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Their trade networks made the Phoenicians rich but also enabled cultural exchange and transfer between East and West in an unprecedented way: the most significant was the spread of the alphabetic script which was adopted all over the Mediterranean.
The Phoenician alphabet is a writing system consisting of only 22 signs representing exactly one sound (phoneme) each. The term "alphabet" derives from the names of the first two signs in the sequence, aleph ("cattle") and beit("house"): these names also reflect the letters' shapes, each derived from the picture of an object whose name starts with the relevant sound.
The alphabetic script is simple enough to learn quickly, without the years of dedicated training required to master writing systems such as cuneiform or Egyptian hieroglyphs. Specialised schooling was unnecessary, and literacy was therefore disengaged from the institutional context of palaces and temples where the traditional scripts continued to be used. The alphabet suited the needs of long-distance merchants who needed to be able to record their business affairs on the go and who, for reasons of confidentiality and money, often preferred to write themselves rather than employ a specialist scribe. As the script could easily be used to record any language, it was, in the course of the first millennium BC, adapted for Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Phrygian, Lydian, Etruscan and Latin, to name but a few.