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.

2 comments:

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".

//JJ

Anonymous said...

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

--hobbitfoot