The cultures of the world use a huge range of different alphabets, from Mayan glyphs to Chinese characters to the Arabic abjad. A number of different writing systems developed independently of each other, but many are derived from each other. In Italy, the Greek, Etruscan and Latin alphabets co-existed, among many others – tracing the development of these alphabets in Italy, and the borrowings between alphabets, is an important part of our research. All of these alphabets have different varieties too – there were many varieties of the Greek alphabet being used in different cities in Italy, for example.
It’s an interesting topic in itself, but we are also trying to find out how the different alphabets of Italy represent the sounds of different languages. For example, do the inscriptions using the Greek alphabet to write Latin give us any extra detail about how Latin was pronounced?
If you want to know more about the background to the writing systems of the world, including the Greek alphabets and their descendents, listen to James Clackson telling us all about the history of the alphabet, in the BBC Magazine, August 2011.