Nasalization of Vowels. Nasalization is a very common feature in the pronunciation of vowels. In Greek, we are lucky because the nasalization of some vowels is reflected in the writing system. When a gamma precedes another gamma, or a kappa, chi or xi, the first gamma is not pronounced, and instead it causes the nasalization of the preceding vowel. Very often nasalization is reflected with the letter "n" in English, as in the words thing or think. This is very similar to what happens in Greek!
|Combination||Written form||Pronounced like:||English meaning|
|gamma + gamma||άγγελος - aggelos||άνγελος - angelos||messenger, angel|
|gamma + kappa||άγκυρα - agkhura||άνκυρα - ankhura||anchor|
|gamma + chi||τυγχάνω - tugchanô||τυνχάνω - tunchanô||happen upon, find|
|gamma + xi||σφίγξ - sphigx||σφίνξ - sphinx||sphinx|
Semivowels. The letters iota and upsilon are sometimes referred to as semivowels, in that they are vowels which also have some of the features of consonants. This is especially the case with Greek iota, especially when it represents the Hebrew letter "yod" found commonly in Hebrew names (notice that Greek "iota" and Hebrew "yod" are the same word). You will also find the semivowel iota used to transliterate Roman names into Greek.
When iota appears followed by another vowel, it can create a kind of "glide", like the "y" sound in English "yard" or "yell" or "you". Here are some examples:
Ἰούδας - "Youdas" (Judas)
Ἰωσήφ - "Yôsêf" (Joseph)
Ἰωνᾶς - "Yônas" (Jonah)
Please note the important difference from English pronounce. The English "j" is a true consonant, not a semivowel. You should think about these words as beginning instead with a sound more like the English "y", gliding into the following vowel.
You will also see the Greek upsilon being used as a semivowel to represent the Hebrew semivowel "vav" pronounced like the English "v": For example:
Λευί - "Levi"
It is also easy to imagine that the Greek semivowel upsilon was pronounced as something between a "v" (more consonant-like) and "w" (more vowel-like). This is one of the big issues in how the Romans pronounced Latin too. If you have taken classical Latin you were probably taught to pronounce the "v" (which is just a "u" written slightly differently) as "w" although over time the Latin semivowel "u" became more and more like a "v" and less and less like a "w". The same thing has happened over the course of Greek, so that in modern Greek the semivowel "u" is strongly pronounced as "v" (turning even the diphthong "eu" into a sound more like "ev").
Practice. Nasal vowels and semivowels are not especially common in Greek, but there are a few names you can use to practice with here:
Okay, you now have total control of the vowels in all their forms. Now you are ready to start studying Greek syllables, since every vowel or diphthong makes a syllable!
Biblical Greek Online. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. Page last updated: April 9, 2005 8:06 PM