So, I read about the Irish alphabet once, and there was a phrase saying that "V" occurs in a few native words like "vácarnach" which means to quack in English. Shouldn't the letter V be in the alphabet then if it occurs in some native words?

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    To all intents and purposes, v is part of the modern Irish alphabet. Back when Irish was written in the Cló Gaelach, the letters j, k, q, v, w, x, y and z where all very rare (frequently no types were even cut for these letters). The very few native words (all onomatopoetic) that contain v would be written with ḃ (bh) instead, like ḃácarnach or ḃrác. Since the language officially switched to the Roman script, the number of loan words using the ‘non-native’ letters has risen steadily, and j, v and z can now easily be considered part of the alphabet. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 15:17

1 Answer 1


What it means for a letter to be "in" an alphabet is in fact quite arbitrary, and often comes down to the views of the people writing the textbooks or the Unicode proposals (which might be the government or might be some independent group).

For example, some English-speakers use spelling to distinguish "coop" (where you keep chickens) from "co-op" or "coöp" (a cooperatively owned business). Shouldn't that mean ö and - are English letters, since they're used to distinguish well-attested English words? Perhaps, but most people wouldn't consider them such, even as they use them in their own writing. I've certainly never heard English-speaking children sing "hyphen" or "dash" in the alphabet song.

Conversely, & used to be considered a letter of the English alphabet. It no longer is, for pretty much arbitrary reasons; now it's a punctuation mark instead, and we no longer list it after Z when saying the alphabet, even though its function hasn't changed.

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    Irish is an excellent example of this arbitrariness: although the ‘traditional alphabet’ often quoted (though always without an actual source as to what makes it ‘traditional’ for Modern Irish) excludes j, q, v, k, z, etc., by far the most influential dictionary, Niall Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla (1977), contains separate letter entries for all of them except k. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 14:58
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    Welsh also provides an illustration of arbitrariness for its inclusion of what, to English-speakers, appear to be digraphs as individual letters (ch, dd, ff, ng, ll, ph, rh, & th are all considered individual letters, although curiously mh, ngh, and nh are not)
    – Tristan
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 15:33
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    @Tristan For Welsh, <ph> is really the odd one out. Granted, it’s still found in a very small number of Greek loan words (which used to be larger) as an alternative to <ff>, but apart from that, it pairs with <ngh mh nh> in only being found in aspirate mutation. If the Welsh alphabet were settled upon now, <ph> would probably not be in it. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 17:02
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    I don't think I would call "&" a punctuation mark, as it's simply an abbreviation for a single word.
    – chepner
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 12:50
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    ...W, X, Y, &, Z.... Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 17:09

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