Dictionary.com

c, g, Phoenicians, letter history, alphabetCan you imagine a world in which the sounds of G and C were both represented by the letter C? Try to imacine it.

Believe it or not, for much of their history, the sounds of C and G were represented by the same symbol. Eventually, however, both sounds received their own differentiated symbols.

Both G and C have their origin in the Phoenician letter gimel, which meant “camel,” and looked something like an upside-down V (think of a camel’s hump—which, some believe may have been the inspiration for the letter’s shape). The Phonecians used gimel to indicate a sound that is equivalent to our present-day G (like the sound in “got”).

The Greeks borrowed gimel from the Phoenicians and renamed it gamma. Like the Phoenicians, the Greeks used the letter to represent the guttural G sound. When the Romans adopted gamma from the Greeks, however, they made a significant change.

Unlike the Greeks, the Romans used the letter gamma to indicate the sound of K (as in “compare) and the sound of G (as in “go”). Not only that, the Romans changed the shape of the letter, softening the sharp angle of the gamma to a curve. The resultant shape looked very similar to our modern English C.

But having one letter represent two very different sounds grew problematic. Ultimately, the Romans developed a graphic differentiation for the two sounds. The K sound remained with the C shape, while a bar was added to the bottom edge of the letter to indicate the G sound (as in “got”).

The result was the modern G. But how, you may be wondering, did C come to represent both the hard sound of K (as in “car”) and the sibilant sound of S (as in “publicity”)?

In 1066, William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy (part of modern France), invaded and conquered England. He brought with him the French language, which became the lingua franca of the Royal Court, and the business classes. During this time, the English language absorbed many French words and French spellings.

The hybrid language that emerged was called Middle English, the language of the great poet Geoffrey Chaucer (author of “The Canterbury Tales”). It is believed that, during this period of language mixing, the letter C acquired its S sound, because of the many French words which use C in that way.

After spending much time sharing the same symbol, G and C came to be the two separate letters that we know them as today.

Could we go back to having only one letter represent both sounds?

163 Comments

  1. Gloria -  November 6, 2012 - 9:49 am

    What R they talking about

    Reply
  2. tirebyter -  October 28, 2012 - 9:21 am

    j and i are used similarly, as in the German, Junkers and ja. J’s are pronounced Y, as in yellow, in German. English uses Y for the i sound as in physics. Then there is the letter W, as in Werner, which in German is pronounced as a V. On top of the that, the W is two V’s but the word is double U, and the three letters follow each other in our alphabet
    T U V W, just as i and j follow each other. I won’t even go into H, which precedes i and j, and j is pronounced like an H in Spanish.
    Just food for thought.

    Reply
  3. SHayes -  October 24, 2012 - 11:52 am

    Nope. It would be hard to go without them.

    Reply
  4. Kayla -  October 22, 2012 - 8:06 pm

    I think it would be very hard to co without the letter “g”! But that’s just me.

    Reply
  5. gggg -  October 13, 2012 - 8:42 am

    GGgg? ggggggGg??GGGGGG

    Reply
  6. English without the letter G | Language Museum -  September 30, 2012 - 3:22 am

    [...] The Greeks borrowed gimel from the Phoenicians and renamed it gamma. Like the Phoenicians, the Greeks used the letter to represent the guttural G sound. When the Romans adopted gamma from the Greeks, however, they made a significant change. (Source: Dictionary.com) [...]

    Reply
  7. Anders Lotsson -  September 21, 2012 - 7:44 am

    Some Greeks, used to a slightly different alphabet, have problems telling the letters C and G apart. I remember seeing a brand of heavy boots for sale in Rethymnon with the brand name WEHRMAGHT. I do not think any visiting German was fooled into believing that the boots came from the German armed forces.

    Reply
  8. GGgggGG -  September 18, 2012 - 12:40 pm

    GgggggggggGGGGGggggggggggggggGGggGggg!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  9. alex:) -  September 13, 2012 - 3:04 pm

    “gimel” is a hebrew letter that looks like ג

    Reply
  10. Sarah -  September 13, 2012 - 1:58 pm

    ‘Gimel’ is actually the third letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It represents the ‘G’ sound. Interestingly, ‘C’ is also the third letter in the English Alphabet. Most languages actually come from Ancient Hebrew, which explains the Phoenician letter gimel.

    Reply
  11. Hannah -  September 13, 2012 - 12:25 pm

    So is the c in ch hard or soft? LOL

    Reply
  12. DJ -  September 13, 2012 - 12:21 pm

    I’m really surprised that, with 144 comments, only one noticed that the word gimmel comes from the Hebrew before the Phoenician alphabet. Wake up, people.

    Reply
  13. Giratina -  September 13, 2012 - 12:08 pm

    Not coinc to use g….Okay everybody now I have to co

    Reply
  14. Matt Wellheuser -  September 11, 2012 - 6:04 am

    After only a few hundred years, we come closer to having a literate public. The languages that used to drift as people that lived scant miles apart are now becoming much more homogenized increasing communication clarity significantly. To artificially impose changes would be like requiring a paper to be written in Chaucer’s language. Hard for writer, reader and grader. Given time, languages will slowly merge, making for a very rich world. Also, don’t make it any harder for others to learn. Good article, interesting and amusing. I can imagine spell checking it. It would drive one nuts.

