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Aditya Arie Nugraha's weblog

Why is ‘w’ pronounced ‘double u’ rather than ‘double v’?

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English uses the Latin alphabet of the Romans. However, this had no letter suitable for representing the phoneme /w/ which was used in Old English, though phonetically the sound represented by /v/ was quite close. In the 7th century scribes wrote uu for /w/; later they used the runic symbols known as wynn. European scribes had continued to write uu, and this usage returned to England with the Norman Conquest in 1066. Early printers sometimes used vv for lack of a w in their type. The name double-u recalls the former identity of u and v, which is also evident in a number of cognate words (flour/flower, guard/ward, suede/Swede, etc.). (source:

The earliest form of the letter W was a doubled V used in the 7th century by the earliest writers of Old English; it is from this <uu> digraph that the modern name “double U” comes. This digraph was not extensively used, as its sound was usually represented instead by the runic wynn (Ƿ), but W gained popularity after the Norman Conquest, and by 1300 it had taken wynn’s place in common use. Other forms of the letter were a pair of Vs whose branches cross in the middle. An obsolete, cursive form found in the nineteenth century in both English and German was in the form of an “n” whose rightmost branch curved around as in a cursive “v” (compare the shape of ƕ). (source:

In the IPA vowels chart, we also can see both semivowel y and w. Phoneme y is a rounded front close vowel, while phoneme w which represented as an inverted-m is a unrounded back close vowel.

At first, I didn’t know what symbol represents phoneme w in the IPA vowels or consonants chart. However, after I read several information (history) about why grapheme w is pronounced ‘double u’, I’m quite sure that the inverted-m symbol in IPA vowels chart represents phoneme w.


Written by arie

May 29, 2008 at 1:50 am

Posted in Academic

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    Michael Tim

    March 1, 2009 at 12:03 am

  2. The IPA symbol for the English ‘w’ sound is [w]. You’ll find it in the ‘other symbols’ section at the bottom-left of the chart. The reason it’s not on the main consonants table is because it is a double articulation – it’s labio-velar, involving both the lips and a constriction at the velum.

    The ‘upside down m’ symbol is a high back unrounded vowel – basically an [u] but with your lips spread apart instead of being rounded. Korean and Scottish Gaelic have this vowel.

    Also, the [y] vowel in the vowel chart is again a vowel, not an approximant. The [y] vowel is a high front rounded vowel, like ‘ü’ in German or ‘u’ in French. The IPA symbol for the English ‘y’ sound is [j].


    November 26, 2009 at 11:43 pm

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