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Author Topic: Why is our 'W' pronounced differently?  (Read 5739 times)

Jayson

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Why is our 'W' pronounced differently?
« on: March 12, 2013, 09:26:12 PM »
Can anyone tell me why it is that in all the other Germanic languages the 'W' is pronounced as a 'V' but not in either Old or Modern English?
Wessex Woman

Iohannes

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Re: Why is our 'W' pronounced differently?
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2013, 08:51:12 AM »
Among the Germanic languages, English is maybe the one that has evolved most. Nevertheless, it has retained bits and pieces of archaich features no other languages in the group, not even German, retained. I'm going to post a list of them when (when  ::) ?) I have time.
 
Among the archaic features retained by English, there is the preservation of:
 
w as a labiovelar semivowel (whereas in all Germanic languages it became a voiced labiodental fricative)
 
th as a voiced or unvoiced dental (? I don't remember the articolation well  :( ) fricative. Only Icelandic does the same, whereas, in the other Germanic languages, the sound evolved into /d/ or /t/.
 
I hope all above is clear.

Jayson

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Re: Why is our 'W' pronounced differently?
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2013, 07:32:11 PM »
----um, sorry, clear as mud!!!   Could you give me some 'ferinstances?   Thanks.
Wessex Woman

Iohannes

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Re: Why is our 'W' pronounced differently?
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2013, 11:56:31 PM »
You’re right, Jayson, I may have been a little too technical, I’m sorry. As per your request, I’ll try to clarify everything with some examples.

The sound /w/  is the sound of w in ‘water’ (Pgmc. *watar), ‘wine’ (Pgmc. *winam < Lat. vīnum) etc, and is the original sound in all Germanic languages:

Pgmc: *watar, *winam;
Gothic: wato, wein
OE:     wæter, wīn;
OFris:  wetir, wīn;
OS:     water, wīn;
OHG:  wazzar, wīn.
ON:    vatn, vīn (the evolution took place earlier in the North Germanic Languages)

Please, note that the sound /v/ didn’t exist in classical Latin. The letter v sounded Like /u/ or /w/, so ‘vinum’ sounded approximately like /wi:num/, not /vi:num/. In vulgar Latin, above sounds gradually evolved into /v/, which is the phonetic value in use in all Romance languages.

In the course of their evolution, in all Germanic languages, except English, the sound /w/ evolved into /v/:

English:          water, wine
West Frisian:  weter, wyn;
Dutch:          water, wijn;
German:       Wasser, Wein;
Icelandic:      vatn, vín;
Danish:     vand, vin;
Swedish:       vatten, vin;
Norwegian:    vann, vin

So English was the only Germanic language to preserve the original sound.

Moreover, the th sound sounded unvoiced ( /θ/, e g ‘to think’) or voiced (/đ/, e g ‘that’; ‘brother’) in most old Germanic languages, then it evolved into d /d/ and, sometimes into t /t/ in all modern Germanic languages except English and Icelandic:

Pgmc:           þankjan, þat, brōþar;
Gothic:         þagkjan, þata, bróþar;
OE:              þencan, þæt, brōþor;
OFris:           thinka, thet, brōther;
OS:              thenkian, that, brōther;
OHG:           denchen, daz, bruodar;
ON:             þekkja, þat, bróđir;
English:          think, that, brother;
West Frisian:  tinke, dat, broer;
Dutch:          denken, dat, broer;
German:       denken, das, Bruder;
Icelandic:      ---------, þađ, brođir;
Danish:     tænke, det, broder;
Swedish:       --------, ------, bror;
Norwegian:    --------, ------, bror.

I hope the whole matter is clearer now.

All the best

Jayson

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Re: Why is our 'W' pronounced differently?
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2013, 03:53:14 PM »
---indeed it is, many thanks.  I didn't get to University since I left school in the 50s and not many of us did then.   I left (at 15) with 7 academic O levels, then did a secretarial course which was very intensive and included beginners' German.   We had a brilliant teacher and we became so enthusiastic that six of us took O Level German after a year and six of us got it.   Mr Smith was very keen on showing us the connections between English and German and one in particular surprised me.   "Take thorpe", he said one day, "then harden the 'th' to a 'd' and the 'p' to a 'f' and you get 'dorf'   Both mean village"    Knowing what I know now, if I were 60 years younger I'd do a linguistics degree.
Wessex Woman

Iohannes

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Re: Why is our 'W' pronounced differently?
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2013, 04:20:41 PM »
My pleasure, dear Jayson (is it your real name or a nickname?). I've always been very keen on Germanic languages, and I love English and German. I specialized in Germanic Philology at university and my two-year course in this subject was a fascinating journey, though many fellow students had tried to discourage me from enrolling because, in their opinion, this subject was boring. I even wrote my degree thesis in Germanic Philology with a study on the OE translation of the Benedictine Rule.
 
Mr Smith sounds like just the type of teacher I like, too. Take care, my friend  :) .

Jayson

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Re: Why is our 'W' pronounced differently?
« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2013, 01:58:03 PM »
---at last I've got round to answering!   Firstly, I got my password and userword mixed up and I should have been 'Cliffhild' to which hangs a very long and odd story.  Yes, Mr Smith was brilliant, best teacher I ever had.  I can still remember him coming into the class that first day, a funny little rabbit kind of a man.   When we had finally quietened down he said what sounded like:
Man bring boot here
We gazed at him in stuperfaction.  Then he said,
It's not very good English, is it?'  We shook our heads.   'It's not very good German either, but you'd both understand one another.'   
He then spent the first lesson showing how similar German and English are and we went away thinking, this is going to be a doddle!
The next lesson he spent telling us how to pronounce words and where to put words in a sentence (verbs at the end, etc.).  He finished by telling us to go away and talk to one another like stage Germans until the next less.  And because it was so funny, we did!
After that, of course, it became more difficult but the best advice he gave us was to learn the vocabulary by heart and to learn the grammar by heart and then put them together, after which we'd know enough German for 'O' level.   And of course, he was right.  At the end of the 9 months course, six of us took 'O' level and six of us got it.
I can imagine that German philology must have been really interesting, connecting all the Germanic languages.   I've been interested to find Sanscrit words which came into English with the A-S --  abode, abide, for instance, and up.   And to find on the first page of the Holy Book of the Zoroastrians 'By Name Gad'.
Can you suggest a not-too-difficult book I could attempt about the spread of our language?
Wessex Woman

Iohannes

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Re: Why is our 'W' pronounced differently?
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2013, 10:58:28 PM »
Quote
Can you suggest a not-too-difficult book I could attempt about the spread of our language?[/size]

[/size]
[/size]That's a good question. I wish I could help you but, unfortunately, all the books I know are in Italian, and I'm afraid I haven't got a clue about appropriate books in English. I can't promise you anything, but, please, just let me think it over and, if I come across a suitable book, I'll let you know.
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[/size]Take care :) .