[Evertype]  On the status of the Latin letter þorn and of its sorting order Home


Michael Everson, Evertype
Baldur Sigurðsson, Íslensk Málstöð

Report to CEN/TC304. Presented in Reykjavík 1994-06-07

1.0 The question of ÞORN’s sorting status in a default European sorting order has proved difficult to resolve. We have, in order to further this discussion efficiently and definitively, endeavoured to establish once and for all the status of the letter ÞORN in the Latin alphabet and of the sorting order Europeans should expect it to have. In order to accomplish this, we will proceed from the following premises:

1.1 In order to sort ISO 10646 characters, their status as letters (or other types of characters) must be defined in order to associate them in equivalence classes.

1.2 Sorting is considered to be the same as alphabetization; therefore it is necessary, in order to prevent ambiguity, to define the alphabet in terms of its basic constituents (“basic letters of the Latin alphabet”) and in terms of its derived constituents (“letters derived from basic letters of the Latin alphabet”). A derived letter is one which is, in terms of its historical development, based on one or more other Latin characters, whether by some deformation of the character itself, or by the addition of one or more modifying marks or signs.

1.3 A default European sorting order should arrange all derived letters as ordered members of a set designated by a basic letter (e.g., members of the set designated by L are l, Ĺ, ĺ, Ľ, ľ, Ŀ, ŀ, Ḷ, ḷ, Ł, ł, Ļ, ļ, Ḹ, ḹ, Ḽ, ḽ, Ḻ, ḻ). National sorting orders may create sets on other principles; thus in Polish L and Ł are considered to be separate letters for the purposes of sorting. This does not mean that Ł is basic; it is not: Ł is a letter derived from the basic letter L. What it means is only that Polish sorts the basic and the derived letter as members of two separate sets.

2.0 The letter ÞORN is a basic letter of the Latin alphabet. We offer the following proof to establish this formally.

2.1 The history of the Latin alphabet elucidates the question of what is a basic letter. The Romans learned their alphabet from the Etruscans, who themselves had learned it from the Greeks. (For full details see Haarmann 1992:294ff, Sampson 1985:99ff, Atkinson & Whatmough 1970:662ff, and Diringer 1968:386ff.)

2.2 Phoenician to Greek. The Greek alphabet had been borrowed from the Phoenician or another North Semitic alphabet in the 10th century BCE. It is easy to see the relation between the Phoenician and the Greek letter-names and their ordering.


By about the 6th century BCE, three letters, DIGAMMA, SAMPI, and QOPPA, were abandoned (though they were retained with a numerical value). The Greeks added five other letters to their Phoenician-derived alphabet:


It is useful to note that different dialects used these characters for different sounds; in the west CHI was used for /ks/, in the east for /kh/; in the west PSI was used for /kh/, in the east for /ps/. Phoenician SAMEKH, SADE, and SHIN stood for three different sibilants which Greek did not possess, so Greeks took either SADE~SAMPI or SHIN~SIGMA for /s/, and turned SAMEKH into XI to represent the sound /ks/ (though not in dialects which used CHI for this).

2.3 Greek to Etruscan. Etruscans learned their alphabet early from the Greeks, about the 8th century BCE. It appears that Etruscans were familiar with the western and eastern variants of the Greek alphabet, since they initially took both SAMPI and SIGMA, which do not occur together in any extant Greek texts. For the Etruscans, meant /ks/, /ph/, and /kh/ respectively.

Etruscan phonology was different from Greek. Only the earliest Etruscan (proto-Tyrrhenian) scripts had B, D, and O, because Etruscan lacked the Greek distinction of voiceless/voiced/voiceless-aspirate bilabials (Π/Β/Φ) and dentals (Τ/Δ/Θ), and had no /o/. Likewise, the Etruscans gave up the to them useless distinction between XI/SAMPI/SIGMA, taking only SIGMA for /s/. Early Greek had written QOPPA for back allophones of /k/ before /u/ and KAPPA in other environments; Etruscan continued this tradition, and because it also lacked a voiced velar stop /ɡ/, Etruscans extended the logic and wrote front allophones of /k/ before /e/ and /i/ with C (that is, with , a turned Γ) as well.

2.4 Etruscan to Latin The Romans borrowed their script from the Etruscans in about the 6th century BCE. Etruscans had abandoned the Semitic letter names in favour of phonetic letter names; these were passed on to us by the Romans: A, BE, CE, DE, E, EF, etc.; but otherwise the early Latin alphabet was structured much like its Etruscan, Greek, and Semitic predecessors (Hebrew is given for comparison).

The Romans had no /th/, /ph/, or, /kh/, so were not taken over from the Etruscans. At the same time, B, D, O, and X were taken from a western Greek alphabet (because X had a value of /ks/ not /kh/), and the 21-letter alphabet given above can be taken as the earliest basic Latin alphabet. It dates to the 6th century BCE.

2.5 Germanic and later fuþarks. The Runic script, or Fuþark, is thought by some scholars also to have been derived from the Etruscan, via the Alpine scripts (Lepontic, Rhaetic, and Venetic) which were current between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. The oldest Germanic Runic inscription dates to about the middle of that period. Common Germanic Runic or Older Fuþark was in general use between the 1st and 8th centuries; Nordic Runic, or the Younger Fuþąrk, was in very wide use between the 9th and 12th centuries. The most complex of the Runic scripts was the Anglo-Saxon Fuþorc, which was used in England and Friesland until about the 8th century. The sorting order of the Fuþarks differs significantly from the inherited Semitic pattern; ÞORN, which may derive ultimately from the Phoenician THET, has the third position in Runic. Below are given the Germanic fuþark, Danish fuþąrk (the Swedish/Norwegian glyphs differ somewhat) and the Anglo-Saxon fuþorc, with normalized (and in the case of Germanic, reconstructed) names, and a transliteration into Latin letters.

