The Recent J

Published 11th July 2011
post thumbnail

The Recent J

The letter J was one of the last to join the English alphabet, together with V and W. In fact, it was completely unknown in any alphabet until the 14th century. Do you want to know how the letter was born? Well, I found out some interesting facts. Here they are…

Unlike most of the letters in our alphabet, J does not come directly from the Ancient Latin alphabet. It came from later Romance tongues. In Latin, the sound “j” did not even exist, and so neither did the letter. The most similar Latin sound was “y”, written with the letter I, which could either be a vowel or a consonant. So we can say that the J split off from the I. Therefore, the first month of the Roman calendar was Ianuarius, the emperor’s name was actually Iulios Caesar. The name “Jesus” was not spelled like this until about 500 years ago.

Evolution of sound

This “y” sound gradually evolved into new sounds in different languages. However, these new sounds differ from one language to another. In Spanish, for example, it took the form of an “h”. In other tongues, like French, Italian and Portuguese the sound was like the English J.

Gian Giorgio Trissino, an Italian Renaissance grammarian was the first to explicitly distinguish between the sounds in 1524. He is consequently known by some as the father of the letter J. But there were two different and unrelated sounds being expressed with the same written shape, so a new shape was needed.

At that time, there was a variant shape for the letter i used mainly in religious or legal documents, drawn as an i with a tail hanging from the base. It was nothing but an ornamental element, which was used at the beginning or end of a word, like in filij (sons). This variant letter shape was later linked to the variant letter sound and used to represent it.

Spanish beat us all to it!

Spanish was one of the earliest language to use the J in print (around 1600), which helped the promotion of the letter in other languages. Italian, on the other hand, rejected the letter, which is used only for foreign words. The English J occurs in around 1% of words, except when it comes to proper names (Julie, James) and brand names.

Nowadays, there are wide variations in the pronunciation of the letter. There are 4 main different pronunciations: the English one is like dzh /dʒ/, as in jingle. In German: j = y, as in Junge meaning boy. In French: j sounds like the soft g (jour, day). The Spanish “j” (jota) is one of the hardest letters to pronounce for non-native speakers and may be a headache for Spanish learners, since its as its sound, a guttural, heavily aspirated “h”, is absent in English and other languages, like in jueves (Thrusday).

disney-institute-lingua-translations 178 × 75
amazon-lingua-translations 120 × 28
procter-gamble - Lingua Translations 114 × 92
london-partners-lingua-translations 154 × 101
Swansea City | Lingua Translations 154 x 146
Man City | Lingua Translations 154 × 154
FC_Barcelona_(crest) 154 × 156
Star_Wars_Logo.svg_-1 1280 × 773
FiFA | lingua Translations 154 × 86
The-Score 232x120
M & S 271 × 186
Walmart-Lingua Translations 232 × 65
Welsh Government & Lingua Translations 400 × 400
Costco & Lingua Translations 232 × 155


TUI-Group Testimonial 205 × 46 EN

Ian Chapman – Director of Holiday Experience –

“Lingua Translations provides instant multi-lingual options for TUI’s 24/7 Holidayline, so 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year TUI’s customers are connected to an interpreter instantaneously. This service is designed to help holidaymakers who find themselves in difficulty and require non-English language assistance.

The service offered by Lingua Translations provides us with instant translation for every destination we travel to, and has proved invaluable.”

Roland Garros 2018- Useful Vocab!

The French open 2018 Roland Garros is almost here!     On the 21st May, some of the best will take to the clay courts to compete for the French Grand Slam title. Now, when it comes to clay, we’re always going to think it will be Rafael Nadal, but this year, who knows! Could …

Read More

Signing up a birth

Signing up a birth You might’ve seen my blog a few weeks ago about an Iranian couple who required an interpreter for the birth of their child. I’m sure anyone who has given birth or been a birth partner will say it is a scary and traumatic experience. You are hoping that everything runs as …

Read More
Get a quote today