The Thorn Legacy

processcamera's picture

For what it's worth:
"A rare excitement ran through The New Yorker's copy department last week when it was discovered that a line of Middle English poetry quoted in a piece by Peter Hessler about standing in police lineups had a thorn in it. Usually a thorn, like a splinter, is something you want to remove, with tweezers, or maybe a sterile needle, but this thorn was something we wanted desperately to insert ...."
www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/05/the-thorn-in-the-new-yorker...

hrant's picture

Cool story.

One thing:
"
We have used characters from the Greek alphabet, some of which require not one but two accents, and the Cyrillic alphabet.
....
For a while, we tried faithfully to reproduce the backward “R” in Toys “R” Us, but it went rogue and ran loose on the page every time we turned our back.
"
The thing was right under their noses! :-)

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

It was incorrect to state that Thorn is “…an obsolete letter from the Anglo-Saxon alphabet…” because it is a current letter, of the Icelandic/Faroese alphabet, which the writer could have mentioned—after all, that is why the character was available for the article (in the standard Western Latin encoding), as opposed to Wynn, for instance, which is less likely to be in the fonts used by the New Yorker.

David Vereschagin's picture

I don’t quite understand what the big deal is about this. Do they not know how to access the thorn glyph in their fonts?

David

hrant's picture

It's not a huge deal I guess, but it's a nice reminder of what has been lost. In fact if people had sense they would re-introduce the Thorn and Eth into English.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

...if people had sense they would re-introduce the Thorn and Eth into English.

And use them how? In Anglo-Saxon, the sounds represented by these letters were allographs, so their use in spelling was never consistent. Either letter might be indiscriminately used to represent either a voiced or unvoiced dental fricative.

Theunis de Jong's picture

Nice to see that little editorial office so worked up they just had to write a blog on it.

Thorns are nothing special. Only last week I had to typeset an article on African phonology with no less than three new additions to the ever-expanding set of special characters those authors desperately need to convey the subtleties of the language they are writin' about: curly n, curly d, and curly t. Neither of these were in my current repertoire, so I Just Made Them without batting an eye-lid.

(It did help this was a fine opportunity to test my own home-grown software. It worked just fine. :) )

hrant's picture

their use in spelling was never consistent. Either letter might be indiscriminately used to represent either a voiced or unvoiced dental fricative.

Why not just make a decision now and stick to it? Even a 50% chance of a clear one-to-one mapping sticking is better than the "th" sequence having three possible pronunciations.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

The IPA use ð for a voiced dental fricative (they use θ for the unvoiced), so it probably makes most sense to maintain that, and to reserve þ for the unvoiced: Ðe Þorn Legacy.

John Hudson's picture

better than the "th" sequence having three possible pronunciations

Oh, I can think of four offhand:

this
thin
thomist
lofthouse

and yet we manage.

Theunis de Jong's picture

"The Porn Legacy"? Oh, wait, no ...

hrant's picture

Humans managed without shoes for a long time too.

hhp

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Yeah, and then it took them a very long time to think of making left– and right ones.

quadibloc's picture

What is the difference between the "th" in "thin" and "thomist", assuming the "th" in "this" is the unvoiced one?

eliason's picture

The beginning of "Thomist" is (fittingly) pronounced like that of "Thomas."

John Hudson's picture

What is the difference between the "th" in "thin" and "thomist", assuming the "th" in "this" is the unvoiced one?

You have that backwards.
thin = unvoiced dental fricative /θ/
this = voiced dental fricative /ð/

As Craig notes, thomist is pronounced as in Thomas, i.e. an aspirated alveolar plosive.

russellm's picture

> better than the "th" sequence having three possible pronunciations

Some of my Irish relatives only have one; "D".

riccard0's picture

http://þorn.info

quadibloc's picture

@John Hudson:
As Craig notes, thomist is pronounced as in Thomas, i.e. an aspirated alveolar plosive.

Tom begins with an unvoiced aspirated alveolar plosive. Occasionally, it is true, people will pronounce "Thomas" in a quick, lazy fashion, but surely that isn't correct.

Té Rowan's picture

Probably about as correct as writing Johann as John. As an aside, the Icelandic version of Thomas is Tómas; pronounced the same.

John Hudson's picture

'Quadibloc', I don't see how we're disagreeing. The point is that the th in thomist is an alveolar plosive -- unvoiced and aspirated, as you note -- and not a dental fricative as in thin and this.

hrant's picture

Guys, as long as there's more than two it's worth taking a shot; in fact even if there were only two it would be worth it because it couldn't get worse. So let's get practical:

Should the Thorn be like this and the Eth like thin, or vice versa? I've come to prefer the former, and I think I based it on some historical leaning*, but I don't mind flipping. I'm not talking about pretending the difference used to be clear, I'm essentially talking about reform.

* Is there really none at all?

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Should the Thorn be like this and the Eth like thin, or vice versa?

Vice versa. See my comment re. IPA usage above.

hrant's picture

Makes sense. Although I think they made a mistake (on a number of levels).

hhp

joeclark's picture

I wrote in to the author (done quite easily: firstname_lastname@newyorker.com) and told her their fundamental problem was inability to handle Unicode. Yet their magazine is so terribly attached to ë, ö, and è. Not to mention their fake small caps and absurd acronym rules.

hrant's picture

inability to handle Unicode.

Well, non-designers shouldn't need to handle codes, so it's more of an inability to realize and leverage the extent of "para-keyboard" characters.

hhp

Theunis de Jong's picture

inability to handle Unicode

The thorn has been there for years in pre-Unicode Latin-1 fonts in Windows, on position #254. It's still there, in the official Latin-1 block (which is a verbatim copy of the Windows codepage).

...That is, if the font designer included it -- that's another issue.

Té Rowan's picture

@Theunis – Bzzzt, wrong. Windows-1252 is not identical to Latin-1. Windows has display characters where ECMA has control characters.

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