  ML     Ʀ

Throughout the Middle Ages, fuþorcs were copied by Continental scribes in a tradition which is called Runica manuscripta. These fuþorcs were sometimes left in Runic order, but more often were equated to the Latin script, with a greater or lesser accuracy as regards the meaning and naming of the Runes. Because these became basically cyphers for the Latin alphabet, they are called Runic alphabets. ÞORN was sometimes assigned to the the Latin letter D (perhaps due to influence of German-speaking scribes, for whom Þorn was Dorn); but one interesting 12th-century manuscript, Phillips MS 3715, gives the following order for the Runic alphabet [Derolez 1954:227-37]. Note the placement of letters added to the Latin alphabet:


2.6 Greek to Gothic. The Gothic script was derived by Wulfila from the Greek, with the influence of the Germanic fuþark (already in use by the Goths) and the Latin alphabet. The glyphs of the Gothic alphabet were derived from a 4th-century Greek uncial hand; the basic ordering follows that of the Greek. Given below is the Gothic, the Greek for ordering comparison, and the usual Latin transliteration for Gothic.


Nowadays most editions print Gothic with the Latin script, not the Gothic script, though some scholars have argued that this is bad practice: “The extraordinary significance of the alphabet in which the Gothic literary monuments were written was strongly emphasized by the late Herman Hirt: ‘Dreimal sind die Germanen zu einer Schrift gekommen. Das erste Mal schufen sie – wahrscheinlich war es ein einzelner Mann, ein Schriftmeister – aus einem Alphabet des Altertums das gemeingermanische Runenalphabet, das sich vor allem in Skandinavien verbreitete und dort längerer Zeit verwendet wurde. Das zweite Mal bildete der Grössten einer, der Gotenbischof Wulfila, im wesentlichen aus dem griechischen Alphabet mit Zuhilfenahme des Lateinischen und der Runenschrift, ein den Bedürfnissen gotischer Zunge angepasstes Schriftwesen, und das dritte Mal haben die christlichen Sendboten und die Mönche versucht, in ganz roher Weise die rauhen deutschen Laute durch die lateinischen Buchstaben wiederzugeben.’” [Fairbanks and Magoun 1940:314-15].

2.7 Additions to Latin. The first derived letter of the Latin alphabet can be dated to the 3rd century BCE. Latin phonology was different again from Etruscan; while Q was used for the labiovelar /kw/, C continued to represent /k/ before /e/ and /i/ as well as in other environments (K had become unpopular and fallen out of general use in favour of C). Latin had a voiced velar /ɡ/, however, which also had to be represented by C. The first Roman to open a fee-paying school, a freedman named Spurius Carvilius Ruga, amended the Latin script by replacing the seventh letter, Z, which represented the unneeded Greek sound /dz/, with a new letter, LATIN LETTER C WITH STROKE, which we have come to know as G. (One may symphathize with Ruga, whom we can imagine found it tiresome to explain to people how to pronounce RVCA before he solved the problem by deriving G.) Note that Ruga’s positioning of G shows that alphabetic order was a concern even in the 3rd century BCE. Sampson (1985) suggested that: “Evidently the order of the alphabet was felt to be such a concrete thing that a new letter could be added in the middle only if a ‘space’ was created by the dropping of an old letter.” LATIN LETTER G is a derived letter which has become a basic letter of the Latin alphabet.

2.8 Borrowing from Greek. The first basic letters added to the Latin alphabet were borrowed from a foreign alphabet. After Greece was conquered by the Romans in 146 BCE, the letters UPSILON and ZETA were borrowed directly from Greek to represent the foreign sounds /y/ and /z/ (< earlier /dz/) respectively. These new letters, LATIN LETTERs Y and Z, were added to the end of the Latin alphabet, which by now had 23 letters. This basic alphabet remained stable for the next eight centuries.

2.9 Borrowing from the English fuþorc. The next basic letter added to the Latin alphabet was also borrowed from a foreign alphabet. The coming of Christianity to England from Ireland in the 8th century brought with it the Latin script. Monks adapted it to suit the Old English language, and to represent the missing dental fricatives /ð/ nd /θ/, LATIN LETTER ÞORN was borrowed from the well-known Runic script. In other parts of Anglo-Saxon England, LATIN LETTER EÐ a letter derived from LATIN LETTER D, was used for these sounds. In Old English, no particular distinction was made between ÞORN and EÐ and either or both could be used even in a single text. The Old English alphabet spread to Iceland and Scandinavia, and by the 14th century, the use there of EÐ for the voiced /ð/ and ÞORN for the voiceless /θ/ was common. This became more or less the rule for Icelandic following the publication of Rasmus Christian Rask’s works on Icelandic grammar and spelling in the early 19th century; it received the status of a modern standard finally in 1982 in a resolution by Íslensk Málnefnd, the Icelandic Language Council [Baldur Sigurðsson 1994].

