J for Y (was: /zh/ replacing /dzh/?)

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Wed Sep 25 17:07:50 UTC 2002

In a message dated 9/25/02 12:39:58 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU writes:

> >  >Well, of course, the right way to say Elijah has neither /zh/ nor
>  >>/dzh/...
>  >
>  >Well, what is the 'right' way?
>  /?Eliyahu/...

This brings up an interesting question.  The Hebrew original of the Old
Testament has many names that use the Hebrew letter yod which in Hebrew
represent the consonantal sound /y/.  Examples:  Yerushalayim (Jerusalem),
Eliyachu (Elijah), Yonatan (Jonathan).

In German the letter "J" is used for the consonantal sound /y/.  In English
the letter "J" is mostly used for /dzh/.

What set of translators established the convention that Hebrew yod was to be
transliterated as "J" rather than "Y"?   Wyclif?  Caxton?  The King Yames

More important, why? (no pun intended)

1) Were these Biblical names pronunced with the /dzh/ sound as of the time of
the King James translation?

2) Did the King James committee (or whoever) decide to follow the rules of
the German Bible translators and use "J" for "yod", with English-speakers
changing from /y/ to /dzh/  to agree with the spelling?

3) Was "J" in Tudor times pronounced as /y/ but as part of the Great Vowel
Shift or something change over to /dzh/ afterwards, perhaps under the
influence of French, in which language "J" is pronounced /zh/?

If 3) be correct, then at a certain time in English history we would commonly
see spellings like Iames, Iesus, Iewish, iewel.  I don't recall seeing them,
but I may be wrong.

Also wouldn't we then pronounce "yes" as /jes/ and eat jellow Jello?

The pronunciation shift of /y/ to /dzh/ is still active though incomplete in
English, e.g.
/'dohn joo/ for "don't you", /chren/ for "train", and /'ei sh'n/ for

             - Jim (Iim?) Landau

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