Did Some Letters Get Kicked Out of The English Alphabet?

Narrator: Hey, Smarty Pants, think back to when you were younger and trying to learn the letters of the Alphabet. Now, obviously there are many different Alphabets in many different languages, but I’m talking about the English Alphabet. Was there something that helped you learn the letters that make up this Alphabet?  A little song, perhaps? Come on, I know you know the words. Sing it with me for old time’s sake. I’ll even get my friends A, B, and C to join us

Everybody ready?

A: Ready.

And away we go. 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. Now I know my ABCs. Next time won’t you sing with me?

C: Oh, yeah. I love that song.

B: Me too C, but there’s one thing I’ve always wondered.

C: What’s that? B?

B: Why do we always say know you’re ABCs when the song is about knowing all the letters in the alphabet?

C: A, that’s because me, you and C are kind of the leaders.

B: I mean, sure, you’re the first letter A and me and C come right after you. But don’t you think we’re all equally important? After all, it takes all of us to make up an alphabet.

A: Sure B, but you do know the word alphabet is Greek for A and B, right? Alpha and Beta, so really me and B are the definition of Alphabet.

B: Hey, what about C?

Narrator: Hold on, if I can just interject in English. When we say alphabet, we’re referring to the 26 letters that form all of the words in our language. But that’s not the true definition of Alphabet.

A: No offense trusting narrator, but this is an A, B conversation. You can see your way out.

B: You’re not even a letter. What do you know about letters and Alphabets?

Narrator: I might know more than you think my Phonemes friends.

B: Phono what?

Narrator: Phonemes, that’s what members of an Alphabet are. Alphabet refers to any collection of symbols that represent a single sound that can be used to form words like b as in B, or z as in Z. Each one of you is a Phonemes one symbol for one sound.

A: A,

B: B,

C: C.

Narrator: Exactly. And there are other similar Alphabets out there, but there are also lots of other languages that require different sounds and different symbols to represent those sounds.


C: You mean there are more of us?

Narrator: Like hundreds more of you. And get this, not all Alphabets have 26 symbols.

Speaker 5: See, the Italian alphabet has a 21. The Russian alphabet has 43,

Narrator: But that’s nothing. The Common language of Southeast Asia has 74 symbols in their Alphabet.

B: Wow!

Narrator: Different languages mean different words, which mean different sounds and different symbols. But what exactly is an Alphabet? How was the English Alphabet developed? And who invented the Alphabet song? Get ready for another whiff of science and history.

Narrator: Who Smarted?? And Who Smarted? Who Smarted? Is it you? Is it me? Is it science or history? Listen up everyone. We make smart things lots of fun on Who Smarted?

Narrator: Let’s start by taking another look and listen to the Alphabet song.

A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

Narrator: So Smarty Pants, do you know who invented this song? You’ve probably sang a gazillion times. The common answer is the ABC song was first copyrighted under the title The School Master in 1834 by an American named Charles Bradley. But while Mr. Bradley may have had the ingenious idea of making a song out of the letters of the English Alphabet, the tune or melody is definitely not his. How do we know this? Try singing one or both of these popular kids’ songs. Twinkle, twinkle Little Star or Blah Blah, Black Sheep.

Go ahead, sing them. I’ll wait. Did you notice anything when you sang these songs? Why it is the same as the Alphabet song? The Twinkle Twinkle words were written by an English poet, Jane Taylor in 1806, but the song goes even further back than that. The oldest published version of the Tune is from 1761, but we don’t know who wrote it, and it doesn’t have any words, but we do know who helped make it popular. Any guesses? Did you say Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

That’s right. The famous composer Mozart adapted the music in 1785, calling it [foreign language 05:07] meaning; ah, mother, if I could tell you. Here it is.

A: I think I’ll just stick with calling it the ABC song.

Narrator: Good idea. When the ABC song first became popular, not many children went to school. That meant most people never learned to read or write. Over time, people realized the importance of reading and writing so more and more children were taught the A, B, C song, because putting things to music is a great way to help you remember things.

C: Oh, yeah. I always use songs to remember things.

A: What about other alphabets? Do they have songs too?

Narrator: Well, yes and no. To answer that, we need to first take a look at the two types of symbol collections known as Autograph. Our Alphabet is just one example of orthography.

B: Hold on. Back up a second. Trusting narrator,where did orthographies come from?

Narrator: They came from well, all over, and probably around the same time in history. Orthographies had to evolve as a means for emerging civilizations to communicate and share ideas among themselves,

Speaker 5: How to best express me wanting to catch a fish.

Narrator: But those early civilizations didn’t immediately come up with 20 or so symbols. What do you think they drew first?

C: A illustrations,

B: B numbers or C maps?

Narrator: If you guessed A illustrations, you are right.

C: A

Narrator: Over 30,000 years ago, early humans etched and painted drawings, usually on cave walls that depicted what appears to be stories or some form of relaying information. At least two civilizations, Sumerian and Egyptian developed their early orthographies by incorporating very small pictures or pictography, which at first represented the object itself, but eventually could represent either the object or an associated sound.

