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Use of the word "analphabet" in English language
Thread poster: Eva Stoppa

Eva Stoppa  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:50
Member
English to German
+ ...
Aug 15, 2016

Good morning to all participants of this group.

I have a question for native speakers of English.

The other day, I had a conversation with a native speaker of American English about the word "analphabet" when speaking about people unable to read nor write. He told me, that the word "analphabet" is not used in English, it doesn't even exist. Instead, when referring to people who are not able to write and read, you say "illiterate".

Now my -- actually two -- questions. Is it a word which has been in use for a long time? Is it rather one of those euphemisms that are more and more common in different languages?

I wish a successful week to everybody and look forward for interesting replies.

Thank you in advance

Eva


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:50
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
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Rare word Aug 15, 2016

'Analphabet' can be found in some English dictionaries, but is not commonly used in English, and most native English speakers are unfamiliar with the word. The usual word is 'illiterate'.


[Edited at 2016-08-15 18:31 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:50
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Correct. Aug 15, 2016

Yes, the usual term is "illiterate" although in English its meaning is not restricted to "unable to read and write" but is often used to describe a more general (and generic) state of ignorance and lack of culture. I have never come across the word "analphabet" and I am not a young man.

[Edited at 2016-08-15 07:29 GMT]


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:50
Member (2006)
French to English
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Illiterate Aug 15, 2016

Yes, "illiterate" is the usual word for people unable to read and write, or, in these PC days, perhaps, "reading-impaired" or some such ghastliness.
I've never heard or seen "analphabet" used in English, although I'd know that it probably means "illiterate" because "analphabète" is the French word for it. The illiterate themselves wouldn't know what it means.
Tom's right, "illiterate" can also imply generally uneducated.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 09:50
Member (2003)
Danish to English
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Same here Aug 15, 2016

Analfabet is used in Danish too - it is more or less the Greek equivalent of illiterate, both meaning someone who has not learned the alphabet, or 'has no letters'.

Why English uses the Latin and others went for Greek might be interesting, though purely academic for anyone like me, with 'small Latin and less Greek'. But it is the sort of thing that intrigued my parents.


[Edited at 2016-08-15 08:26 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:50
Member (2008)
Italian to English
ghastliness Aug 15, 2016

Jenny Forbes wrote:

Yes, "illiterate" is the usual word for people unable to read and write, or, in these PC days, perhaps, "reading-impaired" or some such ghastliness.
I've never heard or seen "analphabet" used in English, although I'd know that it probably means "illiterate" because "analphabète" is the French word for it. The illiterate themselves wouldn't know what it means.
Tom's right, "illiterate" can also imply generally uneducated.


Yes, and the (very commonly used) Italian equivalent is "analfabeta". According to the authoritative Enciclopedia Treccani, there are about 725 million people in the world who cannot read or write.

There is also a new phenomenon, described in Italian as "analfabetismo di ritorno" (return illiteracy) -insufficient functional literacy skill in individuals who did have an education - "a consequence of the attenuated reinforcement function that social life plays in respect to literacy skills." (Sorry about the bad translation but I'm copy/pasting this bit)".... In fact an oral and iconic culture based on communication tools such as telephone and television has imposed itself."

http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/17997702.pdf

In English, that would be the kind of person who can't use apostrophes correctly, doesn't know the difference between "lose" and "loose", and who doesn't know that "I'll be back momentarily" means you'll be back for a fraction of a second and will then be gone again.

[Edited at 2016-08-15 10:22 GMT]


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 09:50
English to Croatian
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lol. Aug 15, 2016

Jenny Forbes wrote:

The illiterate themselves wouldn't know what it means.


Catchy answer

I haven't encountered "analphabet" in native English texts, only in French.

an-1 ,
a prefix occurring orig. in loanwords from Greek, with the meanings “not,” “without,” “lacking” ( anaerobic; anhydrous; anonymous); regularly attached to words or stems beginning with a vowel or h.Compare a-6.
[< Greek]

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/an


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:50
English to Portuguese
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The corollary Aug 15, 2016

In Portuguese we do have the word "analfabeto". We have the word "literato", to describe someone who works with literature, a writer. We also have the word "letrado", to describe a well-read, erudite individual.

