Prelude – 2 : A history of the Latin Alphabet

The Latin alphabet is originated from the Etruscan alphabet, in the 7th century BC. The Etruscans themselves derived their alphabet from the Greek colonists in Italy, more specifically from the Cumae alphabet. The Ancient Greek alphabet was in turn based upon the alphabet of Phoenicians who were living on the coastal area of Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. The earliest inscription in Latin characters, dating from the 7th century BC, was made on golden brooch known as Praeneste Fibula (preserved now in the Museo Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini in Rome). It is written from right to left and reads:
The Praeneste fibula at the Museo Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini in Rome. It reads:
MANIOS:MED:FHEFHAKED:NUMASIOI
(in Classical Latin: Manius me fecit Numerio)
Manius made me for Numerius.
Another inscription, dating from the end of the 7th or the beginning of the 6th century BC, was engraved on a small pillar (cippus) found in the Roman Forum. It is written vertically on the four faces of the pillar in bustrophedon style.
The Duenos inscription, dated to the 6th century BC, shows the earliest known forms of the Old Latin alphabet.
 The Duenos inscription
Reflecting the obvious similarity between the Latin alphabet and the Chalcidian variety of the Western group of Greek scripts used at Cumae in Campania, Southern Italy, the earlier hypothesis suggested that Latin letters were derived directly from the Greek alphabet. However, this hypotheses is now rejected since: i. Latin letter names are of Etruscan origin, and ii. The sound of F, in most ancient documents, is represented by combination FH, which was peculiar to the Etruscan writing system.

According to a Roman legend, which credits introduction of alphabet into Latinium to Evander, son of the Cimmerian Sibyl. This was supposed to have happened 60 years before the Trojan war. However, there is no historically sound basis to this tale. This makes the early Latin alphabet one among several Old Italic alphabets emerging at the time.

 A latin inscription in Ephesus

The Romans further developed the alphabet by using 23 letters from the Etruscans. The Roman letters ABEZHIKMNOTXY was exactly the same as the Etruscans’. But the letters CDGLPRSV were redesigned. The Romans also added two Phoenicians letters, the F and Q, that were discarded by the Greeks. They placed Z at the end of the alphabet because for a while it appeared redundant. The U and W were slowly added and based on the letter V by the year 1000 and the J, which was based on the I was added by 1500.

Three important  innovations by  Romans were:  first, the introduction of serifs, which are the short finishing strokes at the end of letters, second, the graphic design of thick and thin strokes, and third lowercase letters. The most important of these was of course the lowercase letters which were developed because to copy a text scribes needed quicker and smaller versions of the letters. The first system of lowercase letterforms was known as the semi-uncial. Spacing between words was not generally adopted until the eleventh century. Punctuation marks developed in the 16th century when printing became prevalent.

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