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Being able to write is so fundamental that perhaps we can hardly imagine not being able to record our ideas. However, had it not been for a group of foreign soldiers in Egypt in around 2000 BC we would not have the simple, effective alphabet that we use today. They developed an accessible script that could be used by ordinary people.


David Sacks’ 2003 book details the development of this amazing invention that has impacted on all of our lives. It recounts the creation of the phonetic alphabet which, it is now thought, was designed by Semitic soldiers in the Egyptian army. They noticed the usefulness of writing amongst their Egyptian superiors and took 25 symbols hidden with hieroglyphics that represented sounds and adapted the idea to create a new set of 27 letters needed to represent their language. By keeping the list short they created a script that could be easily remembered and used by ordinary people.

This idea could be adapted to different languages as the Phoenicians soon found. Trading across the southern Mediterranean they subsequently introduced their script to the Greeks. By about 800BC they had refined the letters and created the basic ideas we now use. The Etruscans adapted the notions to their needs and spread them into Italy and on to Rome. The Romans then refined the letters and their meaning to create the alphabet we know.


The original 27 Semitic letters were all consonants using symbols with a strong pictorial element which, for an illiterate population, were easy to recognise and remember. These were reduced to 22 by the Canaanites before they passed to the Phoenicians who changed some orientations and simplified the forms. Although the individual sounds have changed the basic letters still remain in much the same order as we know today. The Greeks introduced the vowels, but it was the Romans who consolidated the developments and created the letters and sounds used today.

Now three quarters of the population of Earth use a phonetic alphabet to depict some 100 languages. 


This small box of laser cut wooden letters offers a complex mix of letterforms seen as a jumble  of shapes. They are viewed at different angles and are a variety of colours and tones. Some of the letters are in full light and some obscured by shadow.

All of the elements of the drawing selected to show the detail of the work

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