Ancient Greek, phonetics

Ben Jamin

Senior Member
Polish
Hello!
Does anybody know what was the phonetic difference between omicron and omega in ancient (classical) Greek, and possibly later versions (Koine, Biblical Greek)?
 
  • XiaoRoel

    Senior Member
    galego, español
    Se diferenciaban en timbre (las largas son cerradas, las breves abiertas) y, cantidad (que es la distinción que importa fonológicamente hablando) en el dialecto jonio de Asia que creo el signo Ω, para la notación de la ō, dejando O para notar la breve correspondiente y reutilizó el signo H, inutil en jonio, ya que este dialecto no tenía el sonido , para ē (muchas ē proceden en jonio de ā), dejando E para la notación de la breve. Ya hay ejemplos del s. -III claros el el siglo -III de la evolución de Ω para (reflejada en la escritura por ΟΥ) y de H para , reflejado en la escritura por EI. Esto se comprueba en dialecto beocio y tesalio.
    En jonio-ático no sucede lo mismo. En este dialecto las largas eran más abiertas que las breves, pero, cuando se dan alargamientos de vocales breves, resultan unas largas cerradas que en esta familia dialectal se notarán como EI y OY, pero, cuando se expandió el alfabeto jonio ático a todo el griego, esta modalidad no se generalizó conservándose H y Ω para todas las largas y E y O para las breves.
    Este es un resumen muy sucinto del intricado problema de la adecuación fonología/grafía en la constitución y desarrollo del griego desde la época helenística.
    Espero que te haya respondido algunas dudas (y que lo puedas leer en español o que alguna alma caritativa te lo traduzca al inglés o al polaco).
    Un saludo.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    The primary difference was that omega was long and omikron short, as their names suggest. There were also qualitative differences (one was open, the other close); on this matter I refer you to Xiao's post, if you can read Spanish.
     
    The names omikron and omega are Byzantine. By late Hellenistic times, the metric prosody was obsolete, thus the metrical patterns based on heavy (with a macron or longum vowel) and light (with a brevis or short vowel) syllables were lost. So, the Greek philologists of the early Christian era, in order to differentiate between the two "o's" for spelling reasons (Greek retains morphological/historical orthography rather than a simple phonetical one) came up with the names of «ὄ μικρὸν» (o mik'ron, i.e. short or small o) and «ὦ μέγα» (o 'mega, i.e. long or great o). There are many theories concerning the qualitative differences (as Outsider eloquently put it) between the two vowels but they are somewhat speculative for the simple reason that no speaker of Classical Greek is alive today. In Modern Greek both O and Ω represent the mid vowel /o/
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    According to this thread the only real difference between omega and omicron is that one is long and the other short? But what if there is an accent mark on the omicron? Doesn't the accent mark indicate a long vowel in Ancient Greek (as opposed to stress in Modern Greek)?
     

    ioanell

    Senior Member
    Greek
    According to this thread the only real difference between omega and omicron is that one is long and the other short?

    That’s right, provided we refer to Classical Greek where prosody in pronunciation was a reality.

    But what if there is an accent mark on the omicron?

    Have in mind that Classical Greek was written in capital letters, with no separating spaces between the words and there were no accent or punctuation marks. It was only around 200 B.C. that the Greek scholar Aristophanes of Byzantium in Alexandria invented the accent system which started being used in Hellenistic Greek and from then on.

    Doesn't the accent mark indicate a long vowel in Ancient Greek?

    No, it doesn’t. Of course, it is understood that we refer to the lower-case scripts, the use of which was finally established in the 9th century A.D.
     
    Last edited:

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    No, it doesn’t. Of course, it is understood that we refer to the lower-case scripts, the use of which was finally established in the 9th century A.D.

    Ok that's good to know. I'm having trouble understanding how Ancient and Modern Greek differ with respect to vowel quality and stress, to be honest. This is the impression I got from textbooks (which apparently is wrong but would be grateful if someone can correct it):

    Ancient:
    - Vowel length: variable*; phonemic
    - Stress: governed by accentuation rules; not phonemic

    Modern:
    - Vowel length: ??? [I honestly have no clue at this point]
    - Stress: phonemic

    * i.e. some vowels can be long or short (alpha, iota and upsilon), while others can only be long (omega, eta) or only be short (omicron, epsilon)
     

    ioanell

    Senior Member
    Greek
    But what if there is an accent mark on the omicron? Doesn't the accent mark indicate a long vowel in Ancient Greek...?