    Reply
  15. gggggg -  September 10, 2012 - 8:28 am

    gggggggggggggggg

    Reply
  16. bob -  September 10, 2012 - 8:14 am

    yayayayayayayayayayayayayayayayayayayayayayaaybobobobobobobobobobbobobo

    Reply
  17. AM -  September 10, 2012 - 4:37 am

    Before 1066, there were 4 pronunciations of the letter “g.” Confer Peter S. Baker’s Introduction to Old English for pronunciation exercises on the “4 G’s.”

    Reply
  18. Ted -  September 10, 2012 - 4:11 am

    Meh, leave well enough alone.

    Reply
  19. Lori -  September 10, 2012 - 3:13 am

    Nice article … not sure why Phoenicians became Phonecians, though, and … what about G sounding like “good” and “gist” (which sounds like “jist”)?

    Reply
  20. Kevin -  September 10, 2012 - 2:43 am

    i love these historical revalations. More please

    Reply
  21. Miki -  September 10, 2012 - 12:03 am

    I don’t think we should or could ever go back to having one letter for two sounds, but I do think the C is a completely useless letter. We should get rid of C, and let K and S take its place where necessary.

    Reply
  22. Sriraman -  September 9, 2012 - 10:44 pm

    This is not surprising. Tamil, an ancient, rich and still thriving language, spoken by about a hundred million people in Asia, has a single alphabet to represent the English ‘C’, ‘K’ and ‘G’ sounds; another alphabet to represent ‘S’ and ‘Ch’ sounds; another to represent ‘T’ and ‘D’ sounds and yet another to represent ‘Th’ and ‘Dh’ sounds. Only from the context and usage the different vocalizations are recognized. While this system is fairly efficient in vocalizing all the words in the nativeTamil lexicon, (which is quite vast as sometimes the same object can be represented by as many as a dozen words), it fails miserably if one were to write foreign words, particulalrly in transliterating sounds from other languages originating from Sanskrit or Latin.

    Reply
  23. AJ -  September 9, 2012 - 8:46 pm

    Ok, but how did G get the J sound, like in giraffe?

    Reply
  24. maurice -  September 9, 2012 - 8:04 pm

    Hi, history never fails to amaze, does it!

    Personally, I am puzzled by how the letter C (‘C’ as in ‘chair’, palatalised by an ensuing ‘h’ in English) and the C (‘K’ as in ‘car’, as per example above), could share a common letter in Latin which came to be separated into such different sounds.

    Reply
  25. ggggg -  September 9, 2012 - 6:21 pm

    gggg gGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!

    Reply
  26. Someone You Don't Know -  September 9, 2012 - 5:09 pm

    This is cool.
    I wonder what would happen if G and C WERE the same…:

    I like to play word cames.
    But it is time to co to school.
    CAH! This is weird! I’m confused! Creat. Now what?

    Lol thanks, Romans!

    Reply
  27. Me -  September 9, 2012 - 2:52 pm

    oh right forgot my train of thought. great article really liked it

    Reply
  28. Me -  September 9, 2012 - 2:51 pm

    Im’ the second to coment! usually im like the 400th! hahaha

    Reply
  29. Ed -  September 9, 2012 - 2:10 pm

    Of course we need a distinction between C and G. We also need to distinguish between C and K. All hard Ks should be spelled with K. And maybe all soft Cs should be spelled with S. (But I haven’t thought this through.) Do we need Cs at all?

    Reply
  30. Earthling123 -  September 9, 2012 - 1:59 pm

    I don’t think so….

    - though
    - thought
    - through
    - without
    - dough
    - doughnut
    etc…

    How could G be removed? What would replace it? I would get it if Z or C was removed, you could replace it with S, but G? What would you use in place of that? You couldn’t even understand the word ‘gross’ or ‘girl’ or whatever without the G… It would just look like ‘cross’ and ‘cirl’. It doesn’t look right without the G.

    Reply
  31. historian -  September 9, 2012 - 12:07 pm

    @lady_di – looking forward to that blog post.

    Reply
  32. Michael Moore -  September 9, 2012 - 10:31 am

    I second Di’s notion. I teach an Integrated Humanities course at an interdisciplinary high school and would love to implement this in a lesson or pass it to the language teacher to do so.

    M.A.M.

    Reply
  33. D -  September 9, 2012 - 9:28 am

    Could the history of western civilization make sense without mention of the group whose characteristic emblem is the letter G?

    Reply
  34. Ignacio -  September 9, 2012 - 9:18 am

    Hello.
    Very interesting!
    Referring to your last question, I don’t think we could go back; of course yours is a rhetoric question.
    But, I would *love* to see that each letter had only one sound, all K sounds would be written with a K, and all S sounds, appropiately with an S, etc. Why mess sounds/letters and make spelling/reading/writing more difficult? Only for history’s sake?
    I would also love to see something like this in my native language, spanish.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  35. BSQRT -  September 9, 2012 - 9:13 am

    The english language is confusing enough as is. It will only be more complicated by reducing letters. Interesting article though.

    Reply
  36. Mark -  September 9, 2012 - 9:13 am

    You guys have three different spellings for Phoenicians in this article: “Phonecians,” “Phoneicians,” and the correct one, “Phoenicians.” You’d think a dictionary website would care about this sort of thing

    Reply
  37. ellen -  September 9, 2012 - 8:40 am

    Very interesting and informative.
    How confusing if there had been only letter G in English.
    How different English vocabulary could have become without letter C.

