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


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 '19 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 '19 at 20:13
  • FH was sometimes used in Etruscan for [f], but AFAIK isn't found elsewhere in Latin.
    – TKR
    Nov 16 '19 at 20:42
  • 2
    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 '19 at 18:24
  • 1
    @ColinFine That would make a lot of sense, especially since we see the same use of H for voiceless /r/
    – Draconis
    Nov 17 '19 at 19:40

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 '19 at 1:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.