Joan Miles, of Mosgiel, asks :-

Who put the alphabet together?

Kon Kuiper, a linguist at the University of Canterbury, responded.

The answer is no one we know. Humans have been speaking for at least 200,000 years. For almost all that time they did not write. When you write, the most obvious way is to draw pictures of what you want to write down. So a picture of a bird represents a bird. Many writing systems, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Mayan writing and Chinese characters seem to have had that origin.

This has the advantage of making your writing system available to people who speak a different language since a bird looks like a bird regardless of whether you say ‘bird’ or ‘vogel’. It has the disadvantage that there are rather a lot of things you might want to write about and all of them need different pictures and some things you might want to write about, like cowardice, don’t have any obvious pictures you can draw of them.

Alphabets and syllabaries are a different way to proceed. Here you have a mark representing either a speech sound or a syllable. Alphabets have the advantage of needing only a relatively small number of marks since languages generally have under a hundred contrastive speech sounds. With a set of such marks, you can represent any word.

So where did our alphabet come from? It is thought to have had its origin in alphabets used in Mesopotamia some three thousand years ago from where it gradually evolved through various languages including Latin and Greek. It is related to Arabic and Hebrew writing which had the same source. Our alphabet is largely borrowed from Latin and, as a result, it doesn’t do a great job of representing all our speech sounds, one for one, with alphabetic characters. For example 'th' represents two different sounds neither of which is a 't' nor an 'h'.