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What Was The Most Recent Letter Added To The English alphabet?

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The history of the English alphabet is quite interesting and a lot of development was made which took quite a long time. The English alphabet began with the Phoenician alphabet, which was created thousands of years ago. It was written in the 12thcenturies BCE.

The alphabet has been passed on through many cultures and civilizations, from the Greeks to the Romans. And then it finally settled into English. Letters have changed many times throughout their journey. Even old letters were lost or gained new forms. All this change may make you wonder, "What was the last letter to be added to the English alphabet?"

In 1524, "J" was added to the English alphabet. Initially, "I" was considered the same letter as "J", although the sounds were different. They were separated only after Gian Giorgio Trissino (an Italian grammarian) argued for them to be.

But before we indulge in how the letter J was added to the English alphabet, it's imperative to see discuss the history of the alphabet. 

English's First Alphabet

You may be surprised to learn that the English second alphabet is what we know and love. It's true! English was written in the runic alphabet during the Old English period (roughly 600AD to 1066AD).

This was an older system for writing languages that were native to Germanic at the time. The runic alphabets were used in all languages spoken in Germany, Norway, and Sweden in the 7th Century.

Futhorc is the runic alphabet that Old English uses. Named after the sound values of six of the runes, f (/f/), U (/u/), Th (/th/), O (/o/), R (/r/), and C (/k/), the name derives from these sound values.  

These runes were used for writing English literature and inscriptions from the very beginning (around 600AD) to the time when the Latin alphabet replaced the runic alphabet (around 800AD).

The History of Our Modern Alphabet

How did we get from the Latin alphabet to the runic alphabet? What made people abandon their traditional writing system in favor of a new system? This is an interesting story, and we must look at the history behind the Latin alphabet to understand it.

Phoenician Alphabet

Around the 13th century or 12th century, the journey of the modern English alphabet began. A group known as the Phoenicians possessed a large empire and extensive trade network during this period. Their alphabet was brought along as their empire grew.

Through prolonged contact, this alphabet was passed to the Greek civilization. The Phoenician alphabet was eventually adopted and developed into the ancient and modern Greek alphabets.

The Greek civilization was home to many colonies along the Mediterranean coast at the time. Magna Graecia was one of the colonies. It was found on the Italian peninsula.

The Italian peninsula was once a bustling place before the glory days of the Roman Empire. Magna Graecia was located in the south. This area was home to many Greek settlers.

The Etruscans occupied the western half of the peninsula. The Etruscans adopted from Magna Graecia, the Greek alphabet, after a long period of contact. This was the next step on the path to the current alphabet that we use today. 

Roman Alphabet

Roman society and culture were greatly influenced by the Etruscans. Some Etruscans are even said to have been Roman kings. It was only natural that Romans would adopt the Etruscan alphabet because of their close social contact. It happened as early as 600 BCE.

The Duenos Inscription (6th century BCE) is one of the earliest known pieces of Latin writing.

These 21 letters made up the Latin alphabet.

This is a short list of the 26 letters we currently have. Noticeably, the letters "J", U", "W", Y", and Z are missing. These letters were added later and, as the article will demonstrate, the letter J was added last in the 16th century AD.

Transitioning Into The English Language

How did this alphabet replace the Old English runic alphabet? This story is rich in history.

For over 400 years, the Anglo-Saxons, who were the first English speakers, had a flourishing culture and society in Britain. They used the runic alphabet for small phrases and poems to be engraved onto weapons and furniture. However, literacy was only a small percentage of the population.

The majority of information was transmitted orally. Only a few wealthy people were able to read and write. In the 6th century, this began to change. From Ireland, Christian missionaries arrived in Britain during this period.

They also brought Latin to the British Isles, along with the Christian faith. The Latin language also grew in popularity as Christianity spread to all parts of the country.

Latin and Old English co-existed for a while. However, this changed in the 9th century. Alfred the Great, the king of England, was unhappy with the education situation in his kingdom and decided to promote literacy and education among his subjects.

He preferred to speak English over Latin. He enlisted the help of the scribes who were all literate in Latin and members of the church to translate and transcribe literature into English.

During this time, many works of English literature were created. They used a mix of Old English and Latin runes for their alphabet. Runes were used to represent English sounds not found in Latin.

