thorn vs. y or th, eth and other similar letters/signs (was: Level of Unicode support required for various languages)

From: Philippe Verdy (
Date: Sat Oct 27 2007 - 05:57:47 CDT

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    Mark E. Shoulson wrote:
    > Andrew West's clarification of how they got to be same-but-different was
    > also helpful. It's a little like the y in "ye olde shoppe", which by
    > rights should be coded "že", since it isn't a y but a thorn; the
    > distinction between the two wore away. OK, not a good example because
    > there it IS unified with the y and here the argument is for keeping them
    > separate, but whatever.

    Thanks for pointing the relations between old thorn and y in modern English.
    I know very few things about old English.

    I did not realise that the old orthography "thou" (common in English priest
    books and Bible) for the modern "you" could have a common origin with the
    same original thorn letter, which was transliterated differently between the
    two orthographies. I initially thought that the change of orthography was
    justified only by change of phonetics, but now it seems that the original
    orthography with thorn allowed two possible realizations.

    Did this dual phonetic or evolution occur also in other Nordic languages
    using thorn (in Icelandic notably)?

    Finally, are there modern printed usage of this letter form (approximately
    drawn with ASCII art below) that maintains some visual relation between y
    and thorn (found in some handwritten modern English texts, but where I did
    not suspect it could be read as a thorn):

     __ #____________ (ascending height)
     __## ### _______ (x-height)
       ## ##
       ## ##
       ## ##
     ___####__________ (base line)
     __##_____________ (descending height)

    Are there other similar associations with letter eth? I think about it
    because the modern spelling of "though" would have been most probably
    associated to the softer and voiced eth (as in the initial y of "young")
    rather than the harder and unvoiced thorn (like in "thing").

    Also of interest, is there some relation or common origin with the paragraph
    sign (§) which also looks very similar in some font styles (instead of using
    two vertically shifted S, it looks more like a C and a mirrored C also
    combined vertically)?

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