    Reply
  38. Doug Horoho -  September 9, 2012 - 8:17 am

    Orthography and phonology often have little in common, especially in languages such as English and French. Czech uses a modified Roman alphabet. The symbol “g” occurs only in borrowed words. The sound still exists in words such as “kde” or “kbelík.! The letter “k”‘s sound is colored by the following voiced sound. Other languages, such as Irish and Turkish, have simplified their orthographies recently, but I don’t see that happening in English.

    Reply
  39. David -  September 9, 2012 - 7:40 am

    This is my ceek gomment.

    I found this artigal to be inlichteninc, as well as a fun chort read.

    I c mygelf as gompletely removed from frengh. However, put in thoge termc, there ig mugh /frensh in the way I thing ac an Enclish (Anclophone) reader and cpeager.

    Reply
  40. someone -  September 9, 2012 - 7:27 am

    english and its power of awesomeness! love it!!

    Reply
  41. eric -  September 9, 2012 - 7:21 am

    Could I please get the proper or best citation for this article? It’s so fascinating !

    Thank you,

    Eric

    Reply
  42. Belle -  September 9, 2012 - 6:54 am

    Personally, I’d rather we got rid of C altogether. K and S cover the sounds it makes. I’ve never really understood the need for C. Getting rid of it would simplify a chaotic spelling system.

    Reply
  43. Bernie -  September 9, 2012 - 6:49 am

    From this article, it seems to me, the letter “C” is kind of redundant.

    Reply
  44. Dex -  September 9, 2012 - 3:45 am

    So was it during the language mixing of Middle English that “G” also acquired the “J” sound (as in the *second* G in “language”)? :)

    Reply
  45. AmuletDiamond -  September 9, 2012 - 3:10 am

    Wow i never knew that. i thought that G originated from O

    Reply
  46. "Unknown" person -  September 9, 2012 - 2:43 am

    I like this piece of information! *adds to my information book*

    Thanks!

    Oh BTW, do you reckon that you’ll be able to post up a much-more-simple form of this? I’m a little confused,,,

    Other than that…
    Thanks again!

    ??

    Reply
  47. Cher Lloyd -  September 9, 2012 - 12:44 am

    I wish the French had reached Australia before the English so that we’d all be speaking French…

    Reply
  48. Lillian -  September 8, 2012 - 11:45 pm

    There are many errors on “the hot word.” Whoever writes up all of the wonderful facts of the English language should really double check their work (or get fired). =]

    Reply
  49. Robertsyafathersbrother -  September 8, 2012 - 11:23 pm

    I think that the point regarding the letter C coming to represent two different sounds (both the K and S sounds) assists in changing the question: could our language function correctly if the letter C also represented the G sound? This would give the letter C three functions, which in itself is not inclusive of sounds produced when C and H are combined. Perhaps we COULD go back to that, but it is evident that we SHOULDN’T. The English language is already confusing enough for many people who speak it solely, let alone those who’ve adopted it as their second language.

    Reply
  50. John -  September 8, 2012 - 11:11 pm

    Wow! can’t believe that the very letters in our alphabet have such a long, long, long history behind them!

    Reply
  51. Sylph -  September 8, 2012 - 10:28 pm

    @lady di
    I wrote up an MLA citation for you, but I couldn’t find the author. The closest I could find was Dictionary Team, and, a vague reference to ‘jay’.

    (jay from a URL in the site that the article is linked from, hotword.dictionary.com/author/jay . And Dictionary Team from a resource the web page draws information from, also where I found the date/time of the article’s creation)

    . “Could English exist without the letter G?.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, LLC, 25, January, 2011, 12:00:47 PM. Web. 8 Sep 2012. .

    Hope this helps!

    Reply
  52. Martin -  September 8, 2012 - 8:14 pm

    Excellent information. I live in Mexico, I always try to know about English.
    You´re good at this.

    Reply
  53. Kevin -  September 8, 2012 - 7:54 pm

    There’s a spelling error in the first paragraph. Imacine> Imagine

    Reply
  54. Azeezah -  September 8, 2012 - 7:12 pm

    I tried to copy and paste some text from this article. And look what I got. I put the part I tried to copy in quotations.

    “Can you imagine a world in which the sounds of G and C were both represented by the letter C? Try to imacine it.”
    Read more at http://hotword.dictionary.com/gandc/?__utma=1.1550550455.1342712684.1347024979.1347155643.24&__utmb=1.1.10.1347155643&__utmc=1&__utmx=-&__utmz=1.1346848730.22.3.utmcsr=dictionary.reference.com|utmccn=(referral)|utmcmd=referral|utmcct=/&__utmv=-&__utmk=2214832#zw6d1Q50twtH3hUm.99

    I suppose this might count as citation.

    Reply
  55. hamachisn't -  September 8, 2012 - 5:49 pm

    Rather than eliminating G and using C for the sound of G, I’d eliminate C and use K or S (sometimes SH) for C’s various sounds. C doesn’t need yet another sound to add to its already ambiguous task.

    –H

    Reply
  56. Andy -  September 8, 2012 - 5:41 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this article, I now know more than next to nothing about etymology. One question, where/when did France start using the modern day C/G, from the Romans?

    Reply
  57. Rickie C. -  September 8, 2012 - 4:04 pm

    That is really cool! I will defiantly add this is my “history of the English language” research paper.

    Reply
  58. billybob -  September 8, 2012 - 2:31 pm

    second coment!!!!!

