history of the english alphabet
Speaking and writing interacted. Written English changed as spoken English changed. In turn, the English alphabet developed to reflect the way English was written.
Two English alphabets evolved to meet the demands placed on writing by changes in speech:
about an irreproducible character
The box-shaped character that follows the ampersand symbol (&) in the alphabetic sequence shown above represents an Old English letter that cannot be reproduced on this page because of technological limitations. Sorry.
The English alphabet evolved during this period and will continue to change as the English language changes.
Once-accepted characters like þ and Ð, still used in present-day Icelandic, are now obsolete in modern English. More changes like these deletions occurred in the 14th and 15th Centuries. Letters u and j were introduced in the 16th century and w became an independent letter. Changes have continued to occur until as recently as the 19th century, and more changes can be expected. Change is an inherent aspect of language.
Today, the English alphabet consists of the following 26 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
Although important orthographic elements, ligatures and diacritic marks are not considered elements of the alphabet. Custom seems to dictate how these non-alphabetic orthographic elements are used. For example:
In modern American English, it has become common to see two letters instead of one ligature in non-academic writing. Ligatures such as æ and œ are still commonly used only in formal writing and only for certain words of Greek or Latin origin; they are not used in other kinds of writing. For example, encyclopædia may be used instead of encyclopedia and fœtus may be used instead of fetus.
This change in linguistic practice illustrates how social and other factors can work to produce change even in so basic a linguistic device as an alphabet. Dropping ligatures is partly the result of indifference to language subtleties by modern writers. It also occurs because of technological innovations like the QWERTY computer keyboard, which does not have keys that represent ligatures for economic, efficiency, and software reasons.
- Diacritic marks are never used in the modern spellings of native English words, but may appear when English borrows foreign loan-words such as naïve and façade. Even then, as such words become "naturalized," diacritics tend to disappear. Words that are still perceived as foreign tend to retain diacritics.
Diacritics are still sometimes used to indicate a word's syllables. For example, cursed is pronounced with one syllable; cursèd is pronounced with two.
There's lots more to know about the English alphabet.
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