Definitions

-y

Y

[wahy]
The letter Y is the twenty-fifth letter in the modern Latin alphabet. Its name in English is spelled wye or occasionally wy plural wyes.

History

The original ancestor of Y was the Semitic letter Waw, which was also the ultimate origin of the modern letters F, U, V, and W. See F for details.

In Ancient Greek, Υψιλον (Upsilon) represented /u/, then later on /y/ — close front rounded vowel. The Romans had already borrowed this as the letter V, to represent both the vowel /u/ as well as the consonant /w/, but in later times, because the pronunciation of Ypsilon in Greek had shifted to /y/, they borrowed it directly in its original form, stem and all, as Y — mainly to represent names and words taken from Greek.

The letter Y was used in Old English, as in Latin, to represent /y/; however, some claim that this use was an independent invention in England created by stacking a V and an I, unrelated to the Latin use of the letter. Regardless, it is fairly likely that the letter, although technically named Y Græca (IPA ) meaning 'Greek u' in contradistinction from native Latin /u/, came to be analyzed as the letter V (called /uː/) atop the letter I (called /iː/). The letter was thus referred to as , which after /uː/ became the glide /w/ and after English's Great Vowel Shift naturally became /waɪ/.

By Middle English, /y/ had lost its roundedness and merged with /i/, and Y came to be used with the same values as I, /iː/ and /ɪ/ as well as /j/. Those dialects that retained /y/ spelled it with U, under French influence.

The Modern English use of Y is a direct continuation of this Middle English use. Thus the words myth [of Greek origin] and gift [of Old English origin], which originally contained high front rounded vowels, both have [ɪ].

With the introduction of printing, the letter Y was used by Caxton and other printers in England to represent the letter thorn (Þ, þ) which was lacking from continental typefaces, resulting in the use of ye for the word the.

Usage

In Spanish, Y is called i/y griega, in Catalan i grega, in French and Romanian i grec, in Polish igrek - all meaning "Greek i" (except for Polish, where it is simply a phonetic transcription of the Latin name); in most other European languages the Greek name is still used; in German, for example, it is called Ypsilon (or also sometimes spelt "Üpsilon") and in Portuguese it's called ípsilon or ípsilo (although in Portuguese there is also the name "Greek i"). The letter Y was originally established as a vowel. In the standard English language, the letter Y is traditionally regarded as a consonant, but a survey of almost any English text will show that Y more commonly functions as a vowel. In many cases, it is known as a semivowel (a type of consonant).

After fronting from /u/, Greek /y/ de-rounded to /i/.

In English morphology, -y is a diminutive suffix.

Other Germanic and Scandinavian Languages

When not serving as the second vowel in a diphthong, it has the sound value /y/ in the Scandinavian languages and /ʏ/ in German. Y can never be a consonant (except for loanwords), but in diphthongs, as in the name Meyer, it serves as a variant of "i".

In Dutch, Y appears only in loanwords and names and usually represents /i/. It is often left out of the Dutch alphabet and replaced with the "ligature IJ". In Afrikaans, a development of Dutch, Y denotes the diphthong [EI], probably as a result of mixing lower case i and y or may derive from the IJ ligature.

Spanish

In the Spanish language, Y was used as a word-initial form of I that was more visible. (German has used J in a similar way.) Hence el Yugo y las Flechas was a symbol sharing the initials of Isabella I of Castille (Ysabel) and Ferdinand II of Aragon. This spelling was reformed by the Royal Spanish Academy and currently is only found in proper names spelt archaically, such as Ybarra or CYII, the symbol of the Canal de Isabel II. X is also still used in Spanish with a different sound in some archaisms.

Appearing alone as a word, the letter Y is a grammatical conjunction with the meaning "and" in Spanish and is pronounced /i/. In Spanish family names, y can separate the father's surname from the mother's surname as in "Santiago Ramón y Cajal". Catalan names use i for this. Otherwise, Y represents /[[ʝ]]/ in Spanish. When coming before the sound /i/, Y is replaced with E: "español e inglés". This is to avoid pronouncing /i/ twice.

The letter Y is called "I/Y griega", the "Greek I", after the Greek letter Ypsilon.

Other Languages

Italian, too, has Y (i greca or ipsilon) in a small number of loanwords.

In Polish and Guaraní, it represents the close central unrounded vowel (IPA: /ɨ/)

In Finnish and Albanian, Y is always pronounced /y/.

In Lithuanian Y is the 15th letter and is a vowel. It is called the long i and is pronounced /i:/ like in English see.

In Faroese and Icelandic, it's always pronounced i. It can also be the part of diphthongs: ey and oy (Faroese only).

In Azerbaijani Y is pronounced as ya.

In contrast, in the Latin transcription of Nenets (Nyenec) the letter "y" palatalizes the preceding consonant. The letter Y shows how letters change their function.

When used as a vowel in Vietnamese, the letter y represents the close front unrounded vowel. When used as a monophthong, it is functionally equivalent to the Vietnamese letter i. Thus, Mỹ Lai does not rhyme but mỳ Lee does. There have been efforts to replace all such uses with i altogether, but they have been largely unsuccessful.

In Quechua and Aymara, Y is always /j/.

Significance in the IPA

In the IPA, [y] corresponds to the close front rounded vowel, and the slightly different character [ʏ] corresponds to the near-close near-front rounded vowel.

It is indicative of the rarity of front rounded vowels that [y] is the rarest sound represented in the IPA by a letter of the Latin alphabet, being cross-linguistically less than half as frequent as [q] or [c] and only about a quarter as frequent as [x].

Codes for computing

In Unicode the capital Y is codepoint U+0059 and the lower case y is U+0079.

The ASCII code for capital Y is 89 and for lowercase y is 121; or in binary 01011001 and 01111001, correspondingly.

The EBCDIC code for capital Y is 232 and for lowercase y is 168.

The numeric character references in HTML and XML are "Y" and "y" for upper and lower case respectively.

See also

References

af:Y als:Y ar:Y arc:Y ast:Y az:Y ca:Y cs:Y co:Y cy:Y da:Y de:Y et:Y el:Y es:Y eo:Y eu:Y fa:Y fur:Y gan:Y gd:Y gl:Y ko:Y hr:Y ilo:Y is:Y it:Y he:Y ka:Y kw:Y sw:Y ht:Y la:Y lv:Y lt:Y hu:Y ms:Y mzn:Y nah:Y ja:Y no:Y nn:Y nrm:Y pl:Y pt:Y ro:Y qu:Y simple:Y sk:Y sl:Y fi:Y sv:Y tl:Y th:Y vi:Y vo:Y yo:Y zh-yue:Y bat-smg:Y zh:Y

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