RE: Latin vowels?

From: Andrew C. West (
Date: Tue Sep 10 2002 - 05:54:34 EDT

jarkko.hietaniemi@n... wrote:

> Off-hand, it seems that in English "y" mostly* is [j] if in initial position,
> otherwise it's either [i] or [ai]. So it's either one consonant, or one or
> vowels...

From a philological point of view, initial "y" in Modern English originally derives from a palatal
"g" [j] in Old English. Similarly, final "y" in Modern English originally derives from final "ig"
[ij] in Old English (final y in words of non-OE etymology are later innovations), and thus the
Modern English final y can be considered to be a silent consonant preceded by an elided letter "i".
Only the medial y (as in "wynn") is a true vowel, deriving from Old English "y" [y]. BTW, the letter
wynn [U+01BF and U+01F7] (derived from the rune of the same name [U+16B9]) represents Old English
"w", and should not be considered a vowel.
"y" is an ambiguous case in Modern English, but in Welsh it is unequivocally a vowel; and I'm sure
that there are orthographies where "y" is unequivocally a consonant. Which all goes to show, as
several of you have pointed out, that it really is meaningless to try to make a generalised
vowel/consonant distinction.


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