Yogh

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Yogh is the name of the Old English letter ʒ. Not used in modern day English, it used to have a number of functions. It was mostly used for the sound we now do not pronounce, but spell 'gh', as in 'ought', 'knight', and 'eight'. (Much used in Old English (before 1200) and Middle English (till 1500), this was the guttural sound of Scots 'loch', or - in a phrase sometimes used by the English to mock the Scots - it's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht. It is also common in German and many other languages.) Sometimes the letter yogh was used for 'z'. In Scotland, several surnames show an old yogh, now written as '-z-', which have resulted in pronunciations that cannot be predicted from their spellings: Menzies and M(a)cKenzie. Menzies is usually pronounced 'MEN-ziz' (IPA: /ˈmɛn zɪs/) in England, but 'MING-iz' (IPA: /ˈmˈɪŋ ɪs/) in Scotland. MacKenzie is universally realised as it is spelled /mə ˈkɛn zɪ/; but until well into the twentieth century the older (and more etymological) pronunciation 'mer-KING-y' (IPA: /mə ˈkɪŋ ɪ/) was to be heard. (See also Odd pronunciations of proper names - examples.)

A famous Mackenzie was Lord Advocate of Scotland from 1677 to 1686 - Sir George Mackenzie, who because he persecuted Covenanters, earned the nickname the Bluidy Mackenzie. Scott refers to him as the "Bluidy Advocate MacKenyie" in the novel Redgauntlet, which gives an indication of its pronunciation. The writer John Buchan gave his character Sir Archibald Roylance a dog called "[the bloody] Mackingie".

An odder change in pronunciation is that of Dalziel, where, for one branch of the family at least, the consonantal sound of yogh has disappeared, leaving an alteration in the vowel sounds and stress: 'dee-ELL', IPA: /di ˈɛl/. This is current in Scotland, though elsewhere the phonetic 'dal-ZEAL' (IPA: /dæl ˈziːl/) can be heard. By a coincidence, one of the famous members of the family also persecuted covenanters, General Tam Dalyell of the Binns (the family estate, near Linlithgow): he was named Bluidy Tam, as Mackenzie was "the Bluidy Mackenzie". His descendant is Tam Dalyell, the 11th Baronet, Sir Thomas Dalyell of the Binns: a Labour member of the House of Commons from 1962 to 2005, becoming 'Father of the House' (longest sitting member) after the 2001 election. He died in 2017.

In the modern IPA, the symbol 'ʒ’ is used to represent the soft sound in the middle of such words as 'vision' IPA: /ˈvɪʒ ən/ or 'measure' IPA: /ˈmɛʒ ər/. The sound is rare in English, though common in other languages, for example French: the symbol is normally only used in phonetic transcriptions.


See also obsolete letters.