Monday, 17 October 2011

The Curious Case of Z

The Curious Case of Z

and how it came to be the last letter in our Alphabet though not others.

Z is not just for Zebra!

This image to the right is an early form of the letter Z ... not I ... yes Z!

 Zed Zeta Zee Zayin Zee Zay was originally about the sixth and seventh letter of the ABC back when only the Phonenicians and Greeks had alphabets. So how did it move from that place to the final place in our modern ABC?

Well you can blame the Romans! Old Latin lost its z sound which changed to a g and although they had a Z sign borrowed from the Greeks in 310 BCE the Censor Appius Claudius Caecus removed it from the ABC.

By the first century BCE however many Latin writers were citing loan words from Greek in Latin writings and so Zeta was inserted back in but at the end of the ABC. Hence nearly every script derived from the Roman ABC has Z as a final letter.

In the Cyrillic and other scripts though Z is NOT final. It retains a position close to that it had in the earliest writing systems. Many languages even add an extra z sign with a diacritic to show a palatal z.

The letter z has been used to indicate more than one sound : /z/  /dz/  /ts/ .

In Basque Z is actually a laminal S, in Finnish and German its ts and Estonian s and due to a sound change the Vietnamese use a D since a d sound has changed to a z .

Every letter has a history. Some odder than others.