1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/M

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M The thirteenth letter of the Phoenician and Greek alphabets, the twelfth of the Latin, and the thirteenth of the languages of western Europe. Written originally from right to left, it took the form EB1911 - M - Fig. 1.jpg which survives in its earliest representations in Greek. The greater length of the first limb of m is characteristic of the earliest forms. From this form, written from left to right, the Latin abbreviation M’ for the praenomen Manius is supposed to have developed, the apostrophe representing the fifth stroke of the original letter. In the early Greek alphabets the four-stroke M with legs of equal length represents not m but s; m when written with four strokes is EB1911 - M - Fig. 2.jpg. The five-stroke forms, however, are confined practically to Crete, Melos and Cumae; from the last named the Romans received it along with the rest of their alphabet. The Phoenician name of the symbol was mem, the Greek name μῦ is formed on the analogy of the name for n. M represents the bilabial nasal sound, which was generally voiced. It is commonly a stable sound, but many languages, e.g. Greek, Germanic and Celtic, change it when final into -n, its dental correlative. It appears more frequently as an initial sound in Greek and Latin than in the other languages of the same stock, because in these s before m (as also before l and n) disappeared at the beginning of words. The sounds m and b are closely related, the only difference being that, in pronouncing m, the nasal passage is not closed, thus allowing the sound to be prolonged, while b is an instantaneous or explosive sound. In various languages b is inserted between m and a following consonant, as in the Gr. μεσημβρία “mid-day,” or the English “number,” Fr. nombre from Lat. numerus. The sound m can in unaccented syllables form a syllable by itself without an audible vowel, e.g. the English word fathom comes from an Anglo-Saxon faþm, where the m was so used. (For more details as to this phonetic principle, which has important results in the history of language, see under N.)  (P. Gi.)