Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1993 22:47:48 EST


Subject: Re: Eth and thorn - why did they vanish?

one problem: the Y as grapheme equivalent of thorn lasted only in words

where eth was the sound wanted: Ye Olde Teashoppe, etc. As an earlier

respondent noted, in Middle English texts these letters are (I think) hope-

lessly interchangeable. Recall that thorn was still "productive" (as it

still is, i.e., show someone a made-up word with th- in it and they'll

pronounce it with a theta) and eth restricted to a very small lexicon, mostly

deictic words. I'm guessing that the obsolescence of the sound eth made the

graphemic distinction less important. Then too, the snazzy new typefaces

coming in from Italy in the Renaissance had no eths and thorns, and we all

wanted to look like Aldus in those days. (Personally, I miss the yog letter, looked like 3 you remember, and lingers as the z in Mackenzie and Dalziell, as

the gh in laugh, the w in law, etc. A good sound we have to cross the Channel

to Holland to hear still. Even the Scots have lost it!