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A Primer for Consonants in English and Greek: Phonetics, Pronunciations, and Spellings


The relationships among consonants in English and Greek is somewhat more involved than might be thought at first, and can present difficulties for the beginner. However, they are also a key for understanding the languages themselves, and how they are written. This discussion is intended to give a general overview, painting the topics in approximate terms, and is designed to organize the concepts on a broad scale rather than in fine detail, and to relate the letters, words, and languages to each other in a way that is understandable, can be remembered, and can be applied directly.

The phonetics angle defines the sounds and identifies the spellings that represent them, while the pronunciation angle focuses on how to make the sounds and what makes them different. Understanding the sounds can aid not only in pronouncing them oneself, but in recognizing them in others’ speech. The ears will hear the sounds whether or not you are aware of them. But effective hearing is a matter of re-cognition, which happens in the brain, and may need training.

English is a composite language. Its very name, derived from “Angle-ish”, shows its origins in the speech of the tribal Angles and their close cousins the Saxons, from which we get the popular “Anglo-Saxon” identification. Not the speech of the indigenous Britons, it was the language of the post-Roman-period invaders and conquerors of much of the island, and hence is related to the origins of the Germanic languages of northern Europe. The Vikings invaded next, contributing a bit of Scandinavian influence, and then came William the Conqueror in 1066 to seal the fate of future development with the introduction of early French, with its heavy Latin influences. But both Latin and Greek had their greatest impacts on English beginning in the medieval universities, where they were the languages of scholarly study, and from which literacy spread in England, alongside English development itself. English has continued to absorb words from all over the world, especially the British Empire, though it deposited even more into those places. The result is that Latin and Greek still supply a huge foundation for today’s English words and word roots, and spellings.

In contrast, Greek is a remarkably stable language, always developing, but of much greater antiquity. What is most unusual is how much of ancient Greek is readily accessible to modern Greek speakers, whereas “Old” English, 2000 years more recent than ancient Greek, is virtually a foreign language to us English speakers today.

In terms of consonants, English shows its northern European roots in containing many “hard” sounds and a rougher texture derived from pre-Old German roots and constructs. Greek is what I would call “Mediterranean” in sound, softer, more mellifluous and flowing, an aspect shared with Latin and its derivatives, like French, Spanish, and Italian, whose consonants can be also be closer to Greek than to English. In consequence, many of those languages speak their consonants in a generally softer manner than English (which is itself softer than German or Russian), even when the sounds are formed basically the same way in the mouth. It’s a generalization worth keeping in mind, and spills over into French, Spanish, and Italian. The way the consonants can sometimes glide within Greek speech may make it necessary for English-speakers to listen more closely, in order to hear them clearly.

“Voiced” and “unvoiced” consonants:

Consonants come in these two varieties, and often form pairs on this basis. When exhaling air from the lungs, the air may or may not pass through the larynx (there’s a good Greek word, λάρυγγας), the “voice box” containing the vocal cords. But the air can then pass into the mouth, where its passage before exit can be shaped into distinct language sounds (or indistinct ones if you’re sloppy with enunciation). If the air bypasses the larynx, the sound is said to be “unvoiced”, but if it engages the vocal cords, then the sound is said to be “voiced”. All vowels are voiced, so we usually associate voiced sound with “speaking out loud” and unvoiced with whispers. But consonants vary, each one consistent in itself, but changing which consonant is sounded depending on the action or inaction of the vocal cords. When listening to whispering, the ear does not hear any voiced consonants; they are not present. It is the mind that tricks you into thinking that you do, by means of recognition through context, the voiced consonant substituted for its unvoiced pairing.

Voiced consonants:

Some consonants are always voiced, and can be characterized by their ability to continue in duration for as long as one can produce enough breath to enunciate them. These include L, M, N, and R, and also the diphthong that we generally write in English as NG, as in “-ing”. The basic sounds remain quite similar between English and Greek, and Greek doesn’t tend to swallow its Ls or roll its Rs as Russian does, for example. There can be a little tap or flap of the tongue on an R, but I’ve never heard a roll.

