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Cedilla

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The cedilla (¸) is a diacritic mark that resembles a hook curved to the left, placed below a letter and found in several languages using the Latin alphabet. For instance: ç, çh, ş.

Current use in Romance languages

The cedilla appeared first in the Romance languages, below the letter c: ç. In those tongues, c is pronounced [k] in general; but a c placed before e, i or y is pronounced with a fricative sound which is [s], [tʃ] or [θ] according to the language. For a c in a position other than before e, i or y, the cedilla is used to indicate that, exceptionally, the fricative sound ([s], [tʃ] or [θ]) occurs.

  • In Galician-Portuguese,[1] French and Francoprovençal:
    • ç before a, o, u is pronounced [s] (in the same position, c is pronounced [k])
    • c before e, i, y is pronounced [s]
    • in all other positions, c is pronounced [k].
  • In Occitan and Catalan:
    • ç before a, o, u or at word ending is pronounced [s] (in the same position, c is pronounced [k])
    • c before e, i, y is pronounced [s]
    • in all other positions, c is pronounced [k].
  • In Aragonese:[2]
    • ç before a, o, u is pronounced [θ] (in the same position, c is pronounced [k])
    • c before e, i, y is pronounced [θ]
    • in all other positions, c is pronounced [k].
  • In Friulian:[3]
    • ç before a, o, u or at word ending is pronounced [tʃ] (in the same position, c is pronounced [k])
    • c before e, i, y is pronounced [tʃ]
    • in all other positions, c is pronounced [k].

Current use in non-Romance languages

Diacritic marks not to be confused with the cedilla

History

The primary shape of the cedilla was the letter z placed under the letter c: cedilla is a Spanish word that means ‘little z’. The little z was more and more simplified to look like a hook.

The first use of the cedilla appeared during the Middle Ages in several Romance languages of southern Europe, especially in the first documents written in Occitan and Spanish and also, soon, in Galician-Portuguese, Asturian-Leonese, Aragonese, Catalan, Sardinian and Italian.[4]

From the 16th century on, the cedilla was extended to other Romance languages like French. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, it was progressively abandoned in Spanish and in Asturian-Leonese (where it was replaced by the letter z which is pronounced like ç, that is: [θ]). It was also abandoned in Sardinian and in Italian (where z was similarly preferred, but with different pronunciations).

Since the 20th century, the cedilla has been adopted in recently codified Romance languages like Friulian and Francoprovençal and in non-Romance languages like Albanian, various Turkic languages, Kurdish, Zaza and Manx. Non-Romance languages have extended its use to the new graphemes çh and ş.

Footnotes