Personal Work

Alphabet Series

Origins of the Latin Alphabet

This series was created for the 36 Days of Type Challenge. I wanted to come up with a theme that would help me decide what to do with each letter and give some meaning to my alphabet so, I decided to have each letter represent the origin of the character. It was really cool and sometimes surprising to find out the origin stories of each character and letter sound. My favorite letters are those that represented something that started with a completely different letter sound like "A is for Bull" or "N is for Fish."

A is for Bull: The latin letter A can be traced back to the Phoenician character called aelph which is based off of the Egyptian hieroglyph of a bull's head. The top point of the A was the bull's nose and the cross bar formed the back of its head and horns.

B is for House: The letter B comes from the Phoenician character beth which means house. The character resembled the shape of an ancient Phoenician home. The Hebrews called this character bet or bayt which also means house.

C is for Camel (with a slingshot): The letter C originally made the "g" sound and may have originally been called gamal which is the Semitic word for camel. Alternatively, it may have come from the word gimel which was a weapon that slings rocks or spears.

D is for Hand: The Ancient Egyptians used a hieroglyph of a hand to represent the hard "d" sound. The Phoenicians later renamed this character "dalet" meaning door and gave it a triangular shape that was eventually softened into the semi-circular letterform we use today.

E is for Celebration: The Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for E was a man with his arms thrown up in celebration. The Semitic language called this character "hillul" meaning jubilation.

F is for Snake: The Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for the letter F is a snake. Over time the snake became more and more abstracted until it was essentially a wavy line. The Phoenicians reinterpreted it as "waw" which means hook.

G is for the Romans: In early written language the "g" sound and the "k" sound were both represented by the letter C. It was the Romans who finally decided to separate the two sounds by adding the extra bar to the C character, inventing the letter G.

H is for Fence: The Semitic language had a character resembling the modern H. They called it Heth which was also their word for "fence". Since it's conception, the H has not changed much in its pronunciation or appearance.

I is for Arm: The Egyptian hieroglyph for the vowel sound "i" was an arm. When the Phoenicians created their own alphabet, they re-assigned the "arm" character to the "j" sound because their word for arm began with that sound.

J is for Gian Giorgio Trissino: The letter J is one of the newest letters of the alphabet. We can actually trace its use in written language back to a specific date - and person. Gian Giorgio Trissino started using the J character in 1524. It was originally just a ligature of the letter I but quickly grew into being its own letter representing a unique sound. Before 1524, the romans had used the elongated I to terminate roman numerals that had more than one I in a row (for example 23 would be XXIIJ).

K is for Palm: The letter K comes from the Greek letter kappa, which was taken from the Semitic letter kap, meaning an open hand or grip. The Semites may have adapted this letter from the Egyptian hieroglyph for the letter D but reassigned it to the K sound because their word for hand began with that sound.

L is for Ox Goad: The Latin letter L comes from the Phoenician character lamedh which is based on the Egyptian hieroglyph of an ox goad, cattle prod, or staff.

M is for Water: The Latin letter M comes from the Semitic character Mem which means water. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, this character made the "n" sound because their word for water started with that sound.The sound for this symbol was re-assigned in the Semitic language to match the sound at the beginning of their word for water. Naming a letter so that it starts with the sound the letter makes is called Acrophony.

N is for Fish: The name for the letter N in the Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic alphabets is nun, which means "fish."

O is for Eye: The letter O's graphic form has remained fairly constant since Phoenician times. The name of the Phoenician letter was ʿeyn, meaning "eye", and its shape originates from a drawing of a human eye.

P is for Mouth: The Latin letter P is based off of the Phoenician letter "pe" meaning mouth. The Phoenicians developed their letter from the Egyptian Hieroglyph of a mouth.

Q is for Monkey: Around 1000 BC, “Q,” pronounced “qoph,” either meant ”monkey” or a “ball of wool.” Back then Q was a circle with a vertical line through it; later the Romans would shorten and skew the line to give us the Q we know today.

R is for Head: R first appears in ancient Semitic as the profile of a human. Pronounced “resh,” it translated to “head.” The Romans flipped it to face right and added a tail to distinguish it from P.

S is for Tooth: The letter S originated in the Semitic language as a pictogram of a tooth. It originally made the "sh" sound; the greeks renamed the letter sigma in their alphabet and assigned it the hard "s" sound.

T is for Signature: The Phoenicians used a variety of crossed forms to represent the letter they called “taw.” This letter represented the ‘t’ sound and it provided a mark for signing documents that could be used by those who could not write their names.

U is for Lazare Zetzner: Up until 1629, the letters U and V were used interchangeably; the shape V stood for both the vowel U and the consonant V. It wasn’t until an Italian printer named Lazare Zetzner started using the letter U in his print shop that the two letters became distinct.

V is for Cerastes: The letter V and the letter F both come from the Egyptian hieroglyph of a snake monster called a Cerastes. The Etruscans translated this hieroglyph into their letter, upsilon, and the Romans chopped the tail off the upsilon to create the modern letter V. For them it made the "u" sound and the "w" sound but not the "v" sound.

W is for German: The letter W was originally a ligature of the letter V, not U. It started appearing in early German writings and was separated as its own distinct letter in Middle German and Middle English writings.

X is for (dead) Fish: The modern letter X is a roman mash-up of the Greek character Chi and the sound of the Phoenician letter samekh, meaning “fish.” The character in the Phoenician alphabet was differentiated from the "n" character, also based off a fish, by depicting the fish skeleton with a series of crossed lines.

Y is for Hook: The letter Y comes from the Semitic letter "waw" (the same as F, U, and V). While the Egyptian Hieroglyph for the letter resembled a horned snake monster, the Semitic letter more closely resembled a hook or a peg.

Z is for Sword: The letter Z comes form the Semitic word "zayin" which meant weapon or sword. While it used to hold the 7th spot in the alphabet, it lost popularity with the Romans and was dropped. Later, it was added back in at the end of the alphabet by the Latins.

Back to Portfolio