We’re accustomed to sounding these consonants in combination with a preceding or following vowel, so we don’t often try to enunciate just the consonant alone without a vowel. But other languages do use them alone, and hence in combination with other consonants, in ways that seem foreign to us.

Some African languages are known to start words with MB, which is just a hum with a following B, easy to say because the lips are set in the same starting position for both. But we usually fumble with some form of “EM+B”, trying to put a syllable where none belongs. The Vietnamese have a common surname we write as Ng, but we often pronounce it incorrectly as “ING”, whereas the NG sound alone is the authentic pronunciation.

Greek has few of those particular complications, but it does sometime juxtapose consonants in ways that English speakers don’t expect at first, and not only with voiced consonants. We’re accustomed to words like “special”, “start”, and “skate” that begin words with S plus another consonant, but may be flummoxed when presented with a word that starts with those same consonants in the reverse order: “pseudonym”, “tsunami”. So we just ignore the first consonant and let it fall silent. Well, that’s been done so long to words of Greek origin that that’s the official English pronunciation. But it isn’t so in Greek; you must say both consonants there. And it isn’t so (yet) with Japanese words. The correct English pronunciation of “tsunami” still begins with TS, and if you drop the T, the linguistic police will get you. There are no English words that begin with KS, but we do forget that the sound is hidden within English words, even some that aren’t spelled with those letters, like “accent”. None of the combinations are really so difficult that a little attention doesn’t put everything right in a hurry, in Greek or elsewhere.

Unvoiced / voiced pairs:

In order of consideration, these are the “stopped” consonants K/G, T/D, and B/P, and the “fricatives” F/V and S/Z, so spelled according to English pronunciations. Greek treats almost every one of them with some kind of difference from English.

But let’s interpose the English H first, an unvoiced standalone “pronounced” simply as air or breath, and indefinitely controlled in the mouth. The air pretty much just flows through: “Hartford”, “Hereford”, “Hampshire”, “hurricane”, etc. It’s one thing when used alone, but another when used in combination with other consonants to indicate “added air”. Consider SH, an S with extra air, or TH, a T with air. We’ll be returning often to this feature of phonetics, for it helps to describe a common type of difference between English and Greek.

The linguistic label “stopped” derives from the treatment of the air flow, and herewith we begin a look at how consonants are shaped in the mouth. With all the stopped consonants, the air is stopped momentarily, plugged, allowing a pressure to build behind the plug. Then the plug is released, and the pressure pushes the air outward with a certain explosive force. The more the pressure, the greater the explosion, and the “harder” the resulting consonant sounds. So one can expect that in English, these consonants tend to be produced with higher air pressure than their counterparts in Mediterranean languages like Greek. The response by English speakers attempting Greek ought to be, first of all, simply to go easy on the air. Relax. Smooth down. Let the hypertension abate. Now you’re flowing. Greek could even be good for your health!  You may need to listen harder, though. “Explosions” can tone down all the way to a “puff”.

K and G, kappa, chi and gamma, and Y:

K, of course, is an unvoiced consonant. To enunciate it, the lips and teeth are parted, and the middle part of the tongue rises to the palate above, forming the plug where the air is stopped. The tongue then drops suddenly, releasing the air and producing the consonant. You may be able to feel the blast of air as it hits the teeth and lips on the way out. Do the same things as the K, but using the larynx (voicing it), and now you have a G. The tongue may be placed slightly further back with G, but the mechanics are the same.

This English K occurs in Greek, and is spelled with a kappa (Κ,κ). The same sound is also spelled in English with a C, the “hard” C, as opposed to the “soft” C that is equivalent to S. The phonetic rules for spellings with C mostly depend on what vowel follows the C. Various alternate strategies of spelling might be employed when the needed sound is juxtaposed with the wrong vowel, or not, depending on the origins of the word also. That’s one place where spelling can become complex.

