W

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by PsychoticEpisode, Jan 18, 2009.

  1. PsychoticEpisode It is very dry in here today Valued Senior Member

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    The only consonant that has more than one syllable. It looks like two V's or two U's joined together, like an upside down M but called a double-u. What's with that? I took Latin for one year in HS and the V was pronounced like a W in that language. Caesar's famous quote : veni, vidi, vici sounds like weni, widi, wici.

    How did the W come to be? Originally, were two U's used to represent the W sound & does W's association with two U's mean it was once a vowel?

    Other than the word vacuum I can't think of any words with true double U's...was it once written vacwm?

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  3. draqon Banned Banned

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    w is my second most favorite letter...
     
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  5. Athelwulf Rest in peace Kurt... Registered Senior Member

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    Hey Psychotic. I can think of a couple possible clues to the story behind w that are worth mentioning.

    Firstly, Classical Latin, if I'm not mistaken, had a w-like sound (the voiced labiovelar approximant), but not a v-like sound (the voiced labiodental fricative). The Roman alphabet, therefore, didn't need to distinguish between the two sounds. But other languages that ended up being written in the Roman alphabet, like English, have both of these sounds.

    Also, the approximant /w/ and the fricative /v/ seem to be associated with each other by speakers of Indo-European languages, because they correspond with each other across languages in this family. Compare water /ˈwɑɾɚ/ with German Wasser /ˈvasɐ/ and Russian вода /vʌ'da/.

    Wikipedia probably has a load of information on the history of the letter w. Try checking it out. I should do the same.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2009
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  7. Orleander OH JOY!!!! Valued Senior Member

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    favourite letter? Seriously? People have favourite letters?

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  8. John99 Banned Banned

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    Double U.
     
  9. draqon Banned Banned

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    well Q is my favorite letter actually...but about the "W' I was just pulling the tail.
     
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Clearly, Indo-European had a sound that we transcribe as V. The plural pronoun "you" starts with a V in many Indo-European languages, e.g., Latin vos, Sanskrit vas, pan-Slavic vy. In fact linguists call the paradigm of Indo-European second-person singular and plural pronouns the T-V Distinction.

    Nonetheless, I don't think we know for sure exactly how that V was pronounced. Without studying a second language very carefully, most anglophones don't realize that there's more than one way to make a V sound and they don't come out the same. The way we do it in English, French, Russian and many other languages is to touch our lower lip to our upper teeth; that's called labiodental V. But in German, Spanish and many other languages, they put both lips together and let air escape through a slight crack between them; that's called bilabial V.

    That bilabial V is almost as close to a W sound as it is to a V sound. (It's also pretty close to a B sound, and in fact in Spanish there's no phonemic difference between B and V, it depends on the adjacent phonemes.) This explains why the phonemes slip around and change from one to the other over the centuries; and also how two closely related languages like English and German or Spanish and Portuguese can make their V in two different ways.

    As noted by Athel, V was a semivowel in Classical Latin, pronounced like W. In fact, U and V were the same letter in Latin. When you write by chiseling letters in stone, you try to avoid having to make too many curved lines.

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    (Same goes for I and J. If you write JUAN like a Roman, it comes out IVAN, in case you didn't realize they're the same name.)

    Clearly, at some point that W sound became a bilabial V, and then in Vulgar Latin it turned into a labiodental V, which was inherited by all the Romance languages. (Spanish, as I mentioned, changed it back to a bilabial V, but Spanish has a few very strange phonemes as a result of the Arabic superstratum it got during the Moorish occupation, like its TH for soft C and its KH for soft G.)

    Many languages have only the V or W phoneme, but not both. There are others that allow W in the second position of a diphthong, e.g. AU, but not in the first position, e.g. WA. Vulgar Latin (like modern German) has plenty of words with AU, but none with UA--with the obvious exception of the combination QUA. (And I'll avoid that digression since Q has a whole thread to itself on this board.

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    )

    So by the time the Christian monks set out to develop a writing system for Anglo-Saxon, the Latin they spoke had no letter for the W sound in the first position in a diphthong. Actually they invented more than one symbol for it--see the Wikipedia article on W for some really cute ones. But eventually the "double U" was standardized. If we remember that U and V were the same letter in their alphabet, we can understand why they named VV "double U" and not "double V."[

    In Spanish it's only used in foreign words, and it's called doble u by some people and ve doble by others.
    I would never have guessed, mister draQon.

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  11. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

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    You could go one better and say the only letter with more than one syllable

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  12. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

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    Ahhhh, I always thought the Spanish just used our B sound but now I see the subtle difference
     
  13. CutsieMarie89 Zen Registered Senior Member

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    My Spanish professor said it was the B sound, or maybe she was just making it easier for us to understand. :shrug: Of course the way they pronounce the V is the same way we pronounce B isn't it?
     
