European Languages

Languages of Europe changing through time.

Click the map to see European languages evolving.

As you go further back into time you will meet letters of the alphabet which are no longer used today. These include:

ſ    This is the "long s". From the Middle Ages until the 19th Century it was used for "s" at the beginning and in the middle of words, e.g. "ſyſtems". Before then it was used in any position in a word.

ȝ    During the Middle Ages this was gradually replaced by "y" at the beginning of words (such as "year") and "gh" in the middle and at the end of words (such as "bright" and "plough"). It developed from ƽ, an early form of the letter "g". In the 17th Century "plow" was an alternative spelling of "plough" and became the standard in America.

υ    In mediaeval Welsh this letter was a variant of the letter "u". It was replaced by "w" in later Welsh, although the "u" remained with a different pronunciation.

þ    This was used randomly for the "th" in "thin" or the "th" in "then". It was the manuscript version of a carved Anglo-Saxon runic letter.

ð    This was a crossed "d" and originally represented the sound of "th" in "then". Before long it was used randomly for either of the "th" sounds, as was þ.

ƿ    This was used for the letter "w" and was based on an Anglo-Saxon runic symbol.

æ    This was used to represent a sound between "a" and "e".

ƽ    Before the Norman Conquest of England and Wales, starting in 1066, this was the most common version of the letter "g".

From early mediaeval times until the 17th Century words now starting with "u", such as "upon", usually began with "v", "vpon". Similarly, words which now contain a "v" usually had a "u" instead; "fiue" for "five".

ˆ    This accent over a short vowel turns it into a long vowel. In Welsh "w" and "y" are vowels, hence ŵ and ŷ.

The earliest documents containing English words are Latin charters and glossaries (vocabulary lists) dating from the 7th Century A.D. Although the earliest surviving Welsh documents are from a few years later, there are inscriptions in Welsh which are older than the oldest English inscriptions. Welsh has changed far less than English over the centuries and can claim to be the second oldest living language in Europe. The oldest living European language, by far, is Greek, whose history can be traced back to inscriptions from around 1400 B.C.

Click on the map at the top of the page to travel back in time!

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