The letter "w" - double U or double V?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Waterdash, Apr 19, 2009.

  1. Waterdash Senior Member

    English (US)
    I know in some languages, such as English, the letter "W" is said as "double u". In some other languages, like Romanian, it translates to "double v". Why is this?
  2. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Because that is the origin of that letter - "VV" developped into "W".
  3. origumi Senior Member

    The mentioned link (Wikipedia for W) contains the following text:
    Which seems strange until we learn (Wikipedia for U) that:
    And yet, neither explains why some languages call it "double U" and other "double V".
  4. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Oh, I really should read thoroughly the links I quote, even when I think I know what is standing there. :D

    Well, in Latin monumental script V and U were identical - they were both written V; and in cursive (minuscel) scripts they were both written U.
    And only context told you if the letter should be read as U or V.
    I don't know exactly the point when both letters were written as distinct letters consistently (here Linnets and Outsider discuss that it must have happened sometime between the 16th and the 19th century), but that's not the point here anyway.

    So it is no mystery as for why both names exist - both double V and double U refer to the Latin letter.
    The only thing which we don't know yet, and I'm sorry I can't be of help here, is why one language uses one variety while the other one uses the other. I can only guess that this is due to some arbitrary fact of the history of either language. :)
  5. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Senior Member

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    In English, the letter w arose out of the need for a letter representing the phoneme /w/, and at first, it was represented as uu. In Old English, for a while, it was replaced by the runic letter 'wynn', then uu came back and was finally replaced by w.

    In Swedish, the letter was introduced after it had been formalised as a double V, but only as a variant of single v, and in borrowed words. The phoneme /w/ doesn't exist in Swedish, but we use it for English loan words.

    Perhaps the German encyclopedias have some explanation about the German history of W, but I'll leave that research to the German speakers.

    In Spanish, the phoneme doesn't exist, and in borrowed words, like whisky, the spelling is often changed to suit Spanish spelling rules: güisqui :D

  6. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    Which are the other languages, except English, where "W" is said as "double u"?

    In Finnish the phoneme doesn't exist either, and "whisky" is pronounced and usually also spelled viski.
  7. Waterdash Senior Member

    English (US)
    I know in Spanish, you can say it in multiple ways (five according to Wikipedia), including both double u and double v.
  8. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    As far as I know, in Spanish "double u" is used only for English words or words of English origin. Or am I wrong?
  9. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Senior Member

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    Yes and no: the letter itself is mainly used for English loan words, but they call it double v (uve doble/doble uve/ve doble/doble ve), and in some parts of Latin America, double u (doble u) because of English influence.

  10. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    In the case of English I suspect because the name is very old. Neither Old English nor classical Latin had the phoneme /v/. It was introduced only in the ME period, originally for French load words. In the 7th century, when the letter (or rather the ligature) was introduced to spell old English, it is hard to imagine how you could it "double-vee".
  11. Fred_C

    Fred_C Senior Member

    I think you are wrong.
    There certainly are also many German borrowings, Polish borrowings, etc.. in Spanish also...
  12. ManPaisa

    ManPaisa Banned

    Here and there in a topsy-turvy world
    AmE (New England) / español (Colombia)
    Including, but not limited to, placenames.
  13. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Well, in German "W" also was written "uu" or "u" in old texts; the pronunciation of "W" (which originally - supposedly - was the same as in English) changed to [v] (or rather a labiodental approximant in my opinion, or at least for Austrian pronunciation - and I was quite surprised to find the "approximant theory" mentioned in German Wikipedia ;)).

    But the letter itself isn't called either "double U" or "double V", in German the letter just is called "WE" (as opposed to "FAU" = "V").
  14. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    Of course. I meant generally loan words.
    Spanish placenames?

    Hey guys, please don't think I'm an idiot!
  15. effeundici Senior Member

    Italian - Tuscany
    In Italian Vu doppia (double vi)
  16. stultus New Member

    Hebrew, English
    Just to summarise (maybe mostly for me ;)):
    The original Latin alphabet was derived from the strong regional alphabet which came before it: Greek, which in turn borrowed from the Phoenician alphabet (which is also used more or less by Aramaic and Hebrew). The Phoenician alphabet is an Abjad alphabet and doesn't contain vowels proper. Certain letters can function as either consonant or vowel, depending on context - these are known in Hebrew as the Ehevi (אהוי) letters.

    Of these four letters, two, whose sounds didn't really help the latter languages became only vowels. Aleph became alpha became "A" (א-> Α/α -> A). Hey became Epsilon became "A" (ה -> Ε/ε -> E).

    The other two, while for Greek became mostly vowels (acting as "consonants" in diphthongs, yes), remained in their context-sensitive abjad form also in Latin:
    Waw/Vav became Upsilon became "V" (ו -> Υ/υ -> v)
    Yod became Iota became "I" (י -> Ι/ι -> I)
    For example, our friend Julius:

    Where does all this lead us, exactly?
    Only in the Middle Ages did a distinguation between the the vowel and consonant application of "v" and "i" arise visually in the orthography, so that "u" was introduced to act as vowel while "v" maintained its part as a consonant, and "j" was introduced as the consonant counterpart to "i" (notice that the two pairs are adjacent in the alphabet).

    And so, since historically "u" and "v" are the same letter but with different (minute) visual representation, it is possible to understand why the letter "w", itself a later "invention", can be named in different ways.

    (That is a very long way to say a very simple thing.)
  17. franz rod Senior Member

    Moderator note:
    Parts of this post and replies to it have been moved to this tread.

    The "distinguation between the wovel and consonant application" of "i" arise also during the roman empire.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2009
  18. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Basically yes but the detour going back to Phoenician wasn't really necessary because the Latin script did properly distinguish between vowels and consonants. The Romans just didn't distinguish between vowels an semivowels but this has nothing to do with the Semitic roots of their writing system but with the Logic of their own language. And classical Latin didn't have the sound [v] so they needed no sign for it. The letter V was pronouced either as a vowel or as a semivowel.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2009

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