Over 2,500 linguists and English language specialists from around the world gathered this week to decide if the letter Y is a vowel, a consonant or both. The letter has hovered in character limbo for years and linguists finally want to set in stone its status. Oxford professor Jeremy Langdon attended the conference. “We had to decide once and for all what exactly Y was. Teachers across the globe have been giving conflicting answers over the years as to whether it’s a vowel or consonant and we have to set the record straight.”
For those unsure of what the debate is all about, the letter Y is used as a consonant in hundreds of words, such as ‘you’ and ‘yoghurt’. However, it is used in other words, like ‘my’ and ‘fry’ as a vowel. Clearly there is a lot of confusion over what the letter should be defined to be. Controversial linguist Alec Freeman believes that it should belong to its own class of letter. “I propose we call it a vowelsonant,” Freeman said. “People are going to have to learn how to cope with a new class of letter. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how Countdown learns to cope.”
However, the conference is not only about the status of Y. Many other pseudo-letters are in consideration to be reclassified as members of the alphabet. “I think that a lot of the population have it too engrained in their minds that there are only twenty-six letters in our alphabet,” Freeman said. “They don’t even realise that they are using these so called pseudo-letters every day and excluding them from the elite clique of alphabetdom.”
Top of the list of characters is the ampersand, ‘&’. “Many people already consider the ampersand to be the twenty-seventh letter in our alphabet,” Langdon explained. The ampersand is used in text as an alternate means of writing ‘and’. The shape of the letter is based on a stylised version of the Latin word ‘et’, meaning ‘and’. Langdon said “I think the ampersand should be considered different to punctuation used in text. German uses its Eszett symbol (ß) as an additional letter in its alphabet, so the ampersand should be given its chance too.”
If the letter is successfully added to the English alphabet then it could mean that its use would not be restricted to occurring on its own. In the next few years words like h& & c&le could become a common sight. Freeman contends this. “If we’re going to start using the ampersand in words it should replace ‘et’ and not ‘and’ as the symbol is derived from ‘et’.” Freeman’s suggestion would result in words like nugg& and ber&.
Other characters being considered for entry into the alphabet include @ and even the number 2. Freeman is one of 2’s biggest supporters. “It would be the easiest of any of the new characters to adopt into everyday use,” he said. “People already use it regularly in text messages and online.” Freeman wants 2 @ least cre@e an altern@e character for the word ‘to’. “I’ll admit that using the number two could be confusing, so we could try using a stylised character based on the letters t and o, like the ampersand and Eszett.”
The conference is going to have to define basic parameters on what defines a letter or character to be part of the alphabet. Depending on how loose those parameters are the alphabet song could be stretched out into minutes in length. “We have to be careful who we let into the updated alphabet,” Langdon said. “Nobody wants the number three to be used in place of e or any other similar Internet slang to get a place in the alphabet.” Dr Marcus Fillmore of Yale proposed that only letters which are named with a single syllable should be part of the alphabet. This disallows entry to the ampersand, but would also eject W from the party. Dr Fillmore has since been banned from the conference for making such a ridiculous suggestion and his position is Yale is under inspection.
“At the end of this conference I could see the alphabet being expanded to perhaps even thirty letters.” Langdon said. “People should be able to adapt quickly.” While Langdon is confident in the English speaking population others have stated that there will no doubt be millions of stick-in-the-muds who will insist on using only the classic alphabet. The results of the conference are being eagerly anticipated as, whatever the outcome, the uncertainty of the English language should finally be dissolved by this weekend.