Welcome to the Latin Alphabet!

So you're thinking of writing your language in the Latin alphabet? That's a safe choice - after all, more than half of the world uses it, so it must work.

Well, it has a few problems you should know about in advance. The main one is that it doesn't have enough letters! The classical 20-letter alphabet used to write Latin added three more letters (K Y Z) to write Greek words, and English added another three (J V W), but those 26 letters - the ISO Basic Latin Alphabet found on every computer - still aren't enough!

For example, English has eight sounds with no letters (the sounds in shin chin thin this measure sing and the vowels in talk and took). Spanish adds ñ and still needs ch and ll. German adds ä ö ü ß and still needs ng ss sch ch. French makes 14 new letters with accent marks: é è à ù â ê î ô û ë ï ü ÿ ç, and still needs many two- or three-letter combinations, like eau for a normal o. And so on, for all the languages that use it. That's why the Extended Latin Alphabet in Unicode has 1350 letters! It goes without saying that very few of them are easy to type or display on your computer or phone.

Another huge problem is that the same letters don't stand for the same sound in different languages, or even in the same language. For example, the Js in English John, French Jean, German Johann and Spanish Juan all sound different, and our sh sound might be written ch sch sci s sz ś š x kj or even ti (as in words like nation).

Finally, each letter has several different forms: uppercase, lowercase, italic, cursive or just plain variants. There's no apparent benefit to this variety, just more rules you have to learn to know when to capitalize letters.

But you're still convinced that the Latin alphabet is going to solve all your problems, right? So here's a brief introduction.

