Evolution of the English Alphabet


Version 1:

Version 2:

Version 3:

I made this chart last year as a bonus award on Kickstarter but am now making it available as a free download. Just right click on the above image (or long press on your mobile) and then select save.

UPDATE: I shared this on Twitter and it's my first tweet to reach over 10k RT's! Anyway, here's a few comments based on the feedback I've received:

  • If you want to print it, here's a high-res version: English title | Latin title
  • You're free to use the chart however you like so long as you don't sell it and so long as you give credit to either me (Matt Baker) or this website (UsefulCharts.com). I'm releasing it under a Creative Commons license.
  • Fyi, the above chart was actually just a simplified promo for a much larger chart - a Writing Systems of the World poster. So, if you're concerned about the fact that thorn, wynn, or any other letters are missing, rest assured that they were indeed included on the main chart.
  • If you have questions about why certain letters evolved the way that they did, I actually did a YouTube video on the topic. As for why so many of the letters flipped, it's because they used to be written in both directions. But with the introduction of ink, left to right eventually became standard (less smudging if you're right-handed).
  • The fonts used include ProtoSinaitic (free), Alphabetum (commercial; used for the Ancient Greek/Latin lines) and Google Noto (free; used for Phoenician).
  • "Shouldn't you have titled this 'Evolution of the Latin Alphabet?'" Well, yes, that would have been correct as well. But it's also not incorrect to refer to an "English alphabet". Obviously, many European languages use the same Latin script. But some use a slightly different number of letters. When one is referring to the set of Latin letters used for a particular language, it's ok to refer to that set as the "[language name] alphabet". (Update: I've included a version above with the title "Latin Alphabet" for those who would prefer it.)
  • Many linguists provided feedback throughout the project, including Peter T. Daniels, one of the world's foremost experts on writing systems. You can find the full list of contributors here.
  • I support a charity that does great educational work in rural Sri Lanka. If you're looking for a way to say thanks, consider making a donation. Or, if you purchase any of my other charts (including the Writing Systems of the World poster), a $1 donation will automatically be made.

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  • Frank Gilbert on

    A few misguided things going on here…

    If this chart is going to skip the 1500+ years of evolution whereby inscriptional roman capitals (called “Roman c. 1 CE” here) gave way to our current lower case alphabet then there is no need to differentiate between inscriptional roman capitals and our current roman capitals. The only substantive changes are the additional letters and some tweaks to the proportions of the letters (though classical proportions are still used very regularly today).

    We still use serifed letters regularly. This chart implies that we dropped the serifs over the last 2000 years.

    Times New Roman is a wildly inappropriate choice to represent inscriptional roman capitals from 2000 years ago. It is based on a design from the 1930s, is still very much in use today, and is very much a product of 20th century design trends. There is a plethora of typefaces based on the inscriptional roman model from which to choose. For instance, Adobe Trajan.

  • afc on

    Printing colored text on a black background isn’t the greatest idea with typical home printing equipment. Can you post a version with white background, or else post the source file(s)?

  • John Frey on

    Do the colors mean anything in particular?

  • Michel on

    This is a fascinating evolution chart, just wanted to thank you! :-)

  • Caleb on

    Hello, I find your artwork very interesting and beautifully done. I created a very similar piece at around the same time and posted it on my facebook page, having not known of or previously seen your work before. I’m always curious about what’s floating round the creative space within the head of a fellow visual thinker interested in patterns within language. May I ask if you’ve looked into other alphabets?

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