O (littera)

From Simon Online
Jump to: navigation, search

O Greci duplex habent unum quod vocatur .o. micro quia semper corripitur et est istius forme .o. aliud quod dicitur .o. mega, quia semper producitur et est istius figure ω. arabes vero .o. nec .u. habent sed habent unam litteram quam oao vocant que habet medium sonum inter .o. et .u.


{est istius} forme .o. ACD e | forme (free space B; no free space f) B f

{et est istius} figure {no space} D | figure {free space} ABC | figure ω (oo f) ef

At some time there must have been for illustration purposes a letter omega after the phrase: et est istius figure "and it is of this shape", since most prints still have a free space, but presumably the printers lacked the Greek character in their fonts; but mss. e and f are attempting to write ω.

oao (oac? B) ABC | ozio ms. e | Mo f


The Greeks have two letters 'o', one which is called o micro, which is always pronounced short and is of this shape: o . The other 'o' is called o mega, which is always pronounced long and is of this shape: ω.

However, the Arabs have neither 'o' nor 'u', but they have a single character, which they call oao, which has a middle sound between /o/ and /u/.


Greek has "Ο,ο" for short /o/ and Ω,ω for long /o/, here transcribed /ō/. The Greek letter names are ὂ μικρόν /ò mikrón/ {lit. "small = short o"}, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, and ὦ μέγα /ô méga/ {lit. "big = long ō"}, the last and 24th letter of the Greek alphabet.

In Classical Greek vowel-length was distinctive, e.g. κόμη /kómē/ "hair; leaves; grass" was pronounced differently from κώμη /kṓmē/ "village, quarter", but by the 4th c. AD this distinction was generally lost and Ο,ο and Ω,ω were pronounced the same, i.e. like short "o" as in British English "hot". 1000 years later at Simon's time and even to this day Greek spelling has preserved the obsolete distinction between Ο,ο and Ω,ω for none other than purely historical reasons.

Simon's understanding of the Arabic script appears to be somewhat lacking, because he does not seem to have fully understood the principle of Semitic orthography, i.e. that – with few exceptions - only consonants are written. So he does not see oao = ﻭﺍﻭ /wāw/, the 26th letter of the Arabic alphabet, primarily as a consonantal symbol for the consonant sound /w/ {as initial in English "way"}, but he sees it mostly as a vowel symbol.

As for his statement that oao has a middle sound between /o/ and /u/, which is as it stands wrong, it could have originated from the following situation. As already mentioned, originally all Semitic alphabets were purely consonantal, but diphthongs were analysed as having an initial vocalic element and a consonantal finish. Thus /au/ {as in English "cow"} was analysed /a+w/, and a word like /yaum/ "day" was written as "ywm"'. In dialectal pronunciations the diphthong /au/ is often pronounced /ō/ and a word like /yaum/, written "ywm", is pronounced /yōm/. Here the letter /wāw/ could now be seen as indicating the sound /ō/. Cf. also the similar situation in Hebrew.

Wilf Gunther 31/03/2014

Next entry