14

I have seen it on two grave inscriptions (photo). Both were of on a grave of a person called Ida but there was Jda on the grave inscription. They lived in the 19th and 20th centuries in Central Europe, Germany.

Is this a linguistic phenomenon? Like writing V instead of U in Latin language historical inscriptions?

Using V instead of U makes some sense to me. The original Latin alphabet written with modern equivalent letters is:

A B C D E F Z H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X

where is no U, so it is logical to use V as U. This reasoning fails to explain why there could be I replaced by J, if in the alphabet above, there is I but not J...

EDIT: J in German can have several pronunciations: jemand, Jll (river name, sounds like "ill"),

11
  • 10
    There was no consonant 'v' in Latin. The letter 'u' was represented with straight sides in inscriptions because it was easier to carve. Are your grave inscriptions in the old German lettering? Mar 30, 2023 at 8:12
  • 7
    The canonicall name seems to be "Ill", and it is only sometimes written as "Jll" to avoid confusion between the letters, according to wp: de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ill_(Elsass)
    – Jan
    Mar 30, 2023 at 10:18
  • 4
    @KateBunting there definitely was a consonant 'V' in Latin. A consonant is defined by speech, and what we transcribe as 'V' and 'U' nowadays were distinct sounds with the former functioning as a consonant and the latter a vowel. Both sounds were represented as 'V' in Classical Latin, but that doesn't mean the distinction between vowel and consonant didn't exist.
    – PC Luddite
    Mar 31, 2023 at 0:06
  • 2
    @PCLuddite - I was referring to Classical Latin - see this Mar 31, 2023 at 8:18
  • 1
    @KateBunting I was too. The consonant V existed in Classical Latin. It was not pronounced as the same as a vowel V. The linked question supports my previous comment
    – PC Luddite
    Mar 31, 2023 at 22:16

4 Answers 4

29

Fraktur, a typeface that was common in Germany until well into the 20th century, uses a capital I that is very much alike to a capital J in other fonts. See these samples on Wikipedia; the capital J has an extra dash:

enter image description here

As others pointed out in the comments, this is actually common to other writing scripts, also because a capital I can be very similar to a lower case l.

6
  • 3
    I actually think cursive writing even today uses an I that looks very much like a printed J, just shorter. See e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vereinfachte_Ausgangsschrift
    – Jan
    Mar 30, 2023 at 10:24
  • 3
    The grave inscription is not in Fraktur. Here is a photo of the grave.
    – Janik
    Mar 30, 2023 at 12:22
  • 13
    @Janik: Please add that link to the question post. Comments are ephemeral, subject to deletion at any time. Mar 30, 2023 at 12:44
  • There is even a capital I at the bottom for Dipl Ing
    – Zibelas
    Mar 31, 2023 at 7:19
  • 1
    @Zibelas but that's on a later addition - I wouldn't want to assume a stonemason half a century later would match the letter forms or even know how to, especially as they already used a different stroke weight
    – Chris H
    Mar 31, 2023 at 11:54
23

Can uppercase j be used to replace an uppercase i letter on a German monument inscription?

Before 1945, it was common place to replace uppercase 'i' with an uppercase 'j' letter.

The main reason was that in the past a uppercase 'I' was written (in the Antiqua type set) as a vertical line (without the now common horizontal bars on the top and bottom) and thus looked the same as a lowercase 'l' that was also written as a vertical line.

Uppercase 'J' was therefore used to make the distinction clear.

J - Verwendung in der deutschen Sprache – Wikipedia:

  • Jll, Jller, Jlmenau, Jllustrierte
  • Ill, Iller, Ilmenau, Illustrierte


If you look at the bottom of the sample image, you will see 'Dipl. Ing.' (where 'J' is not used and is dated with 1978).

It looks the same as the 'l' of 'Dipl'.


Even when Fraktur was used, the uppercase letter 'J' was often used instead of an uppercase 'I'.

Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung Archiv 1895 - 1945 | Historische-Magazine.de

1895-09-22 1912-04-28

Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung - Wikipedia

Also in 1941, the old-fashioned spelling of its name (sometimes described as a mistake), which had been retained when the masthead was modernised at the turn of the century,
was finally changed to the more modern Illustrierte [from Illustrirte].

  • the usage of the uppercase letter 'J' was not changed
1
  • The way I learnt writing in elementary school I and J still looked almost interchangeable. The curve for the J was lower but apart from that tey looked the same
    – Hobbamok
    Mar 31, 2023 at 8:34
6

Actually it is much simpler: the name Ida is sometimes written Jda; the inscription says Jda because the woman wrote her name that way.

This does not mean that in general one can substitute the letter J for the letter I in German. It is a peculiarity of the name Ida.

  • A semi-well-known example is the Prospect vom Berge Jda (A view from mount Ida), engraved by Albert Henry Payne after a painting by William Henry Bartlett, c. 1850). (The Mount Ida in question is neither of the two classical Mount Idas, but rather some hill in New York State, U.S.A.)

  • Here is an article from the newspaper Entlebucher Anzeiger, dated 20 June 2014: "Ski-Weltmeisterin Jda Schöpfer verstorben", ski woman-world-champion Ida Schoepfer is dead. (Note that the article has both Jda and Ida. Newspapers these days.)

German Wikipedia has this to say:

Bis heute gibt es noch ältere Schreiber, die anstelle des Großbuchstabens I ein J verwenden (z. B. Jda, Jtalien). Auch bei serifenlosen Schriften wird manchmal ein großes J anstelle eines großen I gesetzt. Ein Grund dafür ist, dass bei derartigen Schriften das große I und das kleine L oft schwer oder gar nicht unterscheidbar sind, vor allem wenn beide Buchstaben nebeneinanderstehen (etwa in Jll, Jller, Jlmenau, Jllustrierte im Unterschied zu Ill, Iller, Ilmenau, Illustrierte).

Bei einigen Fremdwörtern existiert sowohl eine nach der neuen deutschen Rechtschreibung gültige eingedeutschte Schreibweise mit J, als auch eine fachsprachliche mit I (z. B. Iod, neben Jod). In der Chemie wird die Schreibweise mit I sogar bevorzugt.

Translation:

To this day there are older writers who use a J instead of the capital I (e.g. Jda, Jtalien). A capital J is sometimes used instead of a capital I in sans serif fonts. One reason for this is that in such typefaces, the uppercase I and the lowercase L are often difficult or impossible to distinguish, especially when both letters are next to each other (e.g. in Jll, Jller, Jlmenau, Illustrierte as opposed to Ill, Iller, Ilmenau, Illustrierte).

For some foreign words, there is both a German spelling with J, which is valid according to the new German orthography, and a technical spelling with I (e.g. Iod, next to Jod). In chemistry, the spelling with I is even preferred.

5

The convention of replacing uppercase I with J seems to be used in other languages, too. I recently visited a WW1 war grave with a monument commemorating Italian POWs:

Agli Eroi d‘Jtalia

1914-1918

Italian does not use the letter J in native words, so replacing I with J shouldn't be problematic regarding pronunciation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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