But Greek has a sound here that English does not, that is spelled with the letter chi (Χ,χ). Chi is sort of a K without the K sound. That is, the mouth is configured like it’s going to sound a K, but the tongue never stops the air, and instead allows the air to flow. That’s why the chi is sometimes represented with the English letter H: there’s really only air in it. However, it’s not the freely-flowing air of an H either. It’s controlled, pushed through a restricted passage that the tongue leaves between itself and the palate above (with the tongue in the same K position), so it makes a sound like rushing air. It hisses a little, but not like the sibilant S sound. If you force it too much, or push the tongue too far back in towards the throat, you might begin to collect spit. But chi is dry air, and a really loud one may remind you of a cat’s hiss, not too angry, just annoyed. So it’s fairly soft normally. It’s air like an H, but it’s also a middle ground between K (hard C) and a partially swallowed S. You can think of it as K-plus-air, or hard-C-plus-air. And that is why, in transliterations that try to represent the sound only, you might find it spelled as KH in our alphabet. However, when a Greek word has been transferred all the way into the English language, then some transliteration must be found to spell it within our alphabet, and that is almost always CH, from the hard C. Please be aware that some English words that have the letters CH in them are not from Greek, and thus don’t represent chi. One such word is “church”, of Germanic origins, (“kirke” in modern German), and it uses that other “chirping” CH pronunciation we find in English, which sound is never found in Greek. But you may notice that even coming from German, the CH retains a connection with K, and that the sound has air in it. So the rationales cross-relate.

Now for G, voiced pairing of K. The mouth does all the same things as K, but the vocal cords are engaged, and the G sound comes out. It’s as simple as that, and that’s why they’re paired. But the G sound does not occur in Greek (ok, see special exception later); Greek has gamma instead. And gamma is a G-with-air, the same way that chi is a hard-C-with-air. It’s also dry like chi, and not swallowed into the throat. If inflected correctly in pitch, it can come out in a decent “arggghhhhh”. ;) But English has no gamma, and when it incorporates a Greek word that has one, it tends to use simply G in the spelling rather than GH, and to pronounce it like a g. (Most English words that have GH in them seem to come from northern sources that don’t use the H in their spellings either. So the natural path in spelling seems not to have been taken in this case.) Just as C can be either hard or soft (K or S sounds), so can G (gargoyle or ginger), paired with the same hardening or softening vowels. The gamma as I have described it is similarly a “hard” gamma (αγόρι, “boy”), but Greek also has a “soft” gamma, and its sound is basically like an English Y as in “yellow” or “yacht” (γένος, “genus”). Careful! This is not the English Y that sounds quite like a short I and often comes at the end of a word: “exemplary”, “perfectly”, “sympathy”. If the English word with the I-type Y is also connected to Greek (like “sympathy”), then that Y is associated with the vowel ypsilon and is treated as a vowel itself, bearing no relation to gamma. (That’s why ypsilon is often placed on a keyboard in the same position as the English Y.) But notice the similarity of the shape of the small gamma letter itself, how it resembles our small y. The letter Y does not exist in the Latin alphabet, and is an addition used in later related languages like English and French. And the French call it “i grec”, literally “Greek i”, in relation to the yiota sound, but also to the shape of a gamma. Notice that the pronunciation of yiota begins with that English Y sound that comes from a soft gamma. That’s all a bit of a tangle, but it simply demonstrates the interconnections shared among the European languages.

There’s one more specialty bit of Greek phonetics: the double gamma, γγ, as found in άγγελος (“angel”) or λάρυγγας (“larynx”). Recall the NG sound I described earlier. The double gamma is basically an NG followed by an ordinary English-type G. So the pronunciation of άγγελος begins with “ahng” – like “ing” with a different leading vowel – which takes up the first two Greek letters, and proceeds with γελ – hard English G + ell -, and the common “ohss” suffix: “ahng” + G + “ell-ohss”. That’s the only use of an English-type G sound that I know of in Greek.

