I've talked about the Greek alphabet in the past, but as I mentioned last week, there are a few more things one needs to know before effectively reading Greek.
Greek is not a fully phonetic language. A few letters can be pronounced in more than one way, and a few sounds can be represented by more than one letter. However, these exceptions aren't very large in number, so it isn't very difficult to figure it out.
In my original post on the Greek alphabet almost two years ago, I explored the sounds for each letter of the Greek alphabet. That was enough for anyone to recognize and read basic words in Greek text. However there are a few letter combinations that combine to make different sounds, and you'll need to know them if you want to correctly pronounce Greek words.
- the /ay/ sound in play
- the /ai/ sound in fly
- the /ee/ sound in feet
- the /ee/ sound in feet
- the /u/ sound in put
- /av/, like the "ov" sound in ovulate
- the /ev/ sound in never
- the /ng/ sound in going
- the /g/ sound in gate
- the /b/ sound in boy
- the /d/ sound in doll
- the /ts/ sound in its
- the /dz/ sound at the end of beds
In the cases of most of the vowel pairs, they're just additional ways of writing the same vowel sounds we've already discovered. Like so many other European languages, Greek really only has five vowel sounds: α, ε, ι, ο, and ου. Unfortunately (for the learner), there are several ways to write those same five sounds.
The ι sound can also be made by the letters η, υ, ει, and οι. The ε sound can also be made by the pair αι. The ο sound can be made by ω. All these additional ways of making the same sounds remind me a lot of another language with which people struggle: English.
A note about stress
As I mentioned in a post last week, the rules of Modern Greek specify that a stress mark must be written for any word of more than one syllable. This makes learning pronunciation incredibly easy! However, this rule has an odd effect on vowel pairs. When a vowel pair makes a single sound (as in many examples above) which is accented, the accent mark goes over the second vowel in the pair.
At times, though, the vowels should be pronounced separately. This is when you'll see the umlaut marker. For example, the pair αι usually sounds like /ay/, as in φαινόμενο (fenomeno), but with the umlaut it becomes αϊ, which sounds like /ai/, as in αρχαϊκός.
And that's it. That's everything anyone needs to know in order to pronounce written Greek correctly.
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