2.10 Derivation of LATIN LETTER W. Other derived letters of the Latin alphabet are generally of much later date. According to Hreinn Benediktsson (1965:26), “in the earliest German orthography consonantal u was, as a rule, indicated by doubling the symbol, ‘uu’; later by the digraphs ‘uv’, ‘vu’, and ‘vv’, and in the 11th century the last of these developed into the ligature ‘w’.” LATIN LETTER W, like LATIN LETTER G, is a derived letter which has become a basic letter of the Latin alphabet.

2.11 Derivation of LATIN LETTER J and LATIN LETTER U. Swash handwritten versions of I were common in medieval manuscripts and early printing; viij was often written for viii, for instance. By the 15th or 16th centuries, linguistic change in numerous European languages had inspired writers to use the swash version of I as a letter in its own right, LATIN LETTER J. (Some languages used J for consonantal /j/, others for other sounds, such as English /dʒ/, French /ʒ/, or Spanish /x/.) Likewise, the round handwritten version of LATIN LETTER V was used as the vowel /u/ and came to be LATIN LETTER U; while the angular version continued to be used for a labial consonant of one kind or another, whether /v/ or /β/ or /f/. LATIN LETTER J and LATIN LETTER U, like LATIN LETTER W and LATIN LETTER G, are derived letters which have become basic letters of the Latin alphabet.

2.12 From the above we present here a list of the 27 basic letters of the modern Latin alphabet. This alphabet includes four historically derived letters which are no longer considered to be derived (namely G J U W) and three letters added from foreign alphabets (namely Y Z Þ):

6th c. BCE  A B C D E F Z H I   K L M N O P Q R S T   V   X
20th c. CE  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Þ

Further investigation may reveal that other letters should be considered to be basic letters of the Latin alphabet, such as GLOTTAL STOP, the African click letters, or LATIN LETTER OI, Ƣƣ (which is misnamed in ISO 10646; it may have been derived from <ɣ> or <q>; it represents the velar fricative /ɣ/ in some Turkic languages). It may also be appropriate to consider LATIN LETTER Æ to be a derived letter with basic letter status, in the same way as W is. The digraph AE was early written as a ligature Æ in Latin; but in Old English and Norse it was used as early as the 8th century as an independent and separate letter, not as a ligature. (Indeed not taking it either as a variant of A or as a basic letter in its own right creates a problem similar to that of ÞORN with regard to its sorting position, making it subordinate to two other letters.) However, apart from setting forth the guidelines for making such determinations, as above in sections 1.1 1.3, it is not the place of this particular study to delve further into this question.

2.13 ÞORN as a unique basic letter of the Latin alphabet deserves to have a unique place in alphabetic sorting, according to 1.3 above. It is an additional letter borrowed from the Runic fuþorc and is not derived from any other Latin letter; therefore it is not subordinate to any other Latin letter. To determine the sorting for ÞORN or for any unique or rare letter, it should first be determined how it is sorted in the languages which actually use it. Thereafter the specification of sorting for ÞORN in other languages should be investigated.

3.0 Sorting ÞORN. ÞORN is used to write Old English, Middle English, Old Norse, Late Norse, Sami, and Modern Icelandic. In modern editions of Gothic, it is used to transliterate GOTHIC LETTER THYTH, which corresponds in ordering to GREEK LETTER THETA. Below we review the expected sorting order of ÞORN by a thorough search and citation of available literature for these languages; this is a representative survey if not an exhaustive one. The literature examined consists of dictionaries and teaching grammars for languages which use and sort ÞORN; it also includes existing sorting standards and other works of interest.

3.1 Six sorting practices have been found for ÞORN. Two traditions of transliteration are known. As a helpful way of reviewing the literature, we have numbered these practices 1 through 8. Following that first number is a four-letter abbreviation for language (Goth ‘Gothic’, Grmc ‘Germanic’, Icel ‘Icelandic’, MEng ‘Middle English’, NDan ‘Modern Danish’, NEng ‘Modern English’, OEng ‘Old English’, OIce ‘Old Icelandic’, ONor ‘Old Norse’, Swed ‘Modern Swedish’) and the approximate date the sorting order was written (this may not reflect the date of the publication of the work and is meant to be approximate). It should be noted that in choosing the sorting orders used in the works below, editors may not only have been informed by the conventions of the target language (Old or Middle something); certainly that language has some influence but so has the language in which the work is written, the mother tongue of the author, or other theoretical considerations (cf. Bessinger’s use of Icelandic order for Old English at 1.OEng.1960 below).

3.1.1 ÞORN is written, and is sorted as a separate letter after Z. This is standard Icelandic practice.

1.OEngl.1011. Byrhtferð. 1929. Byrhtferth’s Manual (AD 1011) now edited for the first time from MS. Ashmole 328 in the Bodleian library. Samuel John Crawford, ed. (Early English Text Society, OS; 177) London: Oxford University Press.

[On p. 203 of his manuscript, Byrhtferð gives what could be considered an Old English character set, namely the Latin alphabet (which includes the sign & ‘ampersand’), and the Old English additional letters, as well as the nota ⁊ ‘ond’). Giving also the numeric values, Byrhtferð shows a concern for ordering, though his 11th-century interests are not, perhaps, the same as our own:

“Heræfter we wyllað openian uplendiscum preostum þæra <stafena> gerena æfter Lydenwara gesceade. Ærest we willað hig amearkian togædere, ⁊ syððan heora todælednyssa we willað gekyðan on þa wisan þe þa boceras habbað ⁊ healdað; ⁊ eac we willað þa stafas onsundron gewriðan þe þa estfullan preostas on heora getæle habbað ⁊ þæræfter Ebreiscra abecede we willað geswutelian, ⁊ Grecisra. ⁊ þæt getæl þæra stafena we þencað to cyþanne, forþon we witon þæt hyt mæg fremian.”

