Latin alphabet

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Latin alphabet
Font alphabet
languages see list
Usage time since approx. 700 BC Chr.
ancestry Phoenician script
 →  Greek alphabet
  →  Etruscan script
   →  Latin alphabet
Derived see list
relative Cyrillic alphabet
Coptic script
Armenian alphabet
Unicode block  U + 0000-U + 007F
ISO 15924 Latin, 215

The Latin alphabet is originally the case for the Latin language used alphabet ; it is also called the Roman alphabet in this context . It comprises 26 letters and forms the basis of many of today's alphabets. Together these “ Latin alphabets ” make up the Latin writing system , the most widely used writing system in the world. Some languages, such as English, use the alphabet without changes.

The Latin alphabet is derived from the old Italian alphabet of the Etruscans , from which the Romans initially adopted 21 letters. In the time of classical Latin and in late antiquity , the alphabet consisted of 23 letters. The number of 26 letters was not reached until the Renaissance .

The letters of the alphabet

The modern Latin alphabet consists of the following 26 letters :

Capital letter 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 letters 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

The order largely follows that of the Greek alphabet and thus goes back to the order of the Phoenician alphabet .

Names of the letters

Most of the names of the letters were not taken from the Greek alphabet. Instead, they followed this pattern:

  • Vowels denote themselves ( a, e, i, o, u )
  • Plosives add an e ( be, ce, de , etc.)
  • Continuous sounds - fricatives and sonorants - are preceded by an e ( ef, el, em etc.)

Some letters deviated from this scheme: K and Q form the name with their typical vowel: ka, qu (to clarify the difference to ce for C). X was called ex , Z was given the Greek name zeta . There were various names for Y, including i Graeca ("Greek i").

The letter names have largely been retained when the Latin alphabet was transferred to other languages.

Properties of Latin letters

The letters of the Latin alphabet can be classified in terms of their graphic implementation as well as further contexts (based on prototypical forms).

property Capitals Minuscules
Same upper and lower case C, O, (P,) S, U, V, W, X, Z c, o, (p,) s, u, v, w, x, z
Arcs and straight lines B, D, G, J, P, Q, R, U a, b, d, e, f, g, h, j, m, n, p, q, r, t, u, y
No arches A, E, F, H, I, K, L, M, N, T, V, W, X, Y, Z i, k, l, v, w, x, z
No straight lines C, O, S c, o, s
diagonal A, K, M, N, R, V, W, X, Y, Z k, v, w, x, y, z
With enclosed areas A, B, D, O, P, Q, R a, b, d, e, g, (k), o, p, q
No enclosed areas C, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z c, f, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z
Horizontal and vertical symmetry H, I, O, X (i), l, o, x
Horizontal symmetry only B, C, D, E, K c
Vertical symmetry only A, M, T, U, V, W, Y i, v, w
Rotational symmetry ( ambigraph ) H, I, N, O, S, X, Z (l), o, s, x, z
Left vertical axis B, D, E, F, K, L, P, R b, f, h, k, l, n, p, r, t
Vertical axis right J d, g, j, q, u, y
Vertical axis central or double H, I, M, N, T, Y i, l, m
Descender (J), (Q) (f), g, (h), j, p, q, y, (z)
Ascender 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 b, d, f, h, (i), k, l, (s), t
split middle band a, e, (g), k, s, x, z
No ascenders and descenders a, c, e, (i), m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, z
Roman numerals C, D, I, L, M, V, X c, d, i, j, l, m, v, x


Archaic Latin alphabet

Insights into the history of the Latin alphabet are due to Latin paleography , which deals with ancient Latin scripts. Accordingly, the Latin alphabet goes back to the Etruscan script . The Etruscans, on the other hand, borrowed their script from the western Greek alphabet , which goes back to the Phoenician script . Early evidence in Latin script are the Lapis Niger (around 600 BC) and the Duenos inscription (first half of the 6th century BC). The archaic Latin alphabet consisted of 21 letters:

Archaic Latin alphabet
Old Italian form ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Classic shape A. B. C. D. E. F. Z H I. K L. M. N O P Q R. S. T V X

The symbol for the Greek sound [dz] was passed on in the seventh position of the alphabet, although there was no use for this or similar sound combinations in Latin. The abolition of this symbol is said to go back to Spurius Carvilius Ruga , a freed slave who opened the first school with paid tuition.

C was used for the unvoiced velar plosive [k] and the voiced velar plosive [ɡ]. This is shown by the abbreviations C. for Gaius and Cn. for Gnaeus and inscribed forms like CRATIA.

Classic Latin alphabet

Inscription on Trajan's Column in Rome , 112/113 AD. The letter G appears three times in this text.

