RE: Latin vowels?

From: Marco Cimarosti (
Date: Mon Sep 09 2002 - 09:30:55 EDT

Radovan Garabik wrote:
> Originally, of course, latin had only capital letters

Well... This reminds me of people who say that language XYZ only has "one"
gender. :-)
I mean: if there was just one set of letters, how do you say they were
"capitals" or not? Are Arabic letters capitals?

Seriously speaking: the percentage of Latin text written in all capitals is
so tiny that it can probably be ignored for any practical purpose.

> A bookcase full of old (~100 years) hungarian books has just got into
> my posession. I noticed that "J" is there often used as a vowel
> at the beginning of word before consonant (where modern
> hungarian has "I").

Letter "j" ("long i") used to be a contextual variant of "i", used at the
beginning of words and in some other contexts, and it used to have no
phonetic meaning.

In was only in the 16th century which printers started using "j" for the
consonantal value of "i". This usage was immediately successful for
languages for which the two sounds were radically (e.g., English, French,
Spanish). Languages, such as Hungarian, where the consonantal sound of "i"
was /j/ were slower to adopt it. In Italian and Latin, this convention has
never been very successful, and "j" is still regarded today as a just a
variant of "i".

> Conclusion? It is pointless to talk about vowels and consonants,
> if you are speaking about a _writing_ system (especially disregarding
> the language it concerns).
> Vowels and consonants make sense when speaking about pronunciation.

I tend to agree, in general. It makes no sense to say whether a letter is a
vowel or not, because vowels are sounds, not signs of writing, and letters
map to sounds in different ways in different languages.

So I think that the purpose of this classification should be made clear.

My assumption was that this had something to do with some heuristics I
proposed for handling of the apostrophe in DUTR#29
( If this is a case,
whether or not a letter is classified as "vowel" is a purely opportunistic
and arbitrary choice, which has little or no relationship with phonetics.

But if the purpose is something different (e.g., a generic algorithm to
split words into syllables), then the answers could be very totally
different, and even evaluate to: "It's totally impossible".

_ Marco

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