Roman Alphabet?

Obviously, there was a Roman alphabet, but what exactly did it look like? Was it 25 letters (using “V” instead of “U”)? Did it have a lower case? Were there final letters, like some Greek letters have? Last, was there a “V” sound back then, or was it all dependent on using a hard “F” and a soft “F”, I WAG? Any other oddities? - Jinx

I know very little about this:p …buuuuut, this link shows the orthographic system and how it evolved (apparently): http://www.wam.umd.edu/~rfradkin/latin.html

The original latin alphabet (before innovations were added in) was essentially the Etruscan alphabet. It became Roman by various additions and innovations:

  • Since Etruscan had no “g” sound they simply used c, k, and q to write the “k” sound: c + i, e; k + a; q + u (the k sound had slightly different pronunciations, which is why the etruscans did this). So, the latins borrowed that in to their orthography when they adopted the alphabet.

  • Since Etruscan had no g sound, they used gamma for the k sound (in the form of C as i mentioned above). The Romans needed it when they adapted the Etruscan alphabet to their language, so in the 3rd century BCE, Spurius Carvilius invented G by adding a vertical line to the lower edge of C.

  • V WAS the original form for U. Spoken Latin actually used the "w’ and “u” sound for that letter. It wasn’t until later that the V was invented in order to represent the V sound. V actually is descended from the same letter that spawned the greek Y (which has a u-ish sound). Later, y was borrowed back in to the alphabet, and placed just before Z. W by the way was IIRC invented for the Germanic versions of the alphabet.

  • Latin borrowed X from western Greek scripts, which used it for “ks”, not “kh” as in the eastern Greek scripts (which is the variety modern Greek Alphabet descends). This is why our X has a “ks” sound and not a “kh/Ch” sound.

  • It was the mideval period where V was differentiated from U, and consonantal J from I (J used to stand for the “y” sound, and J is a variant form of I ).

  • The letter F came to us probably via the Etruscans, and in Early Roman alphabet, they wrote it using FH up until the 4th century, where from then on F stood alone to represent the F sound.

So, the original Roman Alphabet was thus:

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

The Roman/Latin alphabet has not changed much other than the addition of rounded U, J, and W. Even in Roman times it had gained it’s very aesthetic capital form (such as that you find on the Appian Way, which is easily readible to us, and was carved in the 1st or 2nd century CE (it is this fineness of form which preserved the alphabet letter forms and has influenced modern typesets, such as Times New Roman).

The lowercase letters on the other hand were from the miniscule forms of the alphabet. It is the Carolingian Miniscule from France which our lowercase letters are primarily based upon. Latin has never had final forms, although in certain calligraphic scripts you find different forms for r, a long S, and “biting” where a letter uses part of another letter for its form. But these were not at all Roman inventions. so they were not original to the Roman alphabet.

A standing ovation for Doobieous. Well said! :cool:

U, V, W, and Y are derived from the Greek letter upsilon, which I think was originally pronounced as in the Latin U. Originally it looked like a V; in modern Greek it looks like a Y and is pronounced “ee”. According to my Latin dictionary, the “Y” in Latin is a vowel and is pronounced with a foreign “oe” sound.

W is a mideval way of writing the “w” sound, which was used for the germanic languages.

V came from the etruscan form of Greek Y, which had a sound like u (not quite). In the western Greek scripts it did look like a V, in the eastern it looked like a Y (although i have seen a variant in etruscan that looked like a Y).

The original Roman alphabet did not have a Z, which wasn’t used and was dropped from its seventh position in the Greek alphabet. Later it was added back, possibly to accomodate the large numbers of Greek words borrowed. It was put last in order not to disturb an old numbering system that used A = 1, B = 2, etc. that was later superceded by “Roman numerals”.

The J and V were used in initial position and the I and U medially. I was in a library in Germany once and discovered that they interfiled names beginning with I and J. And, obviously from its name, W originated as a doubled U or V.

The most interesting thing about the alphabet is how it evolved in response to its use in shifting environments and is actually an excellent example of non-biological evolution.