Chapter 15: The Greek Language

§98. The Greek Alphabet

Although the Greek alphabet may seem at first glance to be alien and incomprehensible (“It’s all Greek to me!”), we must realize that it is the origin of our own Roman alphabet, which evolved in central and southern Italy as the result of Greek and Greco-Etruscan influence. Speakers of English generally need only a few days’ practice before becoming perfectly comfortable with the Greek alphabet, which is really very much like our own.

The Greek ALPHABET, so called from the names of its first two letters, was itself adapted from the Phoenician alphabet, probably in the eighth century BC. (This was a rather remarkable adaptation, considering the fact that Phoenician was a Semitic language outside the Indo-European family.) In the early centuries of this new literacy, Greek letter-symbols varied from one regional dialect to the next, including some forms that would later disappear—most notably, a prototype of Q that was called a koppa (Ϙ). Eventually, however, there evolved an alphabet of 24 letters, all written in capitals. The lower-case letter system, which is the more important for our purposes, is a convention that we owe to Byzantine Greek scribes and the pioneer printers of the Renaissance.

Greek Letter  Letter Name Transliteration Examples
A α alpha a δραμα drama
B β bēta b βαθος bathos
Γ γ gamma g γραφη graphē
Δ δ delta d δημος dēmos
E ε epsilon e πεταλον petalon
Z ζ zēta z τραπεζα trapeza
H η ēta ē ἡλιος hēlios
Θ θ thēta th θεατρον theatron
I ι iōta i ἰδιος idios
K κ kappa k  (c) καρδια kardia
Λ λ lambda l λογος logos
M μ mu m μανια mania
N ν nu n ἀντι anti
Ξ ξ xi x ἀξιωμα axiōma
O ο omicron o μονος monos
Π π pi p πολις polis
P ρ rhō r ἀγορα agora
Σ σ  ς sigma s στασις stasis
T τ tau t τραυμα trauma
Υ υ upsilon u  (y) ὑβρις hubris
Φ φ phi ph φιλια philia
X χ chi kh  (ch) χαρακτηρ kharaktēr
Ψ ψ psi ps ψευδω pseudō
Ω ω ōmega ō σωμα sōma



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Greek and Latin Roots: Part II - Greek Copyright © 2016 by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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