ALPHABET, the several Letters of a Language, disposed in their natural or accustomed Order. See LETTER, and LANGUAGE.The Word is formed from the Names of the two first Letters of the Greek Alphabet, Alpha, Beta; which were borrowed from those of the Hebrew, Aleph, Beth. See AREA, etc.

In the English Alphabet, we reckon 26 Letters, viz. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u w v x y z.See each under its proper Article.But as there is a much greater Number of different Sounds in our Language; 'tis not without Reason that some Grammarians maintain, that there ought to be a greater Number of Letters; As also, that the double Letters, x and y, and the superfluous ones, k and g, should be retrenched. See CONSONANT, VOWEL, etc.The French Alphabet only contains 23 Letters.—Pasquier indeed maintains it to consist of 25, by reason he adds the two double Letters & for "et", and ꝯ for "us"; but those are only Abbreviatures.The Abbe d’ Angeau, on better Grounds, reckons 34 different Sounds in the French Tongue; and urges, that the Alphabet ought of Consequence to consist of 34 different Characters, setting aside the double Letters x and y, and the superfluous one q. See FRENCH.The Difference between Languages, with respect to the Number of Letters, is very considerable: The Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, and Samaritan Alphabets, have each 22; the Arabic 28; the Persian 31; the Turkish 33; the Georgian 36; the Coptic 32; the Muscovite 43; the Greek 24; the Latin 22; the Slavonic 27; the Dutch 26; the Spanish 27; the Italian 20; the Indians of Bengal 21; the Baramas 19.The Ethiopic has no less than 202 Letters in its Alphabet, there being 7 Vowels, which they combine with each of their 26 Consonants; to which they add 20 other aspirated Syllables.— The like is said of the Tartarian; each of their Letters is a Syllable; having one of the Vowels joined to its Consonant: as La, Le, Li, &c.;The Chinese have no Alphabet, properly speaking; except we call their whole Language their Alphabet;their Letters are Words, or rather Hieroglyphics, and are in Number about 80,000. See CHINESE, and CHARACTER.In effect, Alphabets were not contrived with Design, according to the just Rules of Reason and Analogy; but successively framed, altered, &c. as occasion offered—And hence many grievous Complaints as to their Deficiencies;and divers attempts to establish new, and more adequate ones in their place. Bishop Wilkins charges the Alphabets extant with great Irregularities, with respect both of the Order, Number, Power, Figure, &c. -As to the Order, it appears inartificial, precarious, and confused; in that the Vowels and Consonants are not reduced into Classes, with such order of precedence and subsequence as their Natures will bear. Even the Hebrew Alphabet, from which the rest are derived, is not free from this Imperfection. As to Number, they are both redundant, and deficient: Redundant, either by allotting several Letters to the same Power, and Sound; as in the Hebrew ך and כ, and the ordinary Latin c and k, s and ph: or by reckoning double Letters among the simple Elements of Speech; as in the Hebrew צ, the Greek ξ and ψ, the Latin x, cz, sc, and the j Consonant, or Jod.—Deficient in divers respects, especially in regard of Vowels, of which there are seven or eight kinds commonly used; tho the Latin Alphabet only takes notice of five; whereof two, viz. i and u, according to our English Pronunciation, are not properly Vowels, but Diphthongs.Add, that the Difference among Vowels in respect of long and short, is not sufficiently provided for: The Ancients, we know, used to express a long Vowel by doubling its Character; as Aimaabam, Naata, Ree, Seedes, Sanctissimus; tho the Vowel i, instead of being doubled, was frequently prolonged, as apIxis, piso, vivus.—The ways used in English for lengthening and abbreviating Vowels, viz. by adding e quiescent to the End of a Word, for prolonging a Syllable; and doubling the following Consonants, for the Shortening of a Vowel, as Wane Wann, Ware Warr, &c. or else by inserting some other Vowel, for the lengthening of it, as Meat Met, Read Red, &c. are all improper; in that the Sign ought ever to be where the Sound is.As to their Powers, again, those are not always fixed to the same Signification: The Vowels, for instance, are generally acknowledged to have each of them several Sounds: Vocales ouaes plurifone, says Lipsius; and Vossius assures us, the Ancients used their Vowels very different ways, aliquando tenus exilisgite, nunc crassius, nunc intermedio sono. Thus the Power of the Vowel e is expressed in writing no less than six several ways, viz. by e; as in be, me, she, ye: —by ee, in thee, free, we; —by ie, in field, yield, shield, chief; —by ea, in wear, dear, bear;—by eo, in people;—by i, in privilege. So is the Power of the Vowel a; as in all, aul, aw, fault, caught, brought: which are all only various ways of writing the same long Vowel; besides the other distinct ways of expressing the same Vowel when used short: Again, the Power of the Vowel o is written five Ways; o, as in lo, who, move;—oe, in doe.—oo, in foo, moon, noon;—ou, in could, world;—wo, in two; and so of the rest. Nor are the Consonants of more determinate Powers: witness the different Pronunciation of the same Letter (c) in the same Word, Circo; and of g in negligence,—To say no more, the Letters c, s, t, are used alike, to denote the same Power; and the Letter ss is commonly used for z: and which is yet worse, some Letters of the same Name and Shape, are used at one time for Vowels, and at another for Consonants; as i, u, w, y; which yet differ from one another, says Bishop Wilkins, sicut corpus & anima.From this Confusion in the Power of Letters, there arise divers Irregularities; as, that some Words are distinguished in Writing, which are the same in Pronunciation, e.g. Cessia and Sessio, &c. and others are distinguished in Pronunciation, which are the same in Writing; as give, dare, and Give vinculum, &c. Hence also the Latin Asal, is a Disyllable, and the English sale, a Monosyllable.The Names also, in most Alphabets, are very improperly expressed by Words of divers Syllables; as Alpha, Beta, &c. in which respect, the Roman and our English Alphabets, which only name the Letters by their Powers, have a great Advantage over the rest.:Lastly, their Figures are not well concerted; there being nothing in the Characters of the Vowels answerable to the different Degrees of Apertion: nor in the Consonants, analogous to the Agreements or Disagreements thereof. All these Imperfections are endeavoured to be obviated in the Universal Alphabets, or Characters of Mr. Lodowic Bishop Wilkins, &c. See UNIVERSAL CHARACTER.

