The Greek alphabet (Greek: Ελληνικό αλφάβητο) is a set of letters used to represent the written Greek language. Originating around the 9th century BC, it was based upon the Phoenician consonantal alphabet (which also gave rise to the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets). The Greek alphabet was the first true alphabet, representing both consonants and vowels, each with their own individual symbol. The Latin and Cyrillic alphabets are largely based on Greek, with some modifications.
Originally Greek was only written with what are today considered capital letters. The lowercase letters are based on handwritten forms developed during the Byzantine period. In the case of sigma, the lowercase form varies depending on if it occurs at the end of a word (ς).
Most of the letters are named after their models in the Phoenician alphabet – compare Semitic alef, bet, gimel to Greek alpha, beta, gamma. Zeta seems to have been named to better fit with beta, eta, and theta. The origins of phi, chi, and psi are debated, but their names were simply patterned off the other -i letters. Epsilon, omicron, upsilon, and omega are the only letters with distinctly Greek names, all with origins in the Byzantine Empire. Epsilon and upsilon where given the affix -psilon (ψιλόν, "simple") in order to distinguish them, respectively, from the digraphs αι and οι, which by that time had come to be pronounced the same way. Omicron ("small o") and omega ("great o") were named in order to distinguish them from each other, having also come to have the same pronunciation.
In many cases, the modern phonetic values of the letters match the pronunciation of the initial letter (or letter clusters) of their names in English. However, some letters have shifted in pronunciation since ancient times, so this is not always the case. For example, in Ancient Greek, the letter beta was pronounced [b], but is now pronounced [v].
Digraphs are formed to signify sounds not covered by the main alphabet (e.g., ντ for [d], μπ for [b], or ου for [u]), or to represent diphthongs (e.g., αυ for [af] and [av]).
The original Greek alphabet included the letters digamma (Ϝϝ), san (Ϻϻ), and qoppa (Ϙϙ). Digamma was dropped due to the loss of the sound it represented in Greek ([w]), and san and qoppa were dropped in favor of sigma and kappa. Digamma and qoppa were preserved in certain Western dialects, and eventually evolved into the Latin letters F and Q. Qoppa is still used occasionally as a Greek numeral, albeit in a different form (Ϟϟ).
Greek letters are also used in the names of fraternities and sororities, as well as mathematical symbols.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Phonology, MY SECRET LIFE OF LANGUAGES. Retrieved November 27, 2008.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 Herbert Weir Smyth, A Greek Grammar for Colleges, Perseus Digital Library. Retrieved November 27, 2008.
- ↑ Modern pronunciations separated by a slash indicate a phonetic difference depending on the following vowel. On the left is the pronunciation before [e] and [i], on the right the pronunciation before [a], [o], or [u]. In the case of iota, the difference depends on if it is word initial before a vowel.
- ↑ Greek Miniscule Script, Biblaridion. Retrieved November 26, 2008.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Lesson 1: The Greek Alphabet (capitals), Quinapalus. Retrieved November 27, 2008.
- ↑ Greek alphabet, pronunciation and language, Omniglot. Retrieved November 26, 2008.
- ↑ Earlier known as "wau" (ϝαυ)
- ↑ Non-Attic Letters, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. Retrieved November 26, 2008.
- ↑ The Letter Q, fonts.com. Retrieved November 26, 2008.
- ↑ Numerals, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. Retrieved November 26, 2008.