Latin alphabet

The Latin or Roman alphabet is the writing system originally used by the ancient Romans to write the Latin language.

Latin
Calligraphy.malmesbury.bible.arp
Type
Languages
Time period
c. 700 BC – present
Parent systems
Child systems
Numerous Latin alphabets; also more divergent derivations such as Osage
Sister systems
DirectionLeft-to-right
ISO 15924Latn, 215
Unicode alias
Latin
see Latin characters in Unicode

Etymology

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.[1] 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").[2][3]

History

Origins

It is generally believed that the Romans adopted the Cumae alphabet, a variant of the Greek alphabet, in the 7th century BC from Cumae, a Greek colony in Southern Italy. (Gaius Julius Hyginus in Fab. 277 mentions the legend that it was Carmenta, the Cimmerian Sibyl, who altered fifteen letters of the Greek alphabet to become the Latin alphabet, which her son Evander introduced into Latium, supposedly 60 years before the Trojan War, but there is no historically sound basis to this tale.) The Ancient Greek alphabet was in turn based upon the Phoenician abjad. From the Cumae alphabet, the Etruscan alphabet was derived and the Romans eventually adopted 21 of the original 27 Etruscan letters:

Old italic alphabet

Duenos inscription
The Duenos Inscription, dated to the 6th century BC, shows the earliest known forms of the Old Latin alphabet.
Old Italic alphabet
Letters 𐌀 𐌁 𐌂 𐌃 𐌄 𐌅 𐌆 𐌇 𐌈 𐌉 𐌊 𐌋 𐌌 𐌍 𐌎 𐌏 𐌐 𐌑 𐌒 𐌓 𐌔 𐌕 𐌖 𐌗 𐌘 𐌙 𐌚
Transliteration A B C D E V Z H Θ I K L M N Ξ O P Ś Q R S T Y X Φ Ψ F

Archaic Latin alphabet

Archaic Latin alphabet
As Old Italic 𐌀 𐌁 𐌂 𐌃 𐌄 𐌅 𐌆 𐌇 𐌉 𐌊 𐌋 𐌌 𐌍 𐌏 𐌐 𐌒 𐌓 𐌔 𐌕 𐌖 𐌗
As Latin A B C D E F Z H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X

Old Latin alphabet

Latin included 21 different characters. The letter ⟨C⟩ was the western form of the Greek gamma, but it was used for the sounds /ɡ/ and /k/ alike, possibly under the influence of Etruscan, which might have lacked any voiced plosives. Later, probably during the 3rd century BC, the letter ⟨Z⟩ – unneeded to write Latin properly – was replaced with the new letter ⟨G⟩, a ⟨C⟩ modified with a small vertical stroke, which took its place in the alphabet. From then on, ⟨G⟩ represented the voiced plosive /ɡ/, while ⟨C⟩ was generally reserved for the voiceless plosive /k/. The letter ⟨K⟩ was used only rarely, in a small number of words such as Kalendae, often interchangeably with ⟨C⟩.

Old Latin alphabet
Letter A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X

Classical Latin alphabet

Inscription displaying apices (from the shrine of the Augustales at Herculaneum)
The apices in this first-century inscription are very light. (There is one over the ó in the first line.) The vowel I is written taller rather than taking an apex. The interpuncts are comma-shaped, an elaboration of a more typical triangular shape. From the shrine of the Augustales at Herculaneum.

After the Roman conquest of Greece in the 1st century BC, Latin adopted the Greek letters ⟨Y⟩ and ⟨Z⟩ (or readopted, in the latter case) to write Greek loanwords, placing them at the end of the alphabet. An attempt by the emperor Claudius to introduce three additional letters did not last. Thus it was during the classical Latin period that the Latin alphabet contained 23 letters:

Classical Latin alphabet
Letter A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z
Latin name (majus) á é ef í el em en ó q er es ix í graeca zéta
Latin name ā ē ef ī el em en ō er es ū ix ī Graeca zēta
Latin pronunciation (IPA) beː keː deː ɛf ɡeː haː kaː ɛl ɛm ɛn peː kuː ɛr ɛs teː iks iː ˈɡraɪka ˈdzeːta

The Latin names of some of these letters are disputed; for example, ⟨H⟩ may have been called [ˈaha] or [ˈaka].[4] In general the Romans did not use the traditional (Semitic-derived) names as in Greek: the names of the plosives were formed by adding /eː/ to their sound (except for ⟨K⟩ and ⟨Q⟩, which needed different vowels to be distinguished from ⟨C⟩) and the names of the continuants consisted either of the bare sound, or the sound preceded by /e/.

