Greek alphabet

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Greek alphabet
Greekalphabet.svg
Type
LanguagesGreek
Time period
c. 800 BCE – present[1]
Parent systems
Child systems
ISO 15924Grek, 200
DirectionLeft-to-right
Unicode alias
Greek
 
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Greek alphabet
Greekalphabet.svg
Type
LanguagesGreek
Time period
c. 800 BCE – present[1]
Parent systems
Child systems
ISO 15924Grek, 200
DirectionLeft-to-right
Unicode alias
Greek

The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since the 8th century BC.[2] It was derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, and was in turn the ancestor of numerous other European and Middle Eastern scripts, including Cyrillic and Latin.[3] Apart from its use in writing the Greek language, both in its ancient and its modern forms, the Greek alphabet today also serves as a source of technical symbols and labels in many domains of mathematics, science and other fields.

In its classical and modern forms, the alphabet has 24 letters, ordered from alpha to omega. Like Latin and Cyrillic, Greek originally had only a single form of each letter; it developed the letter case distinction between upper-case and lower-case forms in parallel with Latin during the modern era.

Sound values and conventional transcriptions for some of the letters differ between Ancient Greek and Modern Greek usage, owing to phonological changes in the language.

In traditional ("polytonic") Greek orthography, vowel letters can be combined with several diacritics, including accent marks, so-called "breathing" marks, and the iota subscript. In common present-day usage for Modern Greek since the 1980s, this system has been simplified to a so-called "monotonic" convention.

Letters

LetterNameSound
Ancient[4]Modern[5]
Α αalpha[a] [][a]
Β βbeta[b][v]
Γ γgamma[ɡ][ɣ] ~ [ʝ]
Δ δdelta[d][ð]
Ε εepsilon[e][e]
Ζ ζzeta[zd]A[z]
Η ηeta[ɛː][i]
Θ θtheta[][θ]
Ι ιiota[i] [][i]
Κ κkappa[k][k] ~ [c]
Λ λlambda[l][l]
Μ μmu[m][m]
 A Or [dz].[6]
LetterNameSound
Ancient[4]Modern[5]
Ν νnu[n][n]
Ξ ξxi[ks][ks]
Ο οomicron[o][o]
Π πpi[p][p]
Ρ ρrho[r][r]
Σ σ/ς[7]sigma[s][s]
Τ τtau[t][t]
Υ υupsilon[y] [][i]
Φ φphi[][f]
Χ χchi[][x] ~ [ç]
Ψ ψpsi[ps][ps]
Ω ωomega[ɔː][o]

Sound values

Main article: Greek orthography
Further information: Manners of articulation

Both in Ancient and Modern Greek, the letters of the Greek alphabet have fairly stable and consistent symbol-to-sound mappings, making pronunciation of words largely predictable. Ancient Greek spelling was generally near-phonemic. For a number of letters, sound values differ considerably between Ancient and Modern Greek, because their pronunciation has followed a set of systematic phonological shifts that affected the language in its post-classical stages.[8]

Among consonant letters, all letters that denoted voiced plosive consonants (/b, d, g/) and aspirated plosives (/pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/) in Ancient Greek stand for corresponding fricative sounds in Modern Greek. The correspondences are as follows:

 Former voiced plosivesFormer aspirates
LetterAncientModernLetterAncientModern
LabialΒ β/b//v/Φ φ///f/
DentalΔ δ/d//ð/Θ θ///θ/
CoronalΓ γ/ɡ/[ɣ] ~ [ʝ]Χ χ//[x] ~ [ç]

Among the vowel symbols, Modern Greek sound values reflect the fact that the vowel system of post-classical Greek was radically simplified, merging multiple formerly distinct vowel phonemes into a much smaller number. This leads to several groups of vowel letters denoting identical sounds today. Modern Greek orthography remains true to the historical spellings in most of these cases. As a consequence, the spellings of words in Modern Greek are often not predictable from the pronunciation alone, while the reverse mapping, from spelling to pronunciation, is usually regular and predictable.

The following vowel letters and digraphs are involved in the mergers:

LetterAncientModernLetterAncientModern
Η ηɛː> iΩ ωɔː> o
Ι ιi(ː)Ο οo
ΕΙ ειeiΕ εe> e
Υ υu(ː) > yAΙ αιai
ΟΙ οιoi > y 

Modern Greek speakers typically use the same, modern, sound-symbol mappings in reading Greek of all historical stages. In other countries, students of Ancient Greek may use a variety of conventional approximations of the historical sound system in pronouncing Ancient Greek.

Digraphs and letter combinations

Several letter combinations have special conventional sound values different from those of their single components. Among them are several digraphs of vowel letters that formerly represented diphthongs but are now monophthongized. In addition to the three mentioned above (ει, αι, οι) there is also ου = /u/. The Ancient Greek diphthongs ευ and αυ are pronounced [ev] and [av] respectively in Modern Greek ([ef, af] in devoicing environments). The Modern Greek consonant combinations μπ and ντ stand for [b] and [d] (or [mb] and [nd]) respectively; τζ stands for [dz]. In addition, both in Ancient and Modern Greek, the letter γ, before another velar consonant, stands for the velar nasal [ŋ]; thus γγ and γκ are pronounced like English ng.

