Medieval Writing
The History of j

The letter j is rather different to those discussed so far, as it did not exist in Latin and, of course, a great deal of the medieval literate tradition is in Latin. This does need a little explanation. Old textbooks on the Latin language or paleography will inform you that Classical Latin had no letter for consonantal i. The use of j for this purpose in Latin textbooks predates my learning of the language at school, but contrary to popular belief that was some time after the medieval era. Nonetheless, by that time Latin scholars had come to the astonishing conclusion that if the Latin alphabet had no consonantal i, perhaps the spoken language actually didn't have one either. After all, if the founders of modern western literacy had needed a symbol for a sound, no doubt they could have managed to come up with one.

Latin pronunciation, as taught, was changed and the letter j, representing consonantal i, as it had been introduced to the language, was no longer pronounced as soft g, but as y. As a result of this and other pronunciation changes which were introduced, Iulius (or Julius) Caesar was no longer pronounced jooleeus seezar but yuleeus kizar, at least in theory. We don't actually know exactly how ancient Latin was pronounced, as they had no tape recorders, and who knows what changes might have been wrought through two millennia of church Latin, but inferences have been made through the scansion of Latin poetry and the like. The reformed pronunciation did rather spoil that piece of schoolkid doggerel that began Caesar adsum jam forte.

So basically, it is probably incorrect to say that j is exactly the same as i in both ancient and medieval Latin. More correctly, there was simply no such letter as j.

In Gothic scripts, it became common to extend the second i of a double i below the baseline as an aid to untangling the minims. This looks like a j, but for all functional purposes, it is a variant of i.

This is the word p[er]tinentiis rendered with an extended second i in a 12th century protogothic document hand.
This is the word filiis as written with an extended second i in a late 15th or 16th century German psalter in a Gothic textura book hand.
The letter j made its appearance in other languages to serve different purposes. In modern Dutch, the combination ij is used to indicate the long i sound, so it is being used as a vowel, as in words like koninklijk. In fact, j appears in various contexts in Dutch, also representing variants both on the y and soft g sounds. As in all vernacular languages, spelling was not standardised in the medieval period and a range of variants appeared.
The word pijn, as written in a 15th century Dutch book of hours in a Gothic textura script.
In this word iaer, the letter i rather than j is used for the y sound, from a different 15th century Dutch book of hours. In modern Dutch the word is jaar. You see what I mean about spelling.
Medieval Dutch and the dialects of German shared a range of spelling individualities. In modern German, the letter j is used for the y sound. Until this was standardised, other solutions were used. Some German writing masters' alphabet samples of the 16th century show no lower case j.
In this late 15th century German language document, the y sound is represented by a y in the word yemands.
In this early 16th century letter of the emperor Maximilan I, written in a cursive document hand, the word jaren is presented with a capitalised form of j.
The only words in Italian beginning with j are 20th century modernisms like jazz or jet. The soft g is rendered with gi in such words as giustizia. In Spanish, j represents an h sound, but in written form the words may appear closer to their Latin roots than the Italian.
In this early 16th century carta ejecutoria in the Spanish language, the j in justicia is written as a rather elaborate capital.
French, of course, uses j for the very soft g sound in such words as je and jeune.
The word je in a late 14th century French document in a cursive hand shows j as a large letter which resembles a capital.
In a late 15th or early 16th century French language book of hours, the word je is written with an i for j.
French was also spoken and written as a vernacular in England, albeit one which was diverging from the French of France. This word jours from a late 14th century French language document from England also uses i for j.
The letter j is not particularly common in English. In late medieval writings it might take the form of a minuscule i or a capital I, in which case words beginning with i were often also adorned with a capital. With a few added flourishes, it developed its own character.
In the word justyse, the letter j has an extended curved form. This is from a 14th century poem in a cursive book hand.
In a 15th century version of the Brut chronicle, written in a cursive script, the j of the word justs (meaning jousts) has developed large closed loops.

The letter j can be seen to be a Johnny-come-lately of the medieval alphabet, and had not quite established itself by the end of the period we are looking at here. It came to represent different sounds in different vernacular languages. Most conventions of transcription seem to work along the lines that if it looks like an i it is transcribed as an i, and if it looks like a j it is transcribed as a j, but it can be a delicate judgment (or is that iudgment?).

Histories of Individual Letters

History of Scripts
What is Paleography?

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