The fall of a famous father is a familiar fantasy.
The letter Aaɑ usually stands for the sound you make with your mouth wide open, as in father, /a/ in IPA. But sometimes it stands for the /æ/ sound made with your lips as spread as possible, as in fantasy. It also stands for the /ɔ/ sound of fall, the /e/ sound of famous, and often for the /ə/ sound made with your mouth relaxed, as in familiar. Sometimes, it's marked with an accent or two: ȧ ä à ȁ á ā ã â ǎ ȃ ă å ą, or it might be followed by another vowel or semivowel to represent a diphthong or just another vowel sound: aa ae ai ao au ar aw ay. Apparent!
The dumb lamb climbed into the tomb!
The letter Bb usually stands for the voiced /b/ sound you make by trapping a little bit of air behind your closed lips for a moment, as in babe. But in many languages, it's sometimes pronounced like a p, as in German Kalb, Catalan corb or Chinese Beijing. In Spanish, between vowels, it's a v with both lips, IPA /β/. Obvious!
Is it decade or facade; soccer or saucer?
The letter Cc has many sounds. "Hard" c sounds like a k (and is sometimes written ck), while "soft" c sounds like an s. In Spanish, c stands for a th sound. In Slavic languages, Chinese and German, c stands for a ts sound. In Italian, Romanian and Malay, c stands for a tsh sound. In Turkish and Azeri, c stands for a dj sound. And it originally stood for the g sound, as in gamma. Sometimes, it's marked with an accent - ç ć ĉ ċ č among others - or combined with h, z or s to spell the sounds of church ache charade or loch. Clear!
On Wednesdays, handsome men eat sandwiches.
The letter Dd usually stands for the voiced /d/ sound you make by trapping the airflow behind your teeth for a moment, as in dude. But in Chinese, it stands for /t/, in Vietnamese, it stands for /z/, and in Fijian it stands for /nd/. In Spanish, between vowels, it's a th, IPA /ð/. Evident!
He defended eight zones. /i/ /ə/ /ɛ/ /ɨ/ /e/ /Ø/
The letter Eeε can stand for IPA /ɛ/ as in then, /e/ as in they, /i/ as in thee, /ə/ as in the or even /ø/ in French. It's often accented: ė ë è é ē ẽ ê ę ȅ ě ȇ or combined with other letters, like æ or œ. Or it might be followed by another vowel or semivowel to represent a diphthong or just another vowel sound: ea ee ei eo eu er ew ey. Easy!
Fred laughed at the photo of Jeff.
The letter Ffƒ almost always stands for /f/, so it's funny that it started out representing /w/! It's also funny that the f sound is spelled so many other ways - why?
George weighs enough on the beige gauge.
The letter Ggɡ can be hard /g/ as in get or soft /ʤ/ as in gel or even softer /ʒ/ as in genre. In Flemish, it's /ɣ/ as in Gent, and in Spanish it's /x/ as in Gijón. With h, it can be /g/ as in ghost, /f/ as in laugh or silent as in neighbor. With n it's /n/ as in sign, /ŋ/ as in sing, /ŋg/ as in finger, /ɲ/ as in lasagna or silent as in gnome. Gee!
This short thief has honest charm.
The letter Hh has four common sounds: either /h/ like in English hazard, /ɦ/ like in Czech hazard, /x/ like in Polish hazard, or silent like in French hasard. But it's also used a lot as the second letter of a digraph, as in bh ch dh gh kh ph rh sh th wh zh, where it indicates either aspiration as in Gandhi, affrication as in chip or palatalization as in ship. Holy cow!
I was winning at the first casino.
The letter Ii has many identities: as /ɪ/ in chit, /i/ in chic, /aɪ/ in child, /ɨ/ in merit or silent as in fruit. In German, ei spells /aɪ/ and ie spells /i/, just the opposite of English. In Catalan, ix spells /ʃ/ and ig spells /ʤ/ or /ʒ/. In Chinese, i spells three different sounds: /i/ /ʐ/ /ɻ/. It can carry lots of accents: í ì î ï ĩ ī ĭ į ı ǐ ȉ ȋ. Ay yay yay!
James, Jacques, Jaime, and Jakob are all the same guy.
The letter Jj spells a different sound in almost every language, including /j/ /x/ /ʒ/ /ʤ/ /ʨ/ /ɟ/ and /ʐ/. The original sound was the same as i when used as a consonant, like English y - that's why it's an i with a tail. So don't pronounce Julius Jesus Judas Joseph Jonah Jeremy Joel Jacob or Jared with a /dj/ sound!
Kalling dukks, a kuiet kuakk kollekts a kuikk ekko.
The letter Kk is one of the simple ones: it almost always spells /k/. So if we have a letter that unambiguously spells /k/, why do we spell /k/ so many other ways, as in card, chord, plaque or pack? Krazy!
Long wild lilies will look lovely on the table.
The letter Ll always spells a type of L. Usually, it's the common /l/, but after a vowel in English, it spells a "dark" /ɫ/ as in all or bottle. In other languages, a palatal lateral /ʎ/ is spelled ll, gl, lh or ļ, and the voiceless lateral in Welsh is also spelled ll. Logical!
Mermaids meet at the Miami Maritime Museum.
The letter Mm always spells /m/. In words like rhythm, chasm or prism there's actually an unwritten vowel in front of the m; the final syllable is pronounced just like in system, bottom or album. Magical!
