Latin alphabet

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The Latin alphabet is the main writing system in use in the Western world and is the most widely used alphabet writing system in the world. Being the standard script of the English language it is often referred to simply as "the alphabet" in English.

Original alphabet

The original Latin alphabet was:

A B C D E F Z H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X

The oldest Latin inscriptions do not distinguish between /ɡ/ and /k/, representing both by C, K and Q according to position. K was used before A; Q was used (if at all) before O or V; C was used elsewhere. This is explained by the fact that the Etruscan language did not make this distinction. C originated as a turned form of Greek Gamma (Γ) and Q from Greek Koppa (Ϙ). In later Latin, K survived only in a few forms such as Kalendae; Q survived only before V (representing /kw/), and C was used everywhere else. G was later invented to distinguish between /ɡ/ and /k/; it was originally simply a C with an additional diacritic.

Phonetics

  • C stood for /ɡ/
  • I stood for both /i/ and /j/.
  • V stood for both /u/ and /w/.

Old Latin period

K was marginalized in favour of C, which afterward stood for both /ɡ/ and /k/.

Probably during the 3rd century BC, the Z was dropped and a new letter G was placed in its position — according to Plutarch, by Spurius Carvilius Ruga — so that afterward, C = /k/, G = /ɡ/.

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

Classical Latin period

An attempt by the emperor Claudius to introduce three additional letters was short-lived, but after the conquest of Greece in the 1st century BC the letters Y and Z were, respectively, adopted and readopted from the Greek alphabet and placed at the end. Now the new Latin alphabet contained 23[1] letters:

Letter A B C D E F G H I K L M
Name ā ē ef ī el em
Pronunciation (IPA) /aː/ /beː/ /keː/ /deː/ /eː/ /ef/ /ɡeː/ /haː/ /iː/ /kaː/ /el/ /em/
Letter N O P Q R S T V X Y Z
Name en ō er es ū ex ī Graeca zēta
Pronunciation (IPA) /en/ /oː/ /peː/ /kʷuː/ /er/ /es/ /teː/ /uː/ /eks/ /iː ˈgraika/ /ˈzeːta/

The Latin names of some of the letters are disputed. In general, however, the Romans did not use the traditional (Semitic-derived) names as in Greek: the names of the stop consonant letters were formed by adding /eː/ to the sound (except for C, K, and Q which needed different vowels to distinguish them) 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 being not yet in use) but was changed to i Graeca ("Greek i") as Latin speakers had difficulty distinguishing /i/ and /y/ . Z was given its Greek name, zeta. 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 and for the sounds in English see English phonetics.

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 Roman 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 AD, but it probably existed earlier than that.

Late Antiquity

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

References