The Greek Alphabet and Transliteration
• Greeks differentiated between short and long vowels in writing, a practice which
no longer exists
• Long e (w. a macron) is indicated by eta
• Long o (w. a macron) is indicated by omega
• Two different versions of lower case sigma are used
◦ σ was used anywhere in a word except at the end
◦ ς is used when sigma was the final letter in a word
The Sound "H"
• No character for the English letter "H" in the Greek language - when this sound
was needed at the beginning of a word, it was indicated by a character
resembling a reverse comma
• Frequently disappeared in Greek and English derivatives
◦ ex. Odometer from Greek "hodos", road, way or journey
◦ ex. Greek "periodos" from "peri", around and "hodos"
◦ ex. Method - also from "hodos" shows that hodos comes to English with or
without the "h" when compared to odometer
• When the sound of the English "H" followed each of these consonants, p, t, or k,
in Greek, a character was devised to indicate each of these sounds
◦ chi - translated as "ch", as in chaos
• Greek words combined these sounds which explains words like diphtheria and
• The letter "K" was not used in the Latin language of the Romans - Latin "c" was
always pronounced hard, and when Latin borrowed Greek words with a kappa, it
was changed to a "c".
◦ ex. Korinthos, L. Corinthus
• When English borrowed Greek words, they kept up this tradition…
◦ ex. Cephalic, from Greek "kephalikos"
◦ ex. Cranium, from Greek "kranion"
• With some exceptions...
◦ ex. Leukocyte, from Greek "Leukos"
◦ ex. Kinetic, from Greek "kinetikos"
• When a Greek word began with the letter "r", it was always with rough breathing.
• English words derived from such words are translated with an "h" after the "r"
◦ ex. rhythm, rhetoric, rhinoceros
• If a prefix or another stem preceded the beginning of a word starting with rho, it
was doubled, with the "h" following the second rho ◦ ex. myrrh, hemorrhage, diarrhea
• Assumed a nasal "n" sound before another gamma and before kappa and xi
◦ ex. Greek "aggelos" comes in English as "angel"
◦ ex. Greek "lygx" comes to English as "lynx"
• When a Greek word contained the sound of "p" followed by "s", psi represented
◦ ex. pseudonym
◦ ex. psychology
Greek Diphthongs in English
• Diphthong - two adjacent vowel sounds in the same syllable
• Greek "ai" became "ae" in Latin and "e" in English