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Prepositon "in" in Slavic languages ("in" as "in the house") :

  • v - Czech
  • в - Russian (a Cyrillic v)
  • u - Serbo-Croatian
  • v - Slovak
  • v - Slovenian
  • w - Polish
  • в - Bulgarian (a Cyrillic v)

v, w, в are pronounced as /v/, u is pronounced as /u/.

In Latin same letter was used for both v and u. Likewise in Early Cyrillic alphabet, but in Glagolitic script which predates Cyrillic u has a separate letter.

Is this u v letter (in)distinction connected to the different word for "in" Serbo-Croatian ?

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    I think, you are falling into the common trap of confusing "letters" and "sounds" in your question. Note that in some Slavic languages this "v,w,u" sounds like /w/ (as the first sound in English "why"). – tum_ Jun 22 at 19:53
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    The early Cyrillic alphabet used the OU digraph for U, it was modelled after the Greek after all, not Latin. The Glagolitic digraph has the same origin and may well be actually be a late addition copying the Cyrillic. – Vladimir F Jun 22 at 21:38
  • Armenian and Georgian too, though it's less obvious in Georgian. – Colin Fine Jun 22 at 22:09
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You missed Belarusian, where is it ў, pronounced /w/. This is significant as it is the common intermediate between /v/ and /u/.

But I'm not sure how to answer you, because I'm not sure what your question means. Certainly /u/, /w/, and /v/ can replace each other between languages, or even within a language in different phonological contexts.

For example, in Classical Latin times, there was no /v/, and /u/ and /w/ could show up in the same morphological context but different phonlological ones. Consider for example the perfect suffix:

1st conjugation: stem: -a-; perfect -avi, eg amāvī /ama:wi:/

2nd conjugation: stem: -e-; perfect -evi, eg dēlēvī /de:le:wi:/

3rd conjugation: consonant stems; perfect (for some verbs) -ui, eg posuī /posui:/

So the /u/ and /w/ may have been felt to be "the same sound"; in any case, there were no problems using the same letter for them.

Later, when the consonantal pronunciation became /v/ in most varieties of Romance, the same letter continued to be used for both /u/ and /v/ until comparatively recently, when two forms of the letter started to be consistently distinguished. English required a way to write /w/ as well, so a third letter was created from by doubling the existing one.

The fact that only Serbian and Croatian among Slavonic languages have vocalised the (Edit:) consonant in the preposition has nothing to do with the way it is written.

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  • Your last sentence is the answer. I find this uv spectrum very amusing. – Milan Jun 22 at 20:28
  • I liked this passage: "So the /u/ and /w/ may have been felt to be "the same sound"; in any case, there were no problems using the same letter for them." Even in various dialects of the same language (Russian, in my case) you can hear this "spread" of /u/, /w/, /v/ and they do feel like "the same sound" with a bit of a local twist. – tum_ Jun 22 at 20:57
  • Ẅhout exactly does "Serbian and Croation among Slavonic languages have vocalised the preposition" mean? There is vocalization of Czech prepositions and that means an addition of "-e" (ve městě). Also, you can find "u" instead of "v" (the proper one with locative, not the "by" with genitive) even in books from the 19. century. – Vladimir F Jun 22 at 21:41
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    I've expanded that sentence, @VladimirF. I don't know which language you are talking about in your last sentence, but it doesn't really make any difference which languages have /u/ - the point is that some do, and some don't and that is nothing to do with how they're written. – Colin Fine Jun 22 at 22:02
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    @tum_ Probably bad wording or misunderstanding of the original question. I certainly do agree that there is no relation whatsoever between u/v related in orthography/pronunciation in Latin and the u/v sounds both used for the "in" preposition in various Slavic languages. – Vladimir F Jun 23 at 15:02
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Yes. In Standard Serbo-Croatian, it's pronounced /u/. But there are dialects (in Croatia) where it's pronounced /v/ to this day.

In early Middle Ages, the Slavic /v/ was actually /w/. It didn't have a voiceless counterpart, i.e. there was no /f/.

The changes /w/ > /u/ and /w/ > /v/ are very common. Latin had only one letter because it had basically /u/ which was pronounced [w] when it was before another vowel.

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