T, TH and D, tau, theta and delta, ni+tau as a spelling pair:

T and D handle the flow of air in the same way as K and G, but they shape the flow further forward in the mouth. Instead of using the middle of the tongue, they use the forward portion (not quite the tip), which again rises to the palate, but to what is known as the “crown” of the palate, back of the front teeth. The tongue does not move forward as far as the teeth, but sits on the curve of the crown. The air is blocked, then released explosively as before. The unvoiced consonant that sounds is the English T, and the voiced consonant is English D.

The T is also the base sound for tau, heard commonly in Greek as in English. If the air is not blocked but allowed to pass, as with chi, you get T-with-air, or TH, as in “think” or “empath”, and that is also theta (Θ,θ), as in “άνθροπος” (man) or “αντιτιθέμενες” (opposing). The mouth again opens a little, parting lips and teeth, as it did with chi relative to K. And in this case, the tongue does move further forward, to the upper teeth.

Delta alone is not D, just as gamma is not G. Rather, if you voice the TH, you get DH (D-with-air) instead, and that is delta. English has that sound also, as in “that”, “thus”, “blithe”, and “breathe”. Note that English spells the delta sound with TH, just like the spelling of the theta sound. But when a Greek word containing delta becomes a part of English, then the spelling is usually with a D, and the English pronunciation is changed to its hard D: like Greek “δυναμης” (“force” or “power”), compared with English “dynamic” or “dynamo”. A transliteration of a Greek word, to make its approximate sound available to a reader of another alphabet, though, would do better to use DH for delta, as in “dhynamis”. Unfortunately, English speakers who “read Greek” through transliteration end up finding TH for either theta or delta (“thynamis”), and thus don’t know whether to voice the sound or not. They may even get “dynamis”, incorporating the English spelling, which will lead them into mispronouncing it using D.

Greek does use the hard English D sound, though, but in spelling it takes a pair of letters to get it to happen: ni + tau, ΝΤ/ντ. To make sense of that, consider that ni is always a voiced consonant. Here, that makes the ντ pairing all voiced, which changes the T sound to D. Placed at the beginning of a word, the ni-tau pair then converts to the single D sound, as in ντουντόυκα, (megaphone). However, any later placement within the word makes ni-tau sound like ND, as in αντιτιθέμενες [approximately ahn-dee-tee-themm’-en-ess], meaning “opposing”. Notice the common prefix αντι-, English spelling anti-, the “against” within the word, and how the English appropriation employs T both for spelling and pronunciation. Once again, the transliteration tends to be, well, “literal”, by the letter, and Greek pronunciation changes to suit the phonetics of the recipient language. So when reading real Greek, be careful to watch for this letter pairing and remember that Greeks pronounce it differently than you may have seen it in English.

It might be worth noting that Old English uses a letter called the "eth", that looks a bit like a delta with a cross hatch through its upper curve. It was an addition to the Latin alphabet, first derived in the writing of Irish, introduced when the Latin alphabet was first applied to English. And its purpose was to spell both the theta and the delta sounds in words. I don't know whether or not there was any cross-connection with the actual Greek alphabet, but it's not beyond possibility. It may explain the English tradition of using the same lettering for the two sounds, though.

P and B, pi and psi, mu+pi as a pair:

Linguists call P (unvoiced) and B (voiced) phonetic “bilabials” because they are pronounced as far forward as you can go, with both lips, touching. The tongue stays mostly out of the sound shaping, tending to lie at the bottom of the mouth. Once again, air is blocked and released explosively. It is here (maybe also G/gamma) that Mediterranean languages tend to pronounce their consonants the most softly, and they can be nearly inaudible to English speakers who expect more power behind the air. (Neither do they always come across well in electronically-generated speech such as employed at DL.) So ears up!

Pi is directly analogous to English P in sound and production. That’s about it.

