
your alphabet to a very different people living along her trade route. What will happen when the alphabet gets leaked outside of the family?

100 Replies to “How Egypt invented the alphabet – History of Writing Systems #7 (Abjad)”

  • it is a bit shocking to see a video from a channel specialized in languages and they ignore the fact that cuneiform wedges or script was way before hieroglyphics ….. I suggest you change your channel to pranks.

  • that's wrong actually it was the phoenecians who invented the alphabets while Egyptians were still using heroglephie …

  • uhhh… That's not how that one happened, not even close. It was definitely the Phoenicians that invented the letters which became the Latin Alphabet. There were Egyptian scripts used by workers based on hieroglyphs: but they looked completely different. While the Phoenicians do seem to have taken inspiration from the Egyptian hieroglyphs for the way some letters look: other letters don't look anything like Egyptian signs.
    Also papyrus came later, not first. Initially people were writing on clay tablets.

  • Alphabet (Alpha Beta Gamma…_) was developed by the Phoenicians not Greeks. Cadmus (Qadi Musa) brought it to Greece. He also brought with him City Planning, Shipbuilding and Seafaring (Sea lanes, Identifying hurdles, maps and wind controls) ….Greece until then had no writing).

  • I love how when the video had the writing in the different languages on the map (3:56) the hieroglyphs essentially translate to the name of the Ancient Egyptian Language. Literally, speech(or language) of Egypt. (r n km.t)

  • This is a joke that birds and trees are single consonant letters. At the time of hieroglyphs the Greek alphabet already existed. Hieroglyphs were a secondary way of communication for the royals of Egypt and they have not been deciphered except by conmen.

  • This notion that hieroglyphs represent consonants is absurd. Why go through all the time and hassle to draw pictures for one letter, it would be like the Mona Lisa representing the letter m.

  • The heiroglyphs were not letters. They did not make sounds. 4,000 glyphs and 26 English letters. Impossible.

  • Egypt Inventing the Alphabet? The Egyptians were stuck in their backwards ways studying their Hieroglyphs which were barely more then pictographs and only using a primitive demotic script for trade when necessary. The far more linguistically superior Sumerians and other Mesopotamian groups not the Egyptians, Phoenicians, nor Greeks, were actually the inventors of the alphabet due to the fact that Modern Neo-Aramaic letters, are all homophones with a word in Aramaic. Each letter in Neo-Aramaic is also very similar to a cuneiform symbol which "coincidentally" has the exact same meaning, and similar pronunciation as the original word the letter is homophones with. Its pretty obvious that the Mesopotamia's, were the inventors of the Alphabet, and spread it to the Greeks. This is why the First Letter in the Aramaic Alphabet is Alap, the word for Ship in Aramaic is Alapa, and the original Aramaic symbol in traditional Aramaic, is written very closely to the cuneiform symbol for ship. This is the same with every single Aramaic letter and is living proof of the Mesopotamia's legacy of the modern Alphabet. By the way, The first letter of the Greek Alphabet is Alpha, Alap is the first letter of the Aramaic one. There is no Greek symbolism for Alpha nor is there a connection between Alpha and ship, but Alap, a much older letter, does have a connection to its cuneiform roots and a meaning behind it. In fact, the Word Alphabet itself, is a combination of Alpha and Beta, the second letter in the Aramaic alphabet, is Bet, Bet is also the word for house in Aramaic, and the symbol for the letter Bet, is almost exactly the same as the cuneiform symbol for house. Do I need anymore proof?

  • What about the Akkadian cuniform from Mesopotamia that came from Sumer and was adopted and adapted by the Assyrians later? That was before Egyptian hieroglyphics.

  • At first I thought she said the merchant was 'Venetian'. I was like "wow, those Italians really got around!" What is the modern day location of the Phoenicians? Jordan or the Holy Land or something?

  • Listen guys, you can tell 40 year archaeologist/anthropologist Dr. Joel Friedman that
    Egypt didn't start this worlds civilization. He and myself would love to learn, from you?


  • this video made me cringe. they didn't sound serious enough, and they were acting as if they were payed to tell, it to a five year old and it sounded like it was a Joke infact Ive heard Dora act more serious'!

  • Funny… Simplifying complex logographs and taking their phonetic meaning is also how the Japanese created their syllabaries. <=D

  • Hebrew did not come from the Phoenician alphabet but vise versa'''! According to a controversial new study by archaeologist and ancient inscription specialist Douglas Petrovich, Israelites in Egypt took 22 ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and turned them into the Hebrew alphabet over 3,800 years ago. the ironic thing is that these Paleo-Hebrew writings are often impossible to distinguish from the Phoenician ones and were just as much a natural development from the earliest Proto-Sinaitic and Proto-Canaanite examples. Yet most sources continue to communicate the standard paradigm. In their article on the Phoenician alphabet, Wikipedia states, "The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1050 BC, is the oldest verified alphabet." This view is maintained despite the fact that the oldest examples don't come from Phoenicia and predate the existence of Phoenician culture. Might this practice be conveniently retained by those who don't want Moses to be considered as a possible author of the Torah? well OF COURSE'''!