The letter ⟨Y⟩ when introduced was probably called "hy" /hyː/ as in Greek, the name upsilon not being in use yet, but this was changed to "i Graeca" (Greek i) as Latin speakers had difficulty distinguishing its foreign sound /y/ from /i/. ⟨Z⟩ was given its Greek name, zeta. This scheme has continued to be used by most modern European languages that have adopted the Latin alphabet. For the Latin sounds represented by the various letters see Latin spelling and pronunciation; for the names of the letters in English see English alphabet.

Diacritics were not regularly used, but they did occur sometimes, the most common being the apex used to mark long vowels, which had previously sometimes been written doubled. However, in place of taking an apex, the letter i was written taller: ⟨á é ꟾ ó v́⟩. For example, what is today transcribed Lūciī a fīliī was written ⟨lv́ciꟾ·a·fꟾliꟾ⟩ in the inscription depicted.

The primary mark of punctuation was the interpunct, which was used as a word divider, though it fell out of use after 200 AD.

Old Roman cursive script, also called majuscule cursive and capitalis cursive, was the everyday form of handwriting used for writing letters, by merchants writing business accounts, by schoolchildren learning the Latin alphabet, and even emperors issuing commands. A more formal style of writing was based on Roman square capitals, but cursive was used for quicker, informal writing. It was most commonly used from about the 1st century BC to the 3rd century, but it probably existed earlier than that. It led to Uncial, a majuscule script commonly used from the 3rd to 8th centuries AD by Latin and Greek scribes.

New Roman cursive script, also known as minuscule cursive, was in use from the 3rd century to the 7th century, and uses letter forms that are more recognizable to modern eyes; ⟨a⟩, ⟨b⟩, ⟨d⟩, and ⟨e⟩ had taken a more familiar shape, and the other letters were proportionate to each other. This script evolved into the medieval scripts known as Merovingian and Carolingian minuscule.

Medieval and later developments

Ioanne Arnoldo 1541
De chalcographiae inventione (1541, Mainz) with the 23 letters. J, U and W are missing.
Rekenaar 1553
Jeton from Nuremberg, ca. 1553

It was not until the Middle Ages that the letter ⟨W⟩ (originally a ligature of two ⟨V⟩s) was added to the Latin alphabet, to represent sounds from the Germanic languages which did not exist in medieval Latin, and only after the Renaissance did the convention of treating ⟨I⟩ and ⟨U⟩ as vowels, and ⟨J⟩ and ⟨V⟩ as consonants, become established. Prior to that, the former had been merely allographs of the latter.

With the fragmentation of political power, the style of writing changed and varied greatly throughout the Middle Ages, even after the invention of the printing press. Early deviations from the classical forms were the uncial script, a development of the Old Roman cursive, and various so-called minuscule scripts that developed from New Roman cursive, of which the Carolingian minuscule was the most influential, introducing the lower case forms of the letters, as well as other writing conventions that have since become standard.

The languages that use the Latin script generally use capital letters to begin paragraphs and sentences and proper nouns. The rules for capitalization have changed over time, and different languages have varied in their rules for capitalization. Old English, for example, was rarely written with even proper nouns capitalized, whereas Modern English writers and printers of the 17th and 18th century frequently capitalized most and sometimes all nouns,[5] which is still systematically done in Modern German, e.g. in the preamble and all of the United States Constitution: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Spread

Latin alphabet world distribution
This map shows the countries in the world that use only language(s) predominantly written in a Latin alphabet as the official (or de facto official) national language(s) in dark green. The lighter green indicates the countries that use a language predominantly written in a Latin alphabet as a co-official language at the national level.

The Latin alphabet spread, along with the Latin language, from the Italian Peninsula to the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea with the expansion of the Roman Empire. The eastern half of the Empire, including Greece, Turkey, the Levant, and Egypt, continued to use Greek as a lingua franca, but Latin was widely spoken in the western half, and as the western Romance languages evolved out of Latin, they continued to use and adapt the Latin alphabet.

