English alphabet

The modern English alphabet is a Latin alphabet consisting of 26 letters, each having an upper- and lower-case form. The same letters constitute the ISO basic Latin alphabet. The alphabet's current form originated in about the 7th century from the Latin script. Since then, various letters have been added, or removed, to give the current Modern English alphabet of 26 letters:

The exact shape of printed letters varies depending on the typeface (and font), and the shape of handwritten letters can differ significantly from the standard printed form (and between individuals), especially when written in cursive style.

English is the only major modern European language requiring no diacritics for native words (although a diaeresis is used by some publishers in words such as "coöperation" or "naïve").[1][2] Written English does, however, have a number of digraphs.

English alphabet
Dax sample
An English pangram displaying all the characters in context, in Dax Regular typeface.
Type
Logographic (non-phonetic ideographic) and alphabetic
LanguagesEnglish
Written English
Time period
~1500 to present
Parent systems
Child systems
ISO basic Latin alphabet
Cherokee syllabary (in part)
Scots alphabet
Osage alphabet
SENĆOŦEN alphabet
Numerous other Latin-based orthographies.
DirectionLeft-to-right
ISO 15924Latn, 215
Unicode alias
Latin
U+0000 to U+007E Basic Latin and punctuation

Letters

The names of the letters are rarely spelled out, except when used in derivations or compound words (for example tee-shirt, deejay, emcee, okay, aitchless, etc.), derived forms (for example exed out, effing, to eff and blind, etc.), and in the names of objects named after letters (for example em (space) in printing and wye (junction) in railroading). The forms listed below are from the Oxford English Dictionary. Vowels stand for themselves, and consonants usually have the form consonant + ee or e + consonant (e.g. bee and ef). The exceptions are the letters aitch, jay, kay, cue, ar, ess (but es- in compounds ), double u, wye, and zed. Plurals of consonants end in -s (bees, efs, ems) or, in the cases of aitch, ess, and ex, in -es (aitches, esses, exes). Plurals of vowels end in -es (aes, ees, ies, oes, ues); these are rare. All letters may stand for themselves, generally in capitalized form (okay or OK, emcee or MC), and plurals may be based on these (aes or As, cees or Cs, etc.)

Letter Name Name pronunciation Frequency
Modern English Latin ModernEnglish Latin Old French Middle
English
A a ā /ˈeɪ/, /ˈæ/[nb 1] /aː/ /aː/ /aː/ 8.17%
B bee /ˈbiː/ /beː/ /beː/ /beː/ 1.49%
C cee /ˈsiː/ /keː/ /tʃeː/ > /tseː/ > /seː/ /seː/ 2.78%
D dee /ˈdiː/ /deː/ /deː/ /deː/ 4.25%
E e ē /ˈiː/ /eː/ /eː/ /eː/ 12.70%
F ef (eff as a verb) ef /ˈɛf/ /ɛf/ /ɛf/ /ɛf/ 2.23%
G gee /ˈdʒiː/ /ɡeː/ /dʒeː/ /dʒeː/ 2.02%
H aitch /ˈeɪtʃ/ /haː/ > /ˈaha/ > /ˈakːa/ /ˈaːtʃə/ /aːtʃ/ 6.09%
haitch[nb 2] /ˈheɪtʃ/
I i ī /ˈaɪ/ /iː/ /iː/ /iː/ 6.97%
J jay /ˈdʒeɪ/ [nb 3] 0.15%
jy[nb 4] /ˈdʒaɪ/
K kay /ˈkeɪ/ /kaː/ /kaː/ /kaː/ 0.77%
L el or ell el /ˈɛl/ /ɛl/ /ɛl/ /ɛl/ 4.03%
M em em /ˈɛm/ /ɛm/ /ɛm/ /ɛm/ 2.41%
N en en /ˈɛn/ /ɛn/ /ɛn/ /ɛn/ 6.75%
O o ō /ˈoʊ/ /oː/ /oː/ /oː/ 7.51%
P pee /ˈpiː/ /peː/ /peː/ /peː/ 1.93%
Q cue[nb 5] /ˈkjuː/ /kuː/ /kyː/ /kiw/ 0.10%
R ar er /ˈɑːr/ /ɛr/ /ɛr/ /ɛr/ > /ar/ 5.99%
or[nb 6] /ˈɔːr/
S ess (es-)[nb 7] es /ˈɛs/ /ɛs/ /ɛs/ /ɛs/ 6.33%
T tee /ˈtiː/ /teː/ /teː/ /teː/ 9.06%
U u ū /ˈjuː/ /uː/ /yː/ /iw/ 2.76%
V vee /ˈviː/ 0.98%
W double-u /ˈdʌbəl.juː/[nb 8] 2.36%
X ex ex /ˈɛks/ /ɛks/ /iks/ /ɛks/ 0.15%
ix /ɪks/
Y wy /ˈwaɪ/ /hyː/ ui, gui ? /wiː/ ? 1.97%
/iː/
ī graeca /iː ˈɡraɪka/ /iː ɡrɛːk/
Z zed[nb 9] zēta /ˈzɛd/ /ˈzeːta/ /ˈzɛːdə/ /zɛd/ 0.07%
zee[nb 10] /ˈziː/