Diacritics

Main article: Greek diacritics

In the polytonic orthography traditionally used for ancient Greek, the stressed vowel of each word carries one of three accent marks: either the acute accent (ά), the grave accent (), or the circumflex accent (α̃ or α̑). These signs were originally designed to mark different forms of the phonological pitch accent in Ancient Greek. By the time their use became conventional and obligatory in Greek writing, in late antiquity, pitch accent was evolving into a single stress accent, and thus the three signs have not corresponded to a phonological distinction in actual speech ever since. In addition to the accent marks, every word-initial vowel must carry either of two so-called "breathing marks": the rough breathing (), marking an /h/ sound at the beginning of a word, or the smooth breathing (), marking its absence. The letter rho (ρ), although not a vowel, also carries a rough breathing in word-initial position.

The vowel letters α, η, ω carry an additional diacritic in certain words, the so-called iota subscript, which has the shape of a small vertical stroke or a miniature ι below the letter. This iota represents the former offglide of what were originally long diphthongs, ᾱι, ηι, ωι (i.e. /aːi, ɛːi, ɔːi/), which became monophthongized during antiquity.

Another diacritic used in Greek is the diaeresis (¨), indicating a hiatus.

In 1982, a new, simplified orthography, known as "monotonic", was adopted for official use in Modern Greek by the Greek state. It uses only a single accent mark, the acute (also known in this context as tonos, i.e. simply "accent"), marking the stressed syllable of polysyllabic words, and occasionally the diaeresis to distinguish diphthongal from digraph readings in pairs of vowel letters. The polytonic system is still conventionally used for writing Ancient Greek, while in some book printing and generally in the usage of conservative writers it can still also be found in use for Modern Greek.

Romanization

Main article: Romanization of Greek

There are many different methods of rendering Greek text or Greek names in the Latin script. The form in which classical Greek names are conventionally rendered in English goes back to the way Greek loanwords were incorporated into Latin in antiquity. In this system, κ is replaced with c, the diphthongs αι and οι are rendered as ae and oe (or æ,œ) respectively; and ει and ου are simplified to i and u respectively. In modern scholarly transliteration of Ancient Greek, κ will instead be rendered as k, and the vowel combinations αι, οι, ει, ου as ai, oi, ei, ou respectively. The letters θ and φ are generally rendered as th and ph; χ as either ch or kh; and word-initial ρ as rh.

For Modern Greek, there are multiple different transcription conventions. They differ widely, depending on their purpose, on how close they stay to the conventional letter correspondences of Ancient Greek-based transcription systems, and to what degree they attempt either an exact letter-by-letter transliteration or rather a phonetically based transcription. Standardized formal transcription systems have been defined by the International Organization for Standardization (as ISO 843),[9] by the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names,[10] by the Library of Congress,[11] and others.

History

Origins

Dipylon inscription, one of the oldest known samples of the use of the Greek alphabet, ca. 740 BC

The Greek alphabet emerged in the late 9th century BC or early 8th century BC.[12] Another, unrelated writing system, Linear B, had been in use to write the Greek language during the earlier Mycenean period, but the two systems are separated from each other by a hiatus of several centuries, the so-called Greek Dark Ages. The Greeks adopted the alphabet from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, a member of the family of closely related West Semitic scripts. The most notable change made in adapting the Phoenician system to Greek was the introduction of vowel letters. According to a definition used by some modern authors, this feature makes Greek the first "alphabet" in the narrow sense,[3] as distinguished from the purely consonantal alphabets of the Semitic type, which according to this terminology are called "abjads".[13]

Greek initially took over all of the 22 letters of Phoenician. Five of them were reassigned to denote vowel sounds: the glide consonants /j/ (yodh) and /w/ (waw) were used for [i] (Ι, iota) and [u] (Υ, upsilon) respectively; the glottal stop consonant /ʔ/ ('aleph) was used for [a] (Α, alpha); the pharyngeal /ʕ/ (ʿayin) was turned into [o] (Ο, omicron); and the letter for /h/ (he) was turned into [e] (Ε, epsilon). A doublet of waw was also borrowed as a consonant for [w] (Ϝ, digamma). In addition, the Phoenician letter for the emphatic glottal /ħ/ (heth) was borrowed in two different functions by different dialects of Greek: as a letter for /h/ (Η, heta) by those dialects that had such a sound, and as an additional vowel letter for the long /ɛː/ (Η, eta) by those dialects that lacked the consonant. Eventually, a seventh vowel letter for the long /ɔː/ (Ω, omega) was introduced.

Greek also introduced three new consonant letters for its aspirated plosive sounds and consonant clusters: Φ (phi) for /pʰ/, Χ (chi) for /kʰ/ and Ψ (psi) for /ps/. In western Greek variants, Χ was instead used for /ks/ and Ψ for /kʰ/ The origin of these letters is a matter of some debate.

PhoenicianGreek
Phoenician aleph.svgaleph/ʔ/Greek Alpha 03.svgΑalpha/a/, //
Phoenician beth.svgbeth/b/Greek Beta 16.svgΒbeta/b/
Phoenician gimel.svggimel/ɡ/Greek Gamma archaic 1.svgΓgamma/ɡ/
Phoenician daleth.svgdaleth/d/Greek Delta 04.svgΔdelta/d/
Phoenician he.svghe/h/Greek Epsilon archaic.svgΕepsilon/e/, //[14]
Phoenician waw.svgwaw/w/Greek Digamma oblique.svgϜ(digamma)/w/
Phoenician zayin.svgzayin/z/Greek Zeta archaic.svgΖzeta[zd](?)
Phoenician heth.svgheth/ħ/Greek Eta archaic.svgΗeta/h/, /ɛː/
Phoenician teth.svgteth//Greek Theta archaic.svgΘtheta//
Phoenician yodh.svgyodh/j/Greek Iota normal.svgΙiota/i/, //
Phoenician kaph.svgkaph/k/Greek Kappa normal.svgΚkappa/k/
Phoenician lamedh.svglamedh/l/Greek Lambda 09.svgΛlambda/l/
Phoenician mem.svgmem/m/Greek Mu 04.svgΜmu/m/
Phoenician nun.svgnun/n/Greek Nu 01.svgΝnu/n/
PhoenicianGreek
Phoenician samekh.svgsamekh/s/Greek Xi archaic.svgΞxi/ks/
Phoenician ayin.svgʿayin/ʕ/Greek Omicron 04.svgΟomicron/o/, //[14]
Phoenician pe.svgpe/p/Greek Pi archaic.svgΠpi/p/
Phoenician sade.svgṣade//Greek San 02.svgϺ(san)/s/
Phoenician qoph.svgqoph/q/Greek Koppa normal.svgϘ(koppa)/k/
Phoenician res.svgreš/r/Greek Rho pointed.svgΡrho/r/
Phoenician sin.svgšin/ʃ/Greek Sigma normal.svgΣsigma/s/
Phoenician taw.svgtaw/t/Greek Tau normal.svgΤtau/t/
Phoenician waw.svg(waw)/w/Greek Upsilon normal.svgΥupsilon/u/, //
Greek Phi archaic.svgΦphi//
Greek Chi normal.svgΧchi//
Greek Psi straight.svgΨpsi/ps/
Greek Omega normal.svgΩomega/ɔː/


Early Greek alphabet on pottery in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Three of the original Phoenician letters dropped out of use before the alphabet took its classical shape: the letter Ϻ (san), which had been in competition with Σ (sigma) denoting the same phoneme /s/; the letter Ϙ (qoppa), which was redundant with Κ (kappa) for /k/, and Ϝ (digamma), whose sound value /w/ dropped out of the spoken language before or during the classical period.

Greek was originally written predominantly from right to left, just like Phoenician, but scribes could freely alternate between directions. For a time, a writing style with alternating right-to-left and left-to-right lines (called boustrophedon, literally "ox-turning", after the manner of an ox ploughing a field) was common, until in the classical period the left-to-right writing direction became the norm. Individual letter shapes were mirrored depending on the writing direction of the current line.

Archaic variants

There were initially numerous local variants of the Greek alphabet, which differed in the use and non-use of the additional vowel and consonant symbols and several other features. A form of western Greek native to Euboea, which among other things had Χ for /ks/, was transplanted to Italy by early Greek colonists, and became the ancestor of the Old Italic alphabets and ultimately, through Etruscan, of the Latin alphabet. Athens used a local form of the alphabet until the 5th century BC; it lacked the letters Ξ and Ψ as well as the vowel symbols Η and Ω. The classical 24-letter alphabet that became the norm later was originally the local alphabet of Ionia; this was adopted by Athens in 403 BC under archon Eucleides and in most other parts of the Greek-speaking world during the 4th century BC.

Letter names

When the Greeks adapted the Phoenician alphabet, they took over not only the letter shapes and sound values, but also the names by which the sequence of the alphabet could be recited and memorized. In Phoenician, each letter name was a word that began with the sound represented by that letter; thus ʾaleph, the word for "ox", was used as the name for the glottal stop /ʔ/, bet, or "house", for the /b/ sound, and so on. When the letters were adopted by the Greeks, most of the Phoenician names were maintained or modified slightly to fit Greek phonology; thus, ʾaleph, bet, gimel became alpha, beta, gamma.

The Greek names of the following letters are more or less straightforward continuations of their Phoenician antecedents. Between Ancient and Modern Greek they have remained largely unchanged, except that their pronunciation has followed regular sound changes along with other words (for instance, in the name of beta, ancient /b/ regularly changed to modern /v/, and ancient /ɛː/ to modern /i/, resulting in the modern pronunciation vita). The name of lambda is attested in early sources as λάβδα besides λάμβδα;[15] in Modern Greek the spelling is often λάμδα, reflecting pronunciation. Similarly, iota is sometimes spelled γιώτα in Modern Greek ([ʝ] is conventionally transcribed γ{ι,η,υ,ει,οι} word-initially and intervocalically before back vowels and /a/). In the tables below, the Greek names of all letters are given in their traditional polytonic spelling; in modern practice, like with all other words, they are usually spelled in the simplified monotonic system.

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The names of the letters in spoken Standard Modern Greek

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LetterNamePronunciation
GreekPhoenician originalEnglishGreek (Ancient)Greek (Modern)English
Αἄλφαalephalpha[alpʰa][ˈalfa]Listeni/ˈælfə/
Ββῆταbethbeta[bɛːta][ˈvita]/ˈbtə/, US /ˈbtə/
Γγάμμαgimelgamma[ɡamma][ˈɣama]/ˈɡæmə/
Δδέλταdalethdelta[delta][ˈðelta]/ˈdɛltə/
Ηἦταhetheta[hɛːta], [ɛːta][ˈita]/ˈtə/, US /ˈtə/
Θθῆταteththeta[tʰɛːta][ˈθita]/ˈθtə/, US Listeni/ˈθtə/
Ιἰῶταyodhiota[iɔːta][ˈʝota]Listeni/ˈtə/
Κκάππαkaphkappa[kappa][ˈkapa]Listeni/ˈkæpə/
Λλάμβδαlamedhlambda[lambda][ˈlamða]Listeni/ˈlæmdə/
Μμῦmemmu[myː][mi]Listeni/ˈmjuː/; occasionally US /ˈm/
Ννῦnunnu[nyː][ni]/ˈnj/ (US /ˈn/)
Ρῥῶrešrho[rɔː][ro]Listeni/ˈr/
Τταῦtawtau[tau][taf]/ˈt/ or /ˈtɔː/

In the cases of the three historical sibilant letters below, the correspondence between Phoenician and Ancient Greek is less clear, with apparent mismatches both in letter names and sound values. The early history of these letters (and the fourth sibilant letter, obsolete san) has been a matter of some debate. Here too, the changes in the pronunciation of the letter names between Ancient and Modern Greek are regular.

LetterNamePronunciation
GreekPhoenician originalEnglishGreek (Ancient)Greek (Modern)English
Ζζῆταzayinzeta[dzɛːta][ˈzita]/ˈztə/, US /ˈztə/
Ξξεῖ, ξῖsamekhxi[kseː][ksi]/ˈz/, /ˈks/
Σσίγμαšinsiɡma[siɡma][ˈsiɣma]/ˈsɪɡmə/

In the following group of consonant letters, the older forms of the names in Ancient Greek were spelled with -εῖ, indicating an original pronunciation with . In Modern Greek these names are spelled with .

LetterNamePronunciation
GreekEnglishGreek (Ancient)Greek (Modern)English
Ξξεῖ, ξῖxi[kseː][ksi]/ˈz/, /ˈks/
Ππεῖ, πῖpi[peː][pi]/ˈp/
Φφεῖ, φῖphi[pʰeː][fi]/ˈf/
Χχεῖ, χῖchi[kʰeː][çi]Listeni/ˈk/
Ψψεῖ, ψῖpsi[pseː][psi]/ˈs/, Listeni/ˈps/

The following group of vowel letters were originally called simply by their sound values as long vowels: ē, ō, ū, and ɔ. Their modern names contain adjectival qualifiers that were added during the Byzantine period, to distinguish between letters that had become confusable. Thus, the letters ο and ω, pronounced identically by this time, were called o mikron ("small o") and o mega ("big o") respectively. The letter ε was called e psilon ("plain e") to distinguish it from the identically pronounced digraph αι, while, similarly, υ, which at this time was pronounced [y], was called y psilon ("plain y") to distinguish it from the identically pronounced digraph οι.

LetterNamePronunciation
Greek (Ancient)Greek (Medieval)Greek (Modern)EnglishGreek (Ancient)Greek (Modern)English
Εεἶἐ ψιλόνἔψιλονepsilon[eː][ˈepsilon]/ˈɛpsɨlɒn/, some UK /ɛpˈslən/
Οοὖὀ μικρόνὄμικρονomicron[oː][ˈomikron]Listeni/ˈɒmɨkrɒn/, traditional UK /ˈmkrɒn/
Υὐ ψιλόνὔψιλονupsilon[uː], [yː][ˈipsilon]/juːpˈslən/, /ˈʊpsɨlɒn/, also UK /ʌpˈslən/, US /ˈʌpsɨlɒn/
Ωὠ μέγαὠμέγαomega[ɔː][oˈmeɣa]US /ˈmɡə/, traditional UK /ˈmɨɡə/

Some dialects of the Aegean and Cypriot have retained long consonants and pronounce [ˈɣamːa] and [ˈkapʰa]; also, ήτα has come to be pronounced [ˈitʰa] in Cypriot.[16]

Letter shapes

A 16th-century edition of the New Testament, printed in a renaissance typeface by Claude Garamond

Like Latin and other alphabetic scripts, Greek originally had only a single form of each letter, without a distinction between uppercase and lowercase. This distinction is an innovation of the modern era, drawing on different lines of development of the letter shapes in earlier handwriting.

The oldest forms of the letters in antiquity are majuscule forms. Besides the upright, straight inscriptional forms (capitals) found in stone carvings or incised pottery, more fluent writing styles adapted for handwriting on soft materials were also developed during antiquity. Such handwriting has been preserved especially from papyrus manuscripts in Egypt since the Hellenistic period. Ancient handwriting developed two distinct styles: uncial writing, with carefully drawn, rounded block letters of about equal size, used as a book hand for carefully produced literary and religious manuscripts, and cursive writing, used for everyday purposes.[17] The cursive forms approached the style of lowercase letter forms, with ascenders and descenders, as well as many connecting lines and ligatures between letters.

In the 9th and 10th century, uncial book hands were replaced with a new, more compact writing style, with letter forms partly adapted from the earlier cursive.[17] This minuscule style remained the dominant form of handwritten Greek into the modern era. During the Renaissance, western printers adopted the minuscule letter forms as lowercase printed typefaces, while modelling uppercase letters on the ancient inscriptional forms. The orthographic practice of using the letter case distinction for marking proper names, titles etc. developed in parallel to the practice in Latin and other western languages.

InscriptionManuscriptModern print
ArchaicClassicalUncialMinusculeLowercaseUppercase
Greek Alpha 03.svgGreek Alpha classical.svgGreek uncial Alpha.svgGreek minuscule Alpha.svgαΑ
Greek Beta 16.svgGreek Beta classical.svgGreek uncial Beta.svgGreek minuscule Beta.svgβΒ
Greek Gamma archaic 1.svgGreek Gamma classical.svgGreek uncial Gamma.svgGreek minuscule Gamma.svgγΓ
Greek Delta 04.svgGreek Delta classical.svgGreek uncial Delta.svgGreek minuscule Delta.svgδΔ
Greek Epsilon archaic.svgGreek Epsilon classical.svgGreek uncial Epsilon.svgGreek minuscule Epsilon.svgεΕ
Greek Zeta archaic.svgGreek Zeta classical.svgGreek uncial Zeta.svgGreek minuscule Zeta.svgζΖ
Greek Eta archaic.svgGreek Eta classical.svgGreek uncial Eta.svgGreek minuscule Eta.svgηΗ
Greek Theta archaic.svgGreek Theta classical.svgGreek uncial Theta.svgGreek minuscule Theta.svgθΘ
Greek Iota normal.svgGreek Iota classical.svgGreek uncial Iota.svgGreek minuscule Iota.svgιΙ
Greek Kappa normal.svgGreek Kappa classical.svgGreek uncial Kappa.svgGreek minuscule Kappa.svgκΚ
Greek Lambda 09.svgGreek Lambda classical.svgGreek uncial Lambda.svgGreek minuscule Lambda.svgλΛ
Greek Mu 04.svgGreek Mu classical.svgGreek uncial Mu.svgGreek minuscule Mu.svgμΜ
Greek Nu 01.svgGreek Nu classical.svgGreek uncial Nu.svgGreek minuscule Nu.svgνΝ
Greek Xi archaic.svgGreek Xi classical.svgGreek uncial Xi.svgGreek minuscule Xi.svgξΞ
Greek Omicron 04.svgGreek Omicron classical.svgGreek uncial Omicron.svgGreek minuscule Omicron.svgοΟ
Greek Pi archaic.svgGreek Pi classical.svgGreek uncial Pi.svgGreek minuscule Pi.svgπΠ
Greek Rho pointed.svgGreek Rho classical.svgGreek uncial Rho.svgGreek minuscule Rho.svgρΡ
Greek Sigma normal.svgGreek Sigma classical.svgGreek uncial Sigma.svgGreek minuscule Sigma.svgσςΣ
Greek Tau normal.svgGreek Tau classical.svgGreek uncial Tau.svgGreek minuscule Tau.svgτΤ
Greek Upsilon normal.svgGreek Upsilon classical.svgGreek uncial Upsilon.svgGreek minuscule Upsilon.svgυΥ
Greek Phi 03.svgGreek Phi archaic.svgGreek uncial Phi.svgGreek minuscule Phi.svgφΦ
Greek Chi normal.svgGreek Chi classical.svgGreek uncial Chi.svgGreek minuscule Chi.svgχΧ
Greek Psi straight.svgGreek Psi classical.svgGreek uncial Psi.svgGreek minuscule Psi.svgψΨ
Greek Omega normal.svgGreek Omega classical.svgGreek uncial Omega.svgGreek minuscule Omega.svgωΩ

Derived alphabets

The earliest Etruscan abecedarium, from Marsiliana d'Albegna, still almost identical with contemporary archaic Greek alphabets
A page from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century bible manuscript in Gothic

The Greek alphabet was the model for various others:[3]

It is also considered a possible ancestor of the Armenian alphabet, which in turn influenced the development of the Georgian alphabet.[19]

Other uses

Use for other languages

Apart from the daughter alphabets listed above, which were adapted from Greek but developed into separate writing systems, the Greek alphabet has also been adopted at various times and in various places to write other languages.[20] For some of them, additional letters were introduced.

Antiquity

Middle Ages

Early modern

18th century title page of a book printed in Karamanli Turkish

In mathematics and science

Greek symbols are traditionally used as names in mathematics, physics and other sciences. Many symbols have traditional uses, such as lower case epsilon (ε) for an arbitrarily small positive number, lower case pi (π) for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, capital sigma (Σ) for summation, and lower case sigma (σ) for standard deviation.

Astronomy

Greek letters are used to denote the brighter stars within each of the eighty-eight constellations. In most constellations the brightest star is designated Alpha and the next brightest Beta etc. For example, the brightest star in the constellation of Centaurus is known as Alpha Centauri. However, for historical reasons, the Greek designations of some constellations begin with a lower ranked letter.

International Phonetic alphabet

Several Greek letters are used as phonetic symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).[27] Several of them denote fricative consonants; the rest stand for variants of vowel sounds. The glyph shapes used for these letters in specialized phonetic fonts is sometimes slightly different from the conventional shapes in Greek typography proper, with glyphs typically being more upright and using serifs, to make them conform more with the typographical character of other, Latin-based letters in the phonetic alphabet. Nevertheless, in the Unicode encoding standard, the following three phonetic symbols are considered the same characters as the corresponding Greek letters proper:

βbetaU+03B2voiced bilabial fricative
θthetaU+03B8voiceless dental fricative
χchiU+03C7voiceless velar fricative

On the other hand, the following phonetic letters have Unicode representations separate from their Greek alphabetic use, either because their conventional typographic shape is too different from the original, or because they also have secondary uses as regular alphabetic characters in some Latin-based alphabets, including separate Latin uppercase letters distinct from the Greek ones.

Greek letterPhonetic letterUppercase
φphiɸU+0278Latin small letter phiVoiceless bilabial fricative
γgammaɣU+0263Latin small letter gammaVoiced velar fricativeƔ U+0194
εepsilonɛU+025BLatin small letter open e
(alias: epsilon)
Open-mid front unrounded vowelƐ U+0190
αalphaɑU+0251Latin small letter alphaOpen back unrounded vowelⱭ U+2C6D
υupsilonʊU+028ALatin small letter upsilonNear-close near-back vowelƱ U+01B1
ιiotaɩU+0269Latin small letter iotaObsolete for near-close near-front unrounded vowel now ɪƖ U+0196

The Greek letter λ has also been used as a phonetic symbol, as an alternate for IPA "ɬ" (lateral fricative), especially in Americanist phonetic notation, but is not officially part of the IPA. The IPA uses the very similar-looking inverted lowercase 'y' (unicode U+028E) to represent the palatal lateral approximant.

Use as numerals

Main article: Greek numerals

Greek letters were also used to write numbers. In the classical Ionian system, the first nine letters of the alphabet stood for the numbers from 1 to 9, the next nine letters stood for the multiples of 10, from 10 to 90, and the next nine letters stood for the multiples of 100, from 100 to 900. For this purpose, in addition to the 24 letters which by that time made up the standard alphabet, three otherwise obsolete letters were retained or revived: digamma Ϝ for 6, koppa Ϙ for 90, and a rare Ionian letter for [ss], today called sampi Ͳ, for 900. This system has remained in use in Greek up to the present day, although today it is only employed for limited purposes such as enumerating chapters in a book, similar to the way Roman numerals are used in English. The three extra symbols are today written as ϛ, ϟ and ϡ respectively. To mark a letter as a numeral sign, a small stroke called keraia is added to the right of it.

Αʹ αʹalpha1
Βʹ βʹbeta2
Γʹ γʹgamma3
Δʹ δʹdelta4
Εʹ εʹepsilon5
ϛʹdigamma (stigma)6
Ζʹ ζʹzeta7
Ηʹ ηʹeta8
Θʹ θʹtheta9
Ιʹ ιʹiota10
Κʹ κʹkappa20
Λʹ λʹlambda30
Μʹ μʹmu40
Νʹ νʹnu50
Ξʹ ξʹxi60
Οʹ οʹomicron70
Πʹ πʹpi80
ϟʹkoppa90
Ρʹ ρʹrho100
Σʹ σʹsigma200
Τʹ τʹtau300
Υʹ υʹupsilon400
Φʹ φʹphi500
Χʹ χʹchi600
Ψʹ ψʹpsi700
Ωʹ ωʹomega800
ϡʹsampi900


Use in naming student fraternities and sororities

In North America, many college fraternities and sororities are named with combinations of Greek letters, and are hence also known as "Greek letter organizations". This naming tradition was initiated by the foundation of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, in 1776.[28]

Glyph variants

Some letters can occur in variant shapes, mostly inherited from medieval minuscule handwriting. While their use in normal typography of Greek is purely a matter of font styles, some such variants have been given separate encodings in Unicode.

Computer encodings

For the usage in computers, a variety of encodings have been used for Greek online, many of them documented in RFC 1947.

The two principal ones still used today are ISO/IEC 8859-7 and Unicode. ISO 8859-7 supports only the monotonic orthography; Unicode supports both the monotonic and polytonic orthographies.

ISO/IEC 8859-7

For the range A0–FF (hex) it follows the Unicode range 370–3CF (see below) except that some symbols, like ©, ½, § etc. are used where Unicode has unused locations. Like all ISO-8859 encodings it is equal to ASCII for 00–7F (hex).

Greek in Unicode

Main articles: Greek and Coptic and Greek Extended

Unicode supports polytonic orthography well enough for ordinary continuous text in modern and ancient Greek, and even many archaic forms for epigraphy. With the use of combining characters, Unicode also supports Greek philology and dialectology and various other specialized requirements. Most current text rendering engines do not render diacritics well, so, though alpha with macron and acute can be represented as U+03B1 U+0304 U+0301, this rarely renders well: ᾱ́.[citation needed]

There are 2 main blocks of Greek characters in Unicode. The first is "Greek and Coptic" (U+0370 to U+03FF). This block is based on ISO 8859-7 and is sufficient to write Modern Greek. There are also some archaic letters and Greek-based technical symbols.

This block also supports the Coptic alphabet. Formerly most Coptic letters shared codepoints with similar-looking Greek letters; but in many scholarly works, both scripts occur, with quite different letter shapes, so as of Unicode 4.1, Coptic and Greek were disunified. Those Coptic letters with no Greek equivalents still remain in this block (U+03E2 to U+03EF).

To write polytonic Greek, one may use combining diacritical marks or the precomposed characters in the "Greek Extended" block (U+1F00 to U+1FFF).

Greek and Coptic[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
 0123456789ABCDEF
U+037xͰͱͲͳʹ͵Ͷͷͺͻͼͽ;Ϳ
U+038x΄΅Ά·ΈΉΊΌΎΏ
U+039xΐΑΒΓΔΕΖΗΘΙΚΛΜΝΞΟ
U+03AxΠΡΣΤΥΦΧΨΩΪΫάέήί
U+03Bxΰαβγδεζηθικλμνξο
U+03CxπρςστυφχψωϊϋόύώϏ
U+03DxϐϑϒϓϔϕϖϗϘϙϚϛϜϝϞϟ
U+03ExϠϡϢϣϤϥϦϧϨϩϪϫϬϭϮϯ
U+03Fxϰϱϲϳϴϵ϶ϷϸϹϺϻϼϽϾϿ
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 7.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Greek Extended[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
 0123456789ABCDEF
U+1F0x
U+1F1x
U+1F2x
U+1F3xἿ
U+1F4x
U+1F5x
U+1F6x
U+1F7x
U+1F8x
U+1F9x
U+1FAx
U+1FBx᾿
U+1FCx
U+1FDx
U+1FEx
U+1FFx
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 7.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Combining and letter-free diacritics

Combining and spacing (letter-free) diacritical marks pertaining to Greek language:

combiningspacingsampledescription
U+0300U+0060(  ̀)"varia / grave accent"
U+0301U+00B4, U+0384(  ́)"oxia / tonos / acute accent"
U+0304U+00AF(  ̄)"macron"
U+0306U+02D8(  ̆)"vrachy / breve"
U+0308U+00A8(  ̈)"dialytika / diaeresis"
U+0313U+02BC(  ̓)"psili / comma above" (spiritus lenis)
U+0314U+02BD(  ̔)"dasia / reversed comma above" (spiritus asper)
U+0342(  ͂)"perispomeni" (circumflex)
U+0343(  ̓)"koronis" (= U+0313)
U+0344U+0385(  ̈́)"dialytika tonos" (deprecated, = U+0308 U+0301)
U+0345U+037A(  ͅ)"ypogegrammeni / iota subscript".

Encodings with a subset of the Greek alphabet

IBM code pages 437, 860, 861, 862, 863, and 865 contain the letters ΓΘΣΦΩαδεπστφ (plus β as an alternate interpretation for ß).

See also

References

  1. ^ Swiggers 1996.
  2. ^ Cook 1987, p. 9.
  3. ^ a b c Coulmas 1996.
  4. ^ a b Woodard 2008, pp. 15–17
  5. ^ a b Holton, Mackridge & Philippaki-Warburton 1998, p. 31
  6. ^ Hinge 2001, pp. 212–234
  7. ^ The letter sigma Σ has two different lowercase forms, σ and ς, with ς being used in word-final position and σ elsewhere. (In some 19th-century typesetting, ς was also used word-medially at the end of a compound morpheme, e.g. "δυςκατανοήτων", marking the morpheme boundary between "δυς-κατανοήτων" ("difficult to understand"); modern standard practice is to spell "δυσκατανοήτων" with a non-final sigma.) Nicholas, Nick (2004). "Sigma: final versus non-final". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  8. ^ Horrocks 2008, pp. 231–250
  9. ^ ISO (2010). "ISO 843:1997 (Conversion of Greek characters into Latin characters)". 
  10. ^ UNGEGN Working Group on Romanization Systems (2003). "Greek". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  11. ^ "Greek (ALA-LC Romanization Tables)". 2010. 
  12. ^ Johnston 2003.
  13. ^ Daniels & Bright 1996, p. 4.
  14. ^ a b Epsilon ε and omicron ο originally could denote both short and long vowels in pre-classical archaic Greek spelling, just like other vowel letters. They were restricted to the function of short vowel signs in classical Greek, as the long vowels // and // came to be spelled instead with the digraphs ει and ου, having phonologically merged with a corresponding pair of former diphthongs /ei/ and /ou/ respectively.
  15. ^ Liddell & Scott 1940, s.v. "λάβδα"
  16. ^ Newton, B. E. (1968). "Spontaneous gemination in Cypriot Greek". Lingua 20: 15–57. doi:10.1016/0024-3841(68)90130-. ISSN 0024-3841. 
  17. ^ a b Thompson 1912, pp. 102–103
  18. ^ Murdoch & 2004 156
  19. ^ Stevenson 2007, p. 1158
  20. ^ Macrakis 1996.
  21. ^ Sims-Williams 1997.
  22. ^ Miletich 1920.
  23. ^ Mazon & Vaillant 1938.
  24. ^ Kristophson 1974, p. 11.
  25. ^ Peyfuss 1989.
  26. ^ Elsie 1991.
  27. ^ Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge: University Press. 1999. pp. 176–181. 
  28. ^ Vincent, Fran.The history of college fraternities.Greeklife.com, 1996, p.1.

Bibliography

  • Cook, B. F. (1987). Greek inscriptions. University of California Press/British Museum. 
  • Coulmas, Florian (1996). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-631-21481-X. 
  • Daniels, Peter T; Bright, William (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press. 
  • Elsie, Robert (1991). "Albanian Literature in Greek Script: the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century Orthodox Tradition in Albanian Writing". Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 15 (20). 
  • Hinge, George (2001). Die Sprache Alkmans: Textgeschichte und Sprachgeschichte (Ph.D.). University of Aarhus. 
  • Holton, David; Mackridge, Peter; Philippaki-Warburton, Irini (1998). Grammatiki tis ellinikis glossas. Athens: Pataki. 
  • Horrocks, Geoffrey (2006). Ellinika: istoria tis glossas kai ton omiliton tis. Athens: Estia.  [Greek translation of Greek: a history of the language and its speakers, London 1997]
  • Johnston, A. W. (2003). "The alphabet". In Stampolidis, N.; Karageorghis, V. Sea Routes from Sidon to Huelva: Interconnections in the Mediterranean 16th – 6th c. B.C. Athens: Museum of Cycladic Art. pp. 263–276. 
  • Kristophson, Jürgen (1974). "Das Lexicon Tetraglosson des Daniil Moschopolitis". Zeitschrift für Balkanologie 10: 4–128. 
  • Liddell, Henry G; Scott, Robert (1940). A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon. 
  • Macrakis, Stavros M (1996). "Character codes for Greek: Problems and modern solutions". In Macrakis, Michael. Greek letters: from tablets to pixels. Newcastle: Oak Knoll Press. p. 265. 
  • Mazon, André; Vaillant, André (1938). L'Evangéliaire de Kulakia, un parler slave de Bas-Vardar. Bibliothèque d'études balkaniques 6. Paris: Librairie Droz.  – selections from the Gospels in Macedonian.
  • Miletich, L. (1920). "Dva bŭlgarski ru̐kopisa s grŭtsko pismo". Bŭlgarski starini 6. 
  • Murdoch, Brian (2004). "Gothic". In Brian Murdoch and Malcolm Read. Early Germanic literature and culture. Woodbridge: Camden House. pp. 149–170. 
  • Peyfuss, Max Demeter (1989). Die Druckerei von Moschopolis, 1731–1769: Buchdruck und Heiligenverehrung in Erzbistum Achrida. Wiener Archiv für Geschichte des Slawentums und Osteuropas 13. Böhlau Verlag. 
  • Sims-Williams, Nicholas (1997). "New Findings in Ancient Afghanistan – the Bactrian documents discovered from the Northern Hindu-Kush". 
  • Swiggers, Pierre (1996). "Transmission of the Phoenician Script to the West". In Daniels; Bright. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford: University Press. pp. 261–270. 
  • Stevenson, Jane (2007). "Translation and the spread of the Greek and Latin alphabets in Late Antiquity". In Harald Kittel et al. Translation: an international encyclopedia of translation studies 2. Berlin: de Gruyter. pp. 1157–1159. 
  • Thompson, Edward M (1912). An introduction to Greek and Latin palaeography. Oxford: Clarendon. 
  • Woodard, Roger D. (2008). "Attic Greek". In Woodard, Roger D. The ancient languages of Europe. Cambridge: University Press. pp. 14–49. 

External links