Thursday, December 4, 2008

From Jesus to Coelho

the story of an H pronounced Y

In ancient Rome and Greece the usual sign for the first sound of yard, use, yield was I. And in Greek and Latin the words we borrow with the first sound of january, june, Geneva had either the sound of yard, use, yield - written I - or the sound of guard, good, give, written G.

The Sweet and Holy Name of Jesus belonged to the words beginning with I. Our J is simply a long I to start with. But later on words in consonantal I and in G before the slender vowels began to be pronounced like our january, june, Geneva: in Italian, in Old French, in English. So also the name of our Saviour.

But in Latin Jesus was still pronounced with the sound of yard, use, yield. And in Greek it was the same. The Greek spelling looks like: IHCOYC or IHCOVC. Because in Greek H was a sign for long E. And in Greek, as much later in English, long E came to be pronounced like the first sound of Italy, only longer. So maybe it is not surprising even from the linguistic view, that the name of our Lord was written Ihesus in Medieval Latin manuscripts. In Cyrillics, borrowed from Greek, H has become the standard sign for I or the sound of yard, use, yield. Though Cyrillic H has got the horisontal line slanted like a backward N, because in N the slanted line has become less slanted till it looks like an H.

Greek words in "hiero" - holy(where the h is from the Latin transcription) were originally pronounced something like he a ro-, but in the Latin of the period they were rather pronounced like yea ro-. This means that Jerusalem, the second element of which was of course Hebrew Salem, meaning peace, but the first element of which was reinterpreted as holy, was variously spelled Hierosolyma or Iherosolyma. The pronunciation was the same. Jerome was spelled Hieronymus or Iheronymus.

Now, the languages that had lost the sound of yard, use, yield in separate position, where it was either lost (Enero from Ianuarius) or smudged (January from Ianuarius) still had something like it in combination with L and N: like lli in million or ni in minion. (I will spell the LY and NY for short.) And J, having become a sign for the sound of English January, June, Geneva, was no use expressing it. In Scandinavian languages, where J is the sign for the sound of yard, use, yield, these sounds are spelled LJ and NJ. But in Old French, Italian and English, as well as Old Portuguese and Old Occitan which concern us now, that would have tempted to the pronunciation of ldi in soldier or ng in manger, so it could not be used.

English had William the conqueror, which meant that LY is commonly spelled LLI before vowel. It does not occur before consonants or at the end of a word. Correspondingly NY is spelled NI before vowel.

Spanish had caballo and año from Latin caballus and annus: LL and NN had become pronounced LY and NY. Which made LL and NN useful signs for LY and NY even in other connections. Since Latin annus was regularly written ãnus or añus in manuscripts, and since ãnus could theoretically be pronounced as non-existing amnus rather than the correct annus, the Spanish Latin manuscripts already provided a useful shorthand for NN in the word añus or the phrase añoDñi, pronounced anno Domini. Spanish reflex of Dominus being dueño (min>m'n>ñ) of course helped. Though the Spanish word for Dominus was Señor (ni before vowel>ñ) from Latin Seniorem. In Dñus and Sñr as abbreviations for Dominus/Señor we are dealing with abbreviations of respect, which is why the Spaniards call the sign over the N a tilde, meaning title.

Italian had agnello from Latin agnus (lamb): the spelling was retained whereas the pronunciation was changed to NY. Maybe gli for LY is a parallel, or maybe it reflects an intermediate pronunciation between Latin cul (KL) in articulus (articulation) and Italian gli (LY) in artiglio (claw): (kul > k'l > gl > gli/ly).

French GN for NY agrees with Italian - and with French agneau. French ILL for LY agrees rather closely with Spanish LL, and we will soon come to a reason why an I is inserted before LL unless the preceding vowel is already I.

And now we come to the solution of Old Provençal and Portuguese: LH and NH for LY and NY. Why H? Here in Aquitaine I came across the memorial of the Augustinian abbey or prior Alain de Solminihac. Here NY is spelled NIH: N and the IH of Ihesus. Since IH stood for our sound in yard, use, yield and LY and NY sound nearly as L and Y, N and Y: LIH and NIH. But since most often the preceding vowel - always, unless it was the last, or last except for feminine e, or the word had another form in which it was thus placed - had been adapted to the yard, use, yield sound and yielded short I, in Provençal (as well as French) had an I before the NIH and LIH: meaning that the middle I was felt to be superfluous and maybe even irreverend, taking the letters IH of the Holy Name in vain. Therefore: LH and NH. Portuguese adopted these spellings from Old Provençal, which was at the time an highly influential language. And that is the reason why a certain Brasilian author by name of Coelho spells the LY in his name LH: he got it from Jesus, so to speak.

Since French (as well as Provençal) often had an I before the LL that meant LY, in words like travail, travailler an extra I was inserted, to remind of the pronunciation in these contexts. In French LY has since developed to be pronounced like the sound in yard, use, yield.

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