However when we have to translate "digital literacy" - which is pretty obvious and commonplace in English - and use "literacia digital", "literacia" still raises many eyebrows, as it sounds like a recently-invented, faddy word, perhaps invented ad-hoc by that very translator.


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Michael Grant
Japan
Local time: 16:50
Japanese to English
There is a slight difference... Aug 16, 2016

As nouns, the difference between illiterate and analphabet is that an illiterate is a person who cannot read, while an analphabet is, more specifically, an illiterate person who does not know the letters of the alphabet. As an adjective illiterate describes a person who is unable to read and write.

So, I would only use analphabet to refer to the specific case of someone who does not know the alphabet.

MLG4035


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 15:50
Member
Chinese to English
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It exists, apparently Aug 16, 2016

But I've never seen it used, and I'm not sure I ever will.

[Edited at 2016-08-16 07:35 GMT]


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:50
Member (2007)
German to English
aˈnalphabet, a. and n. rare. Aug 16, 2016

"aˈnalphabet, a. and n. rare.

"A. adj. = analphabetic a.

"B. n. Also analphabete. [after F. analphabète, G. analphabet, etc.] One who is totally illiterate or unable to read." †

"Main Entry: an•al•pha•bet
Pronunciation: (,)an-'al-f,-,bet, -bət
Function: noun
Etymology: Greek analphab"tos not knowing the alphabet, from an- + alphab"tos
alphabet
Date: 1881
: a person who cannot read : ILLITERATE
/an•al•pha•bet•ic \,an-,al-fə-'be-tik\ adjective or noun
/an•al•pha•bet•ism \(,)an-'al-fə-bə-,ti-zəm\ noun" ‡


† Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0.0.3) © Oxford University Press 2009.
‡ Merriam-Webster´s Collegiate Dictionary, 2004, 11th edn. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2004).


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:50
Member (2007)
English
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I remember coming across the French word Aug 16, 2016

I immediately thought how nice it was and wished we had it in English. It may well be in the dictionary but I wouldn't feel happy using it in English.

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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 13:20
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
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Not heard it either Aug 17, 2016

Analphabet is a term I have never heard, though I do have heard and read an alphabet (as in, an alphabet soup of acronymns and shortforms)!

Illiterate is the usual term. Some times English also uses unlettered.

But the question you ask is interesting in that the concept seems to exist in other languages too, in addition to French. Jose, Christine and Tom confirm its existence in Portuguese, Danish and Italian. It is there in Hindi too. For example in Hindi, the term for illiterate is निरक्षर (nirakshar), which breaks up into two terms - ni (or nir) and akshar. Ni is a negetiviser, like the un, non, dis etc., of English, and akshar means alphabet or letters.

So this concept has currency across languages. Even in English, if we take take the meaning of "letters" as "alphabet", then here too, in "unlettered" we have something similar to nirakshar or analphabet.

Writing came to languages very recently, and until a few decades ago, it was a skill limited to a very small priviliged community. For the rest it was at par with magic and other supernatural rare events. That is why any learned person is called "a man of letters" or its equivalent in other languages. In other words, knowledge of the alphabets symbolized great learning. To our generation where public funded education has made literarcy almost universal, this seems such a banal thing, but that was not so always. Which is why letters signifies learning and unlettered signifies ignorance.

That reminds me of a proverb about the unletterd in Hindi - kale akshar bhains barabar! Which means, to the unlettered, the alphabets and a buffalo are the same. The relation between the alphabets and the buffalo is that both are black, and an unletterd person notices only that when he sees anything in writing!

[Edited at 2016-08-17 06:47 GMT]


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CafeTran Training
Netherlands
Local time: 09:50
Member (2016)
Alot Aug 17, 2016

Tom in London wrote:

In English, that would be the kind of person who can't use apostrophes correctly, doesn't know the difference between "lose" and "loose", and who doesn't know that "I'll be back momentarily" means you'll be back for a fraction of a second and will then be gone again.

[Edited at 2016-08-15 10:22 GMT]


Does this also apply to the Alot?

https://cafetran.freshdesk.com/support/discussions/topics/6000040481


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:50
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Yes but... Aug 17, 2016

CafeTran Training wrote:

Does this also apply to the Alot?



Yes. Every day. Or as the analphabetics would say, "everyday".


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