Date: Tue, 7 Dec 1993 10:03:00 +0100
From: Hans Vappula guchw[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]GD.CHALMERS.SE
Subject: More on Eth and thorn
From the keyboard of
Roger Vanderveen rvander[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]ichips.intel.com
This is an idea of mine, and I'd like to get some opinions on it.
I believe that the letter thorn didn't die out all that early, but was still in
use up until the 18th century, and we still see its occasional use today. I am
referring to the way that the word "the" was spelled as "ye". In old scripts
the letter "y" in "ye" looks like a thorn, and eventually the "y" replaced the
Right. Do you actually mean thorn and not eth? Compare: Below is a
lowercase thorn, hex FE, 254 decimal in ISO 8859-1.
Below is a lowercase Faroese-Icelandic lowercase eth, hex F0, 240 decimal
in ISO 8859-1:
Below is an attempt at a script y of the type you probably are referring to
above (admittedly not a good one, but you can't expect miracles from 7-bit
Looks more like eth than thorn to me...
Pronunciation could have been consistent with either spelling. The thorn sound
may not have been pronounced (compare modern English dialects which pronounce
"thee" as "ee"). But as the spelling using "y"/thorn died out in favor of
"th" (which was there all along), the "th" became no longer silent.
What think ye?
Aye, what think ye?
Dennis Preston states:
Worse yet, thoseof us who have a voiceless interdental in final position in
with would have been badly represented in the spelling w - i - eth .
The why not use w-i-thorn as a variant, just like colour-color etc.
(admittedly somewhat hypothetical, but since you mentioned it I couldn't
not forget what a boon to variation English spelling often is. What variety
would we select if we really wanted to phonemicize (since I assume nobody
wants to phoneticise) English spelling.
Yawl woodn wunt tuh use mahn, wood yuh?
Naw, Uh'spawze nouhtt...
Robert Kelly (kelly[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]levy.bard.edu) points out:
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
A small but very common lexicon, I'd say. The, this, that, they, their,
them are among the most common words in English (all variants), aren't
I'm guessing that the obsolescence of the sound eth made the
graphemic distinction less important.
Obsolescence??? See above. Nevertheless (never eth eless), the said
distinction must have been *considered to be* 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,
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!
If you mean the initial sound in Groningen has been lost in Scots, how do
you then pronounce Loch Ness? Or maybe the sound was reintroduced by Gaelic
influence... Also, you could cross the Atlantic in a nor eth erly direction
and find it as an optional and alternative pronunciation to final hard G in
//Hans Vappula, Gothenburg Universities' Computing Centre, G|teborg, Sweden
Hans Vappula * guchw[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]gd.chalmers.se * hans.vappula[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]gd.gu.se ([AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] = at sign)