« Dictionary Index « Definitions under A
A perfect alphabet of the English language, and, indeed, of every other language, would contain a number of letters, precisely equal to the number of simple articulate sounds belonging to the language. Every simple sound would have its distinct character ; and that character be the representative of no other sound. But this is far from being the state of the English alphabet. It has more original sounds than distinct significant letters ; and, consequently, some of these letters are made to represent, not one sound alone, but several sounds. This will appear by reflecting, that the sounds signified by the united letters th, sh, ng, are elementary, and have no single appropriate characters, in our alphabet; and the letters a and u represent the different sounds heard in hat, hate, hall; and but, bull, mute.
The letters of the English language, called the English Alphabet, are twenty-six in number. — Murray.
The following is a list of the Roman, Italic, and Old English Characters, being those used at the present day in England. The Roman and Italic are also used by most of the European nations.
For the characters of the different languages, see their respective names, Arabic, etc.
Tacquet, an able mathematician, in his Arithmeticiae Theor. Amst. 1704, states, that the various combinations of the twenty-four letters (without any repetition) will amount to 620,448,401,733,239,439,360,000. Thus it is evident, that twenty-four letters will admit of an infinity of combinations and arrangements, sufficient to represent not only all the conceptions of the mind, but all words in all languages whatever.
Clavius the Jesuit, who also computes these combinations, makes them to be only 5,852,616,738,497,664,000.
As there are more sounds in some languages than in others, it follows of course that the number of elementary characters, or letters, must vary in the alphabets of different languages. The Hebrew, Samaritan, and Syriac alphabets, have twenty-two letters; the Arabic, twenty-eight; the Persic, and Egyptian or Coptic, thirty-two; the present Russian, forty-one; the Shanscrit, fifty; the Cashmirian and Malabaric are still more numerous. — Astle.