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It is my intuition, that the origin of the letter y comes from ij based on the usage in Dutch where it very closely resembles ij in both sound and shape. I would go so far as to say it looks like a contraction.

I am particularly interested in this right now, as a company has translated a foreign name into English, and included iy in the name – which strikes me as unusual. If I were transliterating their name, Bafiya seems wrong – and I feel it is better as Bafya or Bafia.

It is hard to justify my opinion, so I was curious about the usage of iy. I can not think of any words that contain iy in them. Are there any?

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Please add results of efforts you made to research the answer before asking here, and cite sources you consulted. –  MετάEd Dec 3 '12 at 14:40
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Words with ij in them? Sure, plenty: bijou, feijoa, gaijin, hijacker, marijuana, Ouija, skijamas. As you see, all are either foreign or compounds. And the reason it needs to be Bafiya instead of Bafia is because otherwise you won’t get the “bike” vowel, only the “speak” vowel, and you might get the stress wrong, too. –  tchrist Dec 3 '12 at 14:57
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Let people ask some purposeful questions now and then. Why vote to close? –  Kris Dec 3 '12 at 15:15
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@tchrist Bafiya will still be pronounced with the 'speak' sound by those new to that word. In that case, Bafaia is what you'll need for the 'bike' sound. –  Kris Dec 3 '12 at 15:20
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When I see "Bafiya", I say "Bah-fee-ya". When I see "Bafia" or "Bafya", I (usually) say "Baf-yah". I have no idea which is correct, but I'd need to see "Bafaia" or (more normal for English) "Bafaya" to pronounce it that third way; @Kris is that last one the real correct pronunciation? –  Izkata Dec 3 '12 at 16:42
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3 Answers 3

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Mostly no, but also yes.

In most languages, y is from the Greek letter upsilon, as pointed out by “Matt Эллен”.

The ij digraph from Dutch, though, was originally ii with a lengthened second i to distinguish it in handwriting from u.

However, from ij came the Afrikaans y. Quoth Wikipedia:

IJ probably developed out of ii, representing a long [iː] sound (which it still does in some occasions, such as in the word bijzonder and in several Dutch dialects). In the Middle Ages, the i was written without a dot in handwriting, and the combination ıı was often confused with u. Therefore, the second i was elongated. Later, the dots were added, albeit not in Afrikaans, a language that has its roots in Dutch. In this language the y is used instead.

So this is an example of a yes to your question, but it probably only happened because the letter y already existed.

Finally, off the top of my head, words containing iy are usually transliterations from Russian or other Cyrillic languages, e.g., Dmitriy Karpov or Nataliya Gotsiy.

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An aside: if the text speak of my other half is anything to go by, the Dutch ij may be shifting towards y again. Or maybe it's just a character-/effort-saving measure. –  Kaz Dragon Dec 3 '12 at 14:23
    
+1 transliteration from Cyrillic ... You may see transliteration iĭ but nowadays more likely iy. –  GEdgar Dec 3 '12 at 15:16
    
This answers everything for me - thanks a bunch! –  Billy Moon Dec 3 '12 at 20:06
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No. The letter Y comes from the Greek letter upsilon, via the Latin alphabet.

For more information see the wikipedia entry.

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"The oldest direct ancestor of English letter Y was the Semitic letter waw, from which also come F, U, V, and W. ... The Greek and Latin alphabets developed from the Phoenician form of this early alphabet." –  Kris Dec 3 '12 at 15:12
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Thanks, @Kris, I did read that, but that's irrelevant to the question as the English letter came from the Greek, not the Phoenician, which is where the Greek came from. I wasn't looking to explain where the Greek letter came from. –  Matt Эллен Dec 3 '12 at 15:16
    
It came "via the Latin alphabet" so should it then be Latin, not Greek via Latin? –  Kris Dec 3 '12 at 15:22
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@Kris if you read the Wikipedia article you can see that upsilon is not a Latin letter, it is used in Latin. It is still Greek there. –  Matt Эллен Dec 3 '12 at 15:23
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Check Wikipedia. The letter Y hails back to the times of Phoenicians, pre-dating the Greeks.

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Only in the trivial sense that nearly all our letters date back to the Phoenicians, via the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans. –  Colin Fine Dec 4 '12 at 1:04
    
Not all letters descended from the Phoenicians. The letter is amongst those that did and by inference did not originate from germanic ij. –  Chris Dec 4 '12 at 6:58
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Well, you can make a case that J, V, W and G were not, in that they were all derived from other letters which were. That seems to make "descent from Phoenician" pretty much the default condition for a letter. –  Colin Fine Dec 4 '12 at 16:57
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