The Latin script that we know today originated in the 7th century BC and is the most widely used alphabetic writing system in the world. Also known as Roman script, it is derived from Greek and Etruscan alphabets. In the Middle Ages, the Roman script replaced the runic alphabet of the Anglo-Saxons and is often referred to as simply the “alphabet” – a Latin combination of the first two Greek letters alpha and beta.
Old English as a spoken language was a form of West Germanic dialects. It was first written in a runic alphabet brought with Anglo-Saxon settlers starting in the 5th century. Very few examples of this form of written English have survived, most being short inscriptions or fragments.
The Latin script was introduced by Christian missionaries from about the 7th century. It began to replace the Anglo-Saxon runes though the two continued in parallel for some time. As such, the Old English alphabet began to employ parts of the Roman alphabet in its construction.
The adopted Roman alphabet was made up of 23 letters that included Etruscan characters plus the Greek letters Y and Z. The English names of the Latin letters are, for the most part, direct descendants via French, Latin, and Etruscan. At the time, there were no lower case letters and they wouldn’t appear until the 9th century.
The combination of upper case and lower case letters in a dual alphabet system first appeared in a form of writing named after Emperor Charlemagne (742-814). It soon became very common to mix the cases within a word with the upper case to add emphasis.
In the year 1011, a monk named Byrhtferð recorded the order of the English alphabet with a combination of Latin, modified Latin, and Old English characters. He first listed the 23 letters of the Latin alphabet plus the ampersand. Additional characters included the Latin shorthand symbol for and (⁊), the Old English letters Ƿ and Þ, and finally, the modified Latin letters Ð and Æ.
The letters J, U, and W weren’t included in the alphabet until the 16th century. In Roman numerals, J was originally used as a swash variation of the number I when multiple I’s appeared together, as in XXIIJ. Likewise, U and V were one and the same, the only difference being the pointed v form was written at the beginning of a word, while a rounded u form was used in the middle or end of a word. The shift from the digraph VV or double u to the distinct ligature W was gradual. Though considered a separate letter by the 14th century, W remained an outsider with complaints that few knew what to do with it.
Finally, the seventh Greek letter Z (zeta) had been adopted from Etruscan as part of the original Roman alphabet but was replaced with the letter G, only to be added again to the end of the list in the 1st century BC. Z was rarely used simply because it is not a native Latin sound. Old English adopted the Roman alphabet after Z had been recast as the last letter.
As for the name of the letter Z, the older pronunciation of zed was inherited from Old French. The American zee was also a British English dialectal form during the 17th century and was likely influenced by the pronunciation pattern bee, cee, dee, pee, tee, etc. The pronunciation zee was given its American stamp of approval by Noah Webster in his American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828.
Tic-Tac-Toe – easy enough for your youngest students and fun for older students as well! Use these games as a vocabulary review, a warm-up, or a cool-down activity. You can even use the boards for a quick game of Bingo! Check out all the Tic-Tac-Toe games in Donald’s English Classroom!