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According to this link, we are missing (in Modern English) at least three letters that used to be in common use in English. These are thorn, edh, and yogh.

Are there others that were clearly in the English alphabet at some point and then not in it, or would the others simply be short forms and things that exist in some documents but which are not clearly known as “another letter of the English alphabet”?

The link mentions that kids used to include ampersand in the recitation of their ABCs in English schools at some point, but let’s leave that aside for now, too.

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This is more complicated than you think. Read the Everson treatise I link to below. –  tchrist Feb 19 '12 at 13:59
    
It's funny how I've been an English speaker all my life and didn't know anything about this subject until I discovered the link in my question. –  Warren P Feb 20 '12 at 13:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Yes, quite a few, actually; how you count them I leave up to you. The Wikipedia article on Old English Latin alphabet mentioned five extras:

In the year 1011, a writer named Byrhtferð ordered the Old English alphabet for numerological purposes. He listed the 24 letters of the Latin alphabet (including et ligature) first, then 5 additional English letters, starting with the Tironian note ond (⁊), resulting in a list of 29 symbols:

A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z & ⁊ Ƿ Þ Ð Æ

Taking those last to first...

æsc, ash (Æ, æ)

As in several modern languages including Icelandic, the letter now known as ash, spelled æsc in Old English, was considered a letter in its own right, not merely a ligature between a and e. For example, consider the OE wrǽððu, for modern wrath; indeed the very first letter of Ænglisc itself was an ash, and the very first word of Beowulf has ash in it:

Hwæt! We Gardena          in geardagum,

þeodcyninga,          þrym gefrunon,

hu ða æþelingas          ellen fremedon.

Oft Scyld Scefing          sceaþena þreatum,

ðæt, eth (Ð, ð)

This letter is still used in Icelandic, where it represents the voiced interdental fricative heard twice in English thither. It disappeared from English around 1300.

þorn, thorn (Þ, þ)

Thorn lasted longer than eth, all the way up until Early Modern English. The title of the posting, "Ye olde...", is actually "þe olde". It was used in a lot of scribal abbreviations.

ƿynn, wynn (Ƿ, ƿ)

Another letter of the Old English alphabet which we no longer use is wynn, which did get used in non-runic Latin script. Here are three Unicode code points:

 ƿ  01BF        LATIN LETTER WYNN
        = wen
        * Runic letter borrowed into Latin script
        * replaced by "w" in modern transcriptions of Old English
        * uppercase is 01F7
        x (runic letter wunjo wynn w - 16B9)
 Ƿ  01F7        LATIN CAPITAL LETTER WYNN
        = wen
        * lowercase is 01BF
 ᚹ  16B9        RUNIC LETTER WUNJO WYNN W
        x (latin letter wynn - 01BF)

It was used in Old and some Middle English, but went away under French influence around 1300. Like thorn, it’s too confusable with P. Most transliterations of Old English manuscripts replace wynn with w so that it can be more easily read, but there is some resurgent resistence to this. The Ænglisc Ƿikipǣdia (Old English Wikipedia) uses wynn, as you can see in the second word.

Tironian et (⁊)

This old letter, still used in modern Irish, was from a form of shorthand said to have been invented by Cicero’s scribe Marcus Tullius Tiro. Unicode uses U+204A for it. It is a scribal abbreviation for et, just as & is. Byrhtferð listed both ⁊ and & as separate letters of the alphabet for numerological purposes.

Unicode has this to say about the two:

 &  0026        AMPERSAND
        x (tironian sign et - 204A)
        x (turned ampersand - 214B)
 ⁊  204A        TIRONIAN SIGN ET
        * Irish Gaelic, Old English, ...
        x (ampersand - 0026)

Not that unlike the other letters mentioned by Byrhtferð, Unicode considers these two code points to be punctuation.

yoȝ, yogh (Ȝ, ȝ)

This letter was not in Old English at all, but rather is from Middle English. Unicode 1.0 was confused about the difference between ezh and yogh, a distinction carefully maintained by the Oxford English Dictionary. Here are the current Unicode code points and names for these letters:

 Ȝ  021C        LATIN CAPITAL LETTER YOGH
        x (latin capital letter ezh - 01B7)
 ȝ  021D        LATIN SMALL LETTER YOGH
        * Middle English, Scots
        x (latin small letter ezh - 0292)
        x (latin small letter insular g - 1D79)
 Ʒ  01B7        LATIN CAPITAL LETTER EZH
        * African, Skolt Sami
        * lowercase is 0292
        x (latin capital letter yogh - 021C)
        x (cyrillic capital letter abkhasian dze - 04E0)
 ʒ  0292        LATIN SMALL LETTER EZH
        = dram
        * voiced postalveolar fricative
        * mistakenly named yogh in Unicode 1.0
        * uppercase is 01B7
        * Skolt Sami
        x (latin small letter yogh - 021D)
        x (cyrillic small letter abkhasian dze - 04E1)
        x (ounce sign - 2125)
        x (alchemical symbol for half dram - 1F772)

