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I'm sure that we can trace the order of letters in the modern Latin alphabet to precursors (the Greek alphabet, various Semitic writing systems). But at some point an order had to be chosen for letters without reference to a predecessor, since none existed. What determined the order of letters at that point? Was an order chosen arbitrarily?

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Alphabets in general tend to be arbitrarily arranged according to the idiosyncracies of their inventor. For example, cyrillic has its order due to arbitrary decisions by St. Cyril, the inventor of the cyrillic alphabet.

In some cases, a verbal mnemonic is used to arrange the letters. For example, in the old Gaelic alphabet, it was based on trees, the first stanza going beth, luis, fern, sail, nuin, "b" "l" "f" "s" "n", these trees being birch, rowan, alder, willow, ash. These trees all go together, because they grow in the same kind of places (wet areas).

This may have been true at one time for Phoenician, but whatever the rationale once was, has been lost.

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    I'd think the mnemonic comes after the order is established. – Oldcat Oct 15 '14 at 23:35
  • Then do we know who established or propagated the order of, say, the Roman alphabet? Given the role of the church, perhaps some popular vellum parchment was propagated across monasteries? – LateralFractal Oct 16 '14 at 0:20
  • The Latin alphabet evolved out of the Etruscan alphabet which evolved from the Greek alphabet. I don't know any particular rationale ever given for the ordering of the Latin alphabet. Vellum was not used until 1000 years after the Latin alphabet already existed. – Tyler Durden Oct 16 '14 at 1:04
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    Indeed, the order has been around for a while; but prior to modern education presumably some parchment was passed around to educate the monks of the desired ordering. – LateralFractal Oct 16 '14 at 2:41

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