Koine Greek phonology

The phonology of the Koine (also Koine, between 300 before and 600 after Christ ) developed, as linguists have noted, took place in a period in which profound changes: During the debate at the beginning of the Koine of the ancient Greek still almost resembled differed it to the end only a few points from that of the modern Greek.

For the local pronunciation information in tabular form applies:

  • Behind the pronunciation specified in the IPA former spelling is listed.
  • The terms " rounded " and " unrounded " for vowels relate to the presence of rounding.
  • The abbreviations " stl " and " sth " in consonants mean " voiceless " and " voiced ".
  • By clicking on a Greek characters will take you to the article on this very character, by clicking on a sound indication to the article about this sound.
  • 5.1 First theory: vowel length was no longer distinguished
  • 5.2 Second theory: vowel lengths were still distinguished
  • 5.3 consonants
  • 6.1 vowels
  • 6.2 consonants
  • 7.1 vowels
  • 7.2 consonants
  • 8.1 Loss of vowel length
  • 8.2 shift to stress accent
  • 8.3 diphthongs 8.3.1 pseudo - diphthongs
  • 8.3.2 diphthongs with short first constituent.
  • 8.3.3 Closing diphthongs with short first vowel
  • 8.3.4 Opening diphthongs with a long first vowel
  • 8.3.5 Closing diphthongs with a long first vowel


Almost all major sound shifts during the Koine concerned vowels: To distinguish between long and short vowels was abandoned, the tonal accent and the ancient Greek diphthongs were to monophthongs (except the diphthongs αυ, ευ and ηυ, which developed into vowel-consonant combinations). In all likelihood, these shifts began in the 2nd century BC in Egypt and ended in the second century after Christ in Attic Greek.

Another series of changes related to the shift of voiced and voiceless -aspirated plosives and αυ the u sounds of diphthongs, ευ and ηυ to fricatives, which most likely also in the Egyptian Greek of the first century BC, its beginning and during the transition of the Koine the Byzantine in the form of general independence took his end.

Problems of reconstruction

If you want to reconstruct the pronunciation of Koine, has a relatively wide range of indications. Nevertheless, the former size of the Greek -speaking world is a problem: Notes always indicate that changes at different times in different places occurred (eg differences between sociolects ). Hence, one must miteinberechnen that some of the sound changes that were supposed to be so typical of the Koine, had partially previously occurred in other dialects, but not penetrated about 300 AD: If one bears in mind that can be derived from previous dialectal pronunciations later (which is, however, still being treated in discussion) and not independent of it were parallel, it would sometimes take up to a thousand years, until they generally prevailed; and even if we assume the contrary, be gaps of up to two centuries arise. The problem is that every Greek dialect could not be reconstructed, and can not be, because there are too few clues and evidence of this. Therefore, it is a debate that one has at a particular time at a particular location can be reconstructed, not necessarily the general.

Many documents are simple spelling errors; but the orthography may have remained conservative, and first write error may have occurred long after the actual collapse of sounds.

If you write errors of different sources, such as Egyptian papyri and inscriptions Attic, analyzed, often leads to different datings similar sound changes. However, there are many explanations for the occurring conservatism of formal Attic inscriptions, compared with the Egyptian papyri. A first would be dialectal variations with influences of foreign languages ​​; in this case the changes in the Egyptian Greek had occurred rather than those in the Attic. Another is that the upscale Attic language was more conservative than the Egyptian Greek; the formal language would then have preserved more of linguistic features than the vernacular. The third would be that the Attic orthography remained more conservative than that of the Egyptian Greek; in this case, the sound changes would not have occurred at different times, but you would have paid in the Attic rather to preserve the older orthography because in Egyptian Greek. All these theories are plausible to some extent, however, would lead to different dates of the changes.

Descriptions of grammarians and, to a lesser degree, transcriptions into other languages ​​are further evidence as it demonstrates at least, was what standard pronunciation of the scholars; yet it is also possible that it is because acted more to conventional transliterations to phonetic transcriptions.

Pronunciation of the speaker between the 1st and 4th century AD

Until the late antiquity (from about 300 AD) taught Greek lecturers seem to have used a deliberately conservative, ajar to the ( tend to be less happy development ) Attic dialect pronunciation (see: Atticism ). In the Attic even this the "real" is ancient Greek pronunciation to the early second century after Christ occupied, but then she fell relatively quickly.

The following pronunciation information is consistently attizistisch, except the diphthong [ yi], which had already been repectively in the Attic, and [ ɔ ː u], who does not exist in the classical Attic, but has been maintained by some lecturers of early Koine.


