Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Secret Origins: E

It’s been a while! What mysteries will unfold about the letter E, the most frequently appearing letter of our alphabet? You know this means we’re going back to the .gif. As you can see, earlier versions had a little tag at the bottom. Some, like the Etruscan version, were facing the other way! The little backwards flag E can be traced back to a little stick figure in Egyptian hieroglyphs.

When we go from Greek further back to Hebrew, we also learn that e used to be…he (ה). Early Semitic writings didn’t have vowels (I talked about this during A), and he meant a rough aspirate (it was tough to find a source for rough aspirate but basically, it’s a sign for a noise we don’t have in English; think of how you’re supposed to say Hanukkah; that h noise is a rough aspirate). It became a letter in the Phoenician alphabet, but unsurprisingly, it represented the H sound.

It was the Greeks who started using he as their letter e—epsilon—for their short e sound (or adding an apostrophe when they did need the h sound—you’ll see more about this when I finally get to h). And because it was the Greeks, one of the most dominant, lasting cultures, other languages followed suit.

Pathguy’s post on the alphabet.
Omniglot, which has pages on Etruscan, Phoenician and Proto-Sinaitic (for better looks at the old versions of letters)

1 comment:

  1. Lovely E. First letter of my first name. (Yeah, I know I refer to myself as Liz, but I'm an Elizabeth.)

    Yeah, random comment. It's been that kind of day.


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