Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1993 22:47:48 EST
From: Robert Kelly kelly[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]LEVY.BARD.EDU
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!