How many alphabets are there in the world, and how many letters are in them?
Well, that’s a question with a bunch of possible answers that are fun to dig into!
First, it’s important to know that it is almost impossible to nail down an exact amount. It depends on what you define as an alphabet, whether or not it is still in use, and if you are counting slight variations as separate alphabets.
In a world where most people speak different languages, there are only so many sounds that we can create without mouths. Over time, languages have developed their own ways to communicate these sounds. These sounds have become associated with symbols on paper which eventually turned into words when people started writing things down. From the oldest alphabet on Earth to the newest, each one has it’s own way of combining consonants, vowels and diacritic marks to create their unique style!
How many letters are in the most common alphabets?
Latin has 23 letters. 21 of the letters are derived from the Etruscan alphabet. The rest of the letters, I, J, V, U, and W, were differentiated as separate letters later, in medieval times. Did you know, Latin is the most widely used alphabet in the world, with over 20 languages deriving from it! It’s also the oldest language, with origins dating back to the 7th century BC?
Some countries are transitioning to using the Latin alphabet from another currently. Kazakhstan is one of them and will most likely be exclusively using the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet by the year 2025.
Chinese has approximately 20,000
The Chinese alphabet is a logosyllabic combines 23 consonants and 24 vowels in different ways to create those 26 letters. While it’s not technically considered an alphabet, it is used by about 15% of the world’s population, so it’s definitely worth mentioning in an article about alphabets! If the thought of memorizing 20,000 characters seems impossible, fear not. You only need to know about 3000 to be considered fluent. Youve got this!
Arabic has 28 letters
All of the letters are consonants, but 3 of them can represent vowels in different contexts! Arabic is unique in form as well, with sentences being written in reverse. For example, the English sentence: “Bananas are yellow” would read as “wolley era sananaB”.
Devanagari has 47 letters
There are 33 consonants and 14 vowels. The Devanagari alphabet has been adapted to be used by over 120 languages worldwide, making it the 4th most popular writing system in the world.
Bengali has 51 letters, including 40 consonants and 11 vowels. It’s one of the most unique looking alphabets because when the letters are written, a line across the top links them all together. It is used to write more than 8 languages used across Bangledash and Eastern India!
How many letters are in the least common alphabets?
Tiffinagh has 55 letters. It is an alphabet used by the Tuareg people of Northwestern Africa to communicate their language, Tamashek. The alphabet, which has been used since the 3rd century, has been modified recently and is being used in Morrocan Elementary schools.
Syriac has 22 letters. All of the letters are consonants, and diacritic marks are used to indicate vowels. It derives from the Aramaic alphabet and has been used to develop dozens of languages and writing systems. Despite this, it is now an endangered language.
Thaana has 38 consonants 12 vowels and is the official language spoken in the Maldives. The government is looking to implement a Latin alphabet, making the Thaana language endangered.
Inuktitut 15 consonants and 3 vowels, that combine to create about 45 symbols used in the alphabet. Inuktitut has branched out to include many different dialects, with hundreds of distinct suffixes to differentiate them. The alphabet can be written using either the Roman alphabet, or Abugida, which uses aboriginal syllabics and symbols.
Cherokee is one of the newest languages, possibly even the newest, if you don’t count J.R.R. Tolkien’s creation of the Elvish alphabet! It’s is describes as more of a syllabry than an alphabet, since each of Cherokee’s symbols represent a syllable. There are 85 syllabric characters altogether. The Cherokee alphabet was created by a man named Sequoyah (George Guess) in approximately 1816.
Fun Fact: Speaking of made up alphabets, Elvish, Dothraki, and Klingon are all alphabets and languages that were created for modern day fiction!
How many letters are in the shortest alphabet?
There are only 12 letters in the Rokotan alphabet! This language is spoken by roughly only 4000 people on the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. The alphabet is made of symbols, but the sounds resemble the American alphabet letters A, E, G, I, K, O, P, R, S, T, U, V and S.
It’s followed closely by the Hawaiin alphabet, with 13 recognized letters.
How many letters are in the longest alphabet?
Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, has 74 letters! Another cool fact about the Khmer language is that it doesn’t use spaces; all of the words in a sentence just run together.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our brief foray into the rich history of world alphabets. If you would like to count words in your text you can do it on the page or our online tools.
What is your favorite fun fact? Do any of these alphabets surprise you or remind you of a different culture? From Roman to Arabic, each alphabet has its own history and culture that is worth learning about!
For your reference we accumulated all reviewed alphabets in one table.