With the spread of Western Christianity during the Middle Ages, the script was gradually adopted by the peoples of northern Europe who spoke Celtic languages (displacing the Ogham alphabet) or Germanic languages (displacing earlier Runic alphabets), Baltic languages, as well as by the speakers of several Uralic languages, most notably Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian. The Latin alphabet came into use for writing the West Slavic languages and several South Slavic languages, as the people who spoke them adopted Roman Catholicism.

Later, it was adopted by non-Catholic countries. Romanian, most of whose speakers are Eastern Orthodox, was the first major language to switch from Cyrillic to Latin script, doing so in the 19th century, although Moldova only did so after the Soviet collapse.

It has also been increasingly adopted by majority Muslim Turkic-speaking countries, beginning with Turkey in the 1920s. After the Soviet collapse, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan all switched from Cyrillic to Latin. The Kazakh government announced in 2015 that the Latin alphabet will replace Cyrillic as the writing system for the Kazakh language by 2025.[6]

Asian countries see the lowest proportion of people using Latin script relative to alternative scripts.

The spread of the Latin alphabet among previously illiterate peoples has inspired the creation of new writing systems, such as the Avoiuli alphabet in Vanuatu, which replaces the letters of the Latin alphabet with alternative symbols.

See also

References

  1. ^ Michael C. Howard (2012), Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies. p. 23.
  2. ^ 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.)
  3. ^ "The New Yorker's odd mark — the diaeresis". 16 December 2010.
  4. ^ Liberman, Anatoly (7 August 2013). "Alphabet soup, part 2: H and Y". Oxford Etymologist. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  5. ^ Crystal, David (4 August 2003). "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language". Cambridge University Press – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Kazakh language to be converted to Latin alphabet – MCS RK. Inform.kz (30 January 2015). Retrieved on 2015-09-28.

Further reading

  • Jensen, Hans (1970). Sign Symbol and Script. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. ISBN 0-04-400021-9. Transl. of Jensen, Hans (1958). Die Schrift in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften., as revised by the author
  • Rix, Helmut (1993). "La scrittura e la lingua". In Cristofani, Mauro (hrsg.) (ed.). Gli etruschi – Una nuova immagine. Firenze: Giunti. pp. S.199–227.
  • Sampson, Geoffrey (1985). Writing systems. London (etc.): Hutchinson.
  • Wachter, Rudolf (1987). Altlateinische Inschriften: sprachliche und epigraphische Untersuchungen zu den Dokumenten bis etwa 150 v.Chr. Bern (etc.).: Peter Lang.
  • Allen, W. Sidney (1978). "The names of the letters of the Latin alphabet (Appendix C)". Vox Latina – a guide to the pronunciation of classical Latin. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22049-1.
  • Biktaş, Şamil (2003). Tuğan Tel.

External links

A

A (named , plural As, A's, as, a's or aes) is the first letter and the first vowel of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. It is similar to the Ancient Greek letter alpha, from which it derives. The uppercase version consists of the two slanting sides of a triangle, crossed in the middle by a horizontal bar. The lowercase version can be written in two forms: the double-storey a and single-storey ɑ. The latter is commonly used in handwriting and fonts based on it, especially fonts intended to be read by children, and is also found in italic type.

In English grammar, "a", and its variant "an", is an indefinite article.

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.

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 in some loanwords such as "coöperation" or "naïve"). Written English does, however, have a number of digraphs.

Gaj's Latin alphabet

Gaj's Latin alphabet (Serbo-Croatian: abeceda, latinica, or gajica) is the form of the Latin script used in Serbo-Croatian and all of its standard varieties: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, and Montenegrin. It was devised by Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj in 1835, based on Jan Hus's Czech alphabet. A slightly reduced version is used as the script of the Slovene language, and a slightly expanded version is used as a script of the modern standard Montenegrin language. A modified version is used for the romanization of the Macedonian language. Pavao Ritter Vitezović had proposed an idea for the orthography of the Croatian language, stating that every sound should have only one letter. Gaj's alphabet is currently used in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

H

H (named aitch or, regionally, haitch , plural aitches) is the eighth letter in 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.

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 script

Latin or Roman script, is a set of graphic signs (script) based on the letters of the classical Latin alphabet. This is derived from a form of the Cumaean Greek version of the Greek alphabet used by the Etruscans.

Several Latin-script alphabets exist, which differ in graphemes, collation and phonetic values from the classical Latin alphabet.

