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Polytonic orthography

Polytonic orthography for Greek uses a variety of diacritics (πολύ = many + τόνος = accent) to represent aspects of Ancient Greek pronunciation. It was the standard orthography for all varieties of Greek from Hellenistic times until 1982, although the distinctions it represented had disappeared from the spoken language very early on. In 1982, the Greek Parliament adopted monotonic orthography. Polytonic is still sometimes used by traditionalists, who consider monotonic an unfortunate break with a continuous tradition.

Polytonic Greek utilizes a set of diacritics on certain letters, illustrated below using the letter α:

  • the accents (tónoi, τόνοι), on the vowel of the accented syllable of a word and indicating different tone patterns in Ancient Greek:
  • the breathings, written on the first syllable of a word starting with a vowel:
    • Dasía (δασεία), or rough breathing (spiritus asper), indicating an [h] in Ancient Greek. Also used on words starting with rho (ρ) transliterated as rh.
    • Psilí (ψιλή), or smooth breathing (spiritus lenis), indicating the absence of an [h].
  • the iota subscript under certain vowels, sometimes written adjacent to capitals instead (in which case it is called an iota adscript).

All of these diacritics are important in Classical Greek (and the breathings in particular are relevant to the etymology of words in other languages), but have no significance in the modern language.

There have been issues in representing polytonic Greek on computers, and in displaying polytonic Greek on computer screens and printouts, but these have largely been overcome by the advent of Unicode and appropriate fonts.

Contents

History

The rough and smooth breathings were introduced in classical times in order to represent the presence or absence of [h] in Attic Greek, which had adopted a form of the alphabet in which the H sign was no longer available for this purpose as it had been used (as Eta) for the long e. The various accents were adopted in the Hellenistic period. In the later development of the language, the ancient tones were replaced by a stress accent making the different accents superfluous, and the [h] sound became silent. Some textbooks of Ancient Greek for foreigners have retained the breathings, but dropped all the accents, simplifying the task for the learner, but breaking the link with the modern language. Following the final adoption of the Demotic (Dhimotiki) form of the language in the late 20th century, the monotonic orthography has been officially adopted, which uses only the acute accent (or sometimes a vertical bar intentionally distinct from any of the traditional accents) and omits the breathings.

Sample Greek text

The Lord's Prayer
Monotonic Polytonic

Πάτερ ημών ο εν τοις ουρανοίς αγιασθήτω το όνομά σου·

ελθέτω η βασιλεία σου· γενηθήτω το θέλημά σου, ως εν ουρανώ κι επί της γης

τον άρτον ημών τον επιούσιον δος ημίν σήμερον

και άφες ημίν τα οφειλήματα ημών, ως και ημείς αφίεμεν τοις οφειλέταις ημών

και μη εισενέγκης ημάς εις πειρασμόν, αλλά ρύσαι ημάς από του πονηρού.

αμήν.

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·

ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου· γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς·

τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον·

καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφελήματα ἡμῶν, ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν·

καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ρῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

ἀμήν.

Examples of polytonic characters

The following tables list some of the characters required in polytonic Greek.

Upper case

Note that depending on the font used in your browser, the upper-case letters with iota subscript may display with a separate (adscript) iota.

  Basic vowels Vowels with iota subscript Rho
  Alpha Epsilon Eta Iota Omicron Upsilon Omega Alpha Eta Omega  
Basic letter Α Ε Η Ι Ο Υ Ω Ρ
With acute        
With grave        
With circumflex                      
Smooth breathing    
Rough breathing
Smooth and acute    
Smooth and grave    
Smooth and circumflex        
Rough and acute  
Rough and grave  
Rough and circumflex   Ἷ      

Lower case

  Basic vowels Vowels with iota subscript Rho
  Alpha Epsilon Eta Iota Omicron Upsilon Omega Alpha Eta Omega  
Basic letter α ε η ι ο υ ω ρ
With acute  
With grave  
With circumflex      
Smooth breathing
Rough breathing
Smooth and acute  
Smooth and grave  
Smooth and circumflex      
Rough and acute  
Rough and grave  
Rough and circumflex      

See also

External links

Last updated: 08-17-2005 06:37:00
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