Nuns never drink cognac or strong wine at dinner.
The letter Nn usually spells /n/, but it isn't quite as predictable as its sister m, because of all the other sounds we borrow the n to spell. In English, that includes /ŋ/, which is usually spelled ng but is spelled just n in finger and thinker and nc in Catalan. The sound /ɲ/ is spelled gn as in lasagna, French and Italian, but spelled nh in Portuguese, ny in Catalan, nj in Dutch and Croatian and ñ in Spanish. A final n in Japanese spells /ɴ/, and n after a vowel in French spells a nasal vowel. And in English words like autumn, solemn or damn, it's silent. No problem!
Only one of our wooden crosses is oak.
The letter Oo is omnipotent. It can spell /ɔ/ as in off, /ɑ/ as in on, /wə/ as in one, /ʊ/ as in good, /oʊ/ as in old, /ə/ as in of, /o/ as in so, /u/ as in to, /ɔɪ/ as in toy, /aʊ/ as in out, or even /ɚ/ as in author. As œ, ö, or ø, it spells /ø/. It's got accents galore: ó ò ô ö õ ō ŏ ő ơ ǒ ȍ ȏ. Outstanding!
Pure spring spirit prayer supports psychic upkeep.
The letter Pp almost always stands for /p/, although sometimes the /p/ is aspirated. The combination ph stands for /f/, or more correctly for /φ/, with lower lip instead of teeth. But p is often silent, as in pneumonia, psychology, pterodactyl, psalm and a few odd words like corps coup receipt. Piece of cake!
The quiet queen quit her unique quest for squirrels.
The letter Qq is almost always followed by u to spell the sound /kw/, but in French, Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese, qu is pronounced /k/. In Arabic and many other languages, q represents a uvular /q/, in Chinese it represents a palatal /tɕʰ/ sound, and in Maltese it represents a glottal stop. In general, because it's so rare and useless, q has been repurposed for many sounds. Quaint!
A broken mirror rarely foretells terror and horror.
The letter Rr always spells an "r" sound, but there are many different ones. It could spell a trill /r/ as in Italian, a tap /ɾ/ as in Russian, a semivowel /ɹ/ as in Mainland English, a guttural /ʁ/ as in French, a fricative as in Chinese /ʐ/, and several more, often more than one in a single language. And in Island English dialects, it lengthens the vowel, but it's silent. Remarkable!
Salt is as easy to measure as sugar.
The letter Ss spells a number of sounds, from /s/ as in sister to /z/ as in cousin to /ʃ/ as in sure to /ʒ/ as in pleasure. In many languages, these sounds are distinguished using accents like ś š or combinations like sc sch sg sh sj skj ss sy sz or the ligature ß. And in words like aisle, it's silent. Simple!
Did Tito mention that the tip made Beth a fortune?
The letter Tt usually spells the sound /t/, sometimes aspirated. But it's /ʃ/ in nation, /tʃ/ in nature, /θ/ in nothing and /ð/ in bathing. And it's silent in words like often listen castle. Transparent!
He made a fuss because the fuel was full of fruit.
The letter Uu has many sounds, ranging from /ə/ in puppy to /ʊ/ in put to /u/ in plume to /ju/ in pupil. In French, it spells /y/ as in tu. And in many languages, it's also used as a semivowel /w/. Undemanding!
What do you hafe to do? Is roovs the plural ov roof?
The letter Vv usually spells /v/, but it sometimes spells /f/, as in have when it means obligation, but not possession. But f also sometimes spells /v/, as in of or roofs. In German, v spells /f/, and in Spanish, it spells /b/ when initial, and bilabial /β/ otherwise. And informally in Chinese, it represents the vowel ü. Very clear!
How was Howard? Whiny.
The letter Wwω usually spells /w/, but in German, Dutch and Polish it spells /v/ or /ʋ/, and in Welsh it spells the vowel /u/! Weird!
Exactly six xylophones.
The letter Xx represents three different sounds in English, but in different contexts, so there's no ambiguity. It represents /z/ initially, /gz/ before a stressed vowel, and /ks/ after a vowel. Another common pronunciation - for example, in Chinese and all over Iberia - is /ʃ/(sh). And in some other languages, it spells /x/(kh), as it does in Greek, Cyrillic and IPA. Sexy!
They won't try your crazy system!
The letter Yy usually represents a vowel: either short /ɪ/, long /iː/ or the /ai/ diphthong. But it also spells a semivowel /j/ both before and after another vowel. In Norwegian and Danish, it spells /y/(ue), and in Polish, it spells /ɨ/. Yikes!
Eazy az piez!
The letter ZƵzƶʒ usually spells /z/ as in froze, but it also spells /ʒ/ as in seizure - both are much more commonly spelled with s, as in chose and measure. Americans spell realize with z, while Brits spell it realise. In German and Chinese, z stands for /ts/, and in Castilian Spanish it stands for /θ/(th). It's the least used consonant in English, and the most used consonant in Polish, where it occurs in ź ż ƶ cz dz rz sz dź dż dƶ. Zany!


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