The pseudo - diphthong had ει before vowels the same sound value as the Eta. In all other cases such as the long Iota

Diphthongs, where the first vowel is short, were mostly written in brackets because they were diphthongised gradually since the beginning of the Koine. Speakers from the upper classes of the early Koine probably tried to preserve these diphthongs, but in the 1st century BC, this process of monophthongization was completed.


Details of ancient grammarians and transcriptions According to the plosives remained such until about 300 AD.

The fact that [ ŋ ] is bracketed, due to the fact that only some scholars consider it as a separate phoneme, others. Merely as an allophone of [n ]

On letters carried the ρ the spirit asper, ῥ; According to the value of this combination is unclear: It was probably an allophone of / r /, but you also do not know what this was allophone. As most likely apply the voiceless alveolar Vibrant [ R] or an aspirated sound [ r ʰ ].

The Zeta is provided for playback of gemination [z ː ].

Boeotian, 4th Century BC

Although timed it falls into the Late Classic because the Koine, here the Boeotian called because it was relatively progressive and well a first intermediate stage between the classical and the modern Greek equivalent.

In the 4th century BC, almost all diphthongs were repectively in the Boeotian already and with the Gamma, the plosive to fricative - shift had already begun.

It is also important to mention that in contrast to the Ionic - Attic and Koine the Ypsilon had remained a back vowel, so rather " Upsilon " was pronounced ( even before the Classic was [ u ( ː ) ] to [ y ( ː ) ] become ).

There is no evidence on whether the vowel lengths were still distinguished in the Boeotian or not; Although it is not unlikely that the task of distinguishing between long and short vowels with the stand on the same stage in time to the monophthongization the diphthongs, but it may just not as well be the case.

First theory: vowel length was not already distinguished

Whether the sounds specified as y sounds in this table were really such, is questionable.

Second theory: vowel lengths were still distinguished


Frikativische pronunciation Beta, Delta, Phi, Theta and Chi are not used for the Boeotian, but would not atypical, the frikativische pronunciation of theta in the Laconian is occupied in the 5th century BC.

Whether the alcohol asper was still pronounced, is questionable, the same remarks apply to the other consonants as well as for attizistische pronunciation.

Egyptian Greek, around the time of

From the 2nd century BC to the Egyptian Greek diphthongs were repectively and the distinction of vowel length had been abandoned.


It is disputed whether there was still closing diphthongs in the Egyptian Greek at this time, may have been with [ aw ], [ ɛw ] and [ iw ] just reached intermediates.


There is little evidence that beta and gamma could already be fricatives, but actually they are not. Probably the frikativische pronunciation of aspirated sounds has prevailed until later.

Whether the alcohol asper was still pronounced, is questionable, the same remarks apply to the other consonants as well as for attizistische pronunciation.

4th century AD

In the 4th century, the failure to distinguish the diphthongs had already commonly enforced. The Eta has been often confused with Iota, partially but with Epsilon. Also, the frikativische pronunciation of the former plosives had been enforced only in some dialects it seems to have still held up to the millennium.


The confusion of y and i- lute had already started since the 2nd century, but probably not commonly enforced.


Phonetic explanation of the above,

Loss of vowel length

While it was still distinguished in ancient times consistently between long and short vowels, they gave it little by little to so that all vowels with time were pronounced the same length.

From the 2nd century before him to have typos in Egyptian papyri on loss precisely this distinction and the tonal accent in favor of a pure emphasis accent Christ. The widespread confusion between Omicron and Omega in Attic inscriptions since the 2nd century AD, also indicate a loss of distinction of vowel quantity; However, it may also be that the sounds were collapsed qualitatively ( ie that omega More [ ɔ ː ], Omikron but already [ ɔ ] were made ).

For phonological reasons this transition, however, is probably gone hand in hand with the change of tonal in the pure stress accent, which had probably prevailed from the 3rd century AD commonly.

Shift to stress accent

The type of accenting words changed from a musical to a stress accent, which means that the accented syllable is no longer pronounced with different high notes, but louder and / or more.

In addition to the above indications in the Egyptian Greek, there are other even in poetry from the 2nd century AD.


Pseudo - diphthongs

The digraph was < ει > in Attic likely repectively from the 6th century BC and probably as long < ε̄ > [e ː ] pronounced before consonants. From the 4th century BC this pseudo - diphthong, which was now also used for words which etymologically no < ει > abstained postponed, according to ῑ, probably as [i ː ], which thus already had the same quality as today.

The diphthong < ει > developed before vowels differently: a theory to explain this is that diphthong is a diphthong as [ ej ] remained until from the 4th century BC, the [j ] as the smooth transition of the e- Loud was felt to the next word. From the late 4th century BC to the diphthong was ει also confused with easy Eta, indicating that, had as just not before a consonant, the Eta a type [e ː ] adopted as a phonetic value, which in turn indicates that the Eta was gradually closed, for details, see below.