B: You mean like if I drew a bumblebee to represent a buzz buzz bee, but then later use the same picture to represent the sound made by a Bee.

Narrator: Great example, B. Now, the first system to move beyond pictographs entirely included only 22 phonemes. Let’s see if you can guess who did that. Was it A-the Greeks, B-the Koreans, or C-the Venetians,

C: A,

B: B

A: C

Narrator: The correct answer is C, the Venetians. The Venetians were the first civilization to invent an Alphabet. The Venetians collected 22 symbols to represent 22 sounds, all of which were consonant sounds. They didn’t include vowel sounds, which makes this orthography an object.

A: How can you have words without vowels?

Narrator: What do you think? Smarty Pants think about how much you use your AEIOU and sometimes Ys. How does a language work without vowel sounds? We’ll be right back with the answer.


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Now, back to Who Smarted?

Narrator:  I’m going to say a few words, see if you can tell what they have in common. Ready further, mother, brother, stir. Did any of that make sense? I was saying father, mother, brother, sister only without the vowels sounded pretty weird, right? Vowels are good. Vowels are our friend. Vowels cost money on wheel of fortune. But as it turns out, there are Alphabets called objects that don’t include vowel sounds. Now, if you’re used to speaking English, you’re probably wondering

B: How can that be?

Narrator: Well, B, in languages that use objects, vowels are still spoken, but they don’t exist as visual symbols. So they’re left out when it comes to writing words down, wherever vowels are missing on the page, the reader has to contribute that knowledge. A few objects are still used today like Persian and Arabic, two totally different languages that use many of the same Alphabet letters.

A: So how did the vowels like me make it in?

Narrator: Well, A, just as the Venetians based their system on one, the Egyptians came up with the Greeks then based their system on that of the Venitcian with some adjustments

A: Like the addition of vowels like me Alpha, the original first letter of the Greek Alphabet.

C: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s all Greek to me.

Narrator: But Alpha’s, right? The Greeks added vowels to their Alphabet, and that Alphabet branched off in two separate directions. One, the ionic system stayed in Greece where Alpha still has a place in the Alphabet, while the other you ban branched off with the Greeks who settled in Italy. That evolved into the Etruscan alphabet, which was adapted into the Latin Alphabet on which many of the world’s languages are based like French, Spanish, Czech, Dutch, Welsh, Polish, German, and English.

B: So English is based on that Latin Alphabet.

Speaker 5: Yes, Latin [Foreign language 13:24]

C: But that sounds nothing like English,

Narrator: Right? That’s because as Latin made its way towards England, the people there combined Latin with the Furtalk language they were already using, and the result was early English

Speaker 6: Alas, I am thorn, a Furtalk letter that did not make it into the English alphabet.

B: Ah, that stinks. What happened?

Speaker 6: In Furtalk I made the th sound, but the combination of the letters T and H made me obsolete or unnecessary.

B: Wait, I thought an Alphabet was supposed to be one symbol for one sound th uses two letters, T and H. That doesn’t seem fair to old thorn over here.

Narrator: Yes. English is complicated that way. We have symbols in our Alphabet that make or pair up with another letter to make additional single sounds. You letter C are a good example. How many sounds do you make?

C: I can do c like Cat and s like century, and ch when paired with H, like in champ,

Narrator: Double or triple duty by a given letter is what makes English, what is known as inconsistent. In fact, English is generally considered the most inconsistent language of all.

Speaker 5: I can’t argue with that. I’m a different sound than almost every other word.

Narrator: So if we have one symbol that can do several jobs, other symbols become unnecessary. Sorry, thorn.

Speaker 6: Thanks.

Narrator: But the evolution of orthographies didn’t stop there. While the Latin alphabet was spreading and evolving, the Cyrillic Alphabet, a similar collection of phonemes that evolved from the Greek language, became the basis of the Russian alphabet among others. The symbols look different from the letters you are used to seeing, but they’re phonemes, so they’re considered Alphabetic. The same is true for Korean, different symbols than other Alphabets, but symbols that represent a single sound.

B: Okay, but most importantly, are there Alphabet songs and other languages?


Narrator: There sure are. Here’s a few. See if you can tell what languages they are. You just heard French, German, Spanish, Finnish, Arabic, and Ukrainian.

A: Sorry Trustee narrator. I never should have doubted you know your ABCs

B: And these through Zs, too.

A: Hey, yeah.



A super shout out to smarty fan Samuel C in Los Angeles, California. I’m so happy to hear that Who Smarted?  makes you smarter and that you learn something new each episode. To be honest, I also learn new things every episode. So let’s keep smarting together.

This episode, the Alphabet was written by Jenna Hoban and voiced by Taya Garlett, Jenna Hoban, G Davis, Brandon Bayless, Adam Tex Davis, and Jerry Colbert.

Technical direction and sound design by Josh Hahn

Who Smarted? is recorded and mixed at the Relicroom Studios. Our associate producer is Max ABC Kamaski.

The theme song is by Brian Suarez, with lyrics written and performed by Adam Tex Davis.

Who Smarted? was created and produced by Adam Tex Davis and Jerry Colbert. This has been an atomic entertainment production.

A, B, C you later.