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Latin alphabet

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Abecedarium latinum clasicum.png
Alphabet (impure)
Time period
c.700 BCpresent
Parent systems
ISO 15924Latn, 215
Unicode alias
See Latin characters in Unicode

The Latin or Roman alphabet is the set of 23 letters used by the ancient Romans to write Latin. The Latin alphabet was adapted from the Old Italic script to represent the phonemes of Latin. The Old Italic script had in turn been borrowed from the Greek alphabet, itself adapted from the Phoenician alphabet. The Latin alphabet mostly resembles the Greek alphabet around 540 BC, as it appears on the black-figure pottery of the time.


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.


The Latin alphabet evolved from the visually similar Etruscan alphabet, which evolved from the Cumaean Greek version of the Greek alphabet, which was itself descended from the Phoenician alphabet, which in turn derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics.[1] The Etruscans ruled early Rome; their alphabet evolved in Rome over successive centuries to produce the Latin alphabet.

Old Italic 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

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 horizontal 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⟩.

Classical Latin alphabet

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 el em en ó q er es ix ꟾ 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 ˈɡraeka ˈdzeːta

The Latin names of some of these letters are disputed; for example, ⟨H⟩ may have been called Latin pronunciation: [ˈaha] or Latin pronunciation: [ˈaka].[2] 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

De chalcographiae inventione (1541, Mainz) with the 23 letters.
De chalcographiae inventione (1541, Mainz) with the 23 letters.

The use of the letters I and V for both consonants and vowels proved inconvenient as the Latin alphabet was adapted to Germanic and Romance languages. In medieval handwriting, the minuscule form of V was a rounded u; from this was derived a rounded capital U for the vowel in the 16th century, while a new, pointed minuscule v was derived from V for the consonant. In the case of I, a word-final swash form, j, came to be used for the consonant, with the un-swashed form restricted to vowel use. Such conventions were erratic for centuries. J was introduced into English for the consonant in the 17th century (it had been rare as a vowel), but it was not universally considered a distinct letter in the alphabetic order until the 19th century.

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.

Orthographical conventions


Although it does not seem that classical Latin used diacritics (accents etc), modern textbooks and dictionaries usually indicate the length of vowels by putting a macron or horizontal bar above the long vowel, but it is not generally done in regular texts. Occasionally, mainly in early printed texts up to the 18th century, one may see a circumflex used to indicate a long vowel where this makes a difference to the sense.[3]

Signs and abbreviations

Although Latin did not use diacritical signs, signs of truncation of words, often placed above the truncated word or at the end of it, were very common. Furthermore, abbreviations or smaller overlapping letters were often used. This was due to the fact that if the text was engraved on the stone, the number of letters to be written was reduced, while if it was written on paper or parchment, it was spared the space, which was very precious. This habit continued even in the Middle Ages. Hundreds of symbols and abbreviations exist, varying from century to century.[4]

See also



  1. ^ Michael C. Howard (2012), Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies. p. 23.
  2. ^ Liberman, Anatoly (7 August 2013). "Alphabet soup, part 2: H and Y". Oxford Etymologist. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  3. ^ Gilbert 1939
  4. ^ Cappelli, Adriano (1990). Dizionario di Abbreviature Latine ed Italiane. Milano: Editore Ulrico Hoepli. ISBN 88-203-1100-3.

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

This page was last edited on 21 September 2020, at 07:52
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