Etymology

The names of the letters are for the most part direct descendants, via French, of the Latin (and Etruscan) names. (See Latin alphabet: Origins.)

The regular phonological developments (in rough chronological order) are:

  • palatalization before front vowels of Latin /k/ successively to /tʃ/, /ts/, and finally to Middle French /s/. Affects C.
  • palatalization before front vowels of Latin /ɡ/ to Proto-Romance and Middle French /dʒ/. Affects G.
  • fronting of Latin /uː/ to Middle French /yː/, becoming Middle English /iw/ and then Modern English /juː/. Affects Q, U.
  • the inconsistent lowering of Middle English /ɛr/ to /ar/. Affects R.
  • the Great Vowel Shift, shifting all Middle English long vowels. Affects A, B, C, D, E, G, H, I, K, O, P, T, and presumably Y.

The novel forms are aitch, a regular development of Medieval Latin acca; jay, a new letter presumably vocalized like neighboring kay to avoid confusion with established gee (the other name, jy, was taken from French); vee, a new letter named by analogy with the majority; double-u, a new letter, self-explanatory (the name of Latin V was ū); wye, of obscure origin but with an antecedent in Old French wi; zee, an American leveling of zed by analogy with the majority; and izzard, from the Romance phrase i zed or i zeto "and Z" said when reciting the alphabet.

Some groups of letters, such as pee and bee, or em and en, are easily confused in speech, especially when heard over the telephone or a radio communications link. Spelling alphabets such as the ICAO spelling alphabet, used by aircraft pilots, police and others, are designed to eliminate this potential confusion by giving each letter a name that sounds quite different from any other.

Frequencies

The letter most commonly used in English is E. The least used letter is Z. The frequencies shown in the table may differ in practice according to the type of text.[3]

Ampersand

The ampersand (&) has sometimes appeared at the end of the English alphabet, as in Byrhtferð's list of letters in 1011.[4] Historically, the figure is a ligature for the letters Et. In English and many other languages it is used to represent the word and and occasionally the Latin word et, as in the abbreviation &c (et cetera).

Apostrophe

The apostrophe (‘) is not considered part of the English alphabet, but is used to contract English words. A few pairs of words, such as its (belonging to it) and it's (it is or it has), were (form of 'to be') and we're (we are), and shed (to get rid of) and she'd (she would or she had) are distinguished in writing only by the presence or absence of an apostrophe. The apostrophe also distinguishes the possessive endings -'s and -s' from the common plural ending -s, a practice introduced in the 18th century; before, all three endings were written -s, which could lead to confusion (as in, the Apostles words).[5]

Phonology

The letters A, E, I, O, and U are considered vowel letters, since (except when silent) they represent vowels; the remaining letters are considered consonant letters, since when not silent they generally represent consonants. However, Y commonly represents vowels as well as a consonant (e.g., "myth"), as very rarely does W (e.g., "cwm"). Conversely, U and I sometimes represent a consonant (e.g., "quiz" and "onion" respectively).

W and Y are sometimes referred as semivowels by linguists.

History

Old English

The English language itself was first written in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc runic alphabet, in use from the 5th century. This alphabet was brought to what is now England, along with the proto-form of the language itself, by Anglo-Saxon settlers. Very few examples of this form of written Old English have survived, mostly as short inscriptions or fragments.

The Latin script, introduced by Christian missionaries, began to replace the Anglo-Saxon futhorc from about the 7th century, although the two continued in parallel for some time. As such, the Old English alphabet began to employ parts of the Roman alphabet in its construction.[6] Futhorc influenced the emerging English alphabet by providing it with the letters thorn (Þ þ) and wynn (Ƿ ƿ). The letter eth (Ð ð) was later devised as a modification of dee (D d), and finally yogh (Ȝ ȝ) was created by Norman scribes from the insular g in Old English and Irish, and used alongside their Carolingian g.

