I stumbled across an interesting blog post last night on dictionary.com, it refers to an fascinating development in the English language.
Check it out: http://hotword.dictionary.com/gandc/
The post explores how the letter ‘c’ and the letter ‘g’ used to represent the same sound in the English language, FASCINATING! In present time it is hard to imagine (or imacine) two very different sounds being represented by the same symbol (which looked like neither a modern day ‘G’ or ‘C’, but rather a strangely misshapen ‘V’, odd.), but it happened. The character was referred to as ‘gimel’ which, according to Wikipedia, “is the third letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic“. In the Phoenician alphabet, which is the alphabet referenced in dictionary.com’s blog, the gimel was used to refer to a camel, and they used the character to create a sound very similar to the sound we create with a present-day ‘g’. How Great. As per the usual with language, gimel didn’t just show up in the Phoenician alphabet, but it migrated over to the Greek alphabet as well, where it received a new, more familiar name, ‘gamma‘. Though the Greeks changed the name, they kept the sound created (similar to our present use of ‘g’) the same. Much like the Greeks ‘borrowed’ gimel from the Phoenician alphabet, the Roman’s took the same liberty with the letter gamma.
The Romans gave gamma a makeover. They changed the way gamma looked, morphing it into a character more similar to the letter ‘c’ we use in English today. They also doubled the amount of work the character would do by assigning it another sound to make, the ‘k’ sound, as in “Can you believe they are allowed to mess around with language like that?”
They can, and they did. BUT, as you can imagine, having two sounds for one character could create some minor confusion when reading or writing. (Should I make this sound OR….?) I know I would experience major anxiety, so I reckon the Romans had a tough time of it until someone got the bright idea to differentiate between the two; groundbreaking. They once again made a minor change, adding a little dash to the character & changing its appearance to something similar to what the capital ‘G’ looks like these days. So how exactly did these letters make their way into our English alphabet that we know and love?
Well: the Roman’s travelled to England and introduced the alphabet there. The letter ‘c’ retained it’s ‘k’ sound, and was even incorporated into some of the Celtic languages found there. SO, the letters ‘c’ and ‘g’ managed to maintain their character until William the Conqueror decided he needed to over-compensate and managed to invade England. Being from France, he brought with him the language of Love (French!). During this period of history French became the lingua franca for the English government and much of the upper class. Because of all the French-speaking going on, the English language morphed slightly once more and the letter ‘c’ gained another sound, the ‘s’ sound heard in words like “celebrate” or “resonance”. So although the French didn’t last long politically in England, their language sure left a mark.
There you have it, the history of ‘c’ and ‘g’. How they came to be a crucial part of our language today, and also a little bit of an insight into just how much the English language has endured. Language is something that is continuously changing, words are always getting added or being dropped, and there are people like you and me on the internet creating slang and web-speak. The English language is a big, beautiful thing that most of us may never fully understand BUT we can always appreciate.
Well, that’s all I have for now, thanks for dropping by!
Until next time… sarah
“C”, en.wikipedia.org, Web. September 12 2012.
“Could English exist without the letter G?”, hotword.dictionary.com, Web. September 06 2012. September 12 2012