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I have absolutely no formal linguistics background, but I enjoy learning about it a lot. I’ve seen multiple times before how the alphabet mutated from Roman times to our own:

  • The letter “J” was a creation based on the letter “I”, when it sounded like a consonant;
  • The letters “U” and “W” were created at different moments to reflect different uses of the letter “V” (more or less, but this isn’t the point)
  • The letter “Z” was removed from the alphabet but was added back in later (hence its placement)

But one thing caught my eye the most. See, if you look at the alphabet, “I” comes before “J”; “U”, “V” and “W” are consecutive as well.

However, “G”, which was created from “C” to clarify its possible pronunciations, comes only 4 places after “C” itself. Why is this? Does anyone know why some person went out of their way to place “G” away from “C”, shifting many letters away?

I looked around a bit, with no luck. But, again, I’m an amateur, so I don’t even really know WHERE to look…

Any help is appreciated! Thanks in advance!

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Short answer: The letter G was inserted into the Latin alphabet on the place of the letter Z that was abolished officially at the same time. For more information, see this answer and also this answer on the Latin stackexchange.

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We know that the Romans invented the letter G, derived its shape from C, and put G in seventh place. jk linked to an answer to a Latin.SE question. None of the answers to that question, nor any of those so far posted to the current one, answer the OP: why wasn't G placed next to C?

Then answer is that the Romans, like the Greeks, thought of the alphabet not just as a set of letters im a certain order, but as a sequence of positions each occupied by one letter. It was pertinent not just that (for example) B comes before H, but also that B is in 2nd place and H is in 8th place.

Greeks needed to model their alphabet this way because of their system of representing numbers using letters. (In brief: the letters of a 27-letter alphabet, in order, were used for the numbers 1, 2, ..., 9, 10, 20, ..., 90, 100, 200, ..., 900.) This alphabet used digamma, koppa and sampi to represent 6, 90 and 900. Even when these letters were no longer needed to write Greek, they were still needed in numerals.

The Romans had a different notation for numbers, but adopted the Greeks' view of the alphabet as a sequence of letters each in a specific numbered place. This led to Romans adding letters to the alphabet either by replacing a redundant letter by the new letter in the same place, or by adding a new one at the end. Inserting a new letter between C and D would have shifted D and all the later letters into different positions.

Z was 7th in the Greek alphabet. (This was before the 6th letter, digamma, was removed.) When the Romans needed a new letter to distinguish the /g/ sound from the /k/ sound, the new letter G replaced Z as the 7th letter.

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  • Z was 7th in the Greek alphabet. F (digamma) was at some point removed, so Z is now the 6th letter: Α, Β, Γ, Δ, Ε, Ζ, ... Dec 19, 2021 at 1:54
  • This sounds plausible, but why had the Romans only reused the 7th position, but not the 9th (theta) and 15th (xi)? Was their interest in the letter positions only restricted to the beginning of the alphabet?
    – J-mster
    Dec 19, 2021 at 8:11
  • I thought of this, too, but I haven't seen any evidence of a Greek-style number system used in early times of the Roman republic. On the other hand, early Cyrillic had a number system based on the order of the Cyrillic alphabet. Dec 19, 2021 at 16:18
  • Is the number system why the Etruscans used the modified gamma (that became C) to redundantly represent /k/, rather than just discard the letter which represented a sound (/g/) that wasn't in their language? (Except they didn't need B or D, either, but didn't use them to redundantly represent /p/ and /t/. There's clearly some aspects of Etruscan phonology that I'm not familiar with.)
    – chepner
    Dec 19, 2021 at 17:58
  • We don't know the reasons behind the Etruscan retention of three letters for k-like sounds, but maybe there were enough sub-phonemic difference between the k-like sounds depending on the following vowel. Dec 19, 2021 at 21:50
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Many European and West Asian alphabets have a common root in the ancient Phoenician alphabet, which has spread and been adapted by many languages over thousands of years.

Over time, different languages have adapted it to the sounds they need to represent, sometimes multiple times as the language itself evolves. This involves both removing sounds which aren't used, and adding sounds which aren't represented by the "parent" alphabet.

New letters might be created by:

  • Re-using an existing letter for a different sound (as a modern example, "J" and "X" represent widely varying sounds around the world)
  • Modifying an existing letter which has a similar sound (as in the examples in your question)
  • Borrowing a letter from a different writing system completely (e.g. Old English used the letter "Þ" borrowed from older "Fuþark" runes where we would now use "th"; Icelandic still uses it)

Then the order of the alphabet might be adjusted by:

  • Dropping un-needed letters completely
  • Adding new letters at the end of the alphabet
  • Replacing an un-needed letter with a new one - perhaps to retain the "numeric value" of the rest of the alphabet

So, to come back to your original question, the history of "C" and "G":

  • The third letter of the Phoenician alphabet was 𐤂‎, called "giml"; the seventh was 𐤆‎, called "zayin".
  • These became the Greek letters Γ, "gamma"; and Ζ, "zeta".
  • The Etruscans took the Greek alphabet, but had no need for a "g" sound, so re-purposed the gamma as an alternative spelling for "k" sounds.
  • The ancestors of the Latin language did have both "k" and "g" sounds, and these were both represented by the letter which was evolving into our modern "C".
  • At some point, this led to the invention of "G" as a variant of "C" to distinguish the two sounds. The speakers at the time had no need for a "z" sound, so "G" took its place in the 7th slot in the alphabet.
  • Later, the need for the "z" sound also came back, and "Z" was re-added; but "G" was now occupying the 7th slot in the alphabet, so "Z" was added at the very end instead.

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