In the French King’s Library, is an Arabic Work, intitled Sephat Alacham; containing divers sorts of imaginary alphabets, which the Author distributes into Prophetical, Mystical, Philosophical, Magical, Talismanical, etc.; Monsieur Leibnitz had it in view to compose an Alphabet of Human Thoughts. Mem. del Acad. R. An. 1716, 'Tis no wonder that the Number of Letters in most Languages should be so small, and that of the Words so great; since from a Calculation made by Mr. Preset, it appears, that, allowing only 24 Letters to an Alphabet, the different Words or Combinations that may be made out of those 24 Letters, taking them first one by one, then two by two, three by three, etc., would amount to the following Number, 139,172428,887252,999425,128493,402200.See COMBINATION.

It may be here observed, that every Combination may make a Word, even though that Combination have not any Vowel in it; because the e mute or quiescent insinuates itself imperceptibly between the Consonants, or after the Consonants, where there are but two; the latter of which would not be heard without it.—The use of this quiescent e is very remarkable in the Armenian, Welsh, and Dutch Languages; wherein the generality of Words have several Consonants together.

Nor must it be omitted, that every single Letter may make a Word: which is very apparent, where that Letter is a Vowel; Words of that kind being found in most Languages. Thus, α and ο make Words in the Greek; a, o, in the Latin; a, i, o, in English; a, o, y, in French; a, e, i, o, in Italian; a, y, in Spanish; a, o, in the Portuguese; o, in most Languages, and even in the Dutch and Swedish. A Consonant also becomes a Word, by adding an e mute to it in Pronunciation.

In fine, though a considerable Number of the possible Combinations of 24 Letters were retrenched, yet the Number ever would still be immense, and vastly superior to that of the Words in any Language known.

Of all other Languages, the Greek is looked upon as one of the most copious, the Radices of which are only esteemed about 3244 but then it abounds exceedingly in Compounds, and Derivatives. Bishop Wilkins thinks these may be moderately computed at about ten thousand. Hermannus Hugo, indeed, asserts, that no Language has so few as 10,000 Words; and Varro is frequently quoted by learned Men, as if he affirmed that there are in the Latin no less than 50,000: But upon inquiring into the Scope of the Passage, as Wilkins observes, that this Number is not intended by him to express the just Number of Words in the Latin; but the great Variety made thereof by the Inflection and Composition of Verbs—To this purpose he lays it down, that there are above one thousand Radical Verbs in the Latin; and that each Verb admits of five hundred several Varieties: He further supposes, that each of these may be compounded with nine Prepositions; as cedit, recedit, accedit, decedit, etc., which amounts to five Millions. See WORD.

Acynaset, in Matters of Polygraphy, is a duplicate of the Key or Cypher, which each of the Parties corresponding are to keep by them. See CYPHER. - It is properly an Alphabet of the usual Letters disposed in their Order; opposite to, or underneath which, are the secret Characters corresponding thereto, with the blank or useless Letters, and the other Signs or Symbols serving to obscure, and render it difficult to decypher. See DECYPHERING.