From the 6th century BC, the diphthong was < ου > gradually repectively and partially confused with easy Omikron ο̄. Although its original phonetic value [o ː ] was probably, it developed relatively quickly after [u ː ] more ( probably around 350 BC). At least in terms of vocal quality, this is the same phonetic value as they are today.

Diphthongs with short first constituent.

The diphthong < αι > was probably first repectively as [ ɛ ː ]. Points out that in the Boeotian he is consistently written as Eta. Confusion of < αι > and simple epsilon indicates a shift during the 2nd century BC in Egyptian Greek. However, it must at least in the learned language continues to be a < αι > have given since it into Latin and this will in turn transcribed with < αι > into Greek. More confusion between < αι > and < ε > is in Palestine before Christ, and from about 125 BC Chr.im Attic occupied in the early 2nd century, indicating that this shift from the late 2nd century BC in the Attic occurred. Allen assumes that the transition to [e ː ] occurred later; he is in this point not very accurate, but it seems that his theory is based on that < αι > with Epsilon and Eta were confused with epsilon, but not < αι > and Eta. However, not all agree with the scientists.

The diphthong ' οι > monophthongierte to [ y ( ː ) ]. This is due to the occupied in the Boeotian confusion of < οι >, and < υ > busy, but probably only a dialectal shift. However, it must at least in the learned language continues to be a < οι > have given since it into Latin and this in turn was transcribed with < οι > into Greek. Further evidence of monophthongization have been handed down in the 1st century BC in Egyptian and Greek in the second century AD in Palestine. Definitely has it is in the second century after Christ by < υ > is written for < οι >.

In the Koine of the diphthong < υι >, which was probably repectively first in the 6th century BC in the Attic and up to the 4th century BC in all other dialects [y ː ] seems to have been preferred.

Closing diphthongs with short first vowel

The diphthongs < αυ > and < ευ > lost their ancient phonetic values ​​of [au ] or [ eu] and received a frikativische pronunciation as [ aβ ] or [ eβ ] or [ av ] and [ ev ]. Confusion of < αυ > or < ευ > with < αβ > or < εβ > is from the era is in Egyptian papyri, which points to the fricative pronunciation. However, it was still going on until permeated this debate; For example, branches Jewish Katakombeninschriften to be the diphthongal pronunciation in the second and third century AD. Confusion with the diphthongs < αβ > or < εβ > is normal in the 7th century from the transition from sixth.

Opening diphthongs with a long first vowel

The diphthong was ῃ repectively in the Attic from the 4th century AD, as it often written < ει > and probably [e ː ] was pronounced. Therefore, they developed straight on in the Koine and became [i ː ]. However, these changes had probably not occurred in some inflectional endings and it was there on [e ː ] spoken and written.

The other closing diphthongs with a long first vowel, ᾳ and ῳ, were from the 2nd century BC monophthongs, from when they were written as a simple Alpha and Omega. They were probably [a ː ] and [ ɔ ː ] pronounced (if the long [ ɔ ː ] had not yet become [o ː ], see also the discussion of the further development of Omicron and Omega).

Closing diphthongs with a long first vowel

If it was an extension of < ευ > in verbs, the diphthong was < ηυ > from the 4th century BC to < ευ >

The other closing diphthongs with a long first vowel ( < ᾱυ >, < ηυ > and < ωυ >, which had not existed in the classical Attic ) were from the 1st century BC monophthongs, from when they < α >, < η > and < ω > were written; the first was probably [a ː ], the other two [ ɛ ː ] and [ ɔ ː ], if the openness was not already been lost (otherwise [e ː ] and [ o ː ] ), pronounced, and possibly later, to [i ː ] or [o ː ] (see also the discussion of the further development of Eta and Omega).

Quality of monophthongs

If one disregards the Eta, the phonetic value of the monophthongs is closer to the ancient "original" remained as the diphthongs.

As mentioned above, had the pseudo - diphthongs < ει > and < ου > at the beginning of the Koine phonetic values ​​of [i ː ] (only before consonants ) or [u ː ], which have not qualitatively developed until today. The diphthong < ει > was previously become generally as an intermediate step to [e ː ], as well as the simple Eta, which from then shared their further development.

The qualities of the vowels Alpha Iota and have, apart from the possible loss of their length not evolved and remained up to the present time [ a] and [ i]. The simple Epsilon opened a little over time and from [ e] to [ ε ].