    Reply
  59. Terah -  September 8, 2012 - 1:39 pm

    This is an article on Dictionary.com for crying out loud:

    “Try to imacine it.” (not even a remotely funny pun.. at least put a wink behind it…)
    “The Phonecians”
    “the Phoneicians”

    @Lady Di: wikipedia has some information on the matter, though they do not explain the appearance of the g as detailed at Dictionary.com does.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G

    Reply
  60. Craig Schoonmaker -  September 8, 2012 - 12:11 pm

    Don’t you think that if you explained the two sounds of C, you should also have explained the two sounds of G — its own and J’s?

    Reply
  61. Cameron Byrd -  September 8, 2012 - 11:28 am

    English could not do without G but it could obviously do without C. Just replace the C with an S or a K depending on which sound is needed. C could still be retained to represent the Ch sound. Or Ch could be replaced with Kh.

    Reply
  62. black -  September 8, 2012 - 11:00 am

    no!!!!

    Reply
  63. swapan lodh -  September 8, 2012 - 10:31 am

    on just a wandering i suddenly entered a world of vast and ever ending kingdom of knowledge hitherto unknown to me.
    thanks to dictionary.com
    swapan

    Reply
  64. James -  September 8, 2012 - 10:05 am

    A better question would be, can we do without the letter C? C is redundant in all senses having no sound of it own. It has the K sound and the S sound. Poor C no self image.

    Reply
  65. DaveJ -  September 8, 2012 - 10:00 am

    Interesting to note that the end of the article refers to Geoffrey Chaucer, whose names begin with both “G” and “C” but with different “G” and “C” than were noted in the article.

    Reply
  66. Devin Q. Diaz -  September 8, 2012 - 9:43 am

    It’s already known that modern languages have all come from somewhere, and have been changed and altered with influences from each other. English is no exception to this, as it has been influenced just as much as any other language. It originated from Latin and has been influenced and altered multiple times including by the French to form Middle English. We now speak Modern English, and so I doubt that it could exist by altering it to remove a letter. As part of its influence, the two letters are an integral part of the language. By removing either letter, it wouldn’t be English, so much as it would be a new language very similar. Just like many other languages, Modern English now has many dialects and phrases and such that don’t work with other languages. Many of such would be considered improper by formal terms, yet they are still Modern English. I know that Puerto Rico has its own Spanish dialect, and there are things that they say that would be considered improper as well. My point here, is that although small changes can be made to a language to form dialects and such, such a big change as to remove a letter would create a new language rather than change the current one.

    Reply
  67. Luke -  September 8, 2012 - 8:44 am

    You obviously don’t update, do you? Misspellings still in the copy.

    Reply
  68. Elisabeth -  September 8, 2012 - 7:50 am

    Di,

    Britannica:
    “C, c.” Compton’s by Britannica. Britannica Online for Kids.
    Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2012. Web. 8 Sept. 2012.
    .
    There’s only entry for the letter C in the students’ edition of Britannica

    Wiki:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C
    Hope this helps you :)

    Reply
  69. Shela Xoregos -  September 8, 2012 - 6:49 am

    NO! We have enough trouble spelling English as it already is! For those of us fortunate enough to have learned to read using the SOUNDS of the letters rather than by rote memorization of words, the choices are limited if one sees a ‘c’. ‘g’ also has two sounds, guttural and soft (gentle). Very clear and and excellent paper. Thank you.

    Reply
  70. lol -  September 8, 2012 - 6:47 am

    is*

    Reply
  71. lol -  September 8, 2012 - 6:47 am

    Ummm…

    So this article is sayinc, that you should replace g with c?

    Is this cood, or bad? I boucht a bac of croceries.

    Cuess what?

    This id a cicantic problem

    Reply
  72. beakal -  September 8, 2012 - 5:06 am

    coat and goat will be a problematic unless given in context

    Reply
  73. FoolishVirgin -  September 8, 2012 - 4:57 am

    We need different letters to differentiate between the ‘k’ sound and the ‘s’ – how about ‘K’ & ‘S’?

    Reply
  74. John Feier -  September 8, 2012 - 3:22 am

    As you probably know, the letter “g” not only represents /guh/ sound, but it also represents the /juh/ sound in a lot of words. So, if you want the letter “c” to represent “g,” you will have to have “c” represent “j” as well.

    Reply
  75. David H. Keith -  September 8, 2012 - 1:45 am

    Before you post something, I strongly suggest you take the time to proofread the thing. This entry is pathetic, particularly for a website that purports to be a dictionary.

    If you don’t have an editor, then by all means find one. Quickly. Before you lose all credibility.

    Reply
  76. Brijesh Khanna -  September 8, 2012 - 12:57 am

    The connection of Greeks and Romans and later French and English for using C in hard sound (as in “Car”) or soft sound ( as in “Publicity”) is very interesting. I used to wonder in my childhood days how a same letter (“C”) can be use to say “K” and “S” simultaneously. Thanks for throwing light on thic. (the C is soft here… hehe)

    Reply
  77. The Walking Thesaurus -  September 8, 2012 - 12:35 am

    I bet that really helps! So many websites to use. Di, you can actually use all and see which one is the one you want or is correct.

    Reply
  78. Quay -  September 7, 2012 - 11:21 pm

    The C has two sounds so really that makes three. Most other Germanic languages have done away with the letter C and use either an S or K, which makes much more sense than English where “crate” and “certain” both begin with the same letter.

    Reply
  79. Cornholio -  September 7, 2012 - 11:17 pm

    I would prefer it if all languages just converted to the International Phonetic Alphabet. It’s irritating having multiple letters to represent one sound, while there are sounds that don’t even have a letter representing them.

