7

In English, it's very common to talk about letters of the alphabet in the plural: he writes his R's backwards, for example, is a perfectly natural sentence. But the Latin names for the letters don't seem to follow any declension pattern.

If I wanted to pluralize (or more generally, decline) a letter name, how would I go about it? Are they indeclinable? y at least seems to be feminine.

7

I doubt that the letter names themselves were ever declined, but I expect that if the need arose, one could use litera in apposition, e.g. literae R. (I expect that's why you say "y at least seems to be feminine" - from an implicit litera assumed.)

P.S. I now see that W. Sidney Allen cites quite a few quotations in Appendix A of his Vox Latina. There seem to be usages of letters treated both as neuters and feminines (but I think mainly feminines). There's far too much there for me to type out by hand, but scanning the citations I see things like

u litteram digamma esse

u autem, quamuis contractum

e quae sequitur

inter litteram n et g est alia uis

r: non multum est

Maiiamque geminata i scribere

  • Entirely fair. I say y appears to be feminine because it's sometimes called y graeca, not e.g. y graecum. – Draconis Oct 13 '18 at 15:30
  • Is this attested anywhere? – Draconis Oct 13 '18 at 15:48
  • @Draconis I don't know; I was basing my answer on a reasonable supposition. – varro Oct 13 '18 at 15:54
  • Entirely fair, just curious. – Draconis Oct 13 '18 at 15:55
  • 2
    @Draconis With respect to your remark about y graeca: one might compare this with its corresponding later Greek (Byzantine) name, υ ψιλόν / y-psilon, rather than (say) υ ψιλή, from an implied γράμμα. – varro Oct 13 '18 at 15:57
4

Some additional examples:

Nam ‘divus’ et ‘rivus’ et ‘clivus’ non ‘us’ syllaba terminantur, sed ea quae per duo u scribenda est ... (Gellius)

est tamen quando idem Aeolis inveniuntur pro duplici quoque consonante digamma posuisse (Prisc.)

4

In addition to the good suggestion to use littera together with the letter, you can also use a plain adjective, pronoun, or numeral when they are needed. That is, you could render "he writes his R's like so" as sua R scribit sic. If you want to have an implicit litteras, replace the neuter sua with suas. I would not decline the letter itself, as the names don't really conform with Latin declensions.

  • Is there any attestation of this showing e.g. which gender would be used? – Draconis Oct 13 '18 at 15:48
  • @Draconis There must be some attestations if you have no limits for how recent it can be. For me both neuter (no noun implied) or feminine (littera) make sense. – Joonas Ilmavirta Oct 13 '18 at 18:14

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