Q littera

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Q littera nec greci nec arabes habent {†} Stephanus tamen translator regalis dispositionis multa vocabula que per chef vel kaf scribuntur apud arabes per .q. scripsit: ut patet infra.{‡}


littera ACD | Litteram (litteraʒ p; lr͞aʒ j) B jfp | lr͞a e

{†} latini tñ qʒdã arab. qʒ per chaf ul’ per chef & qʒdã gŕ. qʒ per chi scribũt per .x. literã scripserũt add. B between habent ... Stephanus

tamen (-mẽ f) C f | tñ ABD jp | uero e

que e | q̃ ACD | qʒ B | q͡ fj

vl’ (ul’ B) kaf ABCD | uel per kaf e | per chef ul’ chaf p | per clef ul’ per kaf {'h' misread as 'l' in clef} j | et per chi χ et per chaf ms. f.

.q. | ms. j has a symbol resembling .J., perhaps imitating the Arabic letter ﻙ {= /kāf/}.

{‡} & q̅dã greca q̅ per chi scribunt~ latini .X. lr͞a scripserunt add. D


The letter "Q" exists neither in Greek nor in Arabic. But Stephanus of Antioch, the translator of the book Regalis dispositio has transcribed many words with "Q,q" that are written with the Arabic letters chef {i.e. ﻚ /kāf/} or kaf {i.e. ﻕ /qāf/} as is shown in some entries further down.

{†} The insertion in B translates: "But Latin speakers write some words that in Arabic are written with chaf or chef and some Greek words with the letter "x"."

{‡} The additional sentence in D translates: "And in addition some Greek words that are written with the Greek letter "chi" {i.e. Χ,χ} are transliterated into Latin with the Roman alphabetic letter "X,x"."


Seen historically the letter "Q" did exist in Greek but was abandoned early on except as a symbol for the numeral 90. Similarly Arabic has also an equivalent of the letter "Q", i.e. ﻖ /qāf/, and in fact the respective letters in Latin, Greek and Arabic are all very likely derived ultimately from the same source. But in some sense Simon is right to say what he says when one considers the function of this letter in the different languages. Greek and Latin adopted "K" and "Q" from a Semitic alphabet, but only really needed one symbol for their sound /k/. However, in Semitic languages and consequently in Arabic there are two distinctive kinds of /k/ sounds, one similar to a European /k/ and a different so-called "emphatic k" usually transliterated as /q/, see below. Obviously for an adequate Semitic writing system the two sounds need to be differentiated, and Arabic does this by using ﻚ /kāf/ and ﻕ /qāf/ respectively,

In the Greek of Simon's time "Q" had no longer been a letter for a very long time and unsurprisingly its existence was long forgotten. And even in Latin "Q,q" had long ago been superseded by "K" and later much more so by "C" and was now restricted in its occurrence to words followed by "u" + vowel, e.g. quod. Of the three languages under consideration it is only in Arabic that the two letters are usefully employed, because they represent two different sounds that have each full distinctive consonantal status, cf. ﻛﻠﺐ /kalb/ "dog” and ﻗﻠﺐ /qalb/ "heart”. In a linguistically precise transcription or transliteration these two distinct Semitic sounds must be clearly distinguished. Conventionally the "European k" is transcribed with /k/ while the "emphatic k" is usually transliterated with /q/. It must be said though that Simon does not usually differentiate the two sounds in his transcriptions just as in Europe today in everyday renderings of Arabic words the two sounds are not normally transcribed differently, cf. "Koran" instead of the more precise "Qoran".

For more information see the appropriate section in K littera.

Stephanus' habit of rendering Arabic /kāf/ and /qāf/ with "qu" relies on a scribal tradition that grew up in late Latin and the early Romania. The sound /k/, usually spelt "C,c" in late Latin, was palatalised before the vowels /e/ and /i/, thus producing a pronunciation of centum with the initial sound of English "chest", i.e. /tšentum/, the way the initial consonant is still pronounced in Modern Italian cento. However, at times, e.g. in foreign words, this palatalised /tš/ pronunciation was undesirable.

The scribes now made use of another sound change that had occurred in late Latin: the sound written "Qu,qu", pronounced originally /kw/ had changed in the meantime in many circumstances to a plain /k/, turning antiquus into /antikus/, etc. This spelling established itself particularly in front of the vowels /e/ and /i/ in order to avoid pronunciations with the sound /tš/. Thus the 6th century AD translator of Dioscorides, whose translation is known as Dioscorides Longobardus, writes quiprinum – pronounced /kiprinum/ for cyprinum thus avoiding an undesirable reading */tšiprinum/. In the western Romania this spelling became the norm turning Latin quietus into Spanish quedo – pronounced /kedo/, and Latin qui into French qui pronounced /ki/.

Stephanus, an Italian from Pisa, used this scribal tradition extensively in his overzealous attempts to Latinize Arabic words, e.g. he writes Quebritum pronounced /kebritum/ for kebrit, thus avoiding pronunciations like */tšebritum/, a likely reading if he had used conventional spellings like cebritum - cf. Quebritum -, Quemum, pronounced /kemum/, for ﻛﻤﻮﻥ /kammūn/ {"cumin"}, etc.

For Stephanus’ idiosyncratic and confusing use of the Greek letter Χ,ξ i.e. /kh/ see X littera, section 1 Greek.

WilfGunther 16/01/14

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