I - History

History

Egyptian hieroglyph ꜥ Phoenician
yodh
Etruscan I Ii Greek
Iota

In Semitic, the letter may have originated in a hieroglyph for an arm that represented a voiced pharyngeal fricative (/ʕ/) in Egyptian, but was reassigned to /j/ (as in English "yes") by Semites, because their word for "arm" began with that sound. This letter could also be used to represent /i/, the close front unrounded vowel, mainly in foreign words.

The Greeks adopted a form of this Phoenician yodh as their letter iota (⟨Ι, ι⟩) to represent /i/, the same as in the Old Italic alphabet. In Latin (as in Modern Greek), it was also used to represent /j/. The modern letter ⟨j⟩ was firstly a variation of ⟨i⟩, and both were used interchangeably for both the vowel and the consonant, coming to be differentiated only in the 16th century. The dot over the lowercase 'i' is sometimes called a tittle. In the Turkish alphabet, dotted and dotless I are considered separate letters, representing a front and back vowel, respectively, and both have upper-case (⟨I⟩, ⟨İ⟩) and lowercase (⟨ı⟩, ⟨i⟩) forms.

In modern English, ⟨i⟩ represents different sounds, either a "long" diphthong /aɪ/ as in kite, which developed from Middle English /iː/ after the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th century, or the "short", /ɪ/ as in bill.

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