Banishing the letter “v” from the Latin alphabet

I was looking at James Morwood’s A Latin Grammar (Oxford), when I espied at the foot of the introduction (p. vii) the following words:

I am delighted to have compiled the first Latin grammar in English to have banished the letter V from the Latin alphabet. It was never there.

These words do smack rather of hubris, and one Amazon reviewer commented drily:

One bit of pretentiousness: the author is “delighted to have banished the letter ‘v’ from the Latin alphabet. It was never there.” Maybe not, but neither were lower case letters.

Just so.  It does feel rather elitist, making Latin less like modern languages.

Morwood seeks to replace Kennedy, The Revised Latin Primer, which first appeared in 1888, and was revised by Sir James Mountford in 1930.  My own copy dates is a 1998 reprint of the 1962 edition.  This certainly includes “v”.

But why did sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th century turn against writing “j” and “v”?  I have been unable to find any study of the change.  A discussion in the Textkit forums discusses the subject but gives no answer. Was it purely anglophone, or wider?  It would be most interesting to know.


4 thoughts on “Banishing the letter “v” from the Latin alphabet

  1. J NEVER existed in the Latin alphabet. Long i was used in numbers (= money) to avoid tampering. So xii became xij, making more difficult to change it as xiii. Later it became a functional letter on its own in modern European languages approximately during Renaissance.
    V/u: you’re making 2 letters where Latin / Late Latin have only one, under the influence of modern languages. vidua is not Latin, but a victim of this process. However you can legimately question why the current academic usage is V (capital) vs. u (lower).

  2. Interesting – thank you. I’d like to know more about how the process took place, where modern grammars no longer use j and v, as they did 100 years ago.

  3. Lots of good questions! I can’t recall ever encountering a discussion… It would be fascinating to see a survey of antique and later inscriptions, graffiti, manuscripts, fonts… Who wrote what, when? I wonder how helpful books about the history of the alphabet or calligraphy might be…?

    Wondering where to begin, I just took ‘Roman inscriptions’ as a search term – and one of the first things I found was the Wikipedia article, “Roman Inscriptions of Britain” (as of “30 November 2018, at 22:26 (UTC)”), which “is a 3-volume corpus of inscriptions found in Britain from the Roman period” of which volume one “was first published in 1965, with a new edition in 1995.” The sample the article provides is “entry 1726 in volume I, in this particular case it is a part of an altar with the inscription [I(ovi)] O(ptimo) M(aximo) D(olicheno) | …] Sabini fil(ia)| …]ina, Regulus| …]Publi[…. This inscription is shown here with the critical marks from the RIB intact.” And what do we see? – a ‘v’ in the supplied “[I(ovi)]”! Hmm… Whether that is ed. 1 (“Oxford, Clarendon Press”) or the new ed. (“Stroud, Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd.”), or identical in both, it does not say…

    Happy hunting, and may knowledgeable readers enlighten us!

  4. But the V also was there all along. And it also depends on the period. Plus, in reality, the further you go back, you find v was there but u was not, so why did he banish v rather than u? This is like those pretentious idiots who are always on about I vs J in English, using it as an excuse to be Judaizing heretics.

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