    Coming to amend what I’ m afraid I left incomplete in my previous posting, I should say that my answer “No, it doesn’t.” above was referring to your question about a supposed accent on the omicron, o”, because omicron (and epsilon, “ε”, as well) was a short vowel regardless if it was accented or not. Given the three kinds of accent marks, i.e. ὀξεῖα [acute], βαρεῖα [grave] and περισπωμένη [circumflex], invented by Aristophanes of Byzantium in order to help render the ancient pitched prosody, the letter omicron, as a short vowel, couldn’t take, if accented, but ὀξεῖα (or βαρεῖα in special cases), e.g. πόνος. But if a long vowel was to be accented, it would take (depending on the place of the syllable it was in and the vowel of the following syllable) either ὀξεῖα (e.g. ΧὨΡΑ/χώρα, ΤΙΜΉ/τιμή) or περισπωμένη (e.g. Κ΄`ΗΠΟΣ/κῆπος, ΓΛ΄`ΩΤΤΑ/γλῶττα, etc). So, if the accent was a περισπωμένη, then the vowel (or the diphthong) was certainly long.

    I'm having trouble understanding how Ancient and Modern Greek differ with respect to vowel quality and stress

    Α basic feature of Ancient Greek was prosody, that is differentiation in the pronunciation of long and short vowels, in combination with a pitched accent; that is the accented syllable was pronounced in a higher tone (something like e.g. the word ἄριστος would be pronounced as [sol]-ρι
     

    Αγγελος

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Accent was phonemic in ancient Greek as well. Thus βίος meant 'life' and βιός meant 'arrow'; θέα meant 'view' and θεά meant 'goddess'; δέρω meant 'I beat' (present tense) and δερῶ 'I shall beat' (future); etc. Accent most likely did not mean what we now understand as stress; it probably meant a rise in pitch, and the circumflex accent, which could only occur on long vowels (ῆ, ῶ, ᾶ, ῖ, ῦ) and diphthongs (αῖ, αῦ, οῖ...), meant a pitch that first rose, then fell. The acute accent on a long vowel or diphthong (ή, ώ, αί, αύ...) meant that the pitch rose throughout its duration. All this is necessarily somewhat conjectural, since the Ancients didn't have phonograph records or magnetic tapes :), but is confirmed by the fact that stressed vowels arising from the contraction of two vowels took the circumflex accent if the first vowel was accented (thus νόος > νοῦς or συκέα > συκῆ), but the acute accent if it origally fell on the second vowel (thus ἐσταώς > ἐστώς or κληἰς > κλείς).
    There were rules of accentuation, but they did not fully determine the place or the nature of the accent, though they did restrict it considerably.
    In modern Greek, of course, the difference between the various kinds of accent disappeared along with the long/short vowel distinction, and accent turned into stress, which is still phonemic. The words θέα and θεά, for instance, are still used and are distinguished by stress alone.
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    Thanks, Αγγελος!

    Are there recorded examples that show what these pitch accents are supposed to sound like? Whenever I search I just find videos explaining the accentuation rules (i.e. where accents are supposed to fall and how they move around, which you can get from any text book), but I can't seem to find any recordings that say "this is how a grave accent sounds, and this is how an acute accent sounds, etc."
     

    Αγγελος

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Thanks, Αγγελος!

    Are there recorded examples that show what these pitch accents are supposed to sound like? Whenever I search I just find videos explaining the accentuation rules (i.e. where accents are supposed to fall and how they move around, which you can get from any text book), but I can't seem to find any recordings that say "this is how a grave accent sounds, and this is how an acute accent sounds, etc."
    There are YouTube videos of classical scholars reciting ancient poetry trying to reproduce the accentuation as well, for instance
    or
    . How true to the ancient pronunciation they are, it is hard to tell.
    There are modern languages, such as Serbian, which have both distinctions of length and distinctions of pitch accent. Perhaps those languages may give us a better idea of what ancient Greek may have sounded like!
     

    ioanell

    Senior Member
    Greek
    I would call on the moderator of the forum to explain what happened and my posting # 10 (Friday at 11:03 AM), already read in full by other users at least by Saturday at 12:05 PM, appeared hacked off after the reopening of the forum following the maintenance of the system.
    Thank you very much.
     

    ioanell

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Moderator Ireney (Modistra) is kindly requested to read my posting # 15 above, look into the matter and provide some kind of explanation.
    Thank you.
     
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