Thursday, January 3, 2008

Middle Bronze Age 18–15th c. BC The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most widely used alphabetic writing system in the world today. Apart from Latin itself, the alphabet was adapted to the direct descendants of Latin (the Romance languages), Germanic, Celtic and some Slavic languages from the Middle Ages, and finally to most languages of Europe. With the age of colonialism and Christian proselytism, the alphabet was spread overseas, and applied to Amerindian, Indigenous Australian, Austronesian, Vietnamese, Malay and Indonesian languages. More recently, Western linguists have also tended to prefer the Latin alphabet or the International Phonetic Alphabet (itself largely based on the Latin alphabet) when they transcribe or devise written standards for non-European languages; see for example the African reference alphabet.
In modern usage, the term Latin alphabet is used for any straightforward derivation of the alphabet used by the Romans. These variants may discard some letters (e.g. the Italian alphabet) or add extra letters (e.g. the Polish alphabet) to or from the classical Roman script, and many letter shapes have changed over the centuries — such as the lower-case letters. The Latin alphabet evolved from the western variety of the Greek alphabet, called the Cumaean alphabet.

Ugaritic 15th c. BC
Proto-Canaanite 14th c. BC

  • Phoenician 11th c. BC

    • Paleo-Hebrew 10th c. BC
      Aramaic 8th c. BC

      • Brāhmī & Indic 6th c. BC

        • Tibetan 7th c.
          Khmer/Javanese 9th c.
          Hebrew 3rd c. BC
          Syriac 2nd c. BC

          • Nabatean 2nd c. BC

            • Arabic 4th c.
              Pahlavi 3nd c. BC

              • Avestan 4th c.
                Greek 9th c. BC

                • Etruscan 8th c. BC

                  • Latin 7th c. BC
                    Runes 2nd c.
                    Ogham 4th c.
                    Gothic 3th c.
                    Armenian 405
                    Glagolitic 862
                    Cyrillic 10th c.
                    Samaritan 6th c. BC
                    Iberian 4th c. BC
                    Epigraphic South Arabian 9th c. BC

                    • Ge'ez 5–6th c. BC Evolution
                      It was not until the Middle Ages that the letter W was added to the Latin alphabet (to represent sounds from the Germanic languages which did not exist as independent phonemes in the Romance languages), and only after the Renaissance did J (representing a consonantal I) and U (representing a vocalic V) come to be treated as individual letters. Prior to that, they had been merely glyph variants of I and V, respectively.
                      The lower case (minuscule) letters developed in the Middle Ages from New Roman Cursive, first as the uncial script, and later as minuscule script. The old capital Roman letters were retained for formal inscriptions and for emphasis in written documents. The languages that use the Latin alphabet generally use capital letters to begin paragraphs and sentences and for proper nouns and proper adjectives. The rules for capitalization have changed over time, and different languages have varied in their rules for capitalization. Old English, for example, was rarely written with even proper nouns capitalised; whereas Modern English of the 18th century had frequently all nouns capitalised, in the same way that Modern German is today, e.g. "All the Sisters of the old Town had seen the Birds".

