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Latin alphabet

The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, as used by the English language consists of the following characters:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z

The alphabet used for the Latin language had no J, U, or W.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Use in other languages
3 Collating in other languages
4 References


The Latin alphabet derives mainly from the Etruscan alphabet. According to Hammarstrm (in Jensen 521), the letters for B, D, O, X hail from a Southern Italian Greek alphabet. However, there are Etruscan abecedaria with B, D, O, X (Sampson 108). Rix (203) claims that the sound values of those letters in Latin are to be attributed to Greek influence, the letters themselves were probably all present when the Romans took over the alphabet from the Etruscans (Wachter 33).

It is uncontested that the alphabet is mainly of Etruscan origin. The sound value of C proves that clearly. Etruscan had no voiced plosives, so this symbol - derived from the Greek gamma - came to stand for the unvoiced /k/ in Etruscan - as later in Latin. Jensen (521) notes that the letters C, K, Q were originally used in Latin according to Etruscan usage: C in front of /e, i/; K in front of /a/; Q in front of /u, o/. The letters thus stand for different allophones of /k/ (in the case of Latin, also /g/ and probably the phonemes /k_w/ and /g _w/ in the case of QU and GU). These spelling rules are due to the names of the letters: gamma or gemma; kappa; qoppa or quppa (Wachter 15). In Etruscan there was no /o/, so Q was used both in front of /o/ and /u/ in Latin. Y and Z were later additions taken from the Greek alphabet. G was created by Spurius Carvilius Ruga (who flourished around 230 BC) as a modification of C (Sampson 109). F (digamma) stood for /w/ in both Etruscan and Latin, but the Romans simplified the FH-/f/combination to F /f/. The semi-vowels /w, j/ and the vowels /u, u:, i, i:/ were written with the same letters, namely V and I respectively.

There was no 'U'; instead, there was the semi-vowel 'V'. There was no 'W', although 'V' was pronounced as the modern English 'W'. They didn't have the letter 'J', instead they had the semi-vowel 'I'.


See also

Use in other languages

In the course of its history, the Latin alphabet was used for new languages, and therefore, some new letters and diacritics were created, e.g.:
Please see 'Alphabets derived from the Latin' for a more complete list.

W is a letter made up from two U's. It was added in late Roman times to represent a Germanic sound. U and J were originally not distinguished from V and I respectively. In Old English, thorn þ, edh ð and wynn ƿ - a Runic letter - were added. In modern Icelandic, thorn and edh are still used. The additional letters added in German are special presentations of earlier ligature forms (ae → ä, ue → ü or ſssß). French adds the circumflex to record elided consonants that were present in earlier forms and are often still present in the modern English cognate forms (Old French hostel → French hôtel = English hotel or Late Latin pasta → Middle French paste → French pâte and English paste).

Some Slavic languages use the latin alphabet rather than the Cyrillic. Among these, Polish uses a variety of ligatures with z to represent special phonetic values, and a dark l - ł - for a sound similar to w. Czech uses diacritics as in Dvořk. The Slavic regions which stayed with the Orthodox church generally use Cyrillic instead which is much closer to the Greek alphabet. Hausa uses three additional consonants: ɓ, ɗ and ƙ.

Collating in other languages

Alphabets derived from the Latin have varying collating rules: