The letter ‘G’ was introduced in theOld Latin periodas a variant of ‘C‘ to distinguish voiced/ɡ/from voiceless/k/. The recorded originator of ‘G’ is freedmanSpurius Carvilius Ruga, the first Roman to open a fee-paying school, who taught around 230BCE. At this time, ‘K‘ had fallen out of favor, and ‘C’, which had formerly represented both/ɡ/and/k/before open vowels, had come to express/k/in all environments.
Ruga’s positioning of ‘G’ shows thatalphabetic orderrelated to the letters’ values asGreek numeralswas a concern even in the 3rd century BC. According to some records, the original seventh letter, ‘Z’, had been purged from the Latin alphabet somewhat earlier in the 3rd century BC by theRoman censorAppius Claudius, who found it distasteful and foreign.Sampson (1985) suggests that: “Evidently the order of the alphabet was felt to be such a concrete thing that a new letter could be added in the middle only if a ‘space’ was created by the dropping of an old letter.”
George Hempl(1899) proposes that there never was such a “space” in the alphabet and that in fact ‘G’ was a direct descendant ofzeta. Zeta took shapes like ⊏ in some of theOld Italic scripts; the development of themonumentalform ‘G’ from this shape would be exactly parallel to the development of ‘C’ fromgamma. He suggests that the pronunciation/k/>/ɡ/was due to contamination from the also similar-looking ‘K’.
The modernlowercase‘g’ has two typographic variants: the single-storey (sometimesopentail) ‘
‘ and the double-storey (sometimeslooptail) ‘
‘. The single-storey form derives from the majuscule (uppercase) form by raising theserifthat distinguishes it from ‘c’ to the top of the loop, thus closing the loop, and extending the vertical stroke downward and to the left. The double-storey form (g) had developed similarly, except that some ornate forms then extended the tail back to the right, and to the left again, forming a closedbowlor loop. The initial extension to the left was absorbed into the upper closed bowl. The double-storey version became popular when printing switched to “Roman type” because the tail was effectively shorter, making it possible to put more lines on a page. In the double-storey version, a small top stroke in the upper-right, often terminating in an orb shape, is called an “ear”.
⟩ as typographic equivalents,and this decision was reaffirmed in 1993.While the 1949Principles of the International Phonetic Associationrecommended the use of ⟨
⟩ for a velar plosive and ⟨ɡ⟩ for an advanced one for languages where it is preferable to distinguish the two, such as Russian,this practice never caught on.The 1999Handbook of the International Phonetic Association, the successor to thePrinciples, abandoned the recommendation and acknowledged both shapes as acceptable variants.
Wong et al. (2018) found that native English speakers have little conscious awareness of the looptail ‘g’ (
).They write: “Despite being questioned repeatedly, and despite being informed directly that G has two lowercase print forms, nearly half of the participants failed to reveal any knowledge of the looptail ‘g’, and only 1 of the 38 participants was able to write looptail ‘g’ correctly.”
In words of Romance origin, ⟨g⟩ is mainly soft before ⟨e⟩ (including the digraphs ⟨ae⟩ and ⟨oe⟩), ⟨i⟩, or ⟨y⟩, and hard otherwise. Soft ⟨g⟩ is also used in many words that came into Englishthroughmedieval or modern Romance languages from languages without soft ⟨g⟩ (like Ancient Latin and Greek) (e.g.fragileorlogic). There are many English words of non-Romance origin where ⟨g⟩ is hard though followed by ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ (e.g.get,gift), and a few in which ⟨g⟩ is soft though followed by ⟨a⟩ such asgaolormargarine.
The double consonant ⟨gg⟩ has the value/ɡ/(hard ⟨g⟩) as innugget, with very few exceptions:/ɡd͡ʒ/insuggestand/d͡ʒ/inexaggerateandveggies.
The digraph ⟨dg⟩ has the value/d͡ʒ/(soft ⟨g⟩), as inbadger. Non-digraph ⟨dg⟩ can also occur, in compounds likefloodgateandheadgear.
Non-digraph ⟨gn⟩ also occurs, as insignature,agnostic
The trigraph ⟨ngh⟩ has the value/ŋ/as inginghamordinghy. Non-trigraph ⟨ngh⟩ also occurs, in compounds likestrongholdanddunghill.
Most Romance languages and some Nordic languages also have two main pronunciations for ⟨g⟩, hard and soft. While the soft value of ⟨g⟩ varies in different Romance languages (/ʒ/in French andPortuguese,[(d)ʒ]inCatalan,/d͡ʒ/in Italian and Romanian, and/x/in most dialects of Spanish), in all except Romanian and Italian, soft ⟨g⟩ has the same pronunciation as the ⟨j⟩.
In Italian and Romanian, ⟨gh⟩ is used to represent/ɡ/before front vowels where ⟨g⟩ would otherwise represent a soft value. In Italian and French, ⟨gn⟩ is used to represent thepalatal nasal/ɲ/, a sound somewhat similar to the ⟨ny⟩ in Englishcanyon. In Italian, thetrigraph⟨gli⟩, when appearing before a vowel or as the article and pronoungli, represents thepalatal lateral approximant/ʎ/.
Other languages typically use ⟨g⟩ to represent/ɡ/regardless of position.
Amongst European languagesCzech,Dutch,FinnishandSlovakare an exception as they do not have/ɡ/in their native words. InDutch⟨g⟩ represents avoiced velar fricative/ɣ/instead, a sound that does not occur in modern English, but there is a dialectal variation: many Netherlandic dialects use a voiceless fricative ([x]or[χ]) instead, and in southern dialects it may be palatal[ʝ]. Nevertheless, word-finally it is always voiceless in all dialects, including the standard Dutch of Belgium and the Netherlands. On the other hand, some dialects (like Amelands), may have a phonemic/ɡ/.
Faroeseuses ⟨g⟩ to represent/dʒ/, in addition to/ɡ/, and also uses it to indicate aglide.
In Maori (Te Reo Māori), ⟨g⟩ is used in the digraph ⟨ng⟩ which represents thevelar nasal/ŋ/and is pronounced like the ⟨ng⟩ insinger.
In olderCzechandSlovakorthographies, ⟨g⟩ was used to represent/j/, while/ɡ/was written as ⟨ǧ⟩ (⟨g⟩ withcaron).