Ye Olde Wordes

Hear ye! Hear ye! Should I rather have titled this Every Rose Has its Thorn?

Am I alone in this? Are there others who also cringe when they hear period-piece reenacters pronounce the word ye as ‘yee’, or is it just me? Be honest now.

Those as pedantic as I, know that ye was a solution to a technological limitation of early European printing. Prior to the printing press, Old English had a þ character pronounced thorn. Phonetically, it sounded like the modern English voiced dental fricative expression of the th digraph— IPA: /ð/.

Given this, ye would have been spelt þe and should be pronounced the (IPA: /ði/—not necessarily /ðə/) and not yee (IPA: /ji/). I am not sure if a hand-printed (or painted) sign of the day would have conformed to the pre-press spelling or the post-press variant. I wonder how long it took for thorn to pass by the wayside.

I am aware that language is a human construct and even that language is like a living organism. But in this case—as with Latin—, thorn is dead. It seems we should not revise the pronunciation of a fossil of a word. It seems to me it should be frozen in the amber of time.

Bonus Round 1

Back in the day, not only was the abbreviated as ye in printing, but this was abbreviated as ys and that was shortened to yt, as in the Mayflower Compact. Don’t ask why someone felt that it was important to abridge 3- and 4-letter words to 2 characters.

Herbert Manuscripts (excerpt)

Bonus Round 2

It’s may be important to note that the ye of Ye Olde Shoppe fame, which is simply a shortened form of the, is not the same ye of biblical fame, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged‘, which was the plural form of thou, which is now rendered as you—the plural form.

And now you know…

As for the pronunciation of the ye of hear ye (hear ye), I am not sure which concept is being captured. If you know, then let me know.

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