Ze (Cyrillic) - History and Shape

History and Shape

Ze is derived from the Greek letter Zeta (Ζ ζ).

In the Early Cyrillic alphabet its name was земля (zemlja), meaning "earth". The shape of the letter originally looked like a Greek letter Z similar to modern Latin Z with a tail on the bottom (majuscule: Ꙁ, minuscule: ꙁ).

In the Cyrillic numeral system, Ze had a value of 7.

Medieval Cyrillic manuscripts and Church Slavonic printed books have two variant forms of the letter Ze: З/з and Ꙁ/ꙁ. Some early grammars tried to give a phonetical distinction to these forms (like palatalized vs. nonpalatalized sound), the system had no further development. Ukrainian scribes and typographers were regularly using З/з in an initial position, and Ꙁ/ꙁ otherwise (a system in use till the end of the 19th century). Typographers from the Great Russia also knew the two shapes, but have used the second form mostly in the case of two З's in row: ЗꙀ (the system in use till mid-18th century).

The civil (Petrine) script knows only one shape of the letter: З/з. However, shapes similar to Z/z can be used in certain stylish typefaces.

In callygraphy and in general handwritten text, lowercase з can be written either fully over the baseline (similar to the printed form) or with the lower half under the baseline and with the loop (for the Russian language, a standard shape since the middle of the 20th century).

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