C - History


Old Latin

⟨C⟩ comes from the same letter as ⟨G⟩. The Semites named it gimel. The sign is possibly adapted from an Egyptian hieroglyph for a staff sling, which may have been the meaning of the name gimel. Another possibility is that it depicted a camel, the Semitic name for which was gamal.

In the Etruscan language, plosive consonants had no contrastive voicing, so the Greek ⟨Γ⟩ (Gamma) was adopted into the Etruscan alphabet to represent /k/. Already in the Western Greek alphabet, Gamma first took a ⟨⟩ form in Early Etruscan, then ⟨⟩ in Classical Etruscan. In Latin it eventually took the ⟨c⟩ form in Classical Latin. In the earliest Latin inscriptions, the letters ⟨c k q⟩ were used to represent the sounds /k/ and /ɡ/ (which were not differentiated in writing). Of these, ⟨q⟩ was used to represent /k/ or /ɡ/ before a rounded vowel, ⟨k⟩ before ⟨a⟩, and ⟨c⟩ elsewhere. During the 3rd century BC, a modified character was introduced for /ɡ/, and ⟨c⟩ itself was retained for /k/. The use of ⟨c⟩ (and its variant ⟨g⟩) replaced most usages of ⟨k⟩ and ⟨q⟩. Hence, in the classical period and after, ⟨g⟩ was treated as the equivalent of Greek gamma, and ⟨c⟩ as the equivalent of kappa; this shows in the romanization of Greek words, as in ⟨KAΔMOΣ⟩, ⟨KYPOΣ⟩, and ⟨ΦΩKIΣ⟩ came into Latin as ⟨cadmvs⟩, ⟨cyrvs⟩, and ⟨phocis⟩, respectively.

Other alphabets have letters homoglyphic to ⟨c⟩ but not in use and derivation, like the Cyrillic letter Es (С, с) which derives from the lunate sigma, named due to its resemblance to the crescent moon.

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