My question is not about the general usage of a/an, so, I believe, it is not a duplicate one. It is specifically about the title of the dictionary An Universal Etymological English Dictionary compiled by Nathan Bailey.

Nathan Biley's dictionary is said to be first published in London in 1721. The etymology of the word universal (as per the etymonline.com) shows that the word has been in use centuries before the publication of the dictionary.

Now, the questions are:

  1. Why is an used before the word universal /juːnɪˈvəːs(ə)l/ which begins with a consonant sound?

  2. Has the word universal ever been pronounced with an initial vowel sound as /uːnɪˈvəːs(ə)l/?

  • 3
    Could it be that in 1721 English was pronounced differently in London than it currently is? Could it be that in 1721 written English followed different conventions than it does in 2019? Almost certainly. You will find many other oddities if you continue reading. Don't expect language rules to last indefinitely; they're always just compromises. – John Lawler Sep 5 '19 at 14:56
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    In the 1600s, universal, unicorn, union, useful, and so forth began with a diphthong—something like /iu/—rather than the consonant "y" (/j/ in IPA), so an was the correct article. See Wikipedia. The sound was already changing by the 1700s, but language doesn't change all at once; some people still used an universal until around 1900. – Peter Shor Sep 5 '19 at 15:06
  • @PeterShor, Thank you for the Wikipedia link which ultimately led me to yod-dropping, gave me a good read and where I found answer to my question. – mahmud k pukayoor Sep 5 '19 at 16:08
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    @mahmud, care to answer your own question? Then you can accept it. – marcellothearcane Sep 5 '19 at 16:49

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