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Ancient Latin Alphabet

 

The earliest known inscriptions in the Latin alphabet date from the 6th century BC. It was adapted from the Etruscan alphabet during the 7th century BC. The letters Y and Z were taken from the Greek alphabet to write Greek loan words. Other letters were added from time to time as the Latin alphabet was adapted for other languages and many letters had several different shapes.

Ancient Latin alphabet

Other versions of the Latin alphabet

Ancient Latin, Irish Uncial, Old English

Roman alphabet for Latin

The Romans used just 23 letters to write Latin:

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

There were no lower case letters, and K, Y and Z used only for writing words of Greek origin. The letters J, U and W were added to the alphabet at a later stage to write languages other than Latin. J is a variant of I, U is a variant of V, and W was introduced as a 'double-v' to make a distinction between the sounds we know as 'v' and 'w' which was unnecessary in Latin.

Modern Latin alphabet

The modern Latin alphabet consists of 52 letters, including both upper and lower case, plus 10 numerals, punctuation marks and a variety of other symbols such as &, % and @. Many languages add a variety of accents to the basic letters, and a few also use extra letters and ligatures.

The lowercase letters developed from cursive versions of the uppercase letters.

Uppercase

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

Lowercase

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

Accented letters

Many languages supplement the basic Latin alphabet with a variety of accented letters:

a selection of accented latin letters

These accented letters can have a number of different functions:

  • Modifying the pronunciation of a letter
  • Indicating where the stress should fall in a word
  • Indicating emphasis in a sentence
  • Indicating pitch or intonation of a word or syllable
  • Indicating vowel length
  • Visually distinguishing homophones

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