Nowadays, when you see something like "Ye Olde Chippe Shoppe", the 'ye' is commonly pronounced how it looks, with a 'y' sound. However, it should correctly be prounced 'the'.

Originally, it would have been spelt using the ancient English 'thorn' character 'þ', thusly: 'þe'. The thorn character represented a 'th' sound.

However, the thorn character was not in much use in Europe outside England, and since early printing press systems came from mainland Europe, they did not have a thorn available. Since, at the time, a hand-written thorn looked much like a hand-written letter y, the y was frequently substituted.

As you can see, the modern equivalent of a typesetting system allows us to use as many thorns as we like. Alas, no-one knows how to pronounce them, any more than they know how to pronounce 'ye'.

The Emergence of 'Ye,' Long Version; Or, Why Those Ye Olde English Pizza Shoppe Signs Bother the Hell out of Me


Back in the day, the inhabitants of Southern England spoke what we now call Old English, a language that bears more resemblance to German or Middle High Gothic than to the English we speak today, or even the language that Chaucer spoke.  Among its many features, Old English had, like Modern English, several 'th' phonemes.  Unlike Modern English, its alphabet had two characters devoted to the sounds, in addition to containing 't' and 'h':

    ð (eth): originaly sounded as 'th' in the Modern English 'weather,' but, over time, drifted in sound towards þ.  'ð' is found almost exclusively within words, the common exception being 'ða,' which translates to 'there' or 'then.'  Take the following example, from Cædmon's Hymn:
        ða middangeard         moncynnes Weard
        then middle-earth      mankind's Guardian,
    
        ece Drihten            æfter teode
        eternal Lord,          afterwards made.
    
    þ (thorn): sounds as the 'th' in the Modern English 'thin.'  Found both within and at the beginning of words.  Take lines 2570-2 of Beowulf, with a literal translation by John Porter:
                               Scyld wel gebearg
                               Shield well protected
    
        life on lice           læssan hwile
        life and limb          for lesser while
    
        mærum þeodne,          þonne his myne sohte,
        famed chieftain,       than his mind desired,
    
Also back in the day, writings were found in manuscripts rather than in books.  These manuscripts were rare, beautiful, and precious, equal parts text and work of art.  The inks were often shot through with precious metals like silver and gold, the animal skin parchment incredibly expensive, and the calligraphy fantastic.  The tradition of having a large, decorative capital letter start each section of a text comes from these manuscripts.

The scribes of these manuscripts were often monks, who made quite a lot of money in exchange for their time and eyesight.  Contrary to popular assumption, many of these monks were no more literate than the peasantry (or, often, the king).  They reproduced characters they often had no ability to interpret.  It bears mention that Old English scribes took quite a few liberties with spelling, or were following rules that are hard for us to discern.  Consequently, a look at the Cotton Manuscript (http://www.jagular.com/beowulf/manuscript-a129r-367-515.jpg), the surviving copy of Beowulf, doesn't help us suss out the rules for using ð as opposed to þ inside a word.

'þ' is a very popular initial consonant in Old English.  Consequently, it often received lots of attention from the scribe, who felt compelled to do something interesting with the character.  Over many years, the top corner of the protrusion became disconnected from the vertical line on 'þ.'  The 'þ' slowly began to resemble a lowercase mu (μ, for those whose browsers can display it), and, afterwards, a 'y.'  'Ye' comes from nothing more glamorous than 'the.'

So any time you see 'Ye Olde English Antique Parlor,' 'Ye Olde English Pizza Shoppe,' or 'Ye Olde English Dry Cleaners,' you can be sure of two things:
  1. That it means 'The Olde English Antique Parlor,' 'The Olde English Pizza Shoppe,' or 'The Olde English Dry Cleaners'; and
  2. That's an attempt to reproduce Middle English, for crying out loud.  I swear, some people have no respect for dead, archaic versions of their own tongue.

Sources:

Abrams, et al.  The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 1.  7th ed.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000.

Porter, John.  Beowulf: Text and Translation.  London: King's College.

Further to the above, the word ye is used interchangeably in the city of Dublin with the word yous (pronounced like "use"), or it's contracted form, yez.

For example;

"Are ye going to the pub?" Could also be worded as

"Are yous all going to the pub or wha?"

Similarly, the two versions may be used in the same sentence;

"Ye're a pack o' wankers, the lot o' yez."

It must be stressed that this is Dublin vernacular only, and should not be used in other parts of the country, as this only draws sniggers and snide comments about coming from the Big Smoke accompanied by snorts of derision.

Literary sources for the uses of ye and yous include most of the plays of Sean O' Casey, particularly The Plough and the Stars.

Ye, Ye (?),

an old method of printing the article the the "y" being used in place of the Anglo-Saxon thorn (þ). See The, and Thorn, n., 4.

 

© Webster 1913.


Y"e (&emac;"e), n.; pl. Yen ().

An eye.

[Obs.]

From his yen ran the water down. Chaucer.

 

© Webster 1913.


Ye (y&emac;), pron. [OE. ye, [yogh]e, nom. pl., AS. ge, g&imac;; cf. OS. ge, gi, OFries. gi, i, D. gij, Dan. & Sw. i, Icel. &emac;r, OHG. ir, G. ihr, Goth. jus, Lith. jus, Gr. , Skr. yuyam. .]

The plural of the pronoun of the second person in the nominative case.

Ye ben to me right welcome heartily. Chaucer.

But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified. 1 Cor. vi. 11.

This would cost you your life in case ye were a man. Udall.

⇒ In Old English ye was used only as a nominative, and you only as a dative or objective. In the 16th century, however, ye and you became confused and were often used interchangeably, both as nominatives and objectives, and you has now superseded ye except in solemn or poetic use. See You, and also the first Note under Thou.

Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye. Shak.

I come, kind gentlemen, strange news to tell ye. Dryden.

 

© Webster 1913.


Ye (?), adv. [See Yea.]

Yea; yes.

[Obs.]

Chaucer.

 

© Webster 1913.

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