Psi (Ψ,ψ) is a letter unique to Greek, and is pronounced with the dual sound PS. English is full of that sound. We just use two letters to spell it. Consider “hops”, “mops”, “popsicle”, “Pepsi”. We’re just not used to starting words with that sound, and that’s something the Greeks do quite often enough: ψύχε (psyche), ψαλλούν (chant), ψευδής (false, from which we get pseudo-). Don’t let it psych you out. It’s not hard; it’s familiar. And again, don’t get tripped up by English silent Ps when these words are used in English, when you see or hear them again in Greek. At least the PS English spellings tend to persist as reminders.

The hard B sound does occur in Greek. However, it is not beta, but is created by the mu-pi (ΜΠ,μπ) pairing. The principles involved are directly analogous to the ni-tau pair. When mu-pi appears at the start of a word, the always-voiced mu represents voicing in the sound produced, and the pi represents the shaping by the mouth (lips, really), and so voiced P comes out as B, and you have that single sound. Consider μπαμπάς, (bahbahss), ”Daddy”, pronounced roughly bahbahss, like “bah, bah, black sheep …”. Similarly to ντ, with μπ placed later in a word, one might expect an MB sound from it. However, I haven’t seen mu-pi after the beginning of a word. Clues from English seem evasive also, as words like “plumb” and “aplomb” don’t seem to be derived from Greek. I’d like to know about it if any of you readers has an example.

P and B, F and V, phi and beta:

Phi and beta are phonetic bilabials just as P and B are, being pronounced by the pair of lips. F and V, however, are phonetic “labiodentals” because the lower jaw juts outward slightly so that the upper lip meets the lower teeth. F and V are also classified as “fricatives”, the “non-sibilant” type. More on that later.

Phi (Φ,φ) is not P (because that would be pi also), but is P-with-air, because of the opening of the flow of air as before. The resulting sound has little of P about it however, even though it is produced bilabially. It’s much more like F in sound, but it’s not F either, as we shall see. When represented phonetically, though, F is often used. When Greek words with phi are brought into English, a PH spelling results, indicating the sound origins as P-with-air. The English pronunciation, though, is basically F. So it’s very tempting for English speakers to produce an F sound when a phi appears, and one must be careful to place lips together and not jut the jaw. It’s a softer sound than F.

Beta is not B either. Rather, it is B-with-air. I don’t know of BH ever being used to represent it, though. (Spanish also tends to soften its G and B similarly with air, although there are smaller differences I cannot describe.) The resulting sound is rather a middle ground between B and V, and not either one. But this is why beta is often associated with the V sound when described to English speakers. Still, Greek words taken into English tend to be spelled with a B, with their Greek pronunciations then changed to B to suit the English language. Once again, when reading and pronouncing Greek, English speakers must be aware and careful that they are not misled by what they have seen of Greek words in English. One may see the same Greek words in other languages though, and perhaps in Spanish, and the spelling there may be V instead of B, because that is more descriptive to Spanish phonetics. Differences in phonetic emphases such as these account for many variations in spellings between languages of essentially the same word, Greek word or not.

As noted above, F and V are non-sibilant fricatives: fricative because of the constriction of the air passageway, and non-sibilant because of the involvement of the lip. Sibilants hiss or buzz, and F and V don’t do enough of that to qualify as sibilants because of the softening of the sound by the lip. However, bilabials don’t get close enough to a hiss or buzz even to qualify as fricative, so P and B, phi and beta are all out of that running: too soft. F and V, then, are the in-betweens, fricative but not sibilant, one half of teeth, and only one lip. Hence, we can get a feel for a continuum of sounds produced by similar but varying positions of the mouth, and contributing to harder or softer results. But English and Greek sounds meet exactly along that continuum only at P and B, and spellings are tricky indicators of both sound and its production.

S and Z, sigma and zeta:

This set of letters, all four of them, are the sibilant fricatives, full-hearted hisses and buzzes produced by putting both upper and lower teeth in close proximity and forcing the air through them, voiced or unvoiced (think “all teeth, no lips”). The Greek letters force air a bit less hard, but basically sigma is S and zeta is Z.

