Why does the English-language name for the letter Y start with a w-sound?
I can’t tell why it sounds like a “w” … it just does…I can tell you where it came from…which might help clarify some confusion on the letter.
Y, the twenty-fifth letter of the English alphabet, at the beginning of a word or syllable, except when a prefix , is usually a fricative vocal consonant; as a prefix, and usually in the middle or at the end of a syllable, it is a vowel.It derives its form from the Latin Y, which is from the Greek [Upsilon], originally the same letter as V.
Y has been called the Pythagorean letter, because the Greek letter [Upsilon] was taken represent the sacred triad, formed by the duad proceeding from the monad; and also because it represents the dividing of the paths of vice and virtue in the development of human life.
And no I did not pull this from memmory…I did a little research.
well, you couldn’t pronounce it I or E, the two vowel sounds that Y takes. i suppose it could have been “Yuh,” though.
the way it’s pronounced now does seem like it would have been more appropriate for W, which is hardly ever pronounced like a double-u anymore (a shout-out for all you cwm fans). the letter was a relative latecomer, i believe, so maybe all the good sounds were taken by the time they got to the second-to-last letter.
in other words, i have no idea, but i can’t really think of a better way to pronounce Y. maybe nobody else could either.
One theory, which doesn’t sound very convincing to me, goes like this: Y looks like a V or U (which were used interchangeably for a long time) on top of an i. It was thus pronounced “oo-eye”, which when pronounced as a diphthong sounds like “wye”.
Another theory is that the symbol Y in English originally represented a sound like that of u or maybe ü (German u-umlaut). This sound then contribute the first part of the diphthong “wye”.
In Spanish, it’s sometimes called “y griega”, “The Greek Y”.
And it’s pronounced completely differently.
AFAIK, in Spanish the letter “Y” is always called “i griega” where “i” is an American “eeee” sound. So, it’s the “Greek I” not the Greek Y. Otherwise, Spanish doesn’t have the letter Y, so why bother calling it the “Greek Y” when there’s not a “Spanish Y”?
I think most of the Latin/Romance languages call it the same thing. For the life of me, I can remember how the Germans call it, but IIRC I think it’s the same concept – the “Greek I.”
The OED says the the pronunciation “is of obscure origin.” I doubt we’ll get closer than that.
In German, Y is known as ipsilon, thus reflecting the same Greek origin that the Romance languages recognize.
From Chambers Dictionary of Etymology:
Modern English yard, yarrow, etc., developed from Old English Words with initial g. In Old English the graphic symbol g (often transcribed as (here the book had a z-like symbol) or some variant of that symbol and known as yogh, especially in Middle English) stood for both g in finger and y in yet.
Guess this means “y” might be “yogh”. At least that’s my guess.
I think “yah” would be fine name for Y. “Yee” Would be more regular, I guess, but sounds weird.
IIRC, the alternative for “y griega” in Spanish is “ya”
I sure can’t think of any spanish words with “y” in them. Every word I can think of has “i” or “ll” instead.