IPA transcription of Ancient Greek
To see the IPA phonetic symbols in the text, please ensure that you have installed a Unicode phonetic font, for example Lucida Sans Unicode (often supplied with MS Windows), Charis SIL, or Doulos SIL (click name for free download).
To read the Greek letters, you will need to have installed a Unicode polytonic Greek font, for example Palatino Linotype (supplied with MS Windows) or KadmosU.
Both alphabets are catered for in Arial Unicode MS and Gentium.
This spelling-to-sound table for Classical Greek is based on W.S. Allen’s book Vox Graeca, published by Cambridge University Press in 1968, third edition 1987. The table is in Greek alphabetical order.
Note: this is not how classical Greek is currently pronounced in any classroom that I know of. It is an attempt to reconstruct the way it was pronounced by the ancient Greeks in, say, 500-400 BC.
References to English relate to British English RP or similar. Those familiar with IPA general-phonetic symbols can ignore these English approximations.
Spelling-to-sound rules for Ancient Greek
For an English approximation, take note of breathings below. All accents can be regarded as showing word stress, and any other diacritics ignored.
(1) Breathings. Initial vowel letters always bear one of two diacritics: a rough breathing (thus ἁ, ἑ, ἡ, ἱ, ὁ, ὑ, ὡ), which symbolizes a sound h before the vowel, or a smooth breathing (thus ἀ, ἐ, ἠ, ἰ, ὀ, ὐ, ὠ), which symbolizes its absence. In the case of a vowel or diphthong written as two letters, the breathing is placed on the second of them.
(2) Double consonants. Double consonant letters indicate a lengthened (geminate) consonant sound as in Italian or Finnish, e.g. ἵππος ˈhippos.
(3) Vowel length. Vowel length is contrastive. The letters α, ι, υ are often ambiguous as to length. However, any vowel written with a letter that bears a circumflex (aka perispomenon: ᾶ, ῖ, ῦ) or an iota subscript (ᾳ) is long. In case of doubt consult a Greek lexicon, where short vowels are shown as ᾰ, ῐ, ῠ and long vowels as ᾱ, ῑ, ῡ.
(4) Diphthongs. The diphthongs transcribed above as ai, au, eu, oi, yi are falling diphthongs that might alternatively, and perhaps better, be written aj, aw, ew, oj, yj. Before a following vowel the j or w element is geminated, e.g. υἱός hyiˈjos or hyjˈjos.
(4) Accents. Greek had a word accent system comparable to that of modern Norwegian. An acute accent mark symbolizes a high tone on a short vowel (thus έ, ό etc.) or on the second mora of a long vowel or diphthong (thus ή, αί etc.). A circumflex accent mark symbolizes a high tone on the first mora of a long vowel or diphthong. A grave accent symbolizes a low tone, as does the absence of any accent mark. See Allen.
(5) Iota subscript. An iota written below a vowel letter, thus ᾳ, ῃ, ῳ, was by classical times (or shortly after) irrelevant for spelling-to-sound rules. In pre-classical times it had symbolized a long diphthong. Although important in written Greek, e.g. to distinguish the nom.sg.fem. χρυσῆ ‘golden’ from the corresponding dative χρυσῇ, it can be ignored in pronunciation.
(6) Multiple diacritics. If a letter bears multiple diacritics, as in ἄ, ἦ, ὃ, ᾠ, ᾇ, then each diacritic separately has its own appropriate meaning.
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