(‘We will next reveal to country priests the mysteries of the letters of the alphabet in accordance with the reasoning of the Romans. First of all we will write them down together, and then we will make known their divisions in the manner which scholars have and hold, and likewise we will group the letters separately, which devout priests have in their reckoning, and afterwards we will set forth the alphabet of the Hebrews, and that of the Greeks; and it is our intention to make known the numerical value of the letters, because we know that it may be of advantage.’)”

Latin    A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z ⁊ 
English A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z & ⁊ Ƿ Þ Ð Æ

Apparently there are other early English alphabets, which may differ from this one, but we have not seen them.]
1.Icel.1150. Haugen, Einar, ed. 1972. First grammatical treatise: the earliest Germanic phonology:an edition, translation, and commentary. 2nd ed. London: Longman.
[This represents the earliest explicit discussion of sorting order for the letter þorn and as such deserves full citation here:

“Staf þann, er flestir menn kalla þorn, þann kalla ek af því heldr the, at þá er þat atkvæði hans í hverju máli, sem eptir lifir nafnsins, er ór er tekinn raddarstafr ór nafni hans, sem alla hefi ek samhljóðendr samða í þat mark nú, sem ek reit snemma í þeira umrœðu. Skal þ standa fyrri í stafrófi en títull, þó at ek hava síðarr umrœðu um hann, því at hann er síðarst í fundinn.”

(‘The letter which most men call thorn I shall call the, so that its sound value in each context will be what is left of the name when the vowel is removed, since I have now arranged all the consonants in that manner, as I wrote earlier in this discussion. Þ shall stand before tittle in the alphabet, even though I have spoken of it later, since it was the last to be added.’ (Tittle is the tilde.))]

1.Icel.1908 Islandica, an annual relating to Iceland and the Fiske Icelandic collection in Cornell University Library. 1908 P. M. Mitchell, ed (1990). Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

1.Icel.1918. Halldór Hermannsson, ed. 1918. Catalogue of Runic Literature forming a part of the Icelandic Collection bequeathed by Willard Fiske. London and New York: Oxford University Press.

1.Icel.1920. Blöndal, Sigfús. 1920-24. Islandsk-dansk ordbok = Íslenzk-dönsk orðabók. Reykjavík: Þórarinn B. Þorláksson; København & Kristiania: H. Aschehoug & Co.

1.Icel.1956. Jóhannesson, Alexander. 1956. Isländisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Bern: Francke.

1.Icel.1957. Cleasby, Richard, and Gudbrand Vigfusson. 1957. An Icelandic-English dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

1.ONor.1957. Gordon, E. V. 1957. An introduction to Old Norse. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

1.OEng.1960. Bessinger, J. B. 1960. A short dictionary of Anglo-Saxon poetry, in a normalized Early West-Saxon orthography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
[Bessinger notes in his preface:
“I owe to Professor Magoun the reminder that the alphabetical arrangements of Old English dictionaries and glossaries are perhaps needlessly (and comparatively) inconvenient, as a result of attempts to weave into the Latin alphabet the special additional characters used by the scribes. In this book I have gratefully followed his suggestion and the example of the Scandinavian dictionaries and removed [þ], [æ] and [ð] to the end of the ordinary alphabet; the crossed d or “eth” character, never initial in the present orthography, follows the ordinary d. This arrangement should recommend itself for its consistency and for the secondary convenience of aligning Old English withOld Norse and ModernIcelandic dictionaries.”]
1.Icel.1963. Árni Böðvarsson. 1963. Íslenzk orðabók handa skólum og almenningi. Reykjavík Bókaútgáfa Menningarsjóðs.

1.Icel.1966. Finnur Jónsson. 1966. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis = Ordbog over det norsk-islandsk skjaldesprog. 2nd ed. København: Møller.

1.Icel.1967. Sveinn Bergsveinsson. 1967. Isländisch-deutsches Wörterbuch = Íslenzk-Þýzk orðabók. Leipzig: VEB Verlag Enzyklopedie.

1.Icel.1968. Baetke, Walter. 1968. Wörterbuch zur altnordischen Prosaliteratur. 2 vols. (Sitzungsberichte der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig: Philologisch-historische Klasse; 111) Berlin:Akademie-Verlag.

1.Icel.1970. Arngrímur Sigurðsson. 1970. Íslenzk-ensk orðabók. Reykjavík: Prentsmiðjan Leiftur.

1.OEng.1975. Carpenter, Stephen Haskins. 1975. An introduction to the study of the Anglo-Saxon language, comprising an elementary grammar, selections for reading, with explanatory notes and a vocabulary. Boston, Ginn Brothers.
[Carpenter sorts Old English ÞORN (as well as its allograph EÐ) as a separate letter following Z. (In fact it follows Y, there being no words beginning with Z in this wordlist.)]
1.Icel.1978. Kulturhistorisk lexikon for nordisk middelalder. 1978. 22 vols. København, Helsingfors, Reykjavík, Oslo, Malmö.

1.Icel.1979. Jansson, Sven B. F. 1979. Isländsk-svensk ordbok = Íslenzk-sænsk orðabók. Göteborg: Rabén & Sjögren.

