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Lately I've been looking up the Middle English of many Modern English words via Wiktionary. It was my understanding that by this point in the history of English ȝ was in heavy use. Yet these etymologies almost always use a y instead.

I understand that written English was far from standardized. Wiktionary generally shows several forms commonly used, yet often will show a y-option and no ȝ-option. For example,

wynd

Middle English

Etymology 1

From Old English wind, from Proto-West Germanic *wind, from Proto-Germanic *windaz.

Alternative forms

wend, wende, wind, winde, wynde

Pronunciation

IPA: /wiːnd/, /wind/

I've also used Etymonline, but it rarely sites "alternative forms," so it's even less helpful on this issue.

So, if I see a y-option, can I assume there was also a ȝ-option?


As I'm still not understanding I'll add a more informative example:

rail

Etymology 1

From Middle English From Middle English rail, rayl, *reȝel, *reȝol (found in reȝolsticke (“a ruler”)), partly from Old English regol (“a ruler, straight bar”) and partly from Old French reille; both from Latin regula (“rule, bar”), from regere (“to rule, to guide, to govern”)

Pronunciation

IPA: /ɹeɪl/, [ɹeɪɫ]

way

Etymology 1

From Middle English way, wey, from Old English weġ (“way; path”), from Proto-West Germanic *weg, from Proto-Germanic wegaz, from Proto-Indo-European **weǵʰ-. Doublet of voe.

Alternative forms

waye, waie (both obsolete)

Pronunciation

IPA: /weɪ/

Both rail and way rhyme and both come from an Old English predecessor containing a g, yet both do not include ME spellings containing a yogh (on Wiktionary). So, if I wanted to say "railway" (on a sign in a fantasy medieval game) I'm unsure if "raȝelwaȝ" is appropriate.

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  • If this question is more appropriate to a different Stack Exchange, please don't hesitate to let me know Sep 1 at 23:09
  • As opposed to the same sites' copious display of thorn, for instance ? As it currently stands, the question basically seems to ask why some internet sites (about linguistics) use standard ASCII notation, instead of fancy UTF or Unicode symbols, for (transliterating) certain out of use letters; to which the answer seems somewhat obvious : for the same reason most other internet sites, on any other given topic, favor the same standard option.
    – Lucian
    Sep 1 at 23:44
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    ȝ was a consonant letter, not a vowel, it couldn't be used in ‘wynd’. Start with this article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogh
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 1 at 23:49
  • Via that same article (which I had already read much of), "Phonetic usage [g], [j], [ŋ], [ɣ], [x], [ç], [i], [ʃ], [ʎ], [ð], /joʊɡ/" Sep 3 at 14:52
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    I think you should consider using quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/dictionary
    – Alex B.
    Sep 3 at 19:37
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As Yellow Sky notes in the comments, yogh was a consonant, not a vowel. It was originally used to represent /g/; eventually certain sounds that used to be allophones of /g/ became their own phonemes (notably /j/ and /x/), and yogh is most famously used for these.

Wynd, though, doesn't have a /j/, a /x/, or any other /g/-related sound in it. The y in this spelling is a full vowel /i/, and yogh wasn't used for that.

Even when it was used for /j/ and /x/, though, yogh was never universal. Gh was also fairly common in the Middle English period for /x/, and y for /j/. Wiktionary often lists spellings with yogh as alternate forms; this might be because the forms with yogh are actually less common in the manuscripts (so they're considered the "alternate" spellings rather than the "primary" ones), or because they're simply harder to typeset and so modern scholars of Middle English prefer the easier ones. I don't know enough about Middle English orthography to say.

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    (It would be more correct to talk about ɣ being the allophone and then x merging with it later, but that seemed like it added a lot of complication for not much benefit.)
    – Draconis
    Sep 2 at 2:31
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    I don’t think yogh was ever regularly used for /g/. In Old English when /g/ was regularly represented by the Insular g, that did represent both /g/ and its allophones [ɣ x ɣʲ ɣʷ], but by the time the shape of the Insular g had morphed into what we now call yogh around the shift to Middle English, the hard g had been reintroduced both phonemically and orthographically, and /g/ (now no longer allophonic with the fricatives) was represented by the ‘new’, non-Insular g. If yogh (as opposed to Insular g) ever represented /g/, it can’t have been for long. Sep 2 at 17:33
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    @RubelliteFae Neither /s/ nor /l is the nucleus of the first syllable in syllable – the /ɪ/ between them is. Lots of consonants don’t have contact between different parts of the mouth – several fricatives and all approximants. That doesn’t make them vowels if they behave like other consonants. Sounds like /x/ and /ʀ/ in German and French, for example, generally have no contact, but are not vowels. The same is true of English /r/. Meanwhile, /l̩/ and /n̩/ as in syllab*le* and butt*on* are vowels (syllable peaks) despite full contact. Sep 3 at 15:46
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    @RubelliteFae /j/ in English is very often the result of /g/ before a front vowel. In Old English, /ge, gi/ (often written with a dot over the g when representing OE in modern texts) became [je, ji] due to palatalisation. In other cases, /j/ was an inherited /j/ that had never been a /g/ (like in year), but because yogh was commonly used to represent all the allophones of /g/, including the palatalised [j], it also became used in cases where there had never been a /g/, because speakers/writers at the time didn’t know that the [j] in year was different from the one in yesterday. Sep 3 at 23:37
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    Sequences like [ja, je] are not normally considered diphthongs in English, but consonant + vowel. However, the reverse sequences [aɪ eɪ] are considered diphthongs (and therefore written with the vowel sign ɪ instead of the consonant sign j). Historically, <g> came after yogh – the Insular g (which evolved into yogh) was how /g/ was originally written, but once [g] and [ɣ x j w] stopped being allophones of the same phoneme, they needed a way to write the new /g/ phoneme, and they used the French-style <g>. But this was a process that took time; things were less organised back then. Sep 3 at 23:42

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