The a-e ligature ash (Æ æ) was adopted as a letter in its own right, named after a futhorc rune æsc. In very early Old English the o-e ligature ethel (Œ œ) also appeared as a distinct letter, likewise named after a rune, œðel. Additionally, the v-v or u-u ligature double-u (W w) was in use.

In the year 1011, a monk named Byrhtferð recorded the traditional order of the Old English alphabet.[4] He listed the 24 letters of the Latin alphabet first (including ampersand), then 5 additional English letters, starting with the Tironian note ond (), an insular symbol for and:

A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z & Ƿ Þ Ð Æ

Modern English

In the orthography of Modern English, thorn (þ), eth (ð), wynn (ƿ), yogh (ȝ), ash (æ), and ethel (œ) are obsolete. Latin borrowings reintroduced homographs of ash and ethel into Middle English and Early Modern English, though they are largely obsolete (see "Ligatures in recent usage" below), and where they are used they are not considered to be separate letters (e.g. for collation purposes), but rather ligatures. Thorn and eth were both replaced by th, though thorn continued in existence for some time, its lowercase form gradually becoming graphically indistinguishable from the minuscule y in most handwriting. Y for th can still be seen in pseudo-archaisms such as "Ye Olde Booke Shoppe". The letters þ and ð are still used in present-day Icelandic, while ð is still used in present-day Faroese. Wynn disappeared from English around the 14th century when it was supplanted by uu, which ultimately developed into the modern w. Yogh disappeared around the 15th century and was typically replaced by gh.

The letters u and j, as distinct from v and i, were introduced in the 16th century, and w assumed the status of an independent letter. The variant lowercase form long s (ſ) lasted into early modern English, and was used in non-final position up to the early 19th century. Today, the English alphabet is considered to consist of the following 26 letters:

Written English has a number[7] of digraphs, but they are not considered separate letters of the alphabet:

  • ch
  • ci
  • ck
  • gh
  • ng
  • ph
  • qu
  • rh
  • sc
  • sh
  • th
  • ti
  • wh
  • wr
  • zh

Ligatures in recent usage

Outside of professional papers on specific subjects that traditionally use ligatures in loanwords, ligatures are seldom used in modern English. The ligatures æ and œ were until the 19th century (slightly later in American English) used in formal writing for certain words of Greek or Latin origin, such as encyclopædia and cœlom, although such ligatures were not used in either classical Latin or ancient Greek. These are now usually rendered as "ae" and "oe" in all types of writing, although in American English, a lone e has mostly supplanted both (for example, encyclopedia for encyclopaedia, and maneuver for manoeuvre).

Some fonts for typesetting English contain commonly used ligatures, such as for ⟨tt⟩, ⟨fi⟩, ⟨fl⟩, ⟨ffi⟩, and ⟨ffl⟩. These are not independent letters, but rather allographs.

Diacritics

Diacritic marks mainly appear in loanwords such as naïve and façade. As such words become naturalised in English, there is a tendency to drop the diacritics, as has happened with old borrowings such as hôtel, from French. Informal English writing tends to omit diacritics because of their absence from the keyboard, while professional copywriters and typesetters tend to include them.[8] Words that are still perceived as foreign tend to retain them; for example, the only spelling of soupçon found in English dictionaries (the OED and others) uses the diacritic. Diacritics are also more likely to be retained where there would otherwise be confusion with another word (for example, résumé (or resumé) rather than resume), and, rarely, even added (as in maté, from Spanish yerba mate, but following the pattern of café, from French).

Occasionally, especially in older writing, diacritics are used to indicate the syllables of a word: cursed (verb) is pronounced with one syllable, while cursèd (adjective) is pronounced with two. È is used widely in poetry, e.g. in Shakespeare's sonnets. J.R.R. Tolkien uses ë, as in O wingëd crown. Similarly, while in chicken coop the letters -oo- represent a single vowel sound (a digraph), in obsolete spellings such as zoölogist and coöperation, they represent two. This use of the diaeresis is rarely seen, but persists into the 2000s in some publications, such as MIT Technology Review and The New Yorker.

An acute, grave, or diaeresis may also be placed over an "e" at the end of a word to indicate that it is not silent, as in saké. In general, these devices are often not used even where they would serve to alleviate some degree of confusion.