    Reply
  80. Joe -  September 7, 2012 - 10:44 pm

    Cood artigle. Thanks digtionary.gom

    Reply
  81. Damian -  September 7, 2012 - 10:29 pm

    Yes, you could just use a J.

    Reply
  82. Happysurfer -  September 7, 2012 - 8:38 pm

    This is truly enlightening. Thank you.

    Here in Malaysia in the Malay language, C has been replaced with K and we have also adopted many English words into the Malay language but with a different spelling though sounding quite similar, e.g., kompaun for compound (as in fines) though we still have original words that begin with K.

    Reply
  83. PAULA -  September 7, 2012 - 8:32 pm

    Merging the 2 letters would be difficult? What would happen to the sibilant sound of S, would they all need to become S so publisity?

    Reply
  84. Jazz -  September 7, 2012 - 8:25 pm

    Hey, lady di, have you ever heard of easybib.com? If you copy and paste this article’s website into the search engine on the site then you should get a pretty good citation for the article. I hope this helps. Good luck with your work! :)

    Reply
  85. Kaitlyn -  September 7, 2012 - 7:06 pm

    Is there any way we can read how the French came up with the idea of using C for both “k” and “s” sounds?

    Reply
  86. Kofi mills -  September 7, 2012 - 6:29 pm

    Phoenicians

    Reply
  87. Olivia -  September 7, 2012 - 4:29 pm

    nice article, well represented for once!!!

    this was reallllllyyy intresting.

    i think we could do without C. seriously, do away with it and restore K and S in their proper places!!!

    very cool how the shapes of C and G arent just a coincidence. now how about the lower case g? where did that come from??

    Reply
  88. Patrick Oliver -  September 7, 2012 - 3:56 pm

    I do not think that could work.

    Reply
  89. Carol Moore -  September 7, 2012 - 3:05 pm

    Interesting! What great information! You should have a English language history tab.

    Reply
  90. Stephen J -  September 7, 2012 - 3:04 pm

    Phoenician** It was spelled right the first time but then it became Phonecian for the rest of the article. And in response to that question at the end, I do truly believe that we could go back to using a single symbol to represent two phonemes, although there would be no logical reason for doing so. There are plenty of phonemes represented by the same symbol within English as it is–for G itself, we have three different sounds (“giant, garner, rouge”); C has a K and an S sound, and even CH in borrowed words like “ciabatta”. Also, it would be nice to have a more concrete date of when the symbol “G” started to appear in English manuscripts to mean our modern “G”, and not an alternative form for modern “Y”.

    Reply
  91. Kieran Booth -  September 7, 2012 - 2:41 pm

    Idon’t think that I could go back. English can be very confusing, and it breaks a lot of spelling rules. E.g. Girl and Get should really sound like Jirl and Jet because G and C are soft before I and E. That’s the case with all Romance languages.
    I think that there should be a new letter which is the equivalent to K but for G. So there would be a letter that is always a hard G sound. Like K is always a hard C sound. It would make English a lot easier to learn for foreigners and for young children.

    Reply
  92. Dylan -  September 7, 2012 - 1:56 pm

    I don’t think there could be a world without G because people would keep using the g sound. If there was a law that C and G would have to be the same, and the penalty was death, a lot of English speakers would be beheaded. Even the word English is spelled with a G!

    Reply
  93. Dylan -  September 7, 2012 - 1:53 pm

    I don’t think there could be a world without G. It would be all messed up.

    Reply
  94. Maddy M. -  September 7, 2012 - 12:57 pm

    Wow! Now I don’t hate the letter C as much.

    Reply
  95. Elizabeth -  September 7, 2012 - 12:46 pm

    The one part you left out is how the letter G acquired its soft sound, the J sound in English. Although G as in “got” and C as in “cot” are very close to each other phonetically (they are voiced and unvoiced versions of the same sound), the J sound seems like rather an interloper.

    Reply
  96. Bubba -  September 7, 2012 - 12:37 pm

    now that IS interesting,(for a change).

    Reply
  97. Amelia Liggett -  September 7, 2012 - 11:57 am

    My great-grandmother, Ljube “Amelia” Jakovac Ruppe, was an immigrant from Croatia. When my family moved to Oregon during the 1920′s they came upon a small town nearby known as Coquille. Interestingly, my great-grandma always pronounced the “c” like the “g” in “google.” The town became known as Gooquille for our family; how very interesting.

    Reply
  98. John -  September 7, 2012 - 10:57 am

    Hi Di,

    This article is a spring board into the mess that is the English language and not a proper academic source. Here are two excellent sources: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongues by John McWhorter and Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language by Seth Lerer.

    For citing this article, use MLA for a webpage/electronic source. Visit Owl at Perdue for guidance: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/

    I hope his helps,
    John

    Reply
  99. Pam -  September 7, 2012 - 9:40 am

    Hebrew also has “G” in gimmel, also representing “camel.” It seems to me that Hebrew predated Phoenician, and that Hebrew is the origin of the alphabet we know. The Greeks, who had a spoken language but not a written one, adopted and adapted the Hebrew alphabet (the Hebrew aleph, beit, gimmel, daled became alpha, beta, gamma, delta in Greek).

    Reply
  100. Luke -  September 7, 2012 - 9:20 am

    You all should proofread before you publish. There are misspellings
    in your article.

    Reply
  101. Serj -  September 7, 2012 - 8:33 am

    Absolutely. It would take a fluent speaker to differentiate the 2 sounds, having to already be familiar with the word. Since “C” already has the silent S and K sounds, it would actually have 3 sounds, right?