  • I know that vowels aren't invented yet (it happens in the next video). But still you can make an effort and not say "rout" instead of "route" at 4:15

  • Why was paleo hebrew used to go with egyptians and then the phoenicians wich was hebrew but pictoral, this babylonian bs.. lmfao.. nice cartooning thoe…

  • Phoenicia is Syria, a special region between Syria and Turkey (Hatay), Lebanon and a special region between Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Lebanon was the home of the royal family, also the place of their Kingdom. It was as known as a place for military forces, harbour and (like) priests, too.

  • The Phoenician language is Hamitic. It is not Semitic. The Phoenician community was an outgrowth from The Canaanites. The Canaanites of course were the descendants of Canaan. And Canaan was The Son of Ham. Much of the confusion it seems comes from modern day scholars who now want you to believe The Canaanites are Semitic. Interesting that a group of people think that they can say just whatever they want to say and that makes it true. One question. What does your bible tell you in The Table Of Nations, Genesis 10-6? The Phoenician language is Hamitic because The Bible tells you so.

  • For additional information about ancient hebrew alphabet please see the attached link.

  • The is plenty of evidence that the Pelasgian Hellenic-Greek alphabet has been in use at least since the middle Neolithic period. The Minians and after them The Minoans are Dorian Greeks , and their Greek is the oldest ( compared to Achaean Aeolian , Ionian , ) as Iamblichus of Syria confirms. The Cretan 'writings' are as follows. Cretan Hieroglyphs 2100-1700bc ( from Hiero=holly and glyphis= to sculpt ) were used mainly in temples and were ideographic ( idea= picture-shape-form and grapho =to engrave ) Linear A 1800 1450 used in Crete ,Cycladic islands ,Mycenae, levante , mainland Greece , Lakonia Sparta ea. Linear B 1450-1200 bc, used in Crete , Mainland Greece , Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes , Tyrintha ea. During the oldpalace pediod (1900-1700bc) Cretan Hieroglyphs coexisted with Linear A. The most important palaces were built during this oldpalace period : Knosos , Festos , Zakros , Malia , Sissy , others were built but not as important. At 1700bc the palace at Knosos was destroyed , it was rebuilt and the new palace period lasted to 1450bc. Linear B is deciphered , its the same Greek spoken today, for example : Knosos in Linεar B = Ko No Sos , krisos ( gold ) in Linar B = ca ru so , thorax in linear B =to ra ko etc. Evans in Scripta Minoa oxford 1909 states without any doubt that The Cretans brought their letters to the Phoenicians. The levante and Asia Minor was colonized by the Cretans and other Greeks since Argia Io times.The Festos Disk of Crete can be deciphered by using Jean-François Champollion dictionary of hieroglyphics,

  • Egyptian Semites, since when? Did u miss the fact that Everything about ancient Eg. is Greek!
    What have the Phenicians to do with Eg.?
    The blue-eyed Semites? lol
    Then this that they didn't have vowels! What a laugh! WHY wouldn't anybody, not write them? Why DO WE USE THEM TODAY are we stupid or were the Egyptians lazy? History says that Greeks migrated to Eg. from Attica (Greece) 50K years ago!
    DO NOT FORGET that the Eg. ancient lingo was called "Demotike" like today's Greek popular lingo.
    Do u know any "Egyptian" words for..Egypt, pyramid, Nile(backwards = Greek), Hierapolis, Psamiticus, Assuan (Naussa, backwards = temple city), port-SAID(backwards =DIAS= the Olympian God!) PS don't u dere name Kemet cause i will wait 4u in the corner!

  • This sounds like it could be the true? Here is what I know. There are two ways to explain this invention: Biblical or archaeological. To be fair to anyone who might take the time to read this, I do not believe in The Bible although I study it all the time.

    The bible version is easy. Jacobs family of 75 Hebrew Israelites came to Egypt, Africa during a famine in Canaan (today called Israel). They stayed in Egypt, Africa for between 200-400 years and grew to 600,000 to 2,000,000. Obviously, they prospered and grew to become very many. Therefore Egypt, Africa, was where they learned culture…to read, write, speak and think. Which of course would be why the creator sent them there, so they would not starve and could learn.

    The archaeological version is even easier because "necessity is the mother of invention". And since Africans were "the original or first people on the face of the earth" by thousands or tens of thousands of years, it is only natural that out of necessity writing would have started in Africa. Writing it seems originally started out of the need to "count things" for different reasons.

