Jordan's Blog - W

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Noah 2019-07-16

Latin doesn’t have the letter W.

Or the letter U for that matter, they really just used the letter V for all three. Church Latin made the V sound like the V sound we know today, but please remember that Caesar’s famous summary of his military exploit while written Veni, Vidi, Vici would have been pronounced Weyni Weedy Weekee. Which sounds way funnier.

But wait.

What? Why? Who would want no W?

Why do all of our interrogative pronouns start with “Wh” by the way?

In Latin these words all start with Qu-, what’s up with that?

Well there’s a common answer named Grimm’s Law.

Our interrogative pronouns come from Germanic.

Germanic and Latin share a common linguistic ancestor that linguists have worked on reconstructing called Proto-Indo-European, or PIE.

The common root here *kw-. Look at all the English words that come from this root! [Jordan, could you make this a hyperlink but keep these words as the hyperlink please?]

This root is categorized as a “Labialized velar consonant” – and if you’re curious about why it’s called this, here’s the answer from Wikipedia: “Labialization is called rounding in vowels, and a velar place is called back.”

So think about making a consonant that is round in the lips, but the sound originates from the back of the mouth. This kw- sound matches the description. Now, imagine saying this thousands of times in conversation but trying to say it quickly and easily. Eventually, you lose the voiced sound in the back of the mouth.

Now you’ve got one piece of Grimm’s Law down. [Here is the Wikipedia page for Grimm’s Law.] There’s a lot more cool stuff in there if you find this interesting.

That’s W.