1.OIce.1981. Valfells, Sigrid, and James E. Cathey. 1981. Old Icelandic: an introductory course. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

1.NGer.1982. Österreichische Normungsinstitut. 1982. Regeln für Ordnen von Schriftzeichenfolgen (ABC-Regeln). ÖNORM A 2725.
[“Treten jedoch mehrere Buchstaben aus einem bestimmten nichtlateinischen Alphabet auf, so folgen diese untereinander den Ordnungsregeln ihres Ursprungsalphabetes und werden den einzeln auftretenden Zeichen nachgeordnet. Zum Beispiel: Y Z.” qqq]
1.MEng.1986. McIntosh, Angus. 1986. A linguistic atlas of late mediaeval English. 4 Vols. Aberdeen; New York: Aberdeen University Press.
[For a discussion of the practice of this work, see section 3.1.6 below.]
3.1.2 ÞORN is written, and is sorted as a separate letter after T and before U. This is the usual Old English practice.

2.ONor.1993 Pulsiano, Phillip, ed. 1993. Medieval Scandinavia: an encyclopedia. New York and London: Garland Publishing.
[The last letters: S, T, Þ, U, V, W, Y, Ä, Æ, Ö, Ǫ, Å.]
2.OEng.1884. Wright, Thomas. 1968. Anglo-Saxon and Old English vocabularies. (3., unveranderte Aufl. Reprografischer Nachdruck der 2. Aufl. London 1884.) 2 vols. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
[Wright sorts Old English ÞORN (as well as its allograph EÐ) as a separate letter following T.]
2.MEng.1891. Stratmann, Francis Henry. 1891. A Middle English dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

2.OEng.1894. Cook, Albert S. 1894. A glossary of the old Northumbrian Gospels (Lindisfarne Gospels or Durham Book). Halle: Max Niemeyer.
[Cook sorts Old English ÞORN (as well as its allograph EÐ) as a separate letter following T.]
2.OEng.1898. Bosworth, Joseph. 1898. An Anglo-Saxon dictionary, based on the manuscript collections of the late Joseph Bosworth. Ed. by T. Northcote Toller. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

2.Goth.1900. Streitberg, Wilhelm August, 1900. Gotisches elementarbuch. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
[Streitberg transliterates Gothic THYTH as ÞORN, and sorts it as a separate letter following T. He also remarks on transcription traditions:
“Anstatt der von H. Collitz (ZZ 12, 480ff) erfundenen Ligatur ƕ für findet man auch hv oder hw. Ganz abgekommen ist die alte Transkription von durch th anstatt durch das dem Runenalphabet entlehnte Zeichen .”]
2.Goth.1910. Wright, Joseph. 1910. Grammar of the Gothic language, and the Gospel of St. Mark. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
[Wright gives Gothic letter THYTH as a separate letter from Gothic letter TYZ in his introduction of the Gothic alphabet. Throughout the book, he transliterates the Gothic alphabet, and writes ÞORN for Gothic THYTH. In the glossary, ÞORN is a separate letter following T.]
2.OEng.1912. Grein, C. W. M. 1912. Sprachschatz der angelsächsischen Dichter. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.

2.OEng.1916. Hall, John Richard Clark. 1916. A concise Anglo-Saxon dictionary for the use of students. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[Hall gives only the allograph EÐ of Old English ÞORN, but sorts it as a separate letter following T.]
2.OEng.1917. Bright, James W. 1917. An Anglo-Saxon reader. New York: H. Holt & Co.
[Wright sorts Old English ÞORN (as well as its allograph EÐ) as a separate letter following T.]
2.OEng.1931. Girvan, R. 1931. Angelsaksisch handboek. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon.

2.Goth.1934. Holthausen, Ferdinand. 1934. Gotisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.

2.Goth.1939. Feist, Sigmund. 1939. Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der gotischen Sprache mit Einschluss des Krimgotischen und sonstiger zerstreute Überreste des Gotischen. 3. Aufl. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

2.Goth.1942. Mossé, Fernand. 1942. Manuel de la langue gotique. Paris: Aubier, Éditions Montaigne.
[Mossé transliterates Gothic THYTH as ÞORN, and sorts it as a separate letter following T. He also remarks:
“D’ailleurs, pour des raisons pratiques, il y a longtemps qu’on ne se sert plus de l’alphabet gotique dans les éditions de textes et les citations; on translitère à l’aide de l’alphabet latin auquel on ajoute les signes þ, ƕ, et w. (Les anciennes éditions ont employée th, hv ou hw, et v.)”
It should be pointed out that “des raisons pratiques” were technological inadequacies preventing the easy printing of the Gothic script.]
2.OEng.1945-59. Mossé, Fernand. 1945-59. Manuel de l’anglais du moyen âge, des orgines au XIVe siècle. Paris: Aubier, Éditions Montaigne.
[Mossé gives only the allograph EÐ of Old English ÞORN, but sorts it as a separate letter following T.]
2.ONor.1948. Holthausen, Ferdinand. 1948. Vergleichendes und etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altwestnordsichen (Altnorwegisch-isländischen), einschließlich der Lehn- und Fremdwörter sowie der Eigennamen. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

2.Icel.1958. Wessén, Elias. 1958. Isländsk grammatik. Stockholm: Svenska Bokförlaget.

2.ONor.1961. de Vries, Jan. 1961. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

2.ONor.1961. Iversen, Ragnvald. 1961. Norrøn gammatikk. Oslo: H. Aschehoug & Co.

2.ONor.1963. Heggsted, Leiv. 1963. Gamalnorsk ordbog med nynorsk tyding. Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget.