SH, ZH, and DZH:

These are basically the sibilants “with air”, and perhaps the addition of D. SH is plainly recognizable from English phonetics through its direct spellings in words: “shush”, “shish-kabob”, “burnished”. I think sigma has “hard” and “soft” sounds, like some other consonants, the hard one being S and the soft being SH. I’m not sure yet of where you find which of those. Listen carefully to the DL audios. I will be.

Hard zeta is Z, but there is definitely a soft zeta also. Look for the following vowel and listen to the audios for clues as to which you get in what words. We can represent the soft zeta sound as ZH and get a good approximation of its sound by applying the “with-air” principles from other consonants. It is, however, not a sound found in English. The French word “juge” uses it twice, once for the J and once for the G. Russian uses the sound a lot, and in fact has two different letters indicating variations of it, and so ZH appears sometimes in transliterations of Russian words and names. Another variant supplies a D sound in front of the ZH, making DZH, but all are merged so as to make essentially one sound, and that variety is found in English (not Greek, though, I think). Like the French “juge”, English often spells it with j or soft g, and you hear it twice in “judge” exactly parallel to the French ZHs. Consider “budget”, “ledge”, “just”, “huge”, “jiffy”, and “wage” also – all of them having DZHs. The D is sometimes indicated in the spelling, and sometimes not, but it’s consistently there in the sound. Remove it from the sound, and you have soft zeta.

Here ends my little phonetics tour. I hope it helps to answer some of the questions you may have had, and to organize the patterns for easier memory and pronunciation.

September 12, 2016



Wow! That must've taken a while to type...Very helpful though, thx for posting it! <3


Yes. I actually composed it in a Word file, and took it through two major rewrites before posting. I found a couple of calls for help with this and thought I could do something about it.


Whoa...I would give up after like one sentence...


Well, I had left behind a couple of other comments on other discussions that people found helpful and interesting, so I thought it might be worth the effort. Besides, I had to investigate the whole thing, and that was interesting too.


That's really cool! I only research things when I have too...You must be very good when it comes to homework..


:-) I never thought about "homework". School was a long time ago for me. But I love learning, so in a way I feel like I've been in school all my life. It's nice to make my own assignments, though!


Many thanks for writing this, it is an impressive piece of work and extremely helpful. have some lingots to say thank you. :-)


So glad it could help! Thanks!


Awww you're too kind :)


Thank you for taking the time to write this and to share it. I loved your article.

One thing interesting about the letter Χ (chi) and its pronunciation: The "ch" in the modern German word for church Kirche (IPA: [ç]) is pronounced the same way as Χ is in some cases, although the "ch" in the English word is pronounced very differently. The letter Χ itself has a few pronunciations in Greek, and [ç] is one of them, such as in χέρι.

Also, I can't believe it never occurred to me before, that the name of the French y means "i grec". In fact, I'd never seen it spelled out before today... and I've been learning French for about 4 years. But then again, I've not looked at the alphabet closely for close to that amount of time too. It's always nice to learn something new, especially when it's unexpected. :P


Thanks so much!

And the [ç] pronunciation in Greek is a new one to me - many thanks. With your permission, I would like to take that and your example and incorporate them into the article. I don't see any reason for forcing it to remain at version 1.1. (I already did a silent edit on it since posting.)

