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27–30–22–26 – How Many Letters Needs an Alphabet? The Case of Semitic

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Chapter Summary

To determine how many letters, or graphemes, an alphabet needs, it is crucial to know what a letter is. Despite the traditional Muslim's claim that the Arabic alphabet has 29 letters, modern oriental scholars know that it actually has only 28 letters. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) contains more than 130 graphemes, or signs, and depending on what you really count, there are even more than 160 signs, or 'letters'. In this chapter, the author suggests that the Northwest Semitic shortened or 'short Abgad' does not reflect a spoken dialect at all, but has emerged as a scriptio franca for the Semitic-speaking Levant. The chapter talks about the 'Daniels' Distinction between Alphabet and Abjad. The starting point of the use of the 22-Abgad system by Aramaic local rulers was by clear Phoenician influence, maybe to engarland themselves with an international looking, global-player-like flair.

Keywords:abgad system; Abjad; alphabet; Daniels' distinction; international phonetic alphabet (IPA)

10.1163/9789004217003_003
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