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Phoenician Alphabet, Mother of Modern Writing
Alphabetic writing was already well established in the Late Bronze Age at Ugarit where a cuneiform script was used. The Phoenician alphabetic script is similar to early Hebrew and Aramaic scripts of the first millennium B.C.
The Phoenicians were not mere passive peddlers in art or commerce. Their achievement in history was a positive contribution, even if it was only that of an intermediary. For example, the extent of the debt of Greece alone to Phoenicia may be fully measured by its adoption, probably in the 8th century BC, of the Phoenician alphabet with very little variation (along with Semitic loan words); by "orientalizing" decorative motifs on pottery and by architectural paradigms; and by the universal use in Greece of the Phoenician standards of weights and measures.
Phoenician words are found in Greek and Latin classical literature as well as in Egyptian, Akkadian, and Hebrew writings. The language is written with a 22-character alphabet that does not indicate vowels.
Although the Phoenicians used cuneiform (Mesopotamian writing), they also produced a script of their own. The Phoenician alphabetic script of 22 letters was used at Byblos as early as the 15th century B.C. This method of writing, later adopted by the Greeks, is the ancestor of the modern Roman alphabet. It was the Phoenicians' most remarkable and distinctive contribution to arts and civilization.
The oldest of the attested Semitic languages, Akkadian, was the vehicle of a great ancient literature written in a logosyllabic cuneiform writing system of Sumerian origin. Records of other ancient Semitic languages exist in various forms. Amorite, another ancient Semitic language, is known from proper names; Ugaritic (please see image of Ugaritic cuneiform, right) was written in a quasi-alphabetic cuneiform script unconnected with the Akkadian. The Canaanites of Phoenicia used a still undeciphered syllabic script, the Proto-Byblian, in the 2nd millennium BC, while those of Palestine and the Sinai Peninsula employed another undeciphered writing, the Sinaitic script, which may be alphabetic in nature. All the other Semites used and, for the most part, still use consonantal quasi-alphabets with no means or only imperfect means to distinguish the vowels. All such alphabets -- of which the more important are the Hebrew, the Syriac, and the Arabic -- are descended from the Phoenician linear quasi-alphabet of 22 signs, first attested at Byblos and externally similar to the Proto-Byblian script. All the European alphabets are descendants of the Phoenician, and all the Asiatic alphabets are descendants of the Aramaic variants of the Phoenician.
From a South Arabian variant of the earliest
Semitic alphabet the Ethiopians developed a syllabic writing still in
use for the languages of Ethiopia. Maltese uses the Latin alphabet.