In its article on ezh, Wikipedia says:

In Unicode 1.0, the character was unified with the unrelated character yogh (Ȝ ȝ), which was not correctly added to Unicode until Unicode 3.0. Historically, ezh is derived from Latin z, while yogh is derived from Latin g. The characters do look very similar, and do not appear alongside each other in any alphabet. To better differentiate between the two, the Oxford University Press and the Early English Text Society extend the uppermost tip of the 'yogh' into a little curvature upward.

The definitive treatise on the yogh–ezh confusion is this one by Michael Everson entitled “On the derivation of YOGH and EZH”.


Insular Letters

These are alternate ways of writing letters we no longer write in this fashion. The insular G is particularly distinctive, and when looking for a good uncial script/font, you should pay especial notice to whether it has been reproduced authentically. The insular S looked very much like an R, and the insular T was a C with an overbar.

 Ꝺ  A779    LATIN CAPITAL LETTER INSULAR D
 ꝺ  A77A    LATIN SMALL LETTER INSULAR D
 Ꝼ  A77B    LATIN CAPITAL LETTER INSULAR F
 ꝼ  A77C    LATIN SMALL LETTER INSULAR F
 ᵹ  1D79    LATIN SMALL LETTER INSULAR G
 Ᵹ  A77D    LATIN CAPITAL LETTER INSULAR G
 Ꝿ  A77E    LATIN CAPITAL LETTER TURNED INSULAR G
 ꝿ  A77F    LATIN SMALL LETTER TURNED INSULAR G
 Ꞃ  A782    LATIN CAPITAL LETTER INSULAR R
 ꞃ  A783    LATIN SMALL LETTER INSULAR R
 Ꞅ  A784    LATIN CAPITAL LETTER INSULAR S
 ꞅ  A785    LATIN SMALL LETTER INSULAR S
 Ꞇ  A786    LATIN CAPITAL LETTER INSULAR T
 ꞇ  A787    LATIN SMALL LETTER INSULAR T

Unlike other font variations, these letters are considered so distict that Unicode assigns them their own distinctive code points. They do not casefold to their non-insular versions, nor do they normalize to such. However, the Unicode Collation Algorithm does sort them close to the more familiar forms. This is the way way as it treats ð; therefore, d, ð, and ꝺ are distinct letters that all sort after C and before E in Unicode.

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+1 for what seems to be the only addition to the list so far here. –  Kris Feb 19 '12 at 13:34
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@Kris Look again, I found more. :) –  tchrist Feb 19 '12 at 13:39
    
æ and similarly, o+e aren't exactly dead yet, though we don't list them in the standard 26 letter English alphabet. –  Kris Feb 19 '12 at 13:46
    
@Kris That’s because æ (named æsc and pronounced ash in OE) in Modern English is no longer considered a single letter as it was in Old English. The situation with œ (named eðel in OE) is slightly different in Modern English. I probably should have mentioned eðel. In OE, as in modern Icelandic, æsc was a separate letter in its own right, not a ligature. –  tchrist Feb 19 '12 at 13:52
    
One really should read the Eveson treatise, BTW. –  tchrist Feb 19 '12 at 13:59

Spelling was largely a matter of personal taste -- the way handwriting is today -- until the invention of printing in England, around 1475. Even after that, it took several centuries for English spelling to stabilize to the perfect system we all know and love today.

Thorn and edh were both letters in English (as they still are in Icelandic), but they were both used for the same phoneme, which had two allophones in Old and Middle English, but are separate phonemes in Modern English (Middle English had only one set of fricatives, which were voiced or voiceless according to their surroundings, but Modern English has separate voiced and voiceless fricative phonemes, which contrast).

Yogh got mistaken for thorn pretty often, leading to Ye Olde instead of The Olde in their name.

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@tchrist: Wikipedia says Icelandic still has Þ. –  jwodder Feb 21 '12 at 4:25
    
@jwodder I can't believe I messed that up. Reneging. –  tchrist Feb 21 '12 at 4:35
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I'm tuned in to JL's irony now. –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 26 '12 at 19:16

No, those are the only three. Before the introduction of the Latin alphabet, Old English, when it was written at all, was written using runes, but they didn't survive.

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Not the right answer, Barrie. –  tchrist Feb 19 '12 at 13:40

protected by RegDwigнt Mar 29 '12 at 18:05

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