1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/U

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40287101911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 27 — UPeter Giles

U The twenty-first letter of the English alphabet. It is a modification made in manuscript writing of the Latin inscriptional V, and is itself found on the inscriptions of Rome as early as the latter part of the 2nd century A.D. The symbols U, V, Y are all of the same origin, but what the origin is has been much disputed. In the Phoenician alphabet T is the last symbol, but there can be little doubt that when the Greeks introduced symbols for vowels, which had not been indicated in the alphabet they had borrowed, they took the sixth symbol of the Phoenician alphabet (see F) in its ordinary formand placed it at the end of the alphabet with the value of a vowel. This vowel was apparently u (English oo in moon), though Ionic and Attic Greek at a very early period changed it to the sound of the French u. In other dialects the earlier value long persisted, and in modern Tzakonian, the representative of the ancient Laconian, it still survives. In some places, e.g. Boeotia, the sound seems to have changed, in connexion with dental consonants, in the same way as the English sound, in certain cases i̯ (y) being inserted in front of it. This seems to be the only feasible explanation of such spellings as τιούχα (τύχη), πολιούξενος (πολύξενος), which appear after the Boeotians adopted the Ionic alphabet. A similar change must have existed in very early Attic and Ionic to account for the change of t before υ into s in σύ, “thou” for τύ; some authorities think it was universal in the earliest Greek. Greek nowhere shows the symbol in the bowl shape that it has in the Semitic alphabet. From the 7th century B.C. both Y and V are found, sometimes both in the same area. Another form somewhat later has the upper strokes curved outwards Υ, while the angle is much less deep than in the other forms. It is noticeable that the symbol for u in the syllabary which was used to write Greek in Cyprus has this form amongst others. The name of the sixth symbol in the Phoenician alphabet was Wāw (Vau), but though U has taken its form, in Greek its name was ῦ (i.e. English oo, as in moon, except in Attic and Ionic, where it was like the French u in lune), not upsilon, as is frequently stated. In Sweet's terminology u (oo), as pronounced in English “put” or “too,” is a high back wide round, while the sound in the French sou or the Scotch pronunciation of “ book ” is a high back narrow round. The high front corresponding sound is found in the French lune. With this the German “modified u” (ü) is often equated, but it is not really identical, being a mid front narrow round vowel. The pitch of the vowel u is among the lowest of the vowel sounds; the rounding and protrusion of the lips make the breath passage longer than it is for other vowels, and so its production may be compared to that of a sound made upon a flute when all the finger-holes are covered. In modern English ū preceded by i̯ (y) arises from three different sounds in middle English: (a) the long French u (ü) brought in with borrowed words from French (duke), (b) ēu (Early English ēow) as in “new,” (c) a more open sound ēu (Early English ēaw) as in “dew” (Sweet, New English Grammar, § 806). The y-sound was dropped after r, ch and dzh, as in “true,” “choose,” “juice” (ibid., § 857). In the literary dialect also it generally disappears after l, as in “lurid,” “lute.” In some provincial and American pronunciations it is dropped everywhere except initially, so that “Tuesday” is pronounced Toosday, “new” noo.  (P. Gi.)