2.OEng.1963. Holthausen, F. 1963. Altenglisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
[Holthausen gives only the allograph EÐ of Old English ÞORN, but sorts it as a separate letter following T. Note that the lower-case graph for EÐ here is not ð but đ.]
2.ONor.1963. Möbius, Theodor. 1963. Altnordisches Glossar: Wörterbuch zu einer Auswahl alt-isländischer und alt-norwegischer Prosatexte. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

2.Goth.1968. Krause, Wolfgang. 1968. Handbuch des Gotischen. 3., neubearb. Aufl. München: Beck.
[Krause transliterates Gothic THYTH as ÞORN, and sorts it as a separate letter following T.]
2.OEng.1970. Cameron, Angus, Roerta Frank, and John Leyerle, eds. 1970. Computers and Old English concordances. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
[This record of the earliest discussions toward a comprehensive electronic dictionary of Old English arrived at a “recommended sequence” for alphabetizing Old English. Of interest is the fact that Æ came as a separate letter following A, and EÐ and ÞORN as separate letters (apparently not mixed) following T (pp. 71-72).]
2.OEng.1982. Borden, Arthur R. 1982. A comprehensive Old-English dictionary. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America.

2.Goth.1986. Lehmann, Winfred. 1986. A Gothic etymological dictionary. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

3.1.3 ÞORN is written, and is sorted as a separate letter within the letter T, after TH and before TI. This is rare, but readable.

3.Various.1989. Strayer, Joseph R., ed. 1989. Dictionary of the Middle Ages. 13 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

3.OEng.1991. Bammesberger, Alfred, ed. 1991. Old English runes and their Continental background. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
[In a short Index Verborum (p. 594), Bammesberger sorts Germanic, Gothic, Old English, Old Frisian, Old Norse, and Runic Scandinavian words and names beginning with ÞORN separately after TH and before TI.]
3.1.4. ÞORN is written, and is sorted mixed with TH. This is a rare practice and is difficult to read. We recommend that it be avoided. It causes a kind of visual seasickness. Note that several national standards follow this at present, however.

4.Grmc.1900-09. Paul, Hermann. 1900-09. Grundriss der germanischen philologie unter mitwirkung von K. von Amira, W. Arndt. 2. verb. und verm. aufl. 3 vols. Strassburg: K. J. Trübner, 1900-09.
[Paul writes Germanic /θ/ as ÞORN, and sorts it mixed with other words in TH. Note that this early practice was abandoned by most scholars of Indo-European or Germanic.]
4.Icel.1958. Hollander, L. M. 1958. A bibliography of Skaldic studies. Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard.
[From the preface:
“As to alphabetical sequence I follow the practice of American libraries in treating oe, œ, ö, o-e; [...] and in order to avoid needless confusion, list þ and th as in the first letter of names, together.”
In the bibliographical list ÞORN is written but in the index it is transliterated.]
4.Icel.1972. The National Union Catalog 1956 through 1967. Vol. 111. Mansell 1972.
[Icelandic authors and titles are written with TH or ÞORN, mostly as TH. On some cards the real character is printed or typewritten, on some it is entirely handwritten or typed <p> with handwritten prolongation.]
4.Icel.1974. Bibliography of Old Norse-Icelandic Studies 1973 (BONIS). Copenhagen: The Royal Library.
[This work follows an English sorting order even though it is published in Denmark. The letters Å Ä Á Ö Ø Ǫ Ó are all sorted as variants of A or O; Æ is sorted as A + E.]
4.Icel.1978. The National Union Catalog. Pre-1956 Imprints. Vol. 593. Mansell 1978.
[The same practice as in 4.Icel.1972 above]
4.Icel.1978. University Library Leeds. 1978. A catalogue of the Icelandic collection. Leeds: The Library.
[A true English sorting order of all Nordic letters.]
4.NDan.1980. Dansk Standard DS 377 1.5.
[“Faerøsk ð ordnes som d. Islandsk ð ordnes som d, þ ordnes som th.”]
4.Swed.1982. Svensk Standard 03 81 04: Dokumentation – Administrativ filering – Alfanumerisk sortering (Documentation – Administrative filing rules – Alphanumerical ordering). 1. ed. (1982-06-25), 4.2.4:
[“Specialbokstäver i språkskrivna med det latinska alfabetet konverteras vid filering till en eller flera av de latinska bokstäverna enligt följande tabell:
isländskt ð, Ð d   polskt ł, Ł l
serbokroatiskt đ, Đ d   samiskt ŋ n
turkiskt ı i   isländskt þ th
grönländskt ĸ k   tyskt ü y
danskt, norskt ø ö   ungerskt ő y
      ungerskt ű y”]
4.NEng.1984. Fisher, John H., Malcolm Richardson, and Jane L. Fisher. 1984. An anthology of Chancery English. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
[This work is an edition of Chancery manuscripts, ca. 1388-1455, in which both TH and ÞORN were written in English. The index mixes 5 words beginning with ÞORN in with 34 words beginning with TH.]
4.Icel.1984. Politiken. 1984. Nudansk ordbog. 12. ed. København: Politikens Forlag.
[‘þingvellir’ is the only word written with ÞORN. Other words with initial ÞORN in Icelandic are written in their Scandinavian form with T. ‘Thor’ is a variant to ‘Tor’.]
4.NDan.1986. Dansk Sprognævn. 1986. Retskrivningsordbogen. København: Gyldendal
[“Fremmede bogstaver alfabetiseres på følgende måde: ü alfabetiseres som y, ä som æ, ö som ø, ð som d, þ som th; fransk œ (sammenskrevet o og e) alfabetiseres som o + e.” (p. 512, 4)]
3.1.5 ÞORN is written, and is sorted mixed with P. This is a nonce practice, designed to help people find glyphs they have never seen before.

