It is doubtless that the alphabet derives from the Greek script, particularly to its Western varieties, which were used by Greek colonists in Italy. Though the ancient tradition says that writing was brought to Italy by Greek already in the second millennium BC, when some colonists from Peloponnese settled on the place of future Rome, no traces of such facts are found in Italy. Several scholar also suggested the Etruscan origin theory, but it is as well unlikely. It was probably Greeks from Cumae or Gabii, coastal towns which gave Italics this alphabet. The earliest inscription written in the Latin alphabet are from Preneste (7th century BC).
The script was slowly developing, without sharp changes, and by the 4th century it acquired the forms which we use today. At first Roman could be written both from the left and from the right, and even vertically, and only in the 4th century the order from the left became strict. There were no commas and dots, nor the differentiation of capital and small letters. Words were divided by commas which were situated in the middle of the string, not at the bottom, as now.
The most significant changes which took place in Roman were the following:
a) the letter C was in fact a form of Greek gamma (G), and was often pronounced as [g] (like in personal names Cnaeus, Cai);
b) the letter K gradually changed and became C, therefore coinciding with the above and sounding [k];
c) the Greek digamma, F, was pronounced in Greek as [w], but in Latin it became [f];
d) the letter Z was officially excluded from the alphabet in 312 BC by the Roman Senate. This was due to the transfer of the sound [z] to [r] between vowels;
e) the letter H denoted aspiration;
f) the letter C, sometimes pronounced as [g], was subject to a little change and became G; therefore C remained only as [k], and K was removed from the alphabet, preserved only in several words (Kalendae, Kaeso);
g) the Roman Q came from Greek koppa, which was not used already in Greek at that time;
h) the Greek Y became V in Latin and sounded [u];
i) X sounded as [ks] in Western Greek, and so was preserved in Roman.
Emperor Claudius in the 1st century AD tried to reform the script, and introduced 3 new letters to it, in order to make the alphabet closer to the pronunciation. However, these letters, sounding [v], [ps], [y] (as in German u"), were again excluded and forgot after Claudius' death.
In the Middle Ages the letters W, J, U were invented for
the script, and this led to the form of Roman we have today. Nowadays the
Roman alphabet is used in about a hundred countries all over the world.
In Europe it is now used together with Cyrillic,
and some countries even use them both (Yugoslavia).
There are two significant varieties of the Roman script which we would like to describe here. The first is the Gaelic script, which was modified in Ireland and is now used traditionally in Ireland. It carries some important Greek influence, because Ireland in the Early Middle Ages was under the aegis of Greek monks, and the script was introduced here already in the 5th century. Nowadays in official documents the Irish use the same Roman script as the rest of Europe.
The other modification is the Fracture script, sometimes called Gothic
(not too correctly). It was invented in the Kingdom of Franks in the 11th
century on the basis of the so called Minusculus Roman script, and in the
next century spread over Western and Central Europe. It was also popular
in Italy, but disappeared there (as well as in France) in the 14th century.
In Germany it continued to be used, and its letters, very complicated in
writing, were here made even more complicated. It was used in publishing
until the 20th century, and later in Nazi Germany, because Nazi declared
returning back to Germanic origins.
Languages which used the script: Italic
(Latin and others later), Romance (all),
Celtic (Gaulish, Brythonic; Gaelic used
a variety), Germanic (all), Slavic
(Polish, Czech, Slovene, Croatian, Sorbian, other West Slavic), Baltic
(all), many non-Indo-European languages of Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia