from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Y or y (pronounced [ ˈʔʏpsilɔn ]; in Switzerland also i grec [ ˈiɡrɛk ] = French for “Greek i”) is the 22nd letter of the classical and the 25th letter of the modern Latin alphabet . The Y was not present in the original Latin alphabet. It was only inserted as the 22nd letter before the Z in Sulla's time and was only used in Latin texts to reproduce the Y in Greek loanwords.


As is possible in principle with every vowel letter, y as a vowel letter in the writing systems of modern languages ​​partly stands for one or more vowels, partly for vowels or a consonant (so in English). In some languages, however , y is also used as a consonant letter (as in Turkish). y also occurs as part of fixed character combinations ( digraphs ) for individual phonemes (as in Hungarian).

In German, y is mainly used in loan and foreign words and then has (usually and approximately) the sound value of the language of origin. In German proper names ( Sylt , Pyhrn is) the basic pronunciation in vowel use (long / short or closed / open) [⁠ y ⁠] , that is the same as above; in unaccented final position but [⁠ i ⁠] (as in the name Willy). When used as a consonant or semi-vowel pronunciation is then [⁠ j ⁠] .

The letter Y has an average frequency of 0.04% in German texts. It is thus by Q and X the third rarest letter .

The letter Y in the finger alphabet

The finger alphabet for the deaf or hard of hearing represents the letter Y by pointing the closed hand away from the body and spreading the thumb and little finger upwards.


Greek Y

Protosinaitic waw sign Phoenician vaw Greek Ypsilon Etruscan U / V / Y Latin Y
waw sign
Phoenician vaw Greek Ypsilon Etruscan U / Y Latin Y

The term Ypsilon comes from the Greek and means "simple i" (ὔ - ψιλον; ψιλον - plain, simple, bare, empty, bare).

The Ypsilon is one of the youngest letters in the Latin alphabet and shares much of its history with the U , V and W (and F ). It has its origin in the Phoenician letter Waw , which had the sound value [w]. The letter was adopted in the Greek alphabet as Ypsilon , which originally also had the sound value [u]. On the way through the Etruscans , it became the Latin U.

In contrast to the Latin script, the lower-case Greek Y looks almost like a lower-case Latin U. There is no letter in the Greek alphabet that corresponds to the U-sound. Instead, it is represented by the sequence of an omicron and a Ypsilon. In the case of basically incorrect transcriptions from Greek into Latin script, one therefore often sees an “ou” instead of a simple “u”, although it is only a U sound.

By the 1st century BC However, due to the change in language, the sound value of the Greek Ypsilon had changed, it now stood for the sound [y] (like ü in "lie"). When the Romans began to use Greek terms more and more around this time, they first made do with the paraphrase with U, but then added the Ypsilon to the end of their alphabet.

Ligature ij

Old street sign of Pilotystrasse, Nuremberg

In Early New High German and Middle Dutch , the long [ ] sound was sometimes rendered as ij . This corresponds to a ii, but the duplication of the letter i was avoided by using the j , which was then a free variant of the i . This ij looked the same as a ÿ and could therefore be replaced by this (for example frÿ 'free'). The ÿ was again equated with the Greek Ypsilon because of its similarity. The y common in Alemannic names goes back to this usage and denotes an [iː] (for example Schwyz, Mythen ).

In the past, two dots or dashes were often written over the letter y in German, if this had its origin in ij in German words, in order to distinguish it from the Greek y. However, this was a predominantly handwritten convention, similar to the line above the lowercase letter u, and does not represent a “y with trema”. In printed letters, however, these points were usually not written above the y. The road sign opposite shows an exception.

In Swiss High German and Afrikaans , such a y, which originated as a ligature from ij , is still used today, for example in names such as Schwyz or Schnyder , and is also widespread in the spelling of Swiss German dialects, see Dieth spelling . In Dutch, however, the ligature ij is used today .



