Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Short-Lived Latin Letters
Spotted this on Tenser said the Tensor: Emperor Claudius proposed three additions to the Latin alphabet that were used briefly on inscriptions while he was alive:
1. Antisigma: a reversed sigma (Greek s) for use in clusters 'bs' and 'ps'. As Tensor comments, what's the use? Dunno, but it looks cool.
2. Digamma inversum: The former Greek letter digamma looked like an F and was used like a W, which is in essence a consonantal U, which is what Claudius thought to use this new letter for. I've wondered why the name sounds like it's related to Greek gamma, but I have noticed that 'gw' and 'kw' is a common consonant cluster in Proto-Indo-European words, yielding descendants with g (or k) sounds in one family, and w (or v or f) sounds in another. E.g., PIE gwem > E come but Latin venire; gwei > E quick but Latin vivus; PIE kwei > E cheetah (through Sanskrit) but poem (through Greek).
3. "Half-eta": To represent the Greek upsilon (more like a French u than an English or Latin one), Claudius took the long eta (H) and cut it in half. The commonality is that both are front vowels (your tongue is up front in your mouth, not back like in 'a' and 'o'), but the upsilon sound is rounded (lips) and higher (jaw) than eta.
Apparently the Claudian letters are likely to be included in Unicode.
UPDATE: Check out Sauvage Noble's discussion of these letters here.