When it comes to the alphabet, everyone knows that “Z” is the last letter, but did you know it wasn’t the last letter to be added? Although located in the first half of the ABCs, “J” is a latecomer and was the 26th of the current set of letters to be added.
The man responsible for the addition of “J” was Gian Giorgio Trissino (1478 – 1550). He was a Renaissance poet, dramatist, diplomat, and grammarian. It was in that last capacity that he started meddling with the alphabet.
As depicted in the Roman alphabet, “J” was not a separate letter; it was just a different way to write the letter “I”. It primarily showed up in Roman numerals that ended with a series of “I”s, such as XVIII or CLIII. When this happened, the final “I” was written as a “J” and was called a “swash.” Consequently, the above numbers would be written as XVIIJ and CLIIJ.
When used as a letter, instead of a numeral, “J” appeared interchangeably with “I” and had the same pronunciation.
In 1524, Trissino wrote an essay, Ɛpistola del Trissino de le lettere nuωvamente aggiunte ne la lingua italiana (Trissino’s epistle about the letters recently added in the Italian language), suggesting that “I” and “J” should become separate letters. He proposed that “I” continue to be used as the vowel sound we all know and love and that “J” be used to represent the sound “j” makes in “Beijing.” In the Romance languages, that sound has altered slightly to the “j” sound in “jury.”
Trissino’s suggestion obviously gained traction, so those of you named Julie, Jason, Jasper, etc. all can know who to thank that your name starts with a “J” instead of an “I”.
Read about what was once the 27th letter of the alphabet.
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