Getting started on ancient Greek
Getting started on ancient Greek

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Getting started on ancient Greek

2 Breathings

Every Greek word beginning with a vowel (α, ε, η, ι, ο, υ, ω) or ‘rho’ (ρ) has a little mark above it, resembling an inverted comma. This mark is called a ‘breathing’.

A rough breathing indicates a word that should be spoken with an ‘h’ sound (i.e. with a ‘breath’). The Greeks called a rough breathing ‘shaggy’ or ‘hairy’:

ἱππος (hippos = ‘horse’)

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ὁπλα (hopla = arms, weapons)

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A smooth breathing indicates an absence of an ‘h’ sound. It can be ignored for the purpose of pronunciation, but it should be used when writing. In Greek a smooth breathing was described as ‘bare’ or ‘hairless’:

ἀκουω (akouō = ‘I hear’)

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ἐχω (echō = ‘I have’)

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Greek words beginning with ‘rho’ or ‘upsilon’ always take a rough breathing. English words beginning ‘rh-’ (‘rhythm’, ‘rhododendron’) and ‘hy-’ (‘hypochondria’, ‘hydroelectric’) tend to derive from Greek words starting with ῥ or ὑ. The breathings on the other vowels can be either smooth or rough:

ῥοδον (rhodon = ‘rose’)

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ὑπερ (huper or hyper, ‘over’, ‘beyond’)

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Breathings are written to the left of capital letters:

Ἀριστοφανης (Aristophanēs, the Greek comic poet)

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Ὁμηρος (Homēros = the poet Homer)

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Activity 2 Speaking aloud (2) – breathings

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Say the following words aloud, paying close attention to any breathings. Listen to the answer and repeat.

ἀγαθος (‘good’)

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Ἀθηναιος (‘Athenian’)

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ἐπιστολη (‘letter’)

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Ἑκατη (goddess of the underworld)

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ἡμερα (‘day’)

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ὁδος (‘road’, ‘way’)

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ὀρος (‘mountain’)

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ῥις (‘nose’)

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ὑπνος (‘sleep’)

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ὡρα (‘hour’)

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Discussion

The words are:

  • ἀγαθος (agathos)
  • Ἀθηναιος (Athēnaios)
  • ἐπιστολη (epistolē)
  • Ἑκατη (Hekatē)
  • ἡμερα (hēmera)
  • ὁδος (hodos)
  • ὀρος (oros)
  • ῥις (rhis)
  • ὑπνος (hupnos)
  • ὡρα (hora)

From this point in the course, Greek words will be displayed with breathings.

GCG_1

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