  14. Enmos Staff Member

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    I always thought the name 'double u' was kind of.. well stupid

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    Pronouncing it 'wee' would be more logical imo..
     
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    There are many aspects to the discipline of "linguistics." You will find that people who teach foreign languages are not necessarily experts in phonetics. You could probably do a decent job of teaching a hispanophone to speak American English, but could you explain to him the difference between the T in "today", "study" and "better"? Do you even hear them as allophones--different pronunciations of the same phoneme? In "today" the T is aspirated: hang a square of toilet paper in front of your mouth and a little puff of air will make it move. The T in "study" is unaspirated: the toilet paper won't budge. The T in "better" isn't a proper T at all, it's a flap; identical to the Spanish R. (The Brits pronounce it as a genuine T, one of the most easily recognizable differences between American and British dialect. In the UK "leader" and "liter" are not homonyms.)

    In exactly the same manner, your teacher doesn't hear the B in ambiente and the V in tranvia (which are the first allophone of the phoneme) as different from the B in abuelo and the V in llevar (which are the second allophone of the same phoneme).

    Allophones arise for convenience in pronunciation and are formed unconsciously. Without training, most people don't notice them at all.
    That's not such a simple question. B and V are identical in Spanish, but as I noted above there are two pronunciations depending on the surrounding letters. A B or a V between two vowels, or between a vowel and L or R, is a voiced bilabial fricative, which is not quite the same as our V. Instead of placing your lower lip against your upper teeth, put your lips together somewhat loosely and let the sound come out through the tiny space between them. It should sound like a cross between our B and W. Practice on aves, hablar, abrir, huevos, amable, obras.

    In all other positions, yes Spanish B and V are pronounced like an English B, an unaspirated voiced bilabial stop. Practice on bueno, Alvarez, plombo, yerba.
    How about aitch and wye? There isn't one word in our language in which either of those letters is pronounced that way!

    Some languages are worse in the naming of their letters. In Spanish, Y is called I griega, "Greek I." The Germans just give up and call it by its Greek name: Ypsilon, pronouncing the Y like an umlauted U just the way the ancient Greeks did. (In Modern Greek it's just an EE sound.)

    However, the Germans at least call W weh, pronounced "vay," which conforms to their invariant pronunciation of the sound of the letter. The call V vau, pronouced "fow," since, at least in words of German origin, V is always pronounced like an F. The name is an odd hybrid of the names of the Hebrew letter waw (Classical Hebrew phonetics) or vav (liturgical and modern Israeli Hebrew).
     
  16. Enmos Staff Member

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    At least they are one syllable

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    In Dutch all the letters are pretty much called like they sound, except maybe the "Z" which is pronounced 'Zet'. But you can still hear what the letter itself is supposed to sound like, not so with double-u (in English).

    Do you know why it is called double-u ?
    Edit: Never mind, I see you already explained that earlier on

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    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 23, 2009
  17. PsychoticEpisode It is very dry in here today Valued Senior Member

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    They are famous you know, www.

    Three syllable letter but usually pronounced with the middle syllable silent as in George Dubya.

    W.... wouldn't it make more sense to call it double-v?

    A lot of people print the W using double u's, rounded v's if you like. I don't believe I've ever seen a round bottomed W in people's handwriting but I imagine some might do so.
     
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    * * * * Moderator's Note * * *

    PLEASE READ THE ANSWER IN POST #7 BEFORE ASKING WHY THE LETTER W IS CALLED "DOUBLE U" INSTEAD OF "DOUBLE V."
    That varies by region. I've lived in Illinois, Arizona, California and Maryland. In all those places it was pronounced as three syllables. Sometimes quickly as "dub-a-you" or "dub-a-yuh," but just as often pronounced fairly carefully as "double-you." No one I've ever met said "dub-ya." I always assumed that was a comic exaggeration of Southern dialect.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2009
  19. PsychoticEpisode It is very dry in here today Valued Senior Member

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    Pardonez-moi.....I screwed up

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    Along the same lines as the Q....what word in the English language contains the most w's..... does powwow count? Probably the most w's for a 6 letter word, no? I was wondering if wowwed is a word also.
     
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Well that wasn't directed at you personally. Many people seem to have browsers that can't scroll upward.

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    I didn't look up "wow," the verb, in Dictionary.com because I'm sure if it was there you would have told me. (Okay that was personal.

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    ) But I doubt it. We don't double a final W to add suffixes: No screwwed or allowwed.
     
  21. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

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    Very insightful. I wouldn't have thought by looking at those three words that the 't' sounds were very different but you have to try this (obviously I understood without having to use the toilet paper

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    )

    Gives you an idea of why we can still so easily tell non-english native speaking accents even if they are fairly fluent and appear to be using all the correct rules!
     

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