    Reply
  102. Ole TBoy -  September 7, 2012 - 8:20 am

    I didn’t know that French became the language of he English court after William the Conqueror. Any notion how long that lasted? Clearly it did not remain the official language and a new, richer English emerged from the ordeal. And Shakespeare came along to use it better than anyone before or since.

    Thanks for an interesting article.

    Reply
  103. Meagan -  September 7, 2012 - 8:16 am

    fascinating! (so many s,c, and g sounds in that word alone).

    Reply
  104. GRANDCMORE | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  September 7, 2012 - 7:54 am

    [...] “GrandCmore?” — Or whatever you choose to see. — Gee Wiz the Cheese is getting thicker — Full of S the K is quicker. — Wit semantics seemingly sicker than Grim Grover from the Canterbury Tales or some Rover in the Royal Court or Gourt of popular opinion. — Oui really do know nothing on the Grander scale or Candor — GnCnSnK representing nothing but the eye through which Oui C#more. –>>L.T.Rhyme [...]

    Reply
  105. Gene Fellner -  September 7, 2012 - 7:45 am

    This is not really an issue specific to English. Like all Western Europeans, the Anglo-Saxons were introduced to technology of writing by the Roman monks, who adapted their own alphabet to transcribe the other languages they encountered. So Anglo-Saxon (formerly known as “Old English” but called “Anglisc” by the people of that era) was written in the Roman alphabet and this alphabet remained in use over the centuries as the language slowly evolved into Modern English. When the Norman French invaded and occupied “Angle Land” in 1066, French became the country’s official language for government, commerce and scholarship. As a result, hundreds of French words were merged into the language that soon evolved into Middle English–the language of Chaucer which we can sorta read today with a little practice and a lot of headaches. Those French words had the dichotomy of the “hard C” and “soft C”, “hard G” and “soft G,” so the people of England got used to it and began using that same schizophrenic system to spell English words. Remember that before the invention of the printing press only monks, scholars and aristocrats could read and write, so there was quite a bit of tradition and formality in the art of writing.

    Even today, most native English words have the “hard G” as in forget, gift, begin, with a few strange exceptions such as the DG combination in bridge, wedge. Soft G is usually found in words of Latin, French and Greek origin, such as agent, page, hegemony.

    If you’re curious about the origin of the letter G as a modification of C, just look up “alphabet” in any encyclopedia or other good reference work and half of them will give you authoritative explanations.

    Reply
  106. David -  September 7, 2012 - 7:09 am

    I thought it was the Etruscans that changed the C to a K sound. I am under the impression that the Etruscan language didnt have the G sound, but had a lot of slightly different K sounds. So they used the letters C, K, and Q to represent these K sounds. When the Romans adopted the alphabet from the Etruscans, there was no letter for the G sound in Latin, which is why Gaius was originally spelled as Caius in older Latin. But eventually the Romans changed the letter C to represent their G sound by hanging a little gamma on the letter C.

    Am I misremembering?

    Reply
  107. Kyle -  September 7, 2012 - 7:05 am

    I had already known that the Latin “C” was always hard (Caesar being pronouced as “Kai-sar” and Cicero as “Ki-ke-ro”).

    However, I’m curious if anyone has any information on how the hard “C” (following “e” or “i”) became a “ch” sound in Italian, a “th” sound in most Peninsular Spanish accents, and a “s” sound in French (which led to our English pronunciation, as noted above).

    Reply
  108. Gary -  September 7, 2012 - 7:03 am

    I think you could get away with ditching C or K and G or J and Z or S and maybe even I and E.

    I don’t think it would make a massive difference and spelling could become easier.

    :)

    Reply
  109. lady id -  September 7, 2012 - 6:25 am

    Could I please get the proper or best citation for this article? I want to add it to my work on the history of English.

    Thank you,

    Id

    Reply
  110. MKR -  September 7, 2012 - 6:09 am

    Nice article. Would have liked if you had addressed the two sounds of G (Gabriel vs George) as well as the two sounds of C (Cindy vs Cathy).

    Nice work…keep ‘em coming.

    Reply
  111. nathan boone -  September 7, 2012 - 5:57 am

    that is just crazy.i can’t believe that it is true!!!!!:D

    Reply
  112. Rag -  September 7, 2012 - 5:50 am

    Both G and C have their origin in the Phoenician letter gimel…
    The Greeks borrowed gimel from the Phonecians and renamed it gamma.
    Like the Phoneicians, the Greeks used the letter to represent the guttural G sound.

    Phoenician
    Phonecians
    Phoneicians

    Which one/s is/are spelt correctly?

    Reply
  113. Hello -  September 7, 2012 - 5:41 am

    No, no, no!

    There’s no way I could do C standing for both C and G.

    If you agree write about me in your comment!

    Reply
  114. Kiki -  September 7, 2012 - 5:18 am

    How can one trust the information in a supposedly somewhat scholarly article when the author(s) cannot even spell Phoenician correctly (other than the first time it appears)? Even a basic run through spell-check would have picked that up. How sadly unprofessional…

    Reply
  115. Peter -  September 7, 2012 - 2:35 am

    Why do we persist with ‘C’ at all ? ‘K’ and ‘S’ do the trick.
    Why do not have a separate letter for ‘ch’, ‘sh’ and ‘th’ ? We have ‘F’ for ‘ph’, though we should use it more and get rid of the ‘ph’.
    Given ‘tsh’ is ‘ch’ and ‘dsh’ is ‘J’, perhaps we can get rid of more letters.
    Why do we persist with having two vowels together when the sound they make is not unique ? And if it is, then why not give that sound its own letter?

