Latin - Orthography


Latin was written in the Latin alphabet, derived from the Old Italic alphabet, which was in turn drawn from the Greek and ultimately the Phoenician alphabet. This alphabet has continued to be used over the centuries as the script for the Romance, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, Finnic, and many Slavic languages (Polish, Slovak, Slovene, Croatian and Czech), as well as for many other languages, such as Indonesian, Vietnamese (previously used Chinese characters), and the Niger–Congo languages.

The number of letters in the Latin alphabet has varied. When it was first derived from the Etruscan alphabet, it contained only 21. Later, G was added to represent /ɡ/, which had previously been spelled C; while Z ceased to be included in the alphabet due to non-use, as the language had no voiced alveolar fricative at the time. The letters Y and Z were later added to represent the Greek letters upsilon and zeta respectively in Greek loanwords. W was created in the 11th century from VV. It represented /w/ in Germanic languages, not in Latin, which still uses V for the purpose. J was distinguished from the original I only during the late Middle Ages, as was the letter U from V. Although some Latin dictionaries use J it is for the most part not used for Latin text as it was not used in classical times, although many other languages use it.

Classical Latin did not contain sentence punctuation, letter case, or interword spacing, though apices were used to distinguish length in vowels and the interpunct was used at times to separate words. So, a sentence originally written:


or with interpunct as


would be rendered in a modern edition as

Lugete, O Veneres Cupidinesque

or with macrons

Lūgēte, Ō Venerēs Cupīdinēsque.

and translated as

Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids.

The Roman cursive script is commonly found on the many wax tablets excavated at sites such as forts, an especially extensive set having been discovered at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall in Britain. Curiously enough, most of the Vindolanda tablets show spaces between words, though spaces were avoided in monumental inscriptions from that era.

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