Greek alphabet

Greek alphabet,  writing system that was developed in Greece about 1000 BCE. It is the direct or indirect ancestor of all modern European alphabets. Derived from the North Semitic alphabet via that of the Phoenicians, the Greek alphabet was modified to make it more efficient and accurate for writing a non-Semitic language by the addition of several new letters and the modification or dropping of several others. Most important, some of the symbols of the Semitic alphabet, which represented only consonants, were made to represent vowels: the Semitic consonants ʾalef, he, yod, ʿayin, and vav became the Greek letters alpha, epsilon, iota, omicron, and upsilon, representing the vowels a, e, i, o, and u, respectively. The addition of symbols for the vowel sounds greatly increased the accuracy and legibility of the writing system for non-Semitic languages.

Legendary Accounts on the Origin of the Greek Alphabet

The ancient Greeks were more or less aware of the fact that their alphabet was an adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet, and there were several accounts about the creation of the alphabet in ancient Greece. 

The Kadmos mentioned by Herodotus is the Greek spelling for Cadmus, the legendary Phoenician of Greek folklore who was considered the founder and first king of Thebes in Boeotia. Interestingly, his name seems to be connected to the Phoenician word qadm “east”. Because of the supposed involvement of Cadmus and the Phoenicians in the transmission of the alphabet, in 6th century BCE Crete an official with scribal duties was still called poinikastas “Phoenicianizer” and early writing was sometimes referred as “Kadmeian letters”. The Greeks called their alphabet phoinikeia grammata, which may be translated as “Phoenician letters”. Some Greeks, however, were not willing to admit the eastern influence of their alphabet, so they justified the origin of the name phoinikeia grammata with different apocryphal accounts: some said that the alphabet was invented by Phoenix, the tutor of Akhilleus, while others said that the name was linked to the leaves of phoinix “palm-tree”.

Greek alphabet list

Upper Case Letter Lower Case Letter Greek Letter Name English Equivalent Letter Name Pronounce
Α α Alpha a volume_up
Β β Beta b volume_up
Γ γ Gamma g volume_up
Δ δ Delta d volume_up
Ε ε Epsilon e volume_up
Ζ ζ Zeta z volume_up
Η η Eta h volume_up
Θ θ Theta th volume_up
Ι ι Iota i volume_up
Κ κ Kappa k volume_up
Λ λ Lambda l volume_up
Μ μ Mu m volume_up
Ν ν Nu n volume_up
Ξ ξ Xi x volume_up
Ο ο Omicron o volume_up
Π π Pi p volume_up
Ρ ρ Rho r volume_up
Σ σ,ς * Sigma s volume_up
Τ τ Tau t volume_up
Υ υ Upsilon u volume_up
Φ φ Phi ph volume_up
Χ χ Chi ch volume_up
Ψ ψ Psi ps volume_up
Ω ω Omega o volume_up

* second lower case sigma letter is used in word final position

Greek alphabet origins

Egyptian hieroglyphs (3500 BC)
Proto-Sinaitic alphabet (1800 BC)
Phoenician alphabet (1200 BC)
Greek alphabet (800 BC)

 So, if you want to say the Greek alphabet from A to Z, you'll actually need to say it from alpha to omega!

In looking at the letters of the Greek alphabet, a few of them probably already look familiar. For example, the letter pi is used as the name and symbol for a mathematical constant. You may have also seen “alpha" used in various places. As the first letter of the Greek alphabet, “alpha" is sometimes used to refer to something as first or primary, such as in the phrase “alpha dog."

If you've ever been on a college campus, you may have also seen Greek letters on the houses of secret societies called fraternities and sororities. These groups form what is known as the Greek system at colleges and universities and form their names from combinations of Greek letters.

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