Latin Alphabet

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Latin Alphabet


historically, a branch of the Etruscan alphabet, which in turn was derived from the Greek alphabet. It is generally taken to have come into being in the seventh century B.C. The letters were written first from right to left and, on alternate lines, from left to right (the boustrophedon). After the fourth century B.C. they were written from left to right. The names of the letters (bee, dee, ef, and so on), with the exception of yod, zeta, and upsilon, were not Greek or Semitic but rather were either borrowed from the Etruscans or were original inventions. The basic shapes of the letters were established in the first to fifth centuries A.D.

The original Latin alphabet consisted of 20 letters (A B C D E F H I K L M N O P Q R S K V X); the letter C was used to signify k or g, and the sound [k] could be written as C, K, or Q. In about 230 B.C. the letter G was introduced, and almost simultaneously the use of C, K, and Q was regulated: C was the most common representation of [k], Q was used before u, and K was retained in only a few words. The letters Y and Z were introduced at the beginning of the first century B.C. for words of Greek origin. Thus, the alphabet consisted of 23 characters. The regular use of the letters J (as opposed to I), U (as opposed to V), and W began only in the era of the Renaissance.

Beginning in the early Middle Ages, the Latin alphabet served many languages of Europe, and later it was also used for a number of languages of Africa, America, and Asia.


Diringer, D. Alfavit. Moscow, 1963. Pages 608–15. (Translated from English.)
Gelb, I. J. A Study of Writing. Chicago, 1963.
Jensen, H. Die Schrift. Berlin, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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