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a writing system used by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, as well as the ancient Hebrews and Moabites. Records written in the alphabet date from the second half of the second millennium B.C to the fourth century A.D.
The Phoenician alphabet, together with the Ugaritic and South Semitic (Thamudene, Safaitic, Lihyanite, and ancient South Arabic) alphabets, apparently derives from the ancient Canaanite syllabic or consonantal pictographic writing. Versions resembling the original Canaanite writing system are represented in pseudo-hieroglyphic writing from Byblos and in inscriptions from the Sinai and Palestine dating from the first half of the second millennium B.C; the Lycian, Lydian, and Carian alphabets of Asia Minor appear to be derived from the Canaanite system as well. The Phoenician alphabet used 22 graphemes, as opposed to the probable 29 or 30 of the parent system.
Almost all phonetic writing systems can be traced back to the Phoenician alphabet. The Samaritan and Aramaic systems derived from the Phoenician; Aramaic, in turn, is an ancestor of the Hebrew, Nabataean, Arabic, and other alphabets of Southwest Asia. Georgian and Armenian are indirect descendants of Aramaic, and the Sogdian, Uighur, and Mongolian alphabets also derive from the Aramaic system. The early, unattested versions of the Phoenician alphabet were the source for the Phrygian and Greek writing systems and their derivatives, which include Latin, Cyrillic, and many others. They were also the source for Brahmi writing and its derivatives—the writing systems of India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet.
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Dunand, M. Byblia grammata. Beirut, 1945.
Driver, G. R. Semitic Writing From Pictograph to Alphabet. London, 1954.
Gelb, I. J. The Study of Writing, 2nd ed. Chicago, 1963.
Jensen, H. Die Schrift in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, 3rd ed. Berlin, 1969.