One L of a letter…

Published 1st August 2011
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One L of a letter

In 1799, the letter L was one of the five letters instrumental in deciphering the hieroglyphics of the Rosetta Stone.

The Egyptian equivalent of this letter was first represented by the image of a lion. Over centuries, this image evolved into a much simpler character that became the basis of the letter we know today.

When the Phoenicians developed their alphabet around 1000 B.C, the ‘el’ sound was depicted by several more-simplified versions. From here, L becomes a rather complicated character. It took on a variety of forms in just about every alphabet in which it appeared.

The Greeks alone had four versions and as they did with so many other letters, they borrowed the basic shape of the Phoenician letter, but made modifications to its design and name. They also established the angular quality of the L.

The Romans adopted one of the Greek versions of the letter. The first Roman L looked more like an arrow pointing southwest, rather than the right-angle of the current form.
Japanese and some southern dialects of Chinese either lack, or have different values, for L.

In English, it can be silent in such words as walk or could, where its presence modifies other letters’ sounds, (as ‘wak’ would otherwise rhyme with ‘back’).

L is used as the currency sign in Albania and Honduras. In Italy, prior to the adoption of the euro, the ₤ symbol was used as an alternative to the more usual L to indicate prices in lire, but it was always written with two horizontal lines. The customary pound sign (“£” or “₤”) is the symbol for the pound sterling, the currency of the UK and derives from L.


And if one isn’t enough for you, there is LL to consider.  Where the sound is pronounced as the CH in loch. LL is common in place names in Wales because it occurs in the word Llan, meaning “parish” or “church of Saint …” For example, Llanelli, where the LL appears twice, or the world famous Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch, where the LL appears five times! In Welsh dictionaries, LL is treated as a separate letter.



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