The word “Gothic” is used in the context of writing systems to describe three very different, unrelated, styles of writing:
- the Gothic alphabet: historically written in an uncial style, and invented for the Gothic language;
- the Visigothic script: a minuscule script of the Latin alphabet, used in Iberia to write Latin text when Iberia was ruled by the Visigoths; and
- “gothic” scripts: a popular name for many blackletter scripts of the Latin alphabet (including Fraktur); these have been used for writing many languages.
- This page refers only to the first sense - the Gothic alphabet, now extinct. This script is thought to have been invented around 350AD by the bishop Ulfilas for the purpose of translating the Bible into the Gothic language. The runic script which had previously been used for writing this language had strong associations with Germanic paganism, so was not deemed appropriate for this purpose. The Gothic language continued to be spoken until the 17th century, but there is no record of the script being used beyond the 6th century.
- Ulfilas based the Gothic script largely on an uncial form of the Greek alphabet, with some influence from the Runic and Latin scripts also. It was written from left to right, without spaces between words. Some texts were written with a space, dot or colon between phrases and others were colometric, with every distinctive clause starting on a new line.
- The script was comprised of twenty-seven letters. Consonants were written with one symbol to represent one sound. Vowels were written with one symbol or a digraph to represent each sound. Nasals were optionally omitted in writing from the ends of words. Ligatures were used very rarely.
- There were no numbers in the Gothic script; rather, each letter was assigned a numeric value. If a symbol was intended to be read as a number, it was horizontally flanked by centred dots, or vertically flanked by horizontal lines.