    Reply
  116. Linisac -  September 7, 2012 - 2:27 am

    Cool! On the other hand, sometimes we use the letter “K” to replace the letter “C” to explicitly represent the sound K (as in “compare”).

    For example, Keltic v.s. Celtic (both “K” and “C” pronounced the sound K); and kinetic v.s. cinema (“K” pronounced the sound K, while “C” pronounced the sound S), both kine- and cine- are related to “to move”.

    Reply
  117. Refat -  September 7, 2012 - 1:38 am

    “gimel” still the arabic word of “camel”

    Reply
  118. Dixylo -  September 7, 2012 - 12:14 am

    Phoenicians say you misspelled their ethnic name several times.
    Romans say they adopted “gamma” from Etruscans.
    I say the author did not answer how “C” came to represent /s/.
    Linguists say it is the palatalization of C before E and I.

    Reply
  119. Tushar -  September 7, 2012 - 12:09 am

    Nice piece of information

    Reply
  120. Nykky -  September 6, 2012 - 11:57 pm

    This is making me angry.

    Put this:
    http://hotword.dictionary.com/gandc/

    between greater than and less than signs after 6 Sept. 2012. and put a period at the end. (Shift , and shift . on PC keyboard)

    I do not understand why it keeps taking it out.

    Sorry for all of the comments!!!

    Reply
  121. Nykky -  September 6, 2012 - 11:55 pm

    When I submit the comment, it is taking out the website for the MLA citation.

    After 6 Sept. 2012. put without the weird spacing:
    .

    Reply
  122. Nykky -  September 6, 2012 - 11:53 pm

    Sorry, this is the correct MLA citing:
    The Hot Word. “Could English Exist without the Letter G?” Dictionary.com. N.p., 6 Sept. 2012. Web. 6 Sept. 2012. .

    I don’t know what happened to the web address on the other one…

    Nykky

    Reply
  123. Nykky -  September 6, 2012 - 11:51 pm

    Di-

    This is APA citing:
    The Hot Word (2012, September 6). Could English exist without the letter G? Dictionary.com. Retrieved September 6, 2012, from http://hotword.dictionary.com/gandc/

    This is MLA citing:
    The Hot Word. “Could English Exist without the Letter G?” Dictionary.com. N.p., 6 Sept. 2012. Web. 6 Sept. 2012. .

    Hope that helps!

    Nykky

    Reply
  124. Sam -  September 6, 2012 - 11:14 pm

    If we back to that time,it will be hard to distinguish wheter the alphabet is C or G. I think it never happens.The language is INVENTing sth not going back to problemetic types.

    Reply
  125. Cuc -  September 6, 2012 - 10:25 pm

    Hi,

    I’m not convinced that the s sound for the c came about this way.

    I don’t follow how the French use the c as an s sound.
    For instance, they use c with a cedilla (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C) that the French c was actually used as a k sound.

    The rule is that the cedilla is written to make the c into an s sound before a, o and u (otherwise the c is a k sound); before an e and i, the c already is like an s. Example: cedilla (s), comme (k), garçon (s). In Italian if the c is before an e or i, and it needs to be pronounced as a k rather than an s (or rather tsj), it is enhanced with an h (as ch). Example: ci (tsjee), chi (kee), cento (tsjento), che (ke).

    The phoenician K looks similar to K, but the Hebrew K looks more like an inverted C. But agreed, the K and G are close in their pronunciation. Then there is the Greek, which has a small letter sigma which when used at the end looks like an s or a ç. It seems that the C as a symbol is a merger of different letters.

    Are there older sources where we can see how the c was used as an s or k sound? A reference would be welcome.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  126. Shafi -  September 6, 2012 - 10:17 pm

    Nice article…but any article should be with few authentic citation…but it s adorable..

    Reply
  127. Animalz345 -  September 6, 2012 - 9:50 pm

    I like this article. so interesting.

    Reply
  128. Anna -  September 6, 2012 - 9:44 pm

    So where does the g in giant come from?
    “Could we go back to having one letter represent…” all _four_ sounds?
    C in cat
    C in city
    G in goat
    G in giant?

    Reply
  129. CBeara -  September 6, 2012 - 8:15 pm

    How did the G come to have the J-sound as in “age” or “general”?

    Reply
  130. madruga -  September 6, 2012 - 7:59 pm

    Well in portuguese we have four sounds for the letter “X” . They are “z”, “ss”,
    “sh” and the original “cs” sound

    Reply
  131. lidija -  September 6, 2012 - 4:51 pm

    @lady di

    just go to easybib.com and copy/paste the web address where it tells you and fill out what you know, that’ll most likely be enough to help you :D

    Reply
  132. Alexa -  September 6, 2012 - 4:50 pm

    I love these articles. I love finding where things came from and how much they’ve changed! It puts a history behind things you never thought of before. Keep ‘em comin’!!!

    Reply
  133. Rose -  September 6, 2012 - 4:46 pm

    um the 1st paragraph the word imagine is spelled wrong. whoever wrote it you are saddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd from rose the awesome!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  134. Davon -  September 6, 2012 - 4:43 pm

    I want you to help me on improving my english grammar so, I can do better in school. I need to learn this so I can comprehend a better understanding of the english grammar.

