You ask a kid about how many in the English alphabet, and they will tell you that it consists of 26 letters in a snap.
But there is more to the English alphabet than we know. It has been adapted in many places and has taken a form of its own.
For example, the Hawaiian alphabet, which consists of 13 letters only and was adapted from the English alphabet in the early 19th century by American missionaries.
Apart from the adapted alphabets, English is closely related to other languages that were derived from Latin, including French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
I have prepared a brief background of the English alphabet and concisely explained other major alphabets, including the Cyrillic alphabet.
Let’s get started.
What is an Alphabet?
An alphabet is a set of letters in a specific order used to represent the sounds of a language.
This set follows a fixed order based on the language or customs of the society within which it is being used.
Each letter represents a single sound or a group of related sounds—also known as phonemes—used in spoken language.
How Many Letters are in the Alphabet?
The English Alphabet is made up of 26 letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z. (a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z).
Before the 16th century, this list only had 23. Three letters—J, U, and W—were then added from Old English.
The letters ‘J’ and ‘U’ were added in the 16th century, after the letter ‘W’ had evolved from ‘uu’ to become an independent letter.
Consonants and Vowels
There are 21 consonants and 5 vowels if we are talking about letters only.
But, if we consider the other definition of consonants and vowels, we see that they are also speech sounds.
If we have to factor in an element of accents, then we have more than 21 consonants and 5 vowels.
For the sake of brevity and clarity though, let us stick to 21 consonants and 5 vowels.
There Used to be 29 Letters, This is What Happened
The original Old English Alphabet, which was recorded in the year 1011 by a priest and monk called Byrhtferð, had 29 letters.
Later, the following 6 letters were dropped from the Old English alphabet: & ⁊ Ƿ Þ Ð Æ.
The 23 letters that remained from the original Old English Alphabet were A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, V, X, Y, and Z.
The three letters: ‘J,’ ‘U,’ and ‘W’ were then added from Old English
This is why the ‘Modern English Alphabet’ is made up of 26 letters: 23 from Old English and 3 that were added later.
While many people may be familiar with the number of letters in English (if they at least know how to speak English), they may not be familiar with numbers in other languages.
What is the Cyrillic alphabet?
The Cyrillic alphabet was developed for Slavic-speaking peoples of the Eastern Orthodox faith in the 9th–10th century.
Two disciples of Cyril and Methodius named Saints Naum and Clement are credited with creating the Cyrillic alphabet.
The Cyrillic alphabet is now part of various alphabets for more than 50 European and Asian languages. The list of languages includes Serbian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Macedonian, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Uzbek, and Tajik.
The alphabets derived from the Cyrillic alphabet have more letters than the English alphabet. For example, Bulgarian has 30, Serbian 30, and Ukrainian 33 characters.
The Russian alphabet
The modern Russian alphabet, which was also derived from the Cyrillic alphabet, has 32 letters.
There is another character, which raises the number of characters to 33, but it is more of a sign than a letter).
А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я.
The German alphabet
The German language is different, but it has the same number of letters as the English alphabet: 26.
A (Ah), B (Beh), C (Tseh), D (Deh), E (Eh), F (Eff), G (Geh), H (Ha), I (Ih), J (Yott), K (Kah), L (Ell), M (Emm), N (Enn), O (Oh), P (Peh), Q (Kuh), R (Err), S (Ess), T (Teh), U (Uh), V (Fau), W (Veh), X (Iks), Y (Ypsilon), Z (Tzett).
However, there are some differences in pronunciation partially because of the presence of diacritics.
Plus, the German alphabet also contains 3 umlauts (Ä,Ö,Ü) and one ligature (ß).
The German ligature, (ß) (also known as the called Eszett (Sz) or scharfes S, “sharp s”) is pronounced like the “s” in “see”.
English speakers will feel familiar with the Spanish alphabet, but note that there are actually 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet.
A (A), B (be), [C (ce), Ch (che)], D (de), E (e), F (efe), G (ge), H (hache), I (i), J (jota), K (ka), L elle), M (eme), N (ene), Ñ (eñe), O (o), P (pe), Q (cu), [R (ere), RR/Rr (erre)], S (ese), T (te), U (u), V (uve), W (uve doble / doble u), X (equis), Y (ye, i griega), Z (zeta).
These 27 letters combine to create about 30 different phonemes, a number that isn’t fixed due to the fluidity of the Spanish language.
A sexier term for this fluid is dialectal variation.
Like English, the Spanish alphabet is a variant of the Latin alphabet. So, it has the same 26 letters as in the English alphabet plus the characteristic letter ñ.
The formal Italian alphabet has 21 letters only; the letters j, k, w, x, and y don’t exist in the official Italian alphabet. When they are used, the word is usually from a foreign language or a name integrated into the Italian language.
A (A), B (Bi), C (Ci), D (Di), E (E), F (Effe), G (Gi), H (Acca), I (Ee), L (Elle), M (Emme), N (Enne), O (O), P (Pi), Q (Qu), R (Erre), S (Esse), T (Ti), U (U), V (Vi, Vu), Z (Zeta).
Among many unique elements of the Italian language is a double consonant. A double consonant means that the word has to be pronounced twice as long as a single one. This also means that, for some words, the meaning of the word changes completely.
Japanese has two alphabets: hiragana (the standard alphabet), and katakana (an alphabet used for loan words).
The two Japanese alphabets represent the exact same sounds but are written differently. They both have 46 basic characters and some additional characters/sounds can be derived from the basic 46.
The Japanese alphabet has so many letters because letters represent syllables instead of basic sounds. Each of the alphabet symbols represent one syllable.
あ a い i う u え e お o
か ka き ki く ku け ke こ ko
が ga ぎ gi ぐ gu げ ge ご go
さ sa し shi す su せ se そ so
ざ za じ ji ず zu ぜ ze ぞ zo
た ta ち chi つ tsu て te と to
だ da ぢ ji づ zu で de ど do
な na に ni ぬ nu ね ne の no
は ha ひ hi ふ fu へ he ほ ho
ば ba び bi ぶ bu べ be ぼ bo
ぱ pa ぴ pi ぷ pu ぺ pe ぽ po
ま ma み mi む mu め me も mo
や ya ゆ yu よ yo
ら ra り ri る ru れ re ろ ro
わ wa を wo ん n/m
The Portuguese alphabet contains 23 letters. It has the same Latin roots, just like the English alphabet.
Just like the Italian alphabet’s missing letters, the Portuguese alphabet doesn’t have the letters K, W, and Y.
The three letters only appear in words that have been borrowed from foreign alphabets.
A (ah), B (bêh), C (sêh), D (dêh), E (eh), F (ehfee), G (sêh), H (ah-gah), I (ee), J (sota), L (ehlee), M (êhmee), N (êhnee), O (oh), P (pêh), Q (quê), R (eh-hee), S (ehsee), T (têh), U (oo), V (vêh), X (shes), Z (zêh).
The English alphabet, just like many other alphabets, came from the Latin alphabet and has 26 letters.
Other languages use similar alphabets and it’s easy to compare the letters; but the Cyrillic alphabet, which has been edited and adapted by some European and Asian languages, is in its own category.
Learning languages derived from the Cyrillic alphabet means forgetting everything you know about languages with the western languages with Latin roots.
Out of all these alphabets, the English alphabet is the most used, with almost every country on earth using it in some way.