In Europe, Latin script is used for a large number of languages which belong to diverse groups including Romance, Germanic, Slavic and Turkic. Because of the economically dominant role played by West European and North American countries in recent history, the typographic professions have catered first to their typographic needs. Consequently, the set of characters which serve West European languages (including English) has become the de facto standard. Through the technological development brought on by computers and communications, this process has been further accelerated. So-called 'standard Latin' or 'Latin-1' character sets, and consequently fonts, support the major West European languages including English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. As a result of the prevalence of this terminology, fonts which support other Latin-script languages, including minority languages in Western Europe -- have been grouped under the broad term 'Extended Latin'. The major languages supported by various 'Extended-Latin' character sets include Czech, Croatian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Turkish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Lappish, Welsh, Maltese, Vietnamese, as well as a host of African, Polynesian and other languages. As we shall see below, practically every use of Latin script for a language other than Latin could be rightly called 'extended Latin'.
The Romans honed the Latin (or Roman) alphabet based on that of their once powerful
neighbors on the Italian peninsula, the Etruscans. The latter had, in turn, evolved their
alphabet based on a western version of the Greek alphabet. Intending only to write their
own language, Latin, little did the Romans know that they would one day be credited with
inventing the most popular script of all time. Today, Latin script has in every sense
become the first global alphabet. It is quite ironic that English, the language in which
the largest number of Latin-script books have been published, is not closely related to
Latin. In previous centuries, Spanish, Portuguese and French, all three close relatives
of Latin, have played the role of emissaries for Latin script. As an alphabet of choice,
Latin script has become the lowest common denominator. Typically, when speaking of
'transliterating' a language, one usually means that the language is written in Latin
letters. Behind this choice is the implied notion that the audience of people which can
decipher Latin script is larger than that of any other script. For instance, when the
People's Republic of China decided on Pinyin as the standard transliteration scheme for
Mandarin Chinese, it based it on Latin script. Likewise, the various transliteration
schemes for Japanese use Latin (Romaji) script. However, what is common, familiar, and
even popular, is often not without fault. As a writing system for diverse groups of
languages, Latin script is riddled with deficiencies. As we know it today, the Latin
alphabet consists of 26 letters, 5 of which represent vowels while the remainder are
consonants. Ironically, the repertoire of the alphabet did not develop into its current
form until after the demise of Latin as a vernacular. In fact, the small forms
(alternatively, miniscule or lower-case) of the letters did not fully mature until the 8th
century AD. However limited the basic Latin alphabet may be, it has been effectively
extended through a host of ingenious techniques which include the use of accent and
diacritic marks, small appendages, digraphs and even trigraphs. When we consider the
phonological features of Latin in light of all possible, human-produced phonological
features, it comes as no surprise that the repertoire of Latin script needed to be
amplified. For example, Latin had no symbol for the initial sound in the English word
'shell'. As a result, English uses the digraph 'sh' to stand for the sound, German uses
the trigraph 'sch', while some other languages resort to placing an accent over an 's'.
The following are a just a few of the many phonological phenomena which were not foreseen
for the original Latin repertoire: tone (as in Vietnamese or Chinese), pharyngeal sounds
(as in Maltese), clicks (as in some African languages), ejectives (as in some Amerindian
languages), alveolo-palatal fricative (as in Polish). Yet, in some way, all these
phenomena have been represented successfully in Latin script, thus raising it to the rank
of 'global alphabet'.
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