1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/V

V This letter was originally, like Y, only one of the earlier forms of the letter U. According to Florio (1611) V is “sometimes a vowel, and sometimes a consonant.” In modern times attempts have been made to assign to it the consonantal value of U, but in English another symbol W is used for this, while V has received the value of the voiced form of F, which itself had originally a sound resembling the English W (see under F). V is therefore a voiced labio-dental spirant, the breath escaping through a very narrow slit between the lower lip and the upper teeth. In German, however, V is used with the same value as F, while W takes the value that V has in English. Apart from some southern dialect forms which have found their way into the literary language, as vat (for fat or wine-fat which still survives in the English Bible) and vixen the feminine of fox, all the words in English which begin with V are of foreign, and most of Latin origin. In the middle of words between vowels f was originally regularly voiced: life, lives; wife wives, &c. The Latin V, however, was not a labio-dental spirant like the English v, but a bi-labial semivowel like the English w, as is clear from the testimony of Quintilian and of later grammarians. This quality has remained to it in southern Italy, in Spain and Gascony. In Northern French and in Italian it has become the labio-dental v, and from French English has adopted this value for it. Early borrowings like wine (Latin vinum), wall (Latin vallum), retain the w sound and are therefore spelt with w. In the English dialects of Kent, Essex and Norfolk there is a common change of v to w, but Ellis says (English Pronunciation, V, pp. 132, 229) that though he has made diligent search he has never been able to hear the v for w which is so characteristic of Sam and Tony Weller in the Pickwick Papers. It is, however, illustrated in Pegge's Anecdotes of the English Language (1803) and confirmed by the editor of the 3rd edition (1844), pp. 65–66. The history of V as the Latin numeral for 5 is uncertain. An old theory is that it represents the hand, while X=10 is the two hands with the finger tips touching. This was adopted by Mommsen (Hermes, xxii. 598). The Etruscan used the same v-symbol inverted. V with a horizontal line above it was used for 5000.  ((P. Gi.))