5.IPA.1986. Pullum, Geoffrey K. and William A. Ladusaw. 1986. Phonetic symbol guide. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
[Pullum and Ladusaw sort ÞORN within P: p p̵ P ƿ þ ɸ (LOWER-CASE P, BARRED P, UPPER-CASE P, WYNN, THORN, PHI). From their preface:
“This book has been organized, as far as possible, so that simply from the look of a symbol the user will be able to track it down quickly. If the symbol looks anything like a letter of the Roman alphabet as used for English, it will be found where the English alphabetical order would suggest.” (p. xxiv)]
3.1.6 ÞORN is written as Y, and is sorted as Y. The classic example of this practice is writing <Ye olde shoppe> for <Þe olde shoppe>. Only one work we have seen discusses the problem at all; actually it does not sort ÞORN as Y.

1.MEng.1986. McIntosh, Angus, M. L. Samuels, and Michael Benskin, eds. 1986. A linguistic atlas of late mediaeval English. Volume 4: County dictionary. Aberdeen; New York: Aberdeen University Press.
[On p. xi, explaining editorial practice, the editors state:
6.5 Treatment of þand y. For reasons connected with the development of handwriting in the late 12th and 13th centuries, the letters ‘þ’ and ‘y’ came to be written identically in some modes of script. By the later Middle Ages, insular practice was regionally coherent: south of a line running roughly from the Mersey to the Wash, but excluding much of East Anglia, ‘þ’ and ‘y’ were represented by the same (usually y-like) symbol.... [Here], the use of implies a systematic distinction between the two letters in the manuscript at issue, regardless of the letter-shapes used to effect it. If the letters are confused, then y is used throughout, regardless of whether the mediaeval symbol is þ-like or y-like. Renderings like mþkþll, corresponding to the familiar mykyll, are hence not to be found, but appear with y; and in a manuscript where þ is so used, other þ-spellings are likewise reported as y (so þe ‘the’ appears as ye). The system of transcription, which attends to functional distinction rather than to form, is not ideal; but it is a practical means of reporting, in outline, an important facet of the written language, and it cuts through the taxonomic problems that would otherwise be presented by the many symbols in which þ-like, y-like, and indeterminately þ ~ y-like symbols are used interchangeably....”
In the body of the dictionary, ÞORN is a separate following Y (and presumably Z) and preceding YOGH (ISO name EZH). Thus the dictionary sorts thousand, thowsande, yhousand, yousande, yowsant, þosent, þousand, þousend, þusand, þousand, þowsond (pp. 265-66).]

3.2 Two traditions of transliteration into other Latin letters are known for ÞORN.

3.2.1 ÞORN is not written, but it is transliterated to TH and as such is sorted as TH. This is a common enough practice, due chiefly to technological constraints. It is irrelevant for the sorting of ÞORN. Transforming it into something else (TH or Θ for instance) may have a use for some kinds of operations; but it is the task of the European default sorting order to rank characters in their own right, not to transform them into something else which has its own sorting order.

7.Goth.1868. Skeat, Walter William. 1868. A Moeso-Gothic glossary: with an introduction, an outline of Moeso-Gothic grammar, and a list of Anglo-Saxon and old and modern English words etymologically connected with Moeso-Gothic. London: Asher.
[Skeat transliterates the Gothic letter THYTH as TH and sorts it between TE and TI. He does not use ÞORN to represent the Gothic letter.]
7.Goth.1851. Diesenbach, Lorenz. 1851. Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der gothischen Sprache. Frankfurt/Main: Joseph Baer.
[Writes THYTH as TH and sorts according to Gothic (=Greek) order.]
7.OSax.1966. Sehrt, Edward H. 1966. Vollständisches Wörterbuch zum Heliand und zur altsachsischen Genesis. 2. Aufl. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
[This work does not contain any ÞORNs at all. Apparently, ÞORN is found as a rare character in Old Saxon texts, but we have been unable to verify this.]
7.Grmc.1984 Rudolf Simek. 1984. Lexikon der Germanischen Mythologie. Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner.

7.OEng.1989. Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner, eds. 1989. The Oxford English dictionary. 2nd ed. Prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
[Rewrites ÞORNas TH in headwords, but not in body citations (which are not sorted). Sorts the TH as TH.
“The ligatures æ and œ, naturally enough, are alphabetized as if written ae, oe; ø as single o, ‘thorn’ (þ) and ‘edh’ (ð) are treated as equivalent to th; and ‘yogh’ (ȝ) as equivalent to gh.” (1:xxxii)
“THORN. III.7. The name of the Old English and Icelandic runic letter þ (= th); named, like other runes, from the word of which it was the initial. c. 1000 Runic Poem iii. (Gr.) þorn byð þearle scearp. c. 1400 Maundev. (Roxb.) XI.71 Þ and Ȝ, whilk er called þorn and ȝok. 1885 E.M. Thompson in Encycl. Brit. XVIII.160/1 The English letter thorn, þ, survived and continued in use down to the 15th century.” (17:974)]
7.Finn.1986. Suomen Standardisoimisliitto SFS. SFS 4600. 2nd ed., confirmed 1986-06-09.
[This standard specifies that ÞORN and other characters may be transliterated by certain other characters. The standard says nothing about sorting ÞORN itself. From p. 2, 4.3 Erikoiskirjaimet:
“Kielen latinalaisin aakkosin kirjoitetut erikoiskirjaimet voidaan korvata yhdellä tai useammalla latinalaisella kirjaimella seuraavan taulukon mukaisesti (‘Special characters of a language, that are written with latin characters, may be substituted by one or several latin character(s) according to the following table’):
saamen č c   puolan ł, Ł l
saamen đ d   saamen ŋ n
islannin ð, Ð d   islannin þ th
tanskan ja norjan ø ö   saksan ü y
viron õ ö      ”]
3.2.2 ÞORN is not written, but it is transliterated to T and as such is sorted as T. This is a Scandinavian transliteration historically equivalent to the English transliteration TH. This is a rare practice and it is irrelevant for the sorting of ÞORN.

