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It's generally accepted that the oldest Latin inscription is on the Praenestine Fibula:

MANIOS MED FHE FHAKED NUMASIOI

The verb here seems to be an old reduplicated perfect of faciō, equivalent to Classical fēcit.

I know I've seen this spelling, <FH> for /f/, before—but I can't seem to remember or find the context. So: when and where was this spelling used? Was it common in very early Latin, or in another nearby language? And when did it die out?

  • Was P already in use at that time? My immediate thought is that FH could stand for PH. – Joonas Ilmavirta Nov 16 at 20:11
  • @JoonasIlmavirta I would think so (that P was already in use), because we see both the voiced D and the unvoiced K used in the expected places here—though I'm not sure. – Draconis Nov 16 at 20:13
  • FH was sometimes used in Etruscan for [f], but AFAIK isn't found elsewhere in Latin. – TKR Nov 16 at 20:42
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    F has its origin in the digamma, which generally had value /w/: I have always supposed that FH was being used for a sort of "breathed" (devoiced) /w/: in principle /ʍ/, but readily generalised to /ɸ/ (as in Maori) and to /f/. – Colin Fine Nov 17 at 18:24
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    @ColinFine That would make a lot of sense, especially since we see the same use of H for voiceless /r/ – Draconis Nov 17 at 19:40
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The digraph FH was used in early Etruscan inscriptions to represent [f], though it was later replaced by a new sign, looking like the number 𐌚. (Wiki has some more information on this.)

As far as I know, FH is not known to have been used in Latin anywhere other than in the Praeneste fibula. Its use for [f] on the fibula (which has sometimes been thought to be a forgery) is actually a strong argument for its authenticity, since at the time the fibula came to light, the value of Etruscan FH as [f] was not yet known.

  • Addendum: In (sinistroverse) Etruscan inscriptions, we can see the digraph 𐌇𐌅, which is usually transliterated as vh - see virtually everything written by the greatest Etruscologists Rix or Wallace (cf. Weiss <wh>). – Alex B. Nov 17 at 1:00

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