Since late antiquity, the Ypsilon has been pronounced in Greek (Υ / υ) as [i], meaning the same sound as i . Therefore and through the use of Greek foreign words (or artificial words based on the Greek model), there are very different uses of the y in the orthographies of other languages ​​today :

  • y as a variant of the letter i (e.g. English , French , Spanish ): In particular, the y at the end of the word is used instead of an i (e.g. English happ i ness - happ y or Spanish re i na - re y ). There were similar tendencies in German spelling until the 18th century ; This usage could last the longest in the differentiation of the words - seyn (with y because of the form sey ), which was common until the 19th century.
  • y as a consonant: In English and in English transcriptions of non-English names, the y at the beginning of the word and syllable has the sound value of the German j, z. B. yes, yellow; Yekaterinburg (German Yekaterinburg ).
  • y only as part of digraphs (e.g. Catalan , Hungarian ): As a letter that is not actually spoken, the y is used to modify other letters, e.g. B. in the digraph ny for [ɲ].
  • y as a name for special sounds (e.g. Finnish , Swedish , Norwegian , Danish , Polish , Lower Sorbian , Upper Sorbian , Welsh ).
  • No uses of y except in foreign words and (geographical and family) names (e.g. German , Italian , Portuguese ).
  • Since the introduction of letterpress printing , the y has sometimes been used as a substitute for similar letters or letter combinations, for example in English instead of a þ (for example ye olde shoppe instead of þe / the olde shoppe "the old shop") or in Early New High German and Dutch instead of a ij (see above).
  • Y as an element symbol for the chemical element yttrium .

In Greek, the sound meaning of the Y changes in combination with other vowels. "Ου" (o + y) is pronounced as U, "αυ" (a + y) in modern Greek as "af" and "ευ" (e + y) as "ef". The Greek prefix “αυτο-” is therefore pronounced “afto”.

Use and pronunciation in German

In today's German spelling, the y is used almost exclusively in foreign words and proper names. In the case of Greek foreign words, under the influence of school education, the pronunciation [y] (ü) has largely established itself (for example, type, xylophone ). In the early 19th century, however, the pronunciation [i] was still common. In Swiss High German, the pronunciation [i] is still common today in well-naturalized Greek foreign words, for example in asylum, Egypt, forsythia, glycerine, wisteria, gymnasium, gymnastics, hydrant, lydia, cylinder, besides [ʏ] also in physics, psychology , Pyramid, system . In foreign words from other languages, the foreign pronunciation is generally adopted, e.g. B. in English foreign words as [i] (usually the end of a word, for example party, hobby ) or [aɪ] (for example nylon ), and at the beginning of the word in front of further vowel letters as [j] (for example Yen, Yoruba, Yo-Yo ).

In proper names (family and geographical names) y is sometimes spoken like ü ( Sylt , Thyssen , Byhleguhre-Byhlen ), sometimes as i ( Kyffhäuser , Gysi ). In Alemannic names the y is regularly pronounced as a closed [ i (ː) ], for example in Schwyz or Mythen , because this use goes back to the ij (see above). Furthermore, the y occurs as a variant of unsyllabic i (as part of diphthongs ) in various names, for example in Speyer , as well as in foreign words such as “loyal” or “boycott”. Otherwise it was widespread in the diphthongs ey and ay until the end of the 19th century , but then these spellings were replaced by ei and ai , apart from proper names and foreign words . Until the 19th century, the letter y was also used as an abbreviation for the Latin ending -us . In proper names, y can also be part of other, otherwise unusual multi-graphs: in uy (next to ui ) for long ü (e.g. Huy ) or for eu ( Gruyter ), in oey for long ö ( Oeynhausen ).

Y is the first letter of the identification number of the vehicle registration number of the Bundeswehr . This is why the Bundeswehr in Germany is also known as "Y-Reisen" or "Y-Tours" with a humorous to ironic undertone. The name of the magazine Y - Das Magazin der Bundeswehr is also derived from it.


In net jargon , y is used as an abbreviation for the question "Why?" Due to its homophony with the English word why .

In brackets, (y) is used on Facebook as a shortcut for the "Like" button.

See also

Web links

Commons : Y  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Y  - Explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: y  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Dictionary Network - Grammatical-Critical Dictionary of High German Dialect. In: woerterbuchnetz.de. Retrieved July 21, 2015 .
  2. See entry for the letter Y in the German dictionary by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
  3. ^ Kurt Meyer : Swiss dictionary. That's what we say in Switzerland. Huber, Frauenfeld 2006, p. 30; Hans Bickel , Christoph Landolt : Swiss High German. Dictionary of the standard language in German-speaking Switzerland. 2nd, completely revised and expanded edition, published by the Swiss Association for the German Language. Dudenverlag, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-411-70418-7 , p. 101.
  4. Reinhard Riepl: Dictionary on family and homeland research in Bavaria and Austria, p. 448. ISBN 978-3-00-028274-4