    Thank you,

    Davon C. Lewis

    Reply
  135. nika -  September 6, 2012 - 4:28 pm

    you spelt imagine imacine in the first few sentences and i in grade 8

    Reply
  136. mark -  September 6, 2012 - 3:48 pm

    I’m curious as to why the letter G has two sounds; the guttural G sound, as in “gun”, and the J sound, as in “gym”.

    Reply
  137. Epiccalnewbness -  September 6, 2012 - 3:27 pm

    “Let’s pray to Cod…” That sounds a lot like what teenagers do nowadays anyways, so I’m gonna have to say yes

    Reply
  138. Eyewitness -  September 6, 2012 - 2:05 pm

    A second thought:

    Perhaps a follow-up to this article could be why “C” and “h” are so frequently paired, not only in words but also proper nouns (“change, choice, chickory, Charles, Chattanooga”). Is this also a formation from Middle English, when the amalgam of English and French occurred? Is that amalgam also the basis for the alternate English pronounciation of “Ch” as “Sh,” as in “Chicago, charade?” (In French, “Ch” is always pronounced “Sh” to the best of my recollection, cf: the French pronounciation of “Charles de Gaulle” is “Sharl de Gaulle.”)

    Reply
  139. Eyewitness -  September 6, 2012 - 1:49 pm

    This article is a perfect example of why Dictionary.com is a “first-read” when I log on every day. Exceptionally interesting and fun. Thanks to all.

    Reply
  140. Lionheart Softsword -  September 6, 2012 - 1:39 pm

    To add on to the hard and soft C:

    During the High Middle Ages, in early Romance languages, such as Old Occitan, Old French, and Old Spanish, the soft C actually made more of a “ts” sound, as in the last two letters of cats.

    Reply
  141. Rianna -  September 6, 2012 - 12:59 pm

    Yes, citations please. I was under the impression that “c” came from the Greek letter sigma.

    Reply
  142. Alex -  September 6, 2012 - 12:51 pm

    I say get rid of C all together. Let’s just use S and K. It is a useless letter.

    Reply
  143. Cyberquill -  September 6, 2012 - 12:29 pm

    Coocle and Cucci would have to chance their locos.

    Reply
  144. Me -  September 6, 2012 - 12:27 pm

    I find it difficult to “Try to imacine it.” Perhaps that is not a typo, but rather an example, although earlier, the spelling of “imagine” is correct.

    The K sound (for example, in Cold) is the voiceless form of G (as in Gold), and the G is voiceless. Voiced means the vocal chords move. Voiceless means they don’t.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/voiced
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/voiceless

    C is unnecessary, really, except in “ch.”

    V and U were once one letter.
    I and J were once one letter.
    W did not exist.
    The letter S had a variant lowercase form, called long s, used only in certain situations. Sometimes conflicting rules can be found online.
    In english there were other letters. That is the s that “looks like an f.”

    http://www.oed.com/public/earlymodernenglishpronunciation#spelling
    http://babelstone.blogspot.com/2006/06/rules-for-long-s.html
    http://typefoundry.blogspot.com/2008/01/long-s.html
    http://hotword.dictionary.com/letters-alphabet/

    Here is an interesting typeface. Scroll down towards the bottom of the page. It is free, but there is a license. Here is the website:
    http://iginomarini.com/fell/the-revival-fonts/

    Reply
  145. G-boogey -  September 6, 2012 - 12:06 pm

    English could not exist without the letter “G”, else it be “Enlish” (which makes you sound as if you have a lisp). So in closing, if it weren’t for the letter “G”, people would have lisps. …however, I see I’ve only used one word with “g” for this whole text (outside of the word “English”)

    Reply
  146. Caleb -  September 6, 2012 - 11:57 am

    I’m joking . Sorry, It Was Funny To Say.

    Reply
  147. Admiral Bobbery -  September 6, 2012 - 11:55 am

    I gannot imacine a world without G. The Enclish lancuace gannot fungtion without it. And what if they were swapped?

    -Bobbery

    Reply
  148. Katy -  September 6, 2012 - 11:44 am

    But then how did “G” come to represent the “J” sound?

    Reply
  149. K. Lyn -  September 6, 2012 - 11:38 am

    I love the history of language. Very good post :))). And haha, yes, I was beginning to wonder where C got the S sound.

    Reply
  150. Jessie -  September 6, 2012 - 11:38 am

    I don’t think we’ll ever go back to one letter representing both sounds. We already have enough letters that represent more than one sound (all the vowels, both “c” and “g,” “t,” etc.)!! Do you think we’ll ever create more letters?

    Reply
  151. Ptron -  September 6, 2012 - 11:17 am

    @lady di, I believe that dictionary.com gets the information from their very own website. Just look up the “gimel,” “gamma,” “C,” and “D” in dictionary.com’s search field above. Here are some sources from dictionary.com’s site:

    C. Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/C (accessed: September 06, 2012).

    gimel. Dictionary.com. © Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gimel (accessed: September 06, 2012).

    gamma. Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gamma (accessed: September 06, 2012).

    Reply
  152. Silver Fang -  September 6, 2012 - 11:00 am

    Maybe we should go back to putting that little hook at the bottom of a C with an S pronunciation to differentiate it from the C with the K pronunciation. I think it was dumb to do away with it.

    Reply
  153. The Freak B) -  September 6, 2012 - 10:53 am

    maybe, maybe not.

    Reply
  154. "lady di" -  September 6, 2012 - 10:47 am

    Could I please get the proper or best citation for this article? I want to add it to my work on the history of English.

    Thank you,

    Di

    Reply

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