Upsilon

My question is elementary regarding Homeric Greek.

How can one tell whether upsilon is a "u" sound (like the "u" in "put" or "rule"), or rather like the "i" or "y" in "physique"? Is there a rule that dictates its sound in Homeric Greek?

Thanks.
 
  • Perseas

    Senior Member
    In Greek the sound of ύψιλον is 'ι' for everything that has been written in Greek (from ancient to modern age).
    The same also applies to these vowels or diphthongs irrespective of that they look different : ι-η-ει-οι.

    PS. I speak of how we pronounce those vowels or diphthongs at schools or universities and not of how they were pronounced at the homeric age or later.
     

    Δημήτρης

    Senior Member
    Cypriot Greek
    υ was pronounced [y] (as in the French "tu" or the German "über") until Early Modern Greek, and even then, it was preserved in some modern dialects (eg "Old Athens accent"). Further back, it was reconstructed as u/ū (/[u:]) and [w] when in diphthongs. This is more likely the phonetic value it had in Homeric Greek.
    The sound is a later development and if it's used for Homeric Greek, then it's some kind of 'anglicism' I am not familiar with (realistically no one uses the reconstructed pronunciation, but a local variation closer to English, German, or whatever one's native language is).

    In modern Greek and in Ancient Greek pronounced with the modern pronunciation, it's of course as are ι, η, ει, οι, and υι. Unlike the other s though, in the "diphthongs" ευ and αυ if acts like a consonant, either [v] or [f] (the former only before a voiced consonant or any vowel).
     
    I should clarify my point of view by providing this quote from my textbook:

    "If the u (upsilon) is long, it sounds like the u in ‘rule’; if short, like the u in ‘put’. Or it
    may be sounded more like an English vowel y—if long, like the y in
    ‘philosophy’, if short like the i."

    Perhaps this is an anglicism as Δημήτρης points out.

    Could someone explain to this beginner why we don't know what some letters sounded like in ancient times? It seems odd to me that other languages I've studied (like Arabic, e.g.) can be more easily pronounced in their ancient forms than Greek.
     

    artion

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Could someone explain to this beginner why we don't know what some letters sounded like in ancient times? It seems odd to me that other languages I've studied (like Arabic, e.g.) can be more easily pronounced in their ancient forms than Greek.

    (1) Ancient Gr. is more ancient than ancient Ar.
    (2) Don't be sure that you know the real pronounciation of old Ar. or of any other language.
    (3) They were many local pronounciations of ancient Gr. as it happens today.
     

    Eltheza

    Senior Member
    English - England (Midlands)
    ...Could someone explain to this beginner why we don't know what some letters sounded like in ancient times? It seems odd to me that other languages I've studied (like Arabic, e.g.) can be more easily pronounced in their ancient forms than Greek.

    Hi from a fellow hellenophile:)!

    Well, there weren't any tape-recorders;)! There's still much debate about the pronunciation of English in Shakespeare's time, and whether it would now sound to a contemporary Brit like East Coast American, West Country English, etc., etc.

    I've come across this - it may be of interest to you:confused::

    http://www.textkit.com/greek-latin-forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=10897
     

    Librarian44

    Member
    Greek
    In Greek schools and universities we are not tought the so-called Erasmian pronunciation (which is probably at the origin of all these discussions) when we learn ancient Greek, but use modern Greek pronunciation instead - thus simplifying things as far as all the ι sounds are concerned if you ask me.
     

    Teiresias

    Member
    English--American, North Central
    It is good to have a consistent and not too complex sound system to have something to attach meaning to. Go with what the textbook or the professor suggests. I like the German "über" sound, which I use in all instances of Υ υ Upsilon. I believe long and short vowels were often a matter quantity rather than stress, which as a native English speaker I am not in the habit of attending to. Since I don't have to converse with ancient Greeks or anyone else in Ancient Greek the best pronunciation is not much of a problem for me.
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    In Greek schools and universities we are not tought the so-called Erasmian pronunciation (which is probably at the origin of all these discussions) when we learn ancient Greek, but use modern Greek pronunciation instead - thus simplifying things as far as all the ι sounds are concerned if you ask me.

    Does this have to be adapted when reading the poetry (since, as I understand it, the meter depends on vowel length, which is not a feature of modern Greek)?

    Seems to me that pronouncing upsilon as 'i' (long or short, as appropriate) would be easy and also scan properly onto the old meters -- am I right?
     

    Αγγελος

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Does this have to be adapted when reading the poetry (since, as I understand it, the meter depends on vowel length, which is not a feature of modern Greek)?

    Seems to me that pronouncing upsilon as 'i' (long or short, as appropriate) would be easy and also scan properly onto the old meters -- am I right?
    We modern Greeks don't get any feel for ancient meter at all. We (those who pursue the study of ancient Greek far enough) learn about it intellectually, and sometimes read ancient poetry by artificially stressing the main syllable of each foot, thus:
    πλάγχθη ἐπεί Τροιής ἱερόν πτολιέθρον ἐπέρσεν (the second line of the Odyssey), instead of
    πλάγχθη ἐπεί Τροίης ἱερόν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν, which doesn't scan at all in our modern pronunciation.
    No one makes an effort to pronounce long vowels as long.

    As to the original question, it is generally believed that Y was originally pronounced as /u/, long or short as the case might be, and gradually evolved (by classical times) to [ü], again long or short as the case might be, which is why the Romans borrowed that letter to express that sound in words, such as lyra or analysis, borrowed from Greek.
     
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