Proposed reforms

Alternative scripts have been proposed for written English – mostly extending or replacing the basic English alphabet – such as the Deseret alphabet, the Shavian alphabet, Gregg shorthand, etc.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ often in Hiberno-English, due to the letter's pronunciation in the Irish language
  2. ^ mostly in Hiberno-English, sometimes in Australian English, usually in Indian English and also used in Malaysian English
  3. ^ The letter J did not occur in Old French or Middle English. The Modern French name is ji /ʒi/, corresponding to Modern English jy (rhyming with i), which in most areas was later replaced with jay (rhyming with kay).
  4. ^ in Scottish English
  5. ^ One of the few letter names not spelled with the letter in question. The spelling qu ~ que is obsolete, being attested from the 16th century.
  6. ^ in Hiberno-English
  7. ^ in compounds such as es-hook
  8. ^ Especially in American English, the /l/ is often not pronounced in informal speech. (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed). Common colloquial pronunciations are /ˈdʌbəjuː/, /ˈdʌbəjə/, and /ˈdʌbjə/ (as in the nickname "Dubya"), especially in terms like www.
  9. ^ in British English, Hiberno-English and Commonwealth English
  10. ^ in American English

References

  1. ^ As an example, an article containing a diaeresis in "coöperate" and a cedilla in "façades" as well as a circumflex in the word "crêpe" (Grafton, Anthony (2006-10-23). "Books: The Nutty Professors, The history of academic charisma". The New Yorker.)
  2. ^ "The New Yorker's odd mark — the diaeresis"
  3. ^ Beker, Henry; Piper, Fred (1982). Cipher Systems: The Protection of Communications. Wiley-Interscience. p. 397. Table also available from Lewand, Robert (2000). Cryptological Mathematics. Mathematical Association of America. p. 36. ISBN 978-0883857199. and "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-08. Retrieved 2008-06-25.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ a b Michael Everson, Evertype, Baldur Sigurðsson, Íslensk Málstöð, On the Status of the Latin Letter Þorn and of its Sorting Order
  5. ^ "Apostrophe Definition". dictionary.com. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  6. ^ Shaw, Phillip (May 2013). "Adapting the Roman alphabet for Writing Old English: Evidence from Coin Epigraphy and Single-Sheet Characters". http://web.b.ebscohost.com.suproxy.su.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=878bfad1-e737-49a9-93ea-7a34fb85e725%40pdc-v-sessmgr01. 21: 115–139 – via Ebscohost. External link in |journal= (help)
  7. ^ "Digraphs (Phonics on the Web)". phonicsontheweb.com. Retrieved 2016-04-07.
  8. ^ "Dictionary.com definition". Retrieved 18 September 2016.

Further reading

  • Michael Rosen (2015). Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story. Counterpoint. ISBN 978-1619027022.
D

D (named dee ) is the fourth letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

E

E (named e , plural ees) is the fifth letter and the second vowel in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. It is the most commonly used letter in many languages, including Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Latin, Latvian, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish.

F

F (named ef ) is the sixth letter in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

I

I (named i , plural ies) is the ninth letter and the third vowel in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

ISO 3166-1 numeric

ISO 3166-1 numeric (or numeric-3) codes are three-digit country codes defined in ISO 3166-1, part of the ISO 3166 standard published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), to represent countries, dependent territories, and special areas of geographical interest. They are similar to the three-digit country codes developed and maintained by the United Nations Statistics Division, from which they originate in its UN M.49 standard. They were first included as part of the ISO 3166 standard in its second edition in 1981, but they were released by the United Nations Statistics Division since as early as 1970.An advantage of numeric codes over alphabetic codes is script (writing system) independence. The ISO 3166-1 alphabetic codes (alpha-2 and alpha-3) use letters from the 26-letter English alphabet and are suitable for languages based on the Latin alphabet. For people and systems using non-Latin scripts (such as Arabic or Japanese), the English alphabet may be unavailable or difficult to use, understand, or correctly interpret. While numeric codes overcome the problems of script dependence, this independence comes at the cost of loss of mnemonic convenience.

Another advantage is that when countries merge or split, they will get a new numeric code, while the alphabetic code stays in use for (a part of) that country. A persistent number is needed in datasets with historical country information.

K

K (named kay ) is the eleventh letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. In English, the letter K usually represents the voiceless velar plosive.

L

L (named el ) is the twelfth letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet, used in words such as lagoon, lantern, and less.