I listen very closely to the audio track of many of the exercises, and don't 100% trust what I hear 100% of the time. I'm sure improvements could be made here and there. But I have heard a variety of sounds on letters sigma, zeta, and chi that do draw my attention and make me think there's quite a lot more than just what I wrote about, too. One of these is the frequency with which a sigma at the end of the word tends to take a softer SH-ish sound - even at the end of a sentence, with nothing following. And another that makes me wonder a bit, occurs when the DL audio produces something closer to ZH, or an in-between SH/ZH, again for sigma. Related to that is a tendency to vocalize the chi, but not gamma-like. Instead, there's a heavier SH/ZH-like sound involved again (if one can believe the audio), but somewhat less air and a higher pitch. It's like the production of the sound moves forward in the mouth to the T/D location and out towards teeth and lips. And guess what, SH/ZH with some tongue around T/D and some lip movement is pretty much the basic formation of [ç]. It's striking to me that it may be in Greek too. For at the time, I was thinking of ZH and DZH, Russian and German, and speech formulation that created Anglo-Saxon itself, that perhaps that was where the [ç] sound for English spelling CH came from. (Pure speculation on my part, but a place I can go looking for confirmation or refutation.) And that also makes me wonder how long [ç] has been in Greek, whether it was there in ancient times, or only after the Christianization of the Rus around 1000, which might have brought influence back to Greece. Or, two widely separated cultures just used what nature gave them and developed it independently.

Know any linguists I can ask? :)

Oh. And it took me many more than 4 years after starting French to figure "i grec" out. So consider it a head start! :)


Of course, feel free to update it. The specific example with the Greek word was taken from Wikipedia as I am not that knowledgeable in both Greek and the IPA. ;)

I was looking into it only because that "ch" sound in German was one that caused (actually, is still causing) me problems, and before, I'd looked into learning Koine Greek and remembered reading somewhere that Χ is somewhat like the German "ch" when using a certain pronunciation. It's actually a different IPA that they were referring to when I went to check it on my own (since their examples were words and not with IPA), not the [ç]. It so happened that they do share a pronunciation in some cases, since even the German "ch" varies depending on where it is and what's around it.

I have to admire your dedication to listening closely to the audio tracks! I usually don't pay close attention; as long as I can approximate its sound pretty well I'm usually content to leave it at that. Every time I tell myself to look at and learn the corresponding IPA for the language properly so I get it absolutely right I give up after a while. Imitating sounds generally has not been a major problem for me, at least from the feedback I've received from teachers in school for my French and German classes, so there's a tendency to want to focus on other things instead instead of drilling phonetics.

I don't know any linguists, unfortunately. The only linguists I knew were the teachers of the introductory linguistics course (which was the only linguistics course I took) from 4 years ago, and I don't think their focus was on Anglo-Saxon languages or even European languages.

And okay, phew. I was worried 'i grec' was something obvious that most people discover early on and I was one of the exceptions. :P


I grec: maybe some do, I have no idea, but I sure didn't. :)

It looks like you have more formal linguistics background than I do. I've picked up mine a little at a time and from various places, including - long ago - my father, who was quite an excellent English teacher. I've had a lifelong admiration of C. S. Lewis too, beginning with his Christian writings, and moving on to language and the history background. And it was all aside my formal studies, which were classical music, math, and computer science.

But I was a performing musician and college prof for awhile, and close listening is a skill one develops that becomes natural. As an orchestral player, we would accompany opera productions sometimes, and the opportunity to hear other languages sung in first-rate form, and even to observe the musical setting, does a tremendous amount to attune the ear to them. And there were many languages, written of course by composers of many nations, with verbal directions written in the score on their languages, and only sometimes translated as well. So one must pick up some things to play correctly. The occasional conductor would speak less English than another tongue, and so would communicate partly by associating words in multiple languages as well as singing to indicate the musical articulation, emphasis or phrasing that was wanted. Over time, knowledge builds.

I learned what I know about IPA from Wikipedia too, but the article is pretty thick going in its way. It's hard to decipher, because one really needs to hear the sounds, and their differences side by side, alone and in context. And if you really want the whole linguistics picture, you need diagrams of the mouth, etc. So that source, whatever its accuracy might be (and that article is probably fairly reliable), is better for reference to what you already understand than it is to teach you what you don't know. It helps to know languages to read it actually. A word like labiodental is pretty obvious if you know the base roots, but more like technical gibberish otherwise.

