X littera

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X litteram habent greci ut nos: arabes vero ea carent.


vt AC | ut B e | sicut et f

ea carent AC | omnia ea carent f | carent ea B | carent e


The Greeks have the letter X like us, but the Arabs lack it altogether.


In Latin 'X,x' stands for /k+s/, a consonant combination that is expressed in Greek by the letter Ξ,ξ, ξεῖ or ξῖ {= /kseî/ or /ksî/}. Simon is right to say that Arabic does not have a single letter to express /ks/.

In Simon's transcriptions the letter 'X,x' can stand stand for four different sounds:

1) most commonly in Latin and Greek 'x' stands for /k+s/,

2) Stephanus of Antioch sometimes retains the Greek letter Χ,χ {standing for /kh/}, which is identical in shape with Latin 'X,x' {standing for /k+s/}.

3) in early Italian 'x' was sometimes pronounced /ss/ or /s/; see below.

4) in words of Arabic origin it often stands for /š/, i.e. the initial sound in English "she"; see below.

1) Latin and Greek.

In originally Greek words it stands – as in Latin - for /k+s/, cf. Xeros, Xifion, etc., represented in Greek by the letter Ξ,ξ named ξεῖ, ξῖ /xi = ksi/. This is still the pronunciation associated with this letter in Modern Greek, cf. ξύλο "wood", pronounced /ksílo/.

2) Stephanus of Antioch.

A slightly confusing situation arises concerning the Greek letter Χ,χ χεῖ, χῖ /khi/, which is identical in shape in its capital form to the Latin alphabet letter 'X,x'. But Greek /khi/ is pronounced like 'ch' in Scottish "loch" or German "ach" and "ich", a pronunciation still in use in modern Greek, cf. χορός /khorós/ "dance".

Irritatingly in a small number of entries, as Simon explicitly points out in his entry Xaumĩ, Stephanus of Antioch uses this Greek letter shape of X /khi/ - indistinguishable from Latin 'X,x' - in his Latin transcriptions of some Greek words. Therefore in these few entries 'X,x' does not stand for Latin /k+s/ but for the sound as in Scottish "loch". As Simon says, it concerns only some entries after Xaumĩ, e.g. Xalkantas, Xalcatis, Xamemillon, Xamelea$, Xelidonion.

3) Early Italian scribal habits.

Different from the Iberian languages, see below, in early Italian 'x' was often pronounced /ss/ or /s/, which reflects a sound change from Latin 'x' {=/ks/} > Italian /ss/ or /s/, cf. taxus > tasso, and inverse spellings like mos instead of mox occur in many documents. Some instances can also be found in Simon's witnesses, e.g. entry Xantos has Xantox in ACD, and entry Aristologia (1) has buxeo as busseo in e and as buseo in f.

Cf. also U. Westerbergh, Chronicon Salernitanum. [Studia Latina Stockholmiensia III]. Stockholm 1956, p. 226 f.

4) Iberian scribal habits and words of Arabic origin.

As was said before, the Latin letter 'X,x' stood for /k+s/, but in Simon it sometimes stands for the sound that word-initially occurs e.g. in English "she". The Latin and Greek sound systems did not have this sound "sh" = /š/. However most of the Latin derived Romance languages had/have this sound, and when they modelled their orthography on Latin they had to develop some additional device to represent this sound, either by new combinations of letters, cf. English 'sh', Italian 'sc + i/e', or by reinterpreting the sound value of an existing letter. This latter reinterpretation occurred in the Iberian languages.

In these languages many words that were written in Latin with the letter 'x', i.e. the combination of /k+s/, changed this sound in the course of their linguistic development into /š/, i.e. dixit > dixe with the 'x' now pronounced like 'sh' = /š/, but the conservative scribes preserved the old spelling for this new sound. This lead to an orthographic convention, still alive today in e.g. Catalan, Gallego and Portuguese, to use 'x' as representing the sound /š/, cf. Catalan "teix" {IPA [teʃ]} and Gallego/Ptg. "teixo" {IPA ['tɐiʃu̥]} < Latin taxus "yew-tree". Medieval Spanish also partook in this orthographic convention, cf. Old Spanish "texo" but has since lost the /š/ sound and changed its spelling in its modern Castilian form, cf. modern tejo "yew-tree", the 'j' incidentally being pronounced as in "loch".

Arabic knows this sound /š/ as well, represented in its alphabet by the 13th letter ﺵ ﺷﻳﻦ /šīn/. Quite naturally when words were adopted from Arabic containing this sound it was usually written with 'x' in the Iberian languages, e.g. Cat. xarop Gallego/Ptg. xarope "syrup" < ﺷﺮﺍﺏ /šarāb/ "drink, fruit syrup". Simon obviously adopted this "Iberian" convention for most Arabic words containing this sound, cf. Xahar, Xager, etc.

WilfGunther 05/01/2013

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