1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/S

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21937081911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 23 — SPeter Giles

S the twenty-first letter of the Phoenician alphabet, is one of the four sibilants which that alphabet possesses. In the Phoenician alphabet it takes a form closely resembling the English W, and this when moved through an angle of 90° is the ordinary Greek sigma Σ. In Phoenician itself and in the other Semitic alphabets the position of the middle legs of the W is altered so that the symbol takes such forms as or or , ultimately ending sometimes in a form like K laid sideways, K. In Greek, where Σ is the twentieth letter of the alphabet, or, if the merely numerical ϛ and ϙ are excluded, the eighteenth, another form or according to the direction of the writing is also widespread. This, which is the only form of the earliest period at Cumae, where it is also found more rounded , is the origin of the Latin S and its descendants. The development from the angular to the curved shape of S may be seen in its occurrences on the early cippus found in the Roman Forum in 1899. Apart from doubtful instances it is there six times clearly engraved; four of the instances are angular, the other two are more or less rounded. The Semitic name of the symbol is shin; the Greek name sigma may mean merely the hissing letter and may be a genuine Greek derivative from the verb σίζω, hiss. Some, however, see in it a corruption of the Semitic name samekh, the letter which corresponds in alphabetic position and in shape to the Greek ξ (x). The Dorian Greeks, however, as Herodotus tells us (i. 139), called that letter san which the Ionian Greeks called sigma; san seems more likely to be an attempt to reproduce the Semitic name. Herodotus says nothing of a difference in shape, but most authorities regard the form Ϻ, which with the value of s is practically confined to Doric areas, as being san. In the compound σαμφόρας, san like koppa (κοππατίας) was known to the Athenians as a brand for highbred horses (cf. Aristophanes, Clouds, 122, 1298, 23, 438). For the symbol Ͳ which was used at Ephesus and other places in Asia Minor and elsewhere for the sound represented by -σσ- in Ionic Greek, by -ττ- in Attic, see Alphabet. Further points of difficulty in connexion with the sibilants are discussed under X and Z. The pronunciation of s was originally unvoiced: in English it is often used for the voiced sound as well, compare lose with loose, house with houses. At the end of words the voiced sound is often written with -s, the unvoiced with -ss as in his and hiss. In other cases the pronunciation can be ascertained only from the context, as in use, unvoiced for the substantive, voiced for the verb. Sometimes a difference of meaning is indicated by difference of spelling though the sounds in the two words are identical, as in furs and furze. The voiced form of s (i.e. z) readily passes into r in many languages: compare the Eng. hare with the Ger. Hase, the Eng. ear and Lat. auris with the Gothic auso and Lithuanian ausìs, “ear.” Here also should be mentioned the sound sh, which, like th, is not a combination of sounds though written with two symbols. Hence in transcription from foreign languages and in works on phonetics it is represented by or š. The difference in formation between s and is that the former is dental or alveolar, the latter is produced farther back and has at least two varieties. In the usual Eng. sh the tip of the tongue is bent backwards so that the tongue becomes spoon-shaped. The voiced sound to this is generally written z as in azure, but sometimes s as in pleasure. The sound of sh is also sometimes represented by s, as in sure, sugar. This is occasioned by the y-sound with which u now begins, and is carried further in dialect than in the literary language, sue and suit, for example, being pronounced in Scotland like the Eng. shoe and shoot. The sh sound is sometimes not even written with a sibilant, as in the pronunciation of the ci and ti of words like rhetorician and nation.  (P. Gi.)