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From: John Bishop <jbishop@blkbrd.zko.dec.com>
Subject: (urth) Re: edh and thorn [Digest urth.v024.n024]
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 09:14:46 

The confusion is understandable, as the history is messy.

At one point in the past English had both (as Icelandic does
now), but subsequently edh disappeared and thorn was used for
both voiced and voiceless forms.  Since early print sets didn't
have thorns, people did another substitution, using "y" for thorn,
as the two letters are somewhat similiar in shape and don't conflict
much (few minimal pairs).  Thus we get "ye olde tea shoppe" -- and
of course, even later on, people read that with a "y" rather than a
thorn and get even more confused.

<pedantry starts>

It all starts with speakers of one of the ancestral Germanic
languages using a varient of the alphabet in Northern Italy well
before the Roman Era.  They wrote on wood or scratched on stone,
and changed the letter forms to suit the material: lots of 
verticals, no curves, horizontals become diagonals, etc.
This leads to the many runic alphabets.  But the bottom line
is "D" becomes thorn, which is nicely ironic.

When English begins to be written in the Latin alphabet, thorn
and another letter (used for some kind of spirant and later on
replaced by "g" or "gh") are borrowed to represent sounds in
English not well represented in the Latin alphabet.  They are
gradually replaced by Latin letters.

I don't know the history of "edh", sorry.

<end of digression>

Dragging this back to Wolfe by main force, I note that we have
evidence that Severian's alphabet is like ours: at one point we
are told that "s" looks like a snake and "t" like a cross.  Are
there any other hints?

	-John Bishop, letting his long-ago linguistics degree
                      take over for a minute or two.

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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