The english alphabet consists of 26 letters derived from the Latin alphabet.
English is a West Germanic language related to Dutch, Frisian and German with a significant amount of vocabulary from French, Latin, Greek and many other languages.
English evolved from the Germanic languages brought to Britain by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and other Germanic tribes, which are known collectively as Anglo-Saxon or Old English. Old English began to appear in writing during the early 8th century AD.
Approximately 341 million people speak English as a native language and a further 267 million speak it as a second language in over 104 countries including the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, American Samoa, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Cameroon, Canada, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands and Denmark.
The English language was first written in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc runic alphabet, in use from the fifth century. This alphabet was brought to what is now England, along with the proto-form of the language itself, by Anglo-Saxon settlers. Very few examples of this form of written Old English have survived, these being mostly short inscriptions or fragments.
The Latin alphabet, introduced by Christian missionaries, began to replace the Anglo-Saxon futhorc from about the seventh century, although the two continued in parallel for some time. Futhorc influenced the Latin alphabet by providing it with the letters thorn and wynn. The letter eth was later devised as a modification of d, and finally yogh was created by Norman scribes from the insular g in Old English and Irish, and used alongside their Carolingian g.
The a–e ligature æsc (ash, Æ æ) was adopted as a letter its own right, named after a futhorc rune. In very early Old English the o–e ligature œðel (ethel, Œ œ) also appeared as a distinct letter, likewise named after a rune, odal. Additionally, the v–v ligature w (double-u) was in use.
In the year 1011, a writer named Byrhtferð ordered the Old English alphabet for numerological purposes. He listed the 24 letters of the Latin alphabet (including ampersand) first, then 5 additional English letters, starting with the Tironian note ond an insular symbol for and:
A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z & ? ? Þ Ð Æ
In the Modern English orthography, thorn, þ, eth, ð, wynn, ƿ, and yogh, ȝ, are obsolete. Thorn and eth are now both represented by th, though thorn continued in existence for some time, its lowercase form gradually becoming graphically indistinguishable from the minuscule y in most handwriting. Y for th can still be seen in pseudo-archaisms such as “Ye Olde Booke Shoppe”. The letters þ and ð are still used in present-day Icelandic. Wynn disappeared from English around the fourteenth century when it was supplanted by uu, which ultimately developed into the modern w. Yogh disappeared around the fifteenth century and was typically replaced by gh.
The letters u and j, as distinct from v and i, were introduced in the sixteenth century, and w assumed the status of an independent letter, so that the English alphabet is now considered to consist of the following 26 letters.
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