Vol.5, No.2 | [Articles] Inventors of the First Alphabetic System: Hints from Two Alphabetic Inscriptions in the Middle Bronze Age (1900-1500 BCE)




During the Middle Bronze Age (1900-1500 BCE) some Asiatics, called Canaanites, who would have learned Egyptian writing, hieratic and hieroglyphic Egyptian scripts, left the earliest specimens of alphabetic writing. Yet they could reconstruct and remember the general form of the letters they had learned through the meaning of the names, on the basis of their acquaintance with Egyptian writing systems. The appearance of the alphabet is a remarkable advance in civilization, outdating the clumsy writing systems of the Near East. At the time of its creation, it was a practical expedient to counter the lack of a native writing system among Canaanites who had migrated to the Nile Delta as foreign workers. This new device was never regarded as an improvement or a replacement for the sophisticated systems of Egypt or Mesopotamia. No large scale writing or official use was involved at the time of its creation. The alphabetic system, however, enables ordinary people to read and write even the simplest of words and sentences and left far reaching consequences for human civilization.

Keywords : alphabet, hieroglyph, hieratic, Proto-Sinaitic, Wadi el-Hol, Serabit el-Khadem, Semites, acrophonic principle, disruptive innovation