The Latin or Roman alphabet is the writing system originally used by the ancient Romans to write the Latin language. Due to its use in writing Germanic, Romance, and other languages first in Europe and then in other parts of the world and due to its use in Romanizing writing of other languages, it has become widespread globally (see Latin script). It is also used officially in China (separate from its ideographic writing) and has been semi-adopted by Slavic (Russia) and Baltic states. The Latin alphabet evolved from the visually similar Cumaean Greek version of the Greek alphabet, which was itself descended from the Phoenician abjad, which in turn derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Etruscans, who ruled early Rome, adopted the Cumaean Greek alphabet, which was modified over time to become the Etruscan alphabet, which was in turn adopted and further modified by the Romans to produce the Latin alphabet.
During the Middle Ages, the Latin alphabet was used (sometimes with modifications) for writing Romance languages, which are direct descendants of Latin, as well as Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, and some Slavic languages. With the age of colonialism and Christian evangelism, the Latin script spread beyond Europe, coming into use for writing indigenous American, Australian, Austronesian, Austroasiatic, and African languages. More recently, linguists have also tended to prefer the Latin script or the International Phonetic Alphabet (itself largely based on the Latin script) when transcribing or creating written standards for non-European languages, such as the African reference alphabet.
The term Latin alphabet may refer to either the alphabet used to write Latin (as described in this article), or other alphabets based on the Latin script, which is the basic set of letters common to the various alphabets descended from the classical Latin alphabet, such as the English alphabet. These Latin-script alphabets may discard letters, like the Rotokas alphabet, or add new letters, like the Danish and Norwegian alphabets. Letter shapes have evolved over the centuries, including the development in Medieval Latin of lower-case, forms which did not exist in the Classical period alphabet. English is the only major modern European language requiring no diacritics for native words (although a diaeresis may be used in words such as "coöperation").
It is generally believed that the Romans adopted the Cumae alphabet, a variant of the Greek alphabet, in the 7th century BC from Cumae, a Greek colony in Southern Italy. (Gaius Julius Hyginus in Fab. 277 mentions the legend that it was Carmenta, the Cimmerian Sibyl, who altered fifteen letters of the Greek alphabet to become the Latin alphabet, which her son Evander introduced into Latium, supposedly 60 years before the Trojan War, but there is no historically sound basis to this tale.) The Ancient Greek alphabet was in turn based upon the Phoenician abjad. From the Cumae alphabet, the Etruscan alphabet was derived and the Romans eventually adopted 21 of the original 27 Etruscan letters:
Latin included 21 different characters. The letter ⟨C⟩ was the western form of the Greek gamma, but it was used for the sounds /ɡ/ and /k/ alike, possibly under the influence of Etruscan, which might have lacked any voiced plosives. Later, probably during the 3rd century BC, the letter ⟨Z⟩ – unneeded to write Latin properly – was replaced with the new letter ⟨G⟩, a ⟨C⟩ modified with a small vertical stroke, which took its place in the alphabet. From then on, ⟨G⟩ represented the voiced plosive /ɡ/, while ⟨C⟩ was generally reserved for the voiceless plosive /k/. The letter ⟨K⟩ was used only rarely, in a small number of words such as Kalendae, often interchangeably with ⟨C⟩.
After the Roman conquest of Greece in the 1st century BC, Latin adopted the Greek letters ⟨Y⟩ and ⟨Z⟩ (or readopted, in the latter case) to write Greek loanwords, placing them at the end of the alphabet. An attempt by the emperor Claudius to introduce three additional letters did not last. Thus it was during the classical Latin period that the Latin alphabet contained 23 letters: