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A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY

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An understanding of phonology provides a key to understanding the ethnic affinities of peoples and the history of the transmission of cultural achievements. Greek cognates of words in other Indo-European languages, however, are often not immediately recognizable owing to distinct phonetic processes in the development of the Greek language.
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A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY
63
OVERVIEW
1. The Importance of the Study of Greek Phonology .............................................................................64
2. Vowels: Indo-European and Ancient Greek .....................................................................................64
3. Vowels: Attic-Ionic shift of to
.................................................................................................... 65
4. Vowels: The diphthong
................................................................................................................ 65
5. Vowels: The diphthong
...............................................................................................................65
6. Vowels: Diphthongs with Iota Subscripts:
.............................................................................66
7. Vowels: Attic Vowel contractions .....................................................................................................66
8. Vowels: Quantitative Metathesis .......................................................................................................66
9. Vowels: Compensatory Lengthening .................................................................................................67
10. Vowel Gradation (Ablaut) and Types .............................................................................................. 67
11. Vowel Gradation: The type
...................................................................................................68
12. Vowel Gradation: The type long-vowel/short-vowel ...................................................................... 68
13. Vowel Gradation in Disyllabic Roots ...............................................................................................69
14. Consonants: Indo-European and Ancient Greek.............................................................................. 69
15. Consonants: Attic Combinations .....................................................................................................70
16. Consonants: Aspirates (
)...................................................................................................... 71
17. Consonants: Voiceless stops (
).............................................................................................71
18. Consonants: Voiced stops (
)................................................................................................ 71
19. Consonants: Fate of the Indo-European Labio-velars (kw, gw, ghw) ............................................ 71
20. Consonants: Unstable ...................................................................................................................72
21. Consonants: Unstable ...................................................................................................................73
22. Consonants: Unstable consonantal Yod ( or y) ............................................................................ 73
23. Consonants: Unstable Liquids (
, and Nasals (
)................................................................ 74
24. Consonants at Word-ends .................................................................................................................75

A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY
64
1.
The Importance of the Study of Greek Phonology
(a)
An understanding of phonology provides a key to understanding the ethnic affinities of peoples
and the hsitory of the transmission of cultural achievements. Greek cognates of words in other Indo-
European languages, however, are often not immediately recognizable owing to distinct phonetic processes
in the development of the Greek language. Observe the relationships between the words in the following
table:
English
Latin
Greek
Indo-European
father
pater
*pater
kin
genus
*genos
ewe
ovis
*owis
wit
video
*wid-
six
sex
*seks
bear
fero
*bher-
ten
decem
*dekn
sweet
suavis
*swad-
cow
bos
gwows
yoke
iugum
*yug
snow
nivem
*snigwh
door
foris
*dhur-
(b) An understanding of phonology provides a key to understanding dialectal variations within a language.
Thus armed, the student of Attic Greek can relate the Doric
and the Attic
to proto-Greek
*senti; or one can relate the Lesbian Aeolic forms
and
and the corresponding Attic
forms,
and
, to proto-Greek *pantya and *selasna. Thus, although one's study has
been concentrated on the dialect of 5th and 4th century Athens, it will be possible to undertake the reading
of Homeric or Lesbian Aeolic poetry (Sappho, Alcaeus) or of Ionic prose (Herodotus) with a minimum of
difficulty.
(c) An understanding of phonology provides a key to recognition of cognates derived from the same root, such
as the aorist-tense form
(epnthon) and the future-tense form
(penthsomai) or the
present-tense form
(sekho) and the aorist infinitive
(skhein). Such undrstanding lightens
the burden of learning principal parts of verbs of apparently anomalous forms such as:
from
pnth-sko
penth-s-o-mai
e-pnth-o-n
peponth-a
(d) Of most immediate importance to the beginning student of Ancient Greek, phonology reveals the
underlying logic of conjugational and declensional paradigms of verbs and nouns, adjectives and pronouns,
even where the forms observed in such paradigms seem superficially inconsistent.
2.
Vowels: Indo-European and Ancient Greek
Indo-European vowels
Ancient Greek Vowels
Simple
Dipthongs
Simple
Diphthongs
Short
Long
a
ai
au
e
ei
eu
o
oi
ou
i
u
shwa

A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY
65
3.
Vowels: Attic-Ionic shift of to
Indo-European long *a survived in most Greek dialects, but in Attic-Ionic it evolved into a long flat e
(English drag), which subsequently became assimilated to long open e (French tête), spelled . In Ionic
dialect
this change of quality was carried through uniformly, while in the Attic dialect it was inhibited when
the original * was preceded by
or . Note the following dialectal equivalents:
Doric:
Attic:
Ionic:
4.
Vowels: The diphthong
Ancient Greek
had originally two values: (1) long closed e as in
<
and (2) the true
diphthong as in
<
. In late Attic both were assimilated to
This explains the variant spellings
of the second-person singular present middle ending in omega-verbs:
is the earlier spelling,
the later
spelling of what, before the loss of medial sigma in the ending, was
.
The long closed e which is spelled ei may result from contraction of + . Thus:
<
<

or it may result from compensatory l;engthening of after the loss of a following consonant. Thus:
<
<

5.
Vowels: The diphthong
Ancient Greek
was originally a long closed o (English blow), but in Attic dialect it became u (English
boot), while Attic (originally short and long u as in Latin) acquired the value of the French u, the German ü.
This change in the quality of the Greek upsilon explains why the Romans used their own u to transliterate
Greek
but carried over the Greek letter to represent a sound not expressed in the existing Roman alphabet.
The long closed o which is spelled by Greek
may result from contraction of + (thus:
<
or from contraction of
(thus
<
<

or from contraction of + o (thus:
<
<

or it may result from compensatory lengthening of after loss of a following consonant (thus:
<
<


A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY
66
6.
Vowels: Diphthongs with Iota Subscripts:
The ancient Greek long-vowel diphthongs
tended to lose their appended iotas and to degenerate
into the simple long vowels
. They lasted longer in final open position, where we commonly see them
in dative-singular forms of first- and second-declension nouns:
;
. On the other hand,
they probably lost diphthongal pronunciation in medial position as the variant spellings in Hellenistic Greek
papyri
would seem to indicate:
=
;
=
;
=
.
The orthographic convention of indicating the lost appended iota of the dipthong by means of an iota subscript
is Byzantine. Hellenistic manuscripts and papyri show simple long vowels, as the dative singular form t
.
7.
Vowels: Attic Vowel contractions: In the following table, the first vowel is given in the left-hand column, the
second in the top row, and the result contractions in the box where the columns intersect.)
Comments on the vowel contractions:
1.
It will be noted from the table that, generally speaking, a-vowels prevail over e-vowels; o-vowels prevail
over both a-vowels and e-vowels.
2.
Strictly speaking,
+
= long rather than ; however, as long changes to in the Attic dialect, the
resultant contraction normally appears as . Thus:
=
;
=
. Yet this change may be inhibited when the long is preceded by
or
. Thus:
=
;
=
.
3. Vowel contraction may also occur between words, especially when the definite article
or the
conjunction
is followed by a word begininning with
or
(crasis):
=
;
=
;
=
;
=
.
8.
Vowels: Quantitative Metathesis: In the Attic dialect, the combinations
and
tended to shift the vowel
quantity from the first to the second vowel:
. This substantially affects the declension of several
categories of nouns and adjectives:
(a) Third-declension stems that alternate between vocalic or diphthongal forms before a consonantal ending
and vowel-sonant forms before a vocalic ending (
y,
-->
) show metathesis after the loss
of the sonant:
y
y
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
(gen. sg. "ship")
(b) "Attic declension" of nouns and adjectives originally formed with sonants which were lost:
>
>
(nom. sg. "temple"
y
y
y
>
>
y
y
y
>
>
(c) A related phenomenon is the shortening of the first of two contiguous long vowels:
>
>
>

A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY
67
9.
Vowels: Compensatory Lengthening
The loss of one of a pair of consonants following a short vowel is compensated for by the lengthening of the
preceding short vowel. When this occurs:
short --> long
-->
short --> long
short --> long
(a) This process is particularly noticeable in active participles, where the participial sign
enters into
conjunction with a sigma:
(b) This process is also significant in liquid aorists where the sigma of the First Aorist is lost after
or
and the preceding vowel, if short, is compensatorily lengthened:
10. Vowel Gradation (Ablaut) and Types
(a) "The only stable constituent portion of an Indo-European morphological element (root, suffix, or ending) is
the consonantal portion. The vocalic portion is always subject to alternation." --Meillet
In English, for instance,one can readily recognize the r/ /d complex as the stable consonantal portion
characterized alternately by the vowels *i, *o, *i in the principal parts of the verb ride, rode, ridden.
Alternation of vowels affects not only the principal word-roots of nouns and verbs, however,but also the
suffixes constituting, e.g., agent nouns in Greek:
in
but
in
,
in
,
in
, and
in
, or the mood-signs of verbs as optative
in Greek:
.
In the most common type of Greek verb, the "thematic" verb, an alternating short vowel
provides the link
between the stem and the ending:
. Lengthened forms of the same vowel (
) serve as
the subjunctive mood sign:
.
(b) In its full range, Indo-European vowel gradation comprises five grades: two short-vowel grades: , ;
two long-vowel grades:
; and a zero-grade wherein the consonantal portionis linked without a vowel
(or with the second element of a diphthong constituted by the long- or short-vowel grades). Although all
five grades are rarely represented for any single root in Greek, all are to be seen in the agent-noun suffix
forms cited above:
(c)
Three types of vowel gradation are important in Greek:
1.
An alternation of , , and zero-grades;
2.
An alternation of long- and short-vowel grades;
3.
An alternation affecting both syllables of disyllabic roots.

A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY
68
11. Vowel Gradation: The type
(a) The most common type of vocalic alternation in Greek is that of the grades
and zero as seen in the
forms of the verb root
:
This type is most frequently seen, however, in a variety in which the or the forms a diphthong in
combination with a semivowel ( /y or
), with a liquid ( or ), or with a nasal ( or ). In such
roots we find the
and grades as diphthongs:
1.
2.
3.

y
4.
y
5.
=
=
6.
y
(b) The zero-grade in such instances appears as the vocalic form of the semi-vowel ( or ), or as the
common vocalic form of the liquid ( or
) or nasal (
or ; these are the forms taken by both
vocalic and vocalic before a vowel or a consonant respectively). Thus the series above is completed
with corresponding zero-grade forms:
1.
2.
3.

y
4.
y
5.
=
=
6.
y
12. Vowel Gradation: The type long-vowel/short-vowel: A somewhat less common but no less important second
type of vocalic alternation is that wherein a long vowel (
or ) alternates with its corresponding short
vowel (
or ):
1.
=
=
2.
3.


