PNG images: C

C, or c, is the third letter in the English and ISO basic Latin alphabets. Its name in English is cee (pronounced /ˈsiː/), plural cees.

When the Roman alphabet was introduced into Britain, ⟨c⟩ represented only /k/, and this value of the letter has been retained in loanwords to all the insular Celtic languages: in Welsh, Irish, Gaelic, ⟨c⟩ represents only /k/. The Old English Latin-based writing system was learned from the Celts, apparently of Ireland; hence ⟨c⟩ in Old English also originally represented /k/; the Modern English words kin, break, broken, thick, and seek all come from Old English words written with ⟨c⟩: cyn, brecan, brocen, þicc, and séoc. However, during the course of the Old English period, /k/ before front vowels (/e/ and /i/) were palatalized, having changed by the tenth century to [tʃ], though ⟨c⟩ was still used, as in cir(i)ce, wrecc(e)a. On the continent, meanwhile, a similar phonetic change had also been going on (for example, in Italian).

In Vulgar Latin, /k/ became palatalized to [tʃ] in Italy and Dalmatia; in France and the Iberian peninsula, it became [ts]. Yet for these new sounds ⟨c⟩ was still used before the letters ⟨e⟩ and ⟨i⟩. The letter thus represented two distinct values. Subsequently, the Latin phoneme /kw/ (spelled ⟨qv⟩) de-labialized to /k/ meaning that the various Romance languages had /k/ before front vowels. In addition, Norman used the letter ⟨k⟩ so that the sound /k/ could be represented by either ⟨k⟩ or ⟨c⟩, the latter of which could represent either /k/ or /ts/ depending on whether it preceded a front vowel letter or not. The convention of using both ⟨c⟩ and ⟨k⟩ was applied to the writing of English after the Norman Conquest, causing a considerable re-spelling of the Old English words. Thus while Old English candel, clif, corn, crop, cú, remained unchanged, Cent, cǣᵹ (cēᵹ), cyng, brece, sēoce, were now (without any change of sound) spelled Kent, keȝ, kyng, breke, and seoke; even cniht ('knight') was subsequently changed to kniht and þic ('thick') changed to thik or thikk. The Old English ⟨cw⟩ was also at length displaced by the French ⟨qu⟩ so that the Old English cwēn ('queen') and cwic ('quick') became Middle English quen and quik, respectively. The sound [tʃ], to which Old English palatalized /k/ had advanced, also occurred in French, chiefly from Latin /k/ before ⟨a⟩. In French it was represented by the digraph ⟨ch⟩, as in champ (from Latin camp-um) and this spelling was introduced into English: the Hatton Gospels, written c. 1160, have in Matt. i-iii, child, chyld, riche, mychel, for the cild, rice, mycel, of the Old English version whence they were copied. In these cases, the Old English ⟨c⟩ gave way to ⟨k⟩, ⟨qu⟩ and ⟨ch⟩; on the other hand, ⟨c⟩ in its new value of /ts/ appeared largely in French words like processiun, emperice and grace, and was also substituted for ⟨ts⟩ in a few Old English words, as miltse, bletsien, in early Middle English milce, blecien. By the end of the thirteenth century both in France and England, this sound /ts/ de-affricated to /s/; and from that time ⟨c⟩ has represented /s/ before front vowels either for etymological reasons, as in lance, cent, or to avoid the ambiguity due to the "etymological" use of ⟨s⟩ for /z/, as in ace, mice, once, pence, defence.

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