Deano’s answer to: “Where is U from?”

Okay, this question requires a bit of explanation… There I was, just chilling on Quora.com, reading questions, writing and voting on answers, and suggesting edits here and there to help out my fellow Intertronians.

Then I run across this question: “Where is U from? I is from China”. Oh man. How could I possibly resist?!?

So, without further ado, I give you my answer, in all it’s snarkalicious glory:

From the Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U):

The letter U ultimately comes from the Semitic letter Waw by way of the letter Y. See the letter Y for details.

During the late Middle Ages, two forms of “v” developed, which were both used for its ancestor u and modern v. The pointed form “v” was written at the beginning of a word, while a rounded form “u” was used in the middle or end, regardless of sound. So whereas valor and excuse appeared as in modern printing, “have” and “upon” were printed haue and vpon. The first distinction between the letters “u” and “v” is recorded in a Gothic alphabet from 1386, where “v” preceded “u”. By the mid-16th century, the “v” form was used to represent the consonant and “u” the vowel sound, giving us the modern letter “u”. Capital “U” was not accepted as a distinct letter until many years later.

Also, contrary to your assertion in the question details, it seems that ‘i’ is not originally from China, but rather is, like ‘u’ Semitic in origin (if you have supporting evidence to the contrary, it would be fascinating):

In Semitic, the letter was probably originally a pictogram for a leg with a hand, derived from a similar hieroglyphics that represented a voiced pharyngeal fricative (/ʕ/) in Egyptian, but was reassigned to /j/ (as in English “yes”) by Semites, because their word for “arm” began with that sound. This letter could also be used to represent /i/, the close front unrounded vowel, mainly in foreign words.
The Greeks adopted a form of this Phoenician yodh as their letter iota (‹Ι, ι›) to represent /i/, the same as in the Old Italic alphabet. In Latin (as in Modern Greek), it was also used to represent /j/. The modern letter ‹j› was firstly a variation of ‹i›, and both were used interchangeably for both the vowel and the consonant, coming to be differentiated only in the 16th century. The dot over the lowercase ‘i’ is sometimes called a tittle. In the Turkish alphabet, dotted and dotless I are considered separate letters, representing a front and back vowel, respectively, and both have upper-case (‹I›, ‹İ›) and lowercase (‹ı›, ‹i›) forms.
In modern English, ‹i› represents different sounds, either a “long” diphthong /aɪ/ as in kite, which developed from Middle English /iː/ after the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th century, or the “short”, /ɪ/ as in bill.
(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I)

This answer originally appeared on Quora: Where is U from?

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