Latin alphabet

The Latin or Roman alphabet is the writing system originally used by the ancient Romans to write the Latin language. Due to its use in writing Germanic, Romance, and other languages first in Europe and then in other parts of the world and due to its use in Romanizing writing of other languages, it has become widespread (see Latin script). It is also used officially in China (separate from its ideographic writing) and has been adopted by Baltic and some Slavic states. The Latin alphabet evolved from the visually similar Cumaean Greek version of the Greek alphabet, which was itself descended from the Phoenician abjad, which in turn derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Etruscans, who ruled early Rome, adopted the Cumaean Greek alphabet, which was modified over time to become the Etruscan alphabet, which was in turn adopted and further modified by the Romans to produce the Latin alphabet.

During the Middle Ages, the Latin alphabet was used (sometimes with modifications) for writing Romance languages, which are direct descendants of Latin, as well as Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, and some Slavic languages. With the age of colonialism and Christian evangelism, the Latin script spread beyond Europe, coming into use for writing indigenous American, Australian, Austronesian, Austroasiatic, and African languages. More recently, linguists have also tended to prefer the Latin script or the International Phonetic Alphabet (itself largely based on the Latin script) when transcribing or creating written standards for non-European languages, such as the African reference alphabet.

The term Latin alphabet may refer to either the alphabet used to write Latin (as described in this article), or other alphabets based on the Latin script, which is the basic set of letters common to the various alphabets descended from the classical Latin alphabet, such as the English alphabet. These Latin-script alphabets may discard letters, like the Rotokas alphabet, or add new letters, like the Danish and Norwegian alphabets. Letter shapes have evolved over the centuries, including the development in Medieval Latin of lower-case, forms which did not exist in the Classical period alphabet. English is the only major modern European language requiring no diacritics for native words (although a diaeresis may be used in words such as "coöperation").

M

M (named em ) is the thirteenth letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

N

N (named en ) is the fourteenth letter in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

O

O (named o , plural oes) is the 15th letter and the fourth vowel in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

P

P (named pee ) is the 16th letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

Ruble sign

The ruble sign (₽, ) is the currency sign used for the Russian ruble, the official currency of Russia. It features a sans-serif Cyrillic letter Р (R in the English alphabet) with an additional horizontal stroke. The design was approved on 11 December 2013 after a public poll that took place a month earlier. The international three-letter code (according to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard ISO 4217) for the ruble is RUB. In Unicode, it is encoded at U+20BD ₽ RUBLE SIGN (HTML ₽).

In Russian orthography, the sign usually follows the number (the monetary value). In English orthography, it usually precedes the number.

S

S (named ess , plural esses) is the 19th letter in the Modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

T

T (named tee ) is the 20th letter in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. It is the most commonly used consonant and the second most common letter in English-language texts.

Vibratese

Vibratese is a method of communication through touch. It was developed by F. A. Geldard, 1957. It is a tactile system based on both practical considerations and on results from a set of controlled psychophysical experiments. Vibratese was composed of 45 basic elements, the tactile equivalent of numerals and letters. The entire English alphabet and numerals 0 to 9 could be communicated this way. Geldard reported that with proper training, rates of more than 35 words per minute were possible for reading. As of 2009, Vibratese is no longer in use, with little literature available on the subject.

Wynn

Wynn (Ƿ ƿ) (also spelled wen, ƿynn, or ƿen) is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound /w/.

While the earliest Old English texts represent this phoneme with the digraph ⟨uu⟩, scribes soon borrowed the rune wynn ᚹ for this purpose. It remained a standard letter throughout the Anglo-Saxon era, eventually falling out of use (perhaps under the influence of French orthography) during the Middle English period, circa 1300. It was replaced with ⟨uu⟩ once again, from which the modern developed.

The denotation of the rune is "joy, bliss" known from the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poems:

ᚹ Ƿenne bruceþ, þe can ƿeana lytsares and sorge and him sylfa hæfblæd and blysse and eac byrga geniht. [Lines 22-24 in The Anglo-Saxon Runic Poem]Who uses it knows no pain,

sorrow nor anxiety, and he himself has

prosperity and bliss, and also enough shelter. [Translation slightly modified from Dickins (1915)]It is not continued in the Younger Futhark, but in the Gothic alphabet, the letter 𐍅 w is called winja, allowing a Proto-Germanic reconstruction of the rune's name as *wunjô "joy".

It is one of the two runes (along with þ) to have been borrowed into the English alphabet (or any extension of the Latin alphabet). A modified version of the letter ƿynn called Vend was used briefly in Old Norse for the sounds /u/, /v/, and /w/.

As with þ, ƿynn was revived in modern times for the printing of Old English texts, but since the early 20th century the usual practice has been to substitute the modern ⟨w⟩ instead due to ƿynn's visual resemblance to P.

X

X (named ex , plural exes) is the 24th and antepenultimate letter in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

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