Omicron and Omega were mistaken in Attic inscriptions from the 2nd century after Christ regularly, which may suggest that the qualitative distinction was lost from about this time. An alternative interpretation is that the vowel quantity coincided at that time and the qualitative distinction was perhaps already even be omitted earlier. In fact, some of Attic inscriptions from the 4th century BC certain, though less frequent confusion between the two vowels, which could possibly point out that at this time the qualitative and until the 2nd century AD accounted for the quantitative distinction.

The qualitative distinction between Eta and Epsilon was probably abandoned in Attic in the 4th century after Christ, as from that date points of the pseudo - diphthong < ει > was vorkonsonantisch with Iota and vorvokalisch confused with Eta. From about 150 AD also eta and iota in Attic inscriptions are confused what you ( whether was still a distinction between long and short vowels depending ), which even today as a shift of the etas for [ i ( ː ) ] nor is standard, can be interpreted. However, at least some educated people seem to have more pronounced as [e ː ] or [ e], as in some Attic inscriptions Eta confused with Epsilon and will play in transcriptions into Gothic or Armenian with " e" is the Eta. At least in the case of the Gothic and Armenian is however also a regional dialect difference or influence as an explanation of the question: Even in modern Pontic Greek < η > is pronounced as / e /.

The Koine had taken the Ionic - Attic for Ypsilon pronunciation [ y ( ː ) ]. For the first time it is confused in the 2nd century AD in Egyptian papyri with Iota, indicating the pronunciation as [i ( ː ) ], but this appears to have been a regional development. Transcriptions into Gothic continue to point to the above - discussion; it is assumed that the i- debate only through sat around the turn of the millennium.

Loss of aspiration

The aspiration that had been lost partially already in the Ionian Asia Minor and Aeolian Lesbos, disappeared later from the Koine. Typo in the Egyptian Greek suggest that this loss was already in the 1st century BC in progress. Transcriptions into other languages ​​and consonant changes before aspirations suggest that he had not yet penetrated the 2nd century AD, but was on his way in the 4th century AD, at least very strong.


Probably Beta, Gamma, Phi, Theta and Zeta were the only consonants that changed since the classical period. The delta and ( less likely ) the chi will have probably changed; However, there is no concrete evidence that this happened in the time of Koine.

The zeta that was probably pronounced [ zd ] in the classical Attic (although take some scholars, it was rather [ dz ] and the phonetic value have differed from dialect to dialect), was the time to [z ], as well is still pronounced; However, it seems that there are at least intervocalic, geminiert as [z ː ] was pronounced. Attic inscriptions show [ explicit ?], This debate was generally towards the end of the 4th century BC.

The Diagraph - σσ - corresponds to the Attic - τ τ - in the Koine.

Phi and theta, which originally aspirated [ p ʰ ] or [t ʰ ] were uttered, were among the fricatives [ f] and [ θ ]. On the other hand, there is no concrete evidence that the Chi was during the Koine of [k ʰ ] to [x ] or [ ç ]. There is evidence of a [ θ ] pronunciation of Theta's in Laconia in the 5th century BC, but it is unlikely that this is the Koine, which was based largely on the Ionic - Attic influence. The first clear evidence for the pronunciation of the Theta and Phi frikativische in the Koine come from Pompeian inscriptions dating from the 1st century BC. Nevertheless put inscriptions from Palestine in the early 2nd century rather the aspirated pronunciation of the Thetas and Jewish catacomb inscriptions from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD [ f] for the Phi, [t ʰ ] for the theta and [k ʰ ] for the Chi close, indicating that the frikativische pronunciation of theta at the time was not yet in general and the displacement of the Phi occurred faster than the other two letters. Armenian transcriptions give the chi until the 10th century AD as [k ʰ ] again, which can be interpreted so that it was up to now at least partially ( dialect? ) Pronounced as such.

It is unknown when beta, delta and gamma, originally [b ], [ d] or [ ɡ ] were made as to [v ], [ ð ] or [ ɣ ], how they are pronounced today were. Although some evidence for the frikativische pronunciation of the gammas is busy behind the front vowels to the 4th century BC, it appears at this time not a long time to have been standard. Ancient grammarians describe these characters as plosives, the Beta will instead of v given in Latin by b, and Cicero assigns the letter also clearly the Latin b. Evidence of non-literary papyri have a frikativische pronunciation in some contexts (mostly between vowels ) from about the time shift towards that, however, had not enforced. Confusion of < αυ > and < ευ > with < αβ > or < εβ > be from the late fifth and early sixth century normal, so that one can assume that the frikativische Beta had prevailed at this time. Yet to be found in Armenian transcriptions until the 10th century reproductions of the betas as a [b ]; ie, it can still have up to now been a few conservative (or dialect ) speakers that have the beta pronounced as [b ]; however, it may also be that this reproduction was a learned rule.