                      Medieval and later developments
                      The Latin alphabet spread from the Italian Peninsula, along with the Latin language, to the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea with the expansion of the Roman Empire. The eastern half of the Roman Empire, including Greece, Asia Minor, the Levant, and Egypt, continued to use Greek as a lingua franca, but Latin was widely spoken in the western half of the Empire, and as the western Romance languages, including Spanish, French, Catalan, Portuguese and Italian, evolved out of Latin they continued to use and adapt the Latin alphabet. With the spread of Western Christianity the Latin alphabet gradually spread to the peoples of northern Europe who spoke Celtic languages (displacing the Ogham alphabet) or Germanic languages (displacing their earlier Runic alphabets), as well as to the speakers of Baltic languages, such as Lithuanian and Latvian, and several (non-Indo-European) Finno-Ugric languages, most notably Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian. During the Middle Ages the Latin alphabet also came into use among the peoples speaking West Slavic languages and several South Slavic Languages, including the ancestors of modern Poles, Czechs, Croats, Slovenes, and Slovaks, as these peoples adopted Roman Catholicism; the speakers of East Slavic languages generally adopted both Orthodox Christianity and the Cyrillic alphabet.
                      As late as 1492, the Latin alphabet was limited primarily to the languages spoken in western, northern and central Europe. The Orthodox Christian Slavs of eastern and southern Europe mostly used the Cyrillic alphabet, and the Greek alphabet was still in use by Greek-speakers around the eastern Mediterranean. The Arabic alphabet was widespread within Islam, both among Arabs and non-Arab nations like the Iranians, Indonesians, Malays, and Turkic peoples. Most of the rest of Asia used a variety of Brahmic alphabets or the Chinese script.
                      Over the past 500 years, the Latin alphabet has spread around the world. It spread to the Americas, Oceania, and parts of Asia, Africa, and the Pacific with European colonization, along with the Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, and Dutch languages. In the late eighteenth century, the Romanians adopted the Latin alphabet, primarily because Romanian is a Romance language; although, as the Romanians were predominantly Orthodox Christians, until the nineteenth century their Church used the Cyrillic alphabet. Vietnam, under French rule, adapted the Latin alphabet for use with the Vietnamese language, which had previously used Chinese characters. The Latin alphabet is also used for many Austronesian languages, including Tagalog and the other languages of the Philippines, and the official Malaysian and Indonesian languages, replacing earlier Arabic and indigenous Brahmic alphabets. L. L. Zamenhof used the Latin alphabet as the basis for the alphabet of Esperanto.
                      Some glyph forms from the Latin alphabet served as the basis for the Cherokee syllabary developed by Sequoyah, however the sounds of the final syllabary were completely different.
                      In 1928, as part of Kemal Atatürk's reforms, Turkey adopted the Latin alphabet for the Turkish language, replacing the Arabic alphabet. Most of Turkic-speaking peoples of the former USSR, including Tatars, Bashkirs, Azeri, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and others, used the Latin-based Uniform Turkic alphabet in the 1930s, but in the 1940s all those alphabets were replaced by Cyrillic. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, several of the newly-independent Turkic-speaking republics, namely Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, as well as Romanian-speaking Moldova, have officially adopted the Latin alphabet for Azeri, Uzbek, Turkmen, and Moldovan Romanian, respectively. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and the breakaway region of Transnistria kept the Cyrillic alphabet, chiefly due to their close ties with Russia. In the 1970s, the People's Republic of China developed an official transliteration of Mandarin Chinese into the Latin alphabet, called Pinyin, although use of the Pinyin has been very rare outside educational and tourism purposes.
                      West Slavic and most South Slavic languages use the Latin alphabet rather than the Cyrillic, a reflection of the dominant religion practiced among those peoples. Among these, Polish uses a variety of diacritics and digraphs to represent special phonetic values, as well as the letter ł, for a sound which was originally the so-called dark L, but has become similar to an English w in modern varieties of the language. Czech uses diacritics as in Dvořák — the term háček (caron) originates from Czech. Croatian and the Latin version of Serbian use carons in č, š, ž, an acute in ć and a bar in đ. The languages of Eastern Orthodox Slavs generally use the Cyrillic alphabet instead, which is more closely based on the Greek alphabet. The Serbian language uses the two alphabets.

                      Spread of the Latin alphabet

                      Main articles: List of Latin letters and Alphabets derived from the Latin Extensions
                      Eth (Ð ð) and the Runic letters thorn (Þ þ), and wynn (Ƿ ƿ) were added to the Old English alphabet. Eth and thorn were later replaced with th, and wynn with the new letter w. Although these three letters are no longer part of the English alphabet, eth and thorn are still used in the modern Icelandic alphabet.
                      Some West, Central and Southern African languages use a few additional letters which have a similar sound value to their equivalents in the IPA. For example, Ga uses the letters Ɛ ɛ, Ŋ ŋ and Ɔ ɔ and Adangme uses Ɛ ɛ and Ɔ ɔ. Hausa uses Ɓ ɓ and Ɗ ɗ for implosives and Ƙ ƙ for an ejective. Africanists have standardized these into the African reference alphabet.

                      New forms
                      Main article: Ligature
                      A ligature is a fusion of two or more ordinary letters into a new glyph or character. Examples are Æ from AE, Œ from OE, the abbreviation & from Latin et "and", the Dutch IJ from I and J (Note that ij is capitalised as IJ, never Ij), and the German Eszett ß, from ſs (an archaic double s; the first glyph is the archaic medial form, and the second the final form).


                      Main article: DiacriticLatin alphabet Digraphs and trigraphs

                      Main article: Collation Collation
                      Main articles: English alphabet and English words with diacritics
                      As used in modern English, the Latin alphabet consists of the following characters
                      In addition the ligatures, Æ (ash) from AE (e.g. "encyclopædia"), Œ (oethel) from OE (e.g. cœlom) can be used for some words derived from Latin and Greek, and the diaeresis, is sometimes used for example on the letter ö (e.g. "coöperate") to indicate the pronunciation of "oo" as two separate vowels, rather than a single one. Outside professional papers on specific subjects that traditionally use ligatures, ligatures and diaereses are little used in modern English apart from on loan words.

                      Latin alphabet and international standards

                      Roman letters used in mathematics
                      Beghilos (Calculator spelling)
                      Kjell B. Sandved - Butterfly Alphabet

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