The epigraphic genre of abecedaria, inscriptions representing all or part of an alphabet, have rarely been studied in their own right. One of the most exciting features of the inscribed alphabets of the ancient world is that they typically display a combination of contemporary and archaizing, innovative and conservative, local and foreign features. Even as abecedariahave been used to reconstruct the orthographic inventories and standard letterforms of local writing systems, it is well known that model alphabets are typically very conservative, often even more than authoritative public inscription, and that they retain archaic or foreign features long after those have dropped out of everyday use. In this way, alphabetic texts routinely display features associated with multiple writing systems.
A particularly striking example of this is the set of well-known early alphabets from Etruria (late seventh century), including the Marsiliana d'Albegna tablet, the "galletto di Viterbo" (a bucchero inkpot in the shape of a rooster), and the mysterious Veii amphora (accompanied by what seems to be an incantatory ownership and authorship inscription). Each abecedariumretains characters not active in either the Etruscan phonemic or orthographic inventories (including the Greco-Semitic charactersfor O, B, and D). Of particular interest is the calamaio in bucchero (inkpot) from the Regolini-Galassi tomb (also seventh century). This is decorated with the typical 26-character model alphabetic sequence around its base and a full syllabary around the bowl. Like the retention of the unproductive seventh character of the Roman alphabet before the introduction of G in the second century, the inclusion of O, B, and D in the Etruscan model alphabet shows the deep conservatism in the transmission of the alphabetic sequence. On the other hand, the exclusion of O from the syllabary on this same pot demonstrates the greater intimacy between the secondary practice of syllable-construction with the functional reading and writing of the language.
Cross-cultural comparison, such as with ancient Akkadian/Sumerian, reveals that instruction-intensive scribal cultures are particularly conservative with regard to character-shapes. This feature has often been associated with "alloglottographism" (usually defined as writing in one language for reading aloud in another). The extent to which the early central Italian abecedariarepresent scribal culture is doubtful. Already at the end of the seventh century, signs of writing—and particularly, of literate education—appear in increasingly domestic contexts, reflected by the inclusion of inkpots and alphabets among the grave goods of élite burials in Etruria. Still, insofar as abecedaria demonstrate markedly multi-scriptural features and can be considered to transcribe letter-names in multiple and perhaps competing languages, they should be included in the category of the earliest Greco-Italian alloglottographs.