A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY
69
13. Vowel Gradation in Disyllabic Roots: Certain Greek roots, especially those with a liquid or a nasal as the
second consonant, seem to undergo such changes as to indicate vocalic alternation both before and after the
second consonant. The alternation of the vowel in the first syllable is of the type
; that of the vowel in the
second syllable is of the type long-vowel/short-vowel. This pattern of alternation is further complicated,
however, by two facts: (1) a regularly appears in the zero-grade of a syllable ending in a liquid or a nasal; (2)
the short-vowel grade of the second syllable appears to represent an original Indo-European shewa ( ). In
Greek this shewa disappears before a vowel or otherwise is represented by the short vowel (
, or )
corresponding to the long-vowel grade (
or ).
+
*
-grade in the 1st syllable, short-vowel grade in the 2nd
*
=
*
=
-grade in the 1st syllable, short-vowel grade in the 2nd
*
=
*-
=
zero-grade in the 1st syllable, short-vowel grade in the 2nd
zero-grade in the 1st syllable, short-vowel grade in the 2nd
*
=
+
*
-grade in the 1st syllable, short-vowel grade in the 2nd
*
=
-grade in the 1st syllable, short-vowel grade in the 2nd
*
=
zero-grade in the 1st syllable, short-vowel grade in the 2nd
=
=
*-
=
zero-grade in the 1st syllable, long-vowel grade in the 2nd
+
*
zero-grade in the 1st syllable, short-vowel grade in the 2nd
*-
=
zero-grade in the 1st syllable, long-vowel grade in the 2nd
14. Consonants: Indo-European and Ancient Greek
Stops
Spirant
Nasal
Liquids
Sonant
Voiced
Unvoiced
Voiced
Unv.
Voiced
Plain
Asp.
Plain
Asp.
Lateral Palatal
1.
Labial
b
bh -
p
ph
w -
wh -
m
m -
2.
Dental
d
dh -
t
th
n
l
r
nlr
3.
Palatal
g
gh -
k
kh
y -
ng

4.
Labio-
gw -
gwh -
kw -
velar
5.
Sibilant
z
s
Comments on the consonants:
1.
, and represent the Indo-European bh, th, and kh; but these voiced aspirates of Indo-European
are unvoiced in Greek (e.g. Sanskrit bharami = Greek
). Originally they were pronounced as in
English uphold, hothouse, and inkhorn; but they evolved into the sounds of f, th (as in English
thin) and ch (as in German ich) and were thus pronounced in the Koinê.

A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY
70
2.
The Indo-European spirants w and y do not survive in the Attic-Ionic dialect; but they are represented in
the reconstruction of the history of word-forms by or and y respectively. actually does appear in some
early inscriptions.
3.
The sonant m appears in Greek either as after a vowel or as
after a consonant. The sonant n vocalizes
as . The sonants and vocalize in Greek as
or
and
or
respectively:
I-E *dekm = Latin decem = Greek
I-E *n- = Latin in- = English un- = Greek
4.
The ancient Greek was a double consonant originally zd (cf.
<
), in Attic dz.
5.
Ancient Greek
, and
were pronounced as English linger, sink, and inkhorn.
15. Consonants: Attic Combinations (read the following table like that in §8 above:
(a) The general principle of assimilation of stops is that the preceding stop is assimilated to the order of the
second stop. Thus:
>
( becomes b before d)
>
( becomes before )
>
( becomes before )
>
( becomes before
(b) The combinations of stops with indicated on the table above are seen most commonly in the formation of
future and first-aorist stems (
), in the formation of third-declension nominative
singular and dative plural (e.g.
>
>
>
>
, and in the formation of the perfect middle-passive second singular (e.g.
>
). Note that
makes voiced stops (
) lose their vocalization (they becomes
) and
makes aspirates (
) lose their aspiration (they also become
). Thus
becomes
=
and
becomes
=
;
becomes
=
and
becomes
=
. All dental stops (
) assimilate to and are absorbed into
it. Thus:
becomes
,
becomes
, and
becomes
.
(c) The combinations of stops with
, and
are particularly significant in forms of the middle/passive
indicative, infinitive, and participle. Thus:
+
+
+
(d) The combinations of stops with are particularly significant in forms of the aorist passive. Thus:
becomes
becomes


A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY
71
16. Consonants: Aspirates (
)
(a) Greek
represent Indo-European bh dh gh; but these voiced Indo-European aspirates are
unvoiced in Greek. In course of time they degenerated into the sounds of f and th (as in English thin)
ch (as in German ich). They were pronounced thus already in the Koinê.
(b) Final unvoiced stops (
) will assimilate to an aspirated vowel at the beginning of the following word.
becomes
becomes
becomes

