Workshop on Chinese calligraphy by the master calligrapher Zou Le Sheng, Amsterdam, January 29, 2005
Some 26 alphabets are in use worldwide. Of these, Roman, Arabic and Cyrillic scripts are international. An alphabet can in principle capture any language.
1. Roman letters are used in otherwise unrelated languages such as Dutch, Swahili and Vietnamese. The dictionaries and grammars of the Zulus, Navajo and the inhabitants of Azerbadjan are entirely alien to one another; their languages sound entirely different from one another, but they are recorded in Roman letters.
2. Arabic script is used in the written languages of Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and other countries where people do not speak Arabic. The Arabic alphabet serves nine major languages that are linguistically unrelated to Arabic: Berber in Morocco, Nubian in Sudan, Farsi and Kurdish in Iran, Urdu and Sindhi in Pakistan, Pashto in Afghanistan, Uighur in China, and Malay in Malaysia.
3. Cyrillic script is used by Bulgarians, Mongols, Russians and other peoples who cannot understand one another’s languages.
Alphabets do not have linguistic borders. And vice versa: every language can in principle be rendered in any arbitrary alphabet…