    Modern day pseudo intellectual educators (educators of the last 200 years or so) want you to believe that civilization started in Mesopotamia or The Indus Valley. It did not. But as long as you don't do any serious research for yourself, that theory is believable, I guess? But should you do your own research well, such a theory fails.

    For example, you can separate yourself from almost all of the nonsense once you know about The Ishango Bone and what it represents. Then you can throw away all of that Mesopotamia nonsense. Same thing for the Indus Valley. Because what you begin to understand is that Africans already had a society 1000's and 1000's of years before any of those other groups were born…from the migration of Africans out of Africa. I'm simply talking about archaeology and anthropology, nothing more.

    But here's the kicker. The Ishango Bone is still a kind of modern technology compared to the complete timeline of African history. Yes, it is ten to twenty thousand years old, depending on the source you reference. But if you do your research diligently at some point you will discover why even 20,000 years ago is not anywhere near the beginning of the history of humanity in The Black cultures of Africa.

  • I’m confused about water. The video says it was called ‘mem’ but how did it come to be that water was the consonant ‘n’, not ‘m’ (an owl)

  • Recent finds are once again suggesting that it was the Early Israelites in Egypt who were the Semitic inventors of the Alphabet ie Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions

  • It's interesting that the Phoenicians are credited with the creation of the Alphabet, when (till recently?) these 'Proto-Sinaitic' inscriptions have eluded translation. You can't honestly claim which branch of Semitic-speaking people made that writing system if you can't even read more than a couple words common to several Semitic languages.

  • Isn't this alphabet called the Proto-Sinaitic or Proto-Canaanite alphabet ? The originators would be Semitic, not Egyptian. Interesting that some of these Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions in Egypt have been translated by Dr. Douglas Petrovich and have yielded some rather surprising results. It seems that one Egyptian stone slab, Sinai 361, contains the Hebrew name "Moses". ((
    Maybe the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet was developed by Hebrews who lived in Egypt and adapted the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet from Egyptian hieroglyphics. This alphabet later evolved into Paleo-Hebrew, which is very similar to early Phoenician text. Did the Phoenicians get their Alphabet from the Hebrews ?
    Interesting research and developments are being suggested.

  • roman / cyrillic script was derived from greek script which derived from phonecian script which derived from African script…arabic script also derived from African script…thats common knowledge…in fact much of "western civilization" was garnered from Africa

  • Lets rewrite history. Lets just wtite toxic masculinity out of it. Of course SHE did it all…inventing writing…trade…everything.

    She also invented Adderall patches stop those toxic boys from wanting to invent War. ..!

  • Alphabet com's from Semites. The numerals com's from Arabs and Arabs are Semites. And what com's from Europeans noting zero nada

  • Exactly what is her scholarly background in any related field? Nothing is cited despite there being debate on a great may points raised?

  • Not an single European country have dear own alphabet and numerals they use Phoenician alphabet and Arabic numerals Arabic science. Without Semites alphabet and Arabic numerals you whites still living in the caves

  • They didn't! The alphabet, as we know it, is from Mesopotamia… see Ethiopian, for one. Tsk! Silly Americans. … (she?)

  • …too assumptive, 'Bet', was a Surrounding/Enclosing/Father-House, B'H'T, which sense would've come later; the early sense of house, 'het' H'T, was The-Earliest/Starting/Tip…
    …but don't confuse the sense of 'being' when the earlier passes its next is the earliest…
    …the biggest difference between the peoples' languages, was the aborigines, peoples…

  • Wrong– the alphabet came from God when he gave the Law to Moses. There are no books in Egyptia or Phonecian, this is just more antijewish propaganda by the roman scientists of Jihad who have cultural inferiority complexes. Jesus said in Revelation: I Am the Alpha and Omega.

  • This is false history. The ancient egyptians went around and civilized the world with their writting and knowledge. No phoenicians didn't invented anything. Just like the greeks had no writting system until they came into egypt. Its when their force their language on the egyptians the egyptians had alphabet to it.

  • If the consonant symbols alone were enough to unambiguously write things, then why did the Egyptians originally need determinative logographs as well?

  • interesting but there 's a video by a finnish guy explaining the symbolism of where these letters came from , also interesting

  • So It's because of poor jews that where minors for our Aphabet we have today. Gosh the smart Jews So Smart and Practical and talented for inavations and progressing civilization's and societies and things like that Thanks Jews Eveywhere. Thank You All at least Safartic Eveywhere thank you thank you thank thank you. Now if only you guys believed in Jesus all if you that would mane things a lot better and perfect Just Kidding LOL That was just for Laughs. I dodn'don't care what you believe in as long as your a good person and helping humanity and other animals and our Mother Earth & Mother Nature That's For sure Love You All Fo Shizzle!

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