This is the Old English Latin Alphabet used in the 9th Century. This alphabet was born due to its bilingual status at the time of its creators. Their scripture work was mainly in Latin so they chose the best writing system to create English literature.

The Emergence And Use Of J

Notice that the English alphabet does not include the letter "J". The sound "J", which is the English equivalent of the sound, was present at that time but there wasn't yet a distinct letter for it. Instead, the letter I stood for both sounds represented by "I", and "J".

Before it became its own letter, the "J" was used to make "I" look fancy. The swash was the small tail of "I". It was used in Roman numerals as a way to end a sequence of ones (XXIIJ and xxiij were 23 instead of "XXIII"/"xxiiii). The Latin language uses "I" to signify both the vowel sound (/i/) and the consonant sound (/j/), as well as the vowel sound (/e/) in "eat".

The argument continued for many years until an Italian grammarian, wrote an essay entitled " Epistola dul Trissino di le lettere nuovamente anggiunte ine la lingua Italian" ("The Letter of Trissino") about the newly added letters to the Italian language.

He argued in this essay for the seperation of the two sounds "I" and "J". One sound (/i/), would still be represented by the letter "I", while the second (/j/), would be represented with "J".

This new use of the letter "J", which was first recognized and spread throughout Europe, helped in part by the printing presses, saw the sounds of "J" change depending on the language being adopted. In German,

"J" still retains the sound of /j/ in words like "jung" (young) and "jetzt (jetst,now). The English sound is ‘dZ’, which is the same as in "judge" and "jump".

It is the alphabet that we learned as children, and it has remained the same throughout our lives. It is hard to believe that the alphabet can change over time. Most people believe that the "Z" was the last letter to be added to the alphabet.

But it wasn't. The actual last letter is actually not at the end of the alphabet. The letter J was the last letter to be an addition to the alphabet we know today.

The Roman alphabet was the father of the English alphabet. "J" was not a letter. From humble beginnings in Rome as a numeral, it rose to the eventual tenth place in the English alphabet. It has been quite a journey for the letter J.

It's not a coincidence that J and I are side by side. They actually began as the same character. The J was originally a swash. It was a typographical embellishment to the I.

Lowercase letters were introduced to the Roman numeral system. The lowercase "i", which was used as numerals in Roman numerals, was replaced by the lowercase "j". This marked the end of a series, such as "XIIJ" and "xiij" respectively.

Gian GiorgioTrissino was the first to record the separation of the characters I and J. He wanted to reform Italian Linguistics. Gian GiorgioTrissino distinguished "I" from "J". "I" distinguished the above vowel and "J" became an accent that sounded more like "j" in Beijing. Later, others adopted his use for "J", but Romance languages changed their pronunciation to what we know

The original 1611 King James Version Bible did not contain the "J" letter. This was because it didn't exist. James was spelled Iames. Jesus was spelled Iesous. In 1633, the first English book explaining the differences between the letters was published. The rest of the story is linguistic history.

The Journey Of The Letter “J”

Everyone knows that "Z", the last letter in the alphabet is important. But did you know that it wasn't? Although it is located in the first half of the ABCs, "J", which was 26th among the current set of letters, is a latecomer.

Gian GiorgioTrissino, added "J" to the alphabet. He was a Renaissance poet and dramatist as well as grammarian. In that capacity, he began to mess with the alphabet.

The Roman alphabet shows that "J" is not a separate letter. It was simply a different way of writing the letter "I". It was most commonly found in Roman numerals that concluded with a series or "I". This was because the last "I" in the sequence was written as "J". 

If used as a letter instead of a number, "J" was interchangeable with "I" and had a similar pronunciation.

He suggested that "I" be separated from "J". He suggested that "I" remain the vowel sound that we all love, and that "J” be used to represent "j" in "jury." Trissino's idea clearly gained traction so those are named Julie or Jason, Jasper, etc. all can thank Trissino for suggesting that your name starts with a "J", instead of an "I".

Conclusion

The letter "J", as it is known, has been with us since then. Gian Trissino is responsible for liberating "J", from "I", and giving this new letter to all languages.

The simple addition of a swash to the end "I" made the letter "J", which has become a distinct letter over the years. It's an essential letter that we use to spell out words and names. Although "J" was our last addition to the alphabet, it's certainly not a weakness. 

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