Thursday, April 27, 2006

Gratulerar, Sverige!

There's a new member of the Swedish orthographic family: It's a W! The Swedish Academy has officially granted the letter W its own section in the dictionary. (Note the article's file photo of an actual W! :-P

Until now, words beginning with W were listed in the V section, since they are pronounced the same in Swedish, and any words with W were foreign borrowings anyway.

We usually think of the V sound in English as characteristic of Germanic accents (Nordic, German, Dutch, etc.), but in fact, the W was original to all Germanic languages in the beginning, even though only English preserved the sound. (Compare Lat. ventus; Eng. wind; Ger. wind; Sw. vind)

The German and Scandinavian dialects underwent the same change, from [w] to [v]. German, using the latin alphabet kept the w-spelling, while Norse changed to v. The original Germanic runic alphabet, the Elder Futhark had from the beginning a separate rune for W, but not for V. The letter V was sometimes represented by F (in Old English, where F surrounded by vowels was pronounced like v: hence knife/knives, wife/wives, etc.), sometimes by W (in places where it would end up becoming a V). Notice in the Dalrunes set of Younger Futhark how the runic V is simply a modified F.


Johan said...

Ask me to say the alphabet in Swedish, and nine times out of then I'll jump from "v" to "x", forgetting "w".


Anonymous said...

Now you reminded me of that poor little girl in the Spelling Bee who misspelled 'weltschmerz'