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| Classical Greek
| Old Latin |
C comes from the same letter as G or g. The Semites named it gimel. The sign is possibly adapted from an Egyptian hieroglyph for a staff sling, which may have been the meaning of the name gimel. Another possibility is that it depicted a camel, the Semitic name for which was gamal.
In the Etruscan language, plosive consonants had no contrastive voicing, so the Greek Γ (Gamma) was adopted into the Etruscan alphabet to represent the phoneme. Already in the Western Greek alphabet, Gamma first took a form in Early Etruscan, then in Classical Etruscan. In Early Latin it took a form then C in Classical Latin. In the earliest Latin inscriptions, the letters C, K and Q were all used to represent the sounds /k/ and /g/ (which were not differentiated in writing). Of these, Q was used to represent /k/ or /g/ before a rounded vowel, K before /a/, and C elsewhere.  During the 3rd century BC, a modified character was introduced for , and C itself retained for . The use of C (and its variant G) replaced most usages of K and Q. Hence, in the classical period and after, G was treated as the phonetic representative of "gamma", and C as the equivalent of "kappa", in the transliteration of Greek words into Roman spelling, as in "KA∆MOΣ, KYPOΣ, ΦΩKIΣ," in Roman letters "CADMVS, CYRVS, PHOCIS". It is also possible but uncertain that C represented only at a very early time, while K might have been used for .
Other alphabets have letters identical to C in form but not in use and derivation, in particular the Cyrillic letter Es which derives from one form of the Greek letter sigma, known as the "lunate sigma" due to its resemblance to the crescent moon.
When the Roman alphabet was introduced into Britain, C represented only and this value of the letter has been retained in loanwords to all the insular Celtic languages: in Welsh, Irish, Gaelic, C, c, is still only . The Old English or "Anglo-Saxon" writing was learned from the Celts, apparently of Ireland; hence C, c, in Old English, also originally represented : the words kin, break, broken, thick, seek, were in Old English written cyn, brecan, brocen, Þicc, séoc. But during the course of the Old English period, before front vowels ( and ) was palatalized, having, by the 10th century, advanced nearly or quite to the sound of , though still written c, as in cir(i)ce, wrecc(e)a. On the continent, meanwhile, a similar phonetic change had also been going on (for example, in Italian).
Original Latin before front vowels had palatalized in Italy to the sound of , and in France and the Iberian peninsula to that of . Yet for these new sounds the old character C, c, was still retained before e and i, the letter thus represented two distinct values. Moreover the Latin phoneme (represented by QV, or qu) de-labialized to meaning that the various Romance languages had before front vowels. In addition, Norman used the Greek letter K, so that the sound could be represented by either k or c, the latter of which could represent either or . These French inconsistencies as to C and K were, after the Norman Conquest, applied to the writing of English, which caused a considerable re-spelling of the Old English words. Thus while Old English candel, clif, corn, crop, cú, remained unchanged, Cent, cæ´ (cé´), cyng, brece, séoce, were now (without any change of sound) spelt Kent, keȝ, kyng, breke, seoke; even cniht was subsequently spelt kniht, knight, and þic, þicc, became thik, thikk, thick. The Old English cw- was also at length displaced by the French qw, qu, so that the Old English cwén, cwic, became Middle English qwen, quen, qwik, quik, now queen, quick. The sound to which Old English palatalized c had advanced, also occurred in French, chiefly (in Central French) from Latin c before a. In French it was represented by ch, as in champ, cher:–Latin camp-um, caŝr-um; and this spelling was now introduced into English: the Hatton Gospels, written about 1160, have in Matt. i-iii, child, chyld, riche, mychel, for the cild, rice, mycel, of the Old English version whence they were copied. In these cases, the Old English c gave place to k, qu, ch; but, on the other hand, c in its new value of came in largely in French words like processiun, emperice, grace, and was also substituted for ts in a few Old English words, as miltse, bletsien, in early Middle English milce, blecien. By the end of the 13th century both in France and England, this sound de-affricated to ; and from that date c before front vowels has been, phonetically, a duplicate or subsidiary letter to s; used either for etymological reasons, as in lance, cent, or (in defiance of etymology) to avoid the ambiguity due to the "etymological" use of s for , as in ace, mice, once, pence, defence.
Thus, to show the etymology, English spelling has advise, devise, instead of advize, devize, which while advice, device, dice, ice, mice, twice, etc., do not reflect etymology; example has extended this to hence, pence, defence, etc., where there is no etymological necessity for c. Former generations also wrote sence for sense.
Hence, today the Romance languages and English have a common feature inherited from Vulgar Latin where C takes on either a "hard" or "soft" value depending on the following vowel.
In English, French, Spanish and Portguese, C takes the "hard" value finally and before A, O, and U, and a "soft" value before E and I. However, as with everything else regarding English spelling, there are a couple of exceptions: "soccer" and "Celt" are words that have a k sound in the "wrong" place.
The pronunciation of the "soft" value varies by language. In English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish from Latin America and southern Spain, C before E and I sounds . In the Spanish spoken in northern and central Spain it is pronounced as the voiceless dental fricative . In Italian and Romanian it is pronounced .
Other languages use C with different values, such as in Fijian; in Somali; the click in Xhosa and Zulu; in Turkish, Kurdish, Tatar, and Azeri; in Indonesian, Malay, Volapük, and a number of African languages such as Hausa, Fula, and Manding; in some other African languages, such as Beninese Yoruba; in all Balto-Slavic languages that use the Latin alphabet, as well as Albanian, Esperanto, Hungarian, Ido, and Interlingua; and in Romanized Chinese. It is also used as a transliteration of the Cyrillic "Ц" in the Latinic forms of Serbian, Macedonian, and sometimes Ukrainian (along with digraph TS).
There are several common digraphs with C, the most common being CH, which in some languages such as German is far more common than C alone. In English, CH most commonly takes the value (which it invariably has in Spanish), but can take the value or ; some dialects of English also have in words like loch where other speakers pronounce the final sound as . CH takes various values in other languages, such as in the West Slavic languages (e.g. Polish, Czech and Slovak); , , or in German; or silent in Dutch; in French and Portuguese; in Interlingua and Italian, in Mandarin Chinese; and so forth. CK, with the value , is often used after short vowels in Germanic languages such as English, German and Swedish (but some other Germanic languages use KK instead, such as Dutch and Norwegian). The digraph CZ is found in Polish and CS in Hungarian, both representing . In Old English, Italian, and a few languages related to Italian, sc represents (however in Italian and related languages this only happens before e or i, otherwise it represents ).
As a phonetic symbol, lowercase c is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and X-SAMPA symbol for the voiceless palatal plosive, and capital C is the X-SAMPA symbol for the voiceless palatal fricative.
Codes for computing
In Unicode the capital C is codepoint U+0043 and the lower case c is U+0063.
The EBCDIC code for capital C is 195 and for lowercase c is 131.
- "C" Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993); "cee", op. cit.
- Sihler, Andrew L. (1995). New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin (illustrated ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. 21. ISBN 0195083458. http://books.google.com/books?id=IeHmqKY2BqoC.