8.Icel.1983. Norsk biografisk leksikon XIX. 1983. Oslo: Aschehoug.
[Icelandic names are written correctly in their Scandinavian form, e.g. the abbot and politician Torvald Gissurarson (fl. 1200), instead of Þorvaldur]

4.0 Recommendations. This survey has investigated the question of ÞORN’s sorting status for a default European standard sorting order. The task of defining such a sorting order in itself implies certain things:

  • A large multilingual Latin alphabet containing letters used in European languages is the thing being ordered.
  • No national alphabetic order is intended to be replaced by a default sorting order; the default merely exists in case a national sorting order is not chosen.
  • The principles for determining the sorting order for a large multilingual Latin alphabet should be simple and unambiguous. (We have offered some guidelines in 1.1 1.3 above.)
Following from the results of this investigation, several things become clear with regard to the letter ÞORN:

  • ÞORN is a basic letter borrowed into Latin from a foreign alphabet, and should not be sorted as a variant of another letter or as a combination of other letters.
  • The position for ÞORN should either be as a separate letter after Z, or as a separate letter after T and before U. These two are the historical options for all languages in which ÞORN was actually used.

We recommend that ÞORN be sorted as a separate letter after Z. This practice was described in the 11th century by Byrhtferð for English and prescribed in the 12th century by the First Grammarian for Icelandic. It is an ordering known to scholars of Medieval English even when they prefer another ordering; and in any case the established historical practice for adding letters to the Latin alphabet, which we have observed in the 1st century BCE as well as the 11th, is to place them at the end. Our work is made easier by simply following the wisdom of those who have come before us.

5.0 Colophon. It’s so easy a child can do it....

A, bé, cé, dé, e, eff, gé,
eptir kemur há, í, ká
ell, emm, enn, ó, einnig pé,
ætla eg þar standi hjá.
Err, ess, té, ú er þar næst,
ex, ý, zeta, þorn, æ, ö, –
allt stafrofið er svo næst
í erendin þessi lítil tvö

– Gunnar Pálsson, Barna-gull

6.0 References.
Atkinson, B. F. C., and Joshua Whatmough. 1970. “Alphabet”, in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Baldur Sigurðsson. 1994. “Icelandic letters and Icelandic alphabet: an historical overview.” Working Group paper presented at CEN TC304 meeting, Paris, 1-4 February 1994.

Brown, Lesley. 1993. The new shorter Oxford English dictionary on historical principles. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

[“THORN. 3. The letter þ, used in Old and Middle English, Gothic, and Old Saxon to represent the voiced and voiceless dental fricatives /ð/ and /θ/, later becoming identical in form to Y, resulting in ye, yis, etc., as variants of the, this, etc., and finally being superseded by the digraph th with the advent of printing; the letter þ, used in Old Norse and Icelandic to represent the voiceless dental fricative /θ/. Also, the phonetic symbol /þ/, used to represent this voiceless dental fricative, now usu. represented by the International Phonetic Alphabet symbol /θ/ (theta).” (2:3286:)]
Derolez, R. 1954. Runica manuscripta: the English tradition. (Rijksuniversiteit te Gent: Werken uitgegeven door de Faculteit van de Wijsbegeerte en Letteren; 118e aflevering) Brugge: De Tempel.

Diringer, David. 1968. The alphabet: a key to the history of mankind. 3rd ed. completely revised with the collaboration of Reinhold Regensburger. 2 vols. London: Hutchinson.

Fairbanks, Sydney, and F. P. Magoun Jr. 1940. “On writing and printing Gothic”, in Speculum 15:313-16.

Haarmann, Harald. 1990. Universalgeschichte der Schrift. Frankfurt/Main; New York: Campus.

Hreinn Benediktsson. 1965. Early Icelandic script: as illustrated in vernacular texts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Reykjavík: Manuscript Institute of Iceland.

Magoun, F. P., Jr. 1947. “On writing and printing Gothic, II”, in Speculum 22:621-25

Sampson, Geoffrey. 1985. Writing systems: a linguistic introduction. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

7.0 Afterword. On Þornsday, 1994-06-09, CEN/TC304 resolved that in a default multilingual European sort, ÞORN shall be sorted as a separate letter after Z. Subsequently, ISO/TC37/SC2/WG3 resolved that in its work on alphabetical ordering, ÞORN shall be sorted as a separate letter after Z. Most recently, JTC1/SC22/WG20 resolved that in its work of producing a default multilingual sort for ISO/IEC 10646, ÞORN shall be sorted as a separate letter after Z.

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