I’ve just finished reading Book of Ages, a wonderful scholarly volume about the letters written between Jane Franklin Mecom and her brother Benjamin Franklin. It was highly recommended by a member of my book club; two thumbs up from me! I also took out the digital volume through my city Virtual Library consortium, OverDrive. I love this application! It made it so much easier to read, going between the Notes in the back of my hardbound book and the pages I was reading on my Kindle.
But more about the Letter J: In 1768, Ben Franklin made a study of phonetics and writing. He wrote an essay called “A Scheme for a New Alphabet,” where he proposed that the English alphabet remove the letters c, j, w, and y since they sounded different depending on what letters they were next to.
Actually, in the English alphabet, the letter I and J were used as one and the same for a long time. It was actually poets that began to make a distiction between the two letters, I suppose because poetry is read out loud. The first English language book which made a clear distinction between the sound of “I” and the sound of “J” was in 1634.
You might think I’m crazy, but all this is very interesting to me. So I started looking into letter J’s history. There’s a book by David Sacks called Letter Perfect, where he writes:
“In Rome, if you caused someone an iniuria (injury), you might be hauled before the iudices (judges) in a court of iustitia (justice)… Whatever future claim the letter J might have on these words in English, they began in Latin with rather different sounds and spellings… As Latin broke into regional dialects that grew into French and other Romance tongues, pronunciations shifted beneath traditional Latin spellings that were slower to change. Modern scholars trace pronunciation shifts by analyzing variant spelling in late Latin writings and general spellings in early Romance writings.”
Enjoy more Letter J posts, through Ms. Jenny’s website …off on my tangent…