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July 2019

World’s Most Beautiful Alphabets

Languages with stunning characters

Some languages are harder to learn than others, and often the languages most difficult for Western learners are those with different alphabets. While the need to learn a new alphabet is certainly a challenge, the reward can be a beautiful new world of script.

Many languages around the world have stunning writing systems that are so aesthetically pleasing they often become art. Learning a new writing system can also change the way you perceive language and therefore the world. Even something as simple as switching from the left-to-right writing of romance languages to the top-to-bottom, right-to-left writing of many Oriental languages can be a unique change.

Let’s take a look at some beautiful alphabets, listed in no particular order.

Arabic

The Arabic alphabet, also known as the Arabic abjad, features a cursive style of lettering, resulting in a visual style that's very flowing. Letters are often connected, and the simplicity and roundness of characters adds to the minimalist appeal. There are a total of 28 letters today, with variations across similar languages such as Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, Urdu, and more. Roots for the alphabet go back to 356 CE with roots in the Nabataean alphabet. Perhaps its most beautiful rendition can be found in the illuminated Islamic manuscripts, where the writing is set in shimmering gold.

Chinese

Chinese characters are called hanzi (“Han characters”) in China. The writing system originated as drawings, evolving into the symbols we see today. It’s the oldest continuously used writing system in the world, and it can also be found in Japanese (in the form of kanji) and Korean (similar characters can be found in South Korea, though its use is in decline). There are tens of thousands of characters, so learning them all would truly be a feat. Functional literacy requires the learning of as many as 4,000 characters, making Mandarin (the official language of China) truly a challenge. Like Arabic, Chinese characters are themselves an art form. In the simple art of calligraphy, we can see the subtleties of each character painted out.

Tibetan

You may already be familiar with Tibetan script, as its presence can be found across modern media. Created around the mid-7th century CE, the Tibetan script features characters with sharp lines and elegant curves. There are 30 basic letters, and most words are monosyllabic. Punctuation known as a tsek (་) is used to separate syllables.

Devanagari

Devanagari is the writing system used in the Indian subcontinent. Many languages use it, including Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, and many more. This makes Devanagari one of the most used writing systems in the world (over 120 languages adopt it). The script dates back to as early as the 1st century CE. There are 47 main characters with 14 vowels and 33 consonants.

Greek

Another of the world's older alphabets is the Greek alphabet. Dating back to around 800 BCE, this script is derived from the Phoenician alphabet and includes 24 letters. Greek letters are often found in symbology, whether it's in religious texts or mathematics. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end", God declares according to the Bible, using the Greek alphabet as a metaphor for the first and the last of all things. In mathematics, letters like delta (Δ), which means “change”, are often found in formulas. Known as a Cyrillic script, similarities can be found in other language writing systems such as the Slavic languages (Russian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian) and many non-Slavic languages (Aleut, Kazakh, Tajik, to name a few).

Every language system has its beauty, of course, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What is considered unique and exotic to some are commonplace for others. Do you have any additions you would make to the list above? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” telc English for more articles on language and culture from around the world!

(image: Wikipedia)

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