February 02, 2014

Why is 'Q' always followed by 'U' ?

12:06 Posted by Danan Kive No comments
Q, the seventeenth letter of English alphabet is one of the very few used letters (2nd most rare word, according to many studies and surveys across the world on the letter frequency). But in all of these  occurrences you will find it before 'U'. Well, except
for a few words like Qatar, Iraq, Qindraka... These are not technically English words. But apart from these all other words will always have 'QU'.  As in,
Queue
Quest
Question
Quack
Quick
Quantity and so on..
Here we are using a pair of letters to represent a single sound /cue/ which may seem redundant.Such words are called Digraphs. But if you want to blame someone for this redundancy, well you have to blame a whole bunch of ancestors of our English language.

 

It all started with the BIG BANG....

Nah!, Just Kidding !It all started in the 11th century.
In the 11th century, Norman invasion of England took place. The Normans who were basically french people not only introduced a lot of french words in to English, but they also changed the way they are spelt. In fact, English language doesn't even have the letter 'Q', before the Norman invasion. The 'Q' sound was spelt with 'CW' or sometimes 'KW', as in cwik (for quick) and cween (for queen), which is still a digraph. Anyway, French people started to represented the KW( /cue/) sound in English words with QU, which they already have in their language. So, that was the beginning of  'Q'

So, Why did the French people have 'QU' in their language? 
That is because, Latin had it. Latin uses 'C' for 'K' sounds. But when there is 'KW', it uses 'Q'. And, as, French has descended from Latin, they borrowed the 'Q'. 
 
|| Do you know that there is a theory, according to which Q,U are symbolic representations of Romeo and Juliet and so, they should always be together?

How did the Latin get it?
From here the story starts to get tricky. But its the opinion of the majority that the two different sounds for representing /k/ sound in Latin came from Phoenicians (present day Greece and parts of Arabic countries of Asia and Africa). The Greeks had two symbols to represent the /ka/ sound, Kappa (Κ,κ) and Koppa (Ϙ). Koppa (or Qoppa) was used for /k/, whenever it is succeeded by 'u' or 'o'. So, this Koppa was most likely the ancestor of our present day 'Q'.
In fact, if you see, the symbol for Koppa is very similar to that of Q, one more evidence to support the theory. Also, the Arab countries of Asia have a hard guttural /k/ sound as in Iraq or Qat, which is also considered by some as the origin for Koppa and so, in a way for 'Q' as well.

So, there you go. The letter 'Q', as we now know came from Arabic through Phoenician, Latin, French and finally to English. So, it traveled a long way before it came in to English.

It also shows us how diversified this world is. We keep putting ourselves in the closets of our countries, religions and teams, but these kind of examples show us that we have a lot more in common than we think.
So, Give respect , Get respect and as always, HAPPY READING !!

Sources:
  • http://mentalfloss.com/article/54772/why-does-q-almost-always-go-u
  • http://blog.dictionary.com/q/
  • http://en.wikipedia.org

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