The Latin script is the basis of the International Phonetic Alphabet and the 26 most widespread letters are the letters contained in the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

Latin script is the basis for the largest number of alphabets of any writing system and is the

most widely adopted writing system in the world (commonly used by about 70 percent of the world's population). Latin script is used as the standard method of writing in most Western, Central, as well as in some Eastern European languages, as well as in many languages in other parts of the world.

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.

Q

Q (named cue ) is the 17th letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. In nearly all languages using the Latin script it is a consonant, not a vowel.

R

R (named ar/or ) is the 18th letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

Romanization of Greek

Romanization of Greek is the transliteration (letter-mapping) or transcription (sound-mapping) of text from the Greek alphabet into the Latin alphabet. The conventions for writing and romanizing Ancient Greek and Modern Greek differ markedly, which can create confusion. The sound of the English letter B (/b/) was written as β in ancient Greek but is now written as the digraph μπ, while the modern β sounds like the English letter V (/v/) instead. The Greek name Ἰωάννης became Johannes in Latin and then John in English, but in Greek itself has instead become Γιάννης; this might be written as Yannis, Jani, Ioannis, Yiannis, or Giannis, but not Giannes or Giannēs as it would have been in ancient Greek. The masculine Greek word Ἅγιος or Άγιος might variously appear as Hagiοs, Agios, Aghios, or Ayios, or simply be translated as "Holy" or "Saint" in English forms of Greek placenames.Traditional English renderings of Greek names originated from Roman systems established in antiquity. The Roman alphabet itself was a form of the Cumaean alphabet derived from the Euboean script that valued Χ as /ks/ and Η as /h/ and used variant forms of Λ and Σ that became L and S. When this script was used to write the classical Greek alphabet, ⟨κ⟩ was replaced with ⟨c⟩, ⟨αι⟩ and ⟨οι⟩ became ⟨æ⟩ and ⟨œ⟩, and ⟨ει⟩ and ⟨ου⟩ were simplified to ⟨i⟩ (more rarely—corresponding to an earlier pronunciation—⟨e⟩) and ⟨u⟩. Aspirated consonants like ⟨θ⟩, ⟨φ⟩, initial-⟨ρ⟩, and ⟨χ⟩ simply wrote out the sound: ⟨th⟩, ⟨ph⟩, ⟨rh⟩, and ⟨ch⟩. Because English orthography has changed so much from the original Greek, modern scholarly transliteration now usually renders ⟨κ⟩ as ⟨k⟩ and the diphthongs ⟨αι, οι, ει, ου⟩ as ⟨ai, oi, ei, ou⟩. Modern scholars also increasingly render ⟨χ⟩ as ⟨kh⟩.The sounds of Modern Greek have diverged from both those of Ancient Greek and their descendant letters in English and other languages. This led to a variety of romanizations for names and placenames in the 19th and 20th century. The Hellenic Organization for Standardization (ELOT) issued its system in cooperation with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1983. This system was adopted (with minor modifications) by the United Nations' Fifth Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names at Montreal in 1987, by the United Kingdom's Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use (PCGN) and by the United States' Board on Geographic Names (BGN) in 1996, and by the ISO itself in 1997. Romanization of names for official purposes (as with passports and identity cards) were required to use the ELOT system within Greece until 2011, when a legal decision permitted Greeks to use irregular forms (such as "Demetrios" for Δημήτριος) provided that official identification and documents also list the standard forms (as, for example, "Demetrios OR Dimitrios"). Other romanization systems still encountered are the BGN/PCGN's earlier 1962 system and the system employed by the American Library Association and the United States' Library of Congress."Greeklish" has also spread within Greece itself, owing to the rapid spread of digital telephony from cultures using the Latin alphabet. Since Greek typefaces and fonts are not always supported or robust, Greek email and chatting has adopted a variety of formats for rendering Greek and Greek shorthand using Latin letters. Examples include "8elo" and "thelw" for θέλω, "3ava" for ξανά, and "yuxi" for ψυχή.

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 derived from the Semitic letter taw via the Greek letter tau. In English, it is most commonly used to represent the voiceless alveolar plosive, a sound it also denotes in the International Phonetic Alphabet. It is the most commonly used consonant and the second most common letter in English-language texts.

Alphabets (list)
Letters (list)
Multigraphs
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