The classical Latin alphabet differs from the archaic Latin alphabet by the additional letters G, Y and Z. It is said to have been Spurius Carvilius Ruga who, by adding a diacritical line to the C, the difference between C = [k] and G = [ɡ] introduced. The new G was placed in the alphabet in place of the deleted Z. As a result, the Latin alphabet consisted of these 21 letters:


Further changes arose after the Greek motherland in 146 BC. Was subjected to and incorporated into the territory of the Roman Republic and there was an increased need to reproduce Greek names and foreign words in Latin script. The Greek Ypsilon in the Etruscan writing form V was already adopted in the Latin alphabet in Archaic times. The vowel [u] was written with this V (according to the sound value also in Archaic Greek, cf. Latin burrus <Greek πυρρός “red”), but also the semiconsonant [w]. In classical times the Greek Y was taken over again, this time directly from the Greek, in the spelling Y and with the phonetic value [y] now also used in classical Greek. In Latin, however, the Y remained reserved as a foreign character for the writing of Greek names and foreign words, for example cyclus for Greek κύκλος "circle, cycle". For the same purpose, Z for / dz / was borrowed again as another foreign character (example: ζώνη zona "belt, zone") and this time placed at the end of the alphabet, as is still common today. Emperor Claudius tried, probably in the year 47, to expand the Latin alphabet to 24 letters and thus to bring it into line with the Greek alphabet, which is regarded as perfect. This reform was unsuccessful after Claudius' death. The position of the newly introduced letters is unknown.

In late antique grammar, the counting and differentiation of the Latin letters then consolidated to 23:


The Latin Middle Ages attached particular importance to this number because it lies between the letter numbers of the Hebrew (22) and the Greek (24) alphabets and Latin Christianity saw its position as a legacy of both cultures confirmed.

The Romans used the letters I and V to spell both the vowel and the corresponding half-vowel : I was used for vowel [i] and the half-vowel [j], as was V for vowel [u] and the half-vowel [w ]. In late antiquity, the semi-vowels began to be more clearly distinguished from the corresponding vowels: The [j] became a [dʒ], the [w] became a [v].

The classical Latin alphabet was not bicameral , that is, it did not distinguish between upper and lower case letters . Likewise, there was no space between words in ancient times . Instead, in the scriptio continua, all characters were written together.

Middle Ages and Modern Times

Alphabet of 23 letters in an illustration from 1541
Table of the alphabet with 26 letters in an English book from 1740

Since late antiquity, the spelling J has existed alongside I and the rounded spelling U alongside V. However, these spelling variants were not used to mark the phonetic difference between vowel and (semi) consonant phonetic values. I and J as well as U and V were considered to be the same letter with the same name “I” and “U”, respectively, derived from the vowel usage. Similarly, J and V were not counted as separate letters.

It was only in the wake of humanistic reform projects of the Renaissance - by Leon Battista Alberti and Gian Giorgio Trissino in Italy and Geoffroy Tory and Louis Meigret in France - that the differences in writing were used to represent the phonetic difference: By distinguishing I = [i :] against J = [j] and U = [u] vs. V = [v] two more letters of the alphabet were J and U .

Also post-medieval in the assessment as a separate letter is the letter W , which was created from a ligature of two Vs (hence its English name double u , French double v [ve] or Italian doppia v [vu]).


This completed the alphabet that is now known as the Latin alphabet.

In today's writing of Latin, for example in church Latin, the letters U and V are distinguished. In common dictionaries, too, the Latin entries are sorted separately according to U and V.


Abbreviations in medieval manuscripts

In ancient times, many abbreviations were used , especially for inscriptions on public buildings . An ancient shorthand , the Tironic notes, was written by Marcus Tullius Tiro .

Medieval manuscripts use numerous abbreviations , special characters to abbreviate common prefixes , suffixes and word stems . Instead of the recessed letters, special strokes or lines were attached to the remaining letters (sometimes similar to diacritical marks , but not to be understood as such). This practice has survived the advent of printing in only a few cases .

Use in today's languages

See also


Web links

Commons : Latin alphabet  - collection of pictures, videos, and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Roland Papke: The emperor's new letters. Claudius in Tac. ann. 11:14 and Sen. apocol. 3.4. In: Würzburg Yearbooks for Classical Studies. New Series Volume 12, 1986, pp. 183-196; see also Jürgen Malitz : Claudius (FGrHist 276) - the Prinzeps as a scholar. In: Volker Michael Strocka (ed.): The reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD). Break or episode? International interdisciplinary symposium on the occasion of the centenary of the Archaeological Institute of the University of Freiburg i. Br. 16-18. February 1991. Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 1994, pp. 133-141, here pp. 140 f.
  2. Example: Pope Francis : Laudato si '. Holy See , May 24, 2015, accessed October 21, 2015 (Latin).
  3. Example: Michael Petschenig: The little Stowasser. Latin-German school dictionary. Munich 1968, p. 510 (“U.”), p. 517 (“V.”).
  4. ^ Wallace Martin Lindsay: Notae Latinae: An Account of Abbreviation in Latin Mss. Of the Early Minuscule Period (C. 700-850). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1915.