(c) Dissimilation of aspirates: a syllable bounded by two aspirates loses aspiration of one of the stops,
usually the first. Thus:
1.
>
>
(but note that in the future tense, is de-aspirated when combining with ;
hence, aspiration re-appears at the beginning of the syllable:
>
>
=
).
2.
>
3.
>
(but note that in the comparative degree, aspiration is lost when
y
becomes
; hence aspiration reappears at the beginning of the syllable).
4.
The noun root
appears as
except in the nominative singular
and the dative plural
, where is de-aspirated in combination with .
17. Consonants: Voiceless stops (
)
(a) Articulation of tended to vocalization. Note, for instance, that Latin has transliterated the verb
as guberno.
(b)
assibilates before or Thus:
1.
3 sg. primary ending:
>
;
2.
2 sg. acc. personal pronoun:
>
(whence the spread to other forms);
3.
Compare the noun
with the adjective
<
;
4.
Abstract nouns ending in
>
(e.g.
>
).
18. Consonants: Voiced stops (
)
(a) The voiced stops tended to become fricatives in articulation:
> v;
> th (as in English the);
> y. These are their sounds in Modern Greek, and probably were already so in the Koinê.
(b) The voiced stops tended to nasalize before vowels (
>
). Note that the combination
further evolved from
to loss of
altogether. Hence the Koinê forms
and
of the older Attic verbs
and
.
19. Consonants: Fate of the Indo-European Labio-velars (kw, gw, ghw)
(a) Neighboring vowels interact with the Indo-European labio-velars so as to cause them to shift to respective
stops of all three orders and series.
(b) Gutturalization: Indo-European kw, gw, and ghw lose the velar appendage before or after and before
(y). Thus:
1.
Indo-European kw --> Greek
>
>
>
2.
Indo-European gw --> Greek
gwona --> gwuna -->
(Attic
)

A COMPENDIUM OF ANCIENT GREEK PHONOLOGY
72
3.
Indo-European ghw --> Greek
lnghwus -->
Then, after loss of the velar appendage (w), the resultant gutturals (
) follow the pattern of
transformations of guttural + y. Thus:
Indo-European kwy --> Greek y --> Attic
or Ionic
Indo-European ghwy --> Greek y --> Attic
or Ionic
while
Indo-European gwy --> Greek y
-->
okwye
>
y
>
lnghwy*on
>
>
gwy*en
>
y
>
(c)
Dentalization: before
or :
1.
Indo-European kw --> Greek ;
2.
Indo-European gw --> Greek ;
3.
Indo-European ghw --> Greek
Thus:
kwis (Latin quis)
>
kwetwor (Latin quattuor)
>
>
ghwerm (Eng. warm)
>
ghwen
y
>
(d) Labialization: before
or a consonant:
1.
Indo-European kw --> Greek ;
2.
Indo-European gw --> Greek ;
3.
Indo-European ghw --> Greek
Thus:
leikw*o (Latin linquo)
>
sekwo (Latin sequor)
>
gwam-
>
ghwen
>
y
>
ghwon-
>
snighwad-
>
20. Consonants: Unstable
(a) Initial before a vowel weakens to an aspirate ( --> h). Thus Indo-European cognates with initial s
before a vowel appear in Greek with a rough breathing:
1. Indo-European septm (Latin septem) --> Greek
;
2.
Indo-European semi- (Latin semi-) --> Greek
.
(b) Initial before a liquid (
) or a nasal (
) is normally lost:
1.
IE sn --> Greek
IE snighw (Eng. snow) --> Greek
;
2.
IE sm --> Greek
IE smikro-
--> Greek
;
IE smia
--> Greek
;
3.
IE sr --> Greek
IE srewo
--> Greek
;
4.
IE sl --> Greek
IE sleg (Eng. slack)
--> Greek
.

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