RE: thorn vs. y or th, eth and other similar letters/signs

From: Michael Maxwell (
Date: Sat Oct 27 2007 - 14:47:41 CDT

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    Philippe Verdy wrote:
    > 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.

    I believe the similarity of shapes must be coincidence. The modern word 'you', used in both singular and plural of second person, surely comes from ME 'you' (2nd plural accusative, with 'ye' as the nominative and 'your' as the genitive), while the ME 'thou/thee/thy' (2nd singular nominative/ accusative/genitive) simply died out in most modern dialects. The singular ME forms are presumably cognate with the 'tu' forms in Romance languages, while I believe the plural ME forms are cognate with the Romance 'vous' (vosotros in Spanish) forms. Cognate in their descent from Proto-Indoeuropean, of course--since their reflexes can be found in other Germanic languages, not to mention Old English.
       Mike Maxwell
       CASL/ U MD

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