Evolution of Writing

The Evolution of the Latin Alphabet

The Latin alphabet has evolved from Phoenician via Greek and Etruscan

Phoenician
Letter
Name
Meaning
Sound
Greek
Letter
Latin
Letter
Notes
Aleph
Aleph
ox
glottal
stop
A
A
The Greeks converted this symbol from a glottal stop to the vowel a called alpha.
Beth
Beth
house
b
B
B
The Greeks renamed the symbol beta. It is now pronounced as b or v depending on the language.
Gimel
Gimel
camel
hard g
G
C
G
The Greeks renamed the symbol gamma, pronouncing it as a cross between a hard g and a French r. The Etruscans changed the pronunciation from hard g to hard c, and wrote it as C. The Romans also used C and created a new letter to represent the hard g by adding a flourish to the C, giving G. In English, C is pronounced k or c, and G is pronounced as a hard g or soft g. In Turkish, C is pronounced as soft g while in Portuguese, G can be pronounced as zh.
Daleth
Daleth
door
d
D
D
The Greeks renamed the symbol delta and changed the pronunciation to a soft th.
He
He
 
soft h
E
E
F
The Greeks converted the symbol from a soft h to the vowel e called epsilon which was borrowed by the Romans. The Etruscans created the letter F by removing a line from E and changed the pronunciation to f. This was also borrowed by the Romans.
Waw
Waw
 
w
U
Y
The Greeks converted the symbol from a w to the vowel i called Ipsilon. This was borrowed by the Romans for writing Greek words. In French this letter is still called "The Greek I".
Heth
Heth
wall
hard h
H
Q
H
The Greeks created two letters from this symbol: the vowel eta (pronounced as an e or i) and the theta (pronounced as a hard th). The Romans changed the pronunciation to h. In Spanish, H is not pronounced.
Yodh
Yodh
hand
hard y
I
I
J
The Greeks converted the symbol from a hard y to the vowel i called iota. This was borrowed by the Romans for the vowel i and the consonant y at the beginning of words. This latter use began to be written as J during the Middle Ages in Europe. The modern letter J is now pronounced as a soft g in English, a h in Spanish, a zh in French and a y in German.
Kaph
Kaph
 
k
K
K
The Greeks renamed the symbol kappa.
Lamedh
Lamedh
 
l
L
L
The Greeks renamed the symbol lamda.
Mem
Mem
water
m
M
M
The Greeks renamed the symbol mu. In some African languages M behaves like a vowel.
Nun
Nun
fish
n
N
N
The Greeks renamed the symbol nu.
Ayin
Ayin
eye
gutteral
O
W
O
The Greeks converted the symbol from a gutteral to the vowel short o called omicron. A slight variation produced the letter omega (pronounced as long o). Only the letter O was used by the Romans.
Pe
Pe
mouth
p
P
P
The Greeks renamed the symbol pi pronouncing it as a b or p. The Greek letter P was pronounced as r but this was changed by the Romans to the modern p.
Qoph
Qoph
monkey
q
F
Q
The Phoenician q was pronounced at the back of the throat as opposed to the k at the front. This difference does not exist in European languages. The Greeks renamed the symbol phi after changing its pronunciation to f (often written ph). The Romans pronounced it as k and began to write it followed by a U as QU.
Resh
Resh
head
r
R
R
The Greeks renamed the symbol rho. The Romans added the line to the Greek P to create the modern R.
Sin
Sin
tooth
sh
S
S
The Greeks renamed the symbol sigma and pronounced it as s.
Taw
Taw
mark
t
T
T
The Greeks renamed the symbol tau.
Wau
Wau
 
wu
Y
U
V
W
The Greeks renamed the symbol psi pronouncing it as a ps. The Romans wrote it as V and pronounced it as v or u or w. During the Middle Ages in Europe, the V form began to split into the two newer forms, U and W. In German, V is pronounced as f and W as v.
Samekh
Samekh
fish
s
X
X
X
The Greeks created two letters from this symbol, ksi (pronounced ks) and chi (pronounced as a hard h). The letter X later became part of the Roman alphabet with a pronunciation of ks or h or z.
Zayin
Zayin
sword
z
Z
Z
The Greeks renamed the symbol zeta.


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The Latin Alphabet is the most used system of writing in the modern world. It has evolved from Phoenician via Greek (and sometimes Etruscan) to the Romans from where it has spread around the world and assumed its modern form.

The letters are described using upper case (P, T, X). The pronunciation is from standard English and uses red lower case letters (p, t, ks).


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External Links

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The Phoenicians
The overlooked and under-rated Phoenicians, inventors of the alphabet.