I also love history, virtually all of which I've picked up in adulthood simply by reading. But all language is shaped by it, and shows the influences just as much as art, trade goods, and culture. And an interest in early English history and history of Christianity tied into Anglo Saxon, Middle English, and on. All learning dovetails, and I find interesting paths and connections all over, look into this and that, and it accumulates. And that is how this article came to be, really. It's fun to be able to share some of the stuff with others.


What linguistics I was exposed to was really basic and really focused only on the English language, so when it came to sounds that didn't exist in English, it was where trying to find more information became necessary. Interestingly enough, my major was computer science. My study of languages was something I just did for fun at the beginning when I went into university, before I started to develop a greater interest. I think the turning point was the semester I stayed abroad on an exchange programme, where I saw the language I was learning being in use.

I sing in a choir that does a variety of pieces, including classical pieces in Latin. Many of the other songs are in languages that we don't know. We have a vocal tutor who has an opera background, and he does emphasise on the pronunciation quite a bit. I think perhaps this has also helped me to pick up pronunciations a little faster, though I can't say for sure.

I love what you said about finding interesting connections in what is otherwise thought of as separate, because it's something I've also come to realise. History is fascinating, and I'm rather disappointed that I wasted my school years not learning more about it, but now there is still the option of learning on my own. Thank you for sharing your accumulated knowledge here, and your own story of how you acquired it. :)


Notable article but there are some misconceptions here:

1) Greeks roll "r"s a lot. It basically depends on the surrounding sounds, sometimes on the mood and the person/dialect.

2) Same as above, most Greek consonants (and vowels) change depending on surrounding sounds. For example "δώσε τον κουβά" would 99% of the time sound like "δώσε τογκουβά".

3) ΜΠ combinations sometimes occur midway, especially in loanwords

4) Your sibilant analysis matters A LOT. 'The Greek letters force air a bit less hard'. This is a huge deal and it's very uncanny, because it somewhat contradicts five (5). Also I think that you did not mention ΤΣ and ТZ that also differ somewhat from ts and ds in English.

5) Unaspirated consonants, a more forward point of articulation, the presence of "heavy duty" consonants (χ, ρ, ξ), the absence of hushes and longer vowels actually cause Greek to take more effort to pronounce than English, in the sense that tensions and vibrations build up in the vocal apparatus continuously. A good strategy for a Greek speaker being taught English is to relax their jaw, lips and tongue. It can't be the other way around at the same time. The sensation of speaking Greek is much more lively and maybe this is why Greeks yell a lot (I guess the pressure is easier to build up). As a Greek I often feel that speaking English or essentially almost any other foreign language amounts to mumbling.

P.S. Learners of Greek be advised, Greek phonology is not the exact science it might be claimed to be, based on the phonemic alphabet. I guess this applies to all languages to some extent, but it seems that the bulk of Greek linguists are oblivious to this fact and this leads to a lot of misinformation being spread. All in all the two languages are a lot different and acquiring a good pronunciation in both is quite a feat.


Many thanks for your input and clarifications! I don't pretend to be an expert, but the article represents what I had managed to pick up with the background I had then, a little non-technical investigation, and a good ear. I had seen a number of people struggle with basics, and was just attempting to give them a better start. I very much appreciate your supplement for some things I left out or didn't hit a center mark on. I'm well aware that there are regional and dialectic differences, and I also know that I don't know all the combinatorial effects of the letters yet either.

I'm glad to know that Greek linguists are not entirely dependable, so that I can be wary of what I hear from that direction. I have access to several native Greek speakers, and intend to check out what I learn from that source. But I do hope you're not confusing me with a Greek linguist! This article was definitely an amateur effort, and needs to be treated as such. I've only found some of its suggestions to be helpful in deterring native English speakers away from some primary anglicanizations when singing in Greek.

U.S. citizenry in general has so little exposure to any other languages, that it is quite difficult to get them even to pronounce English clearly! There's certainly mumbling ;), and slurring besides. And there's a bunch of degenerate vowels, mostly coming out as "uh" instead of what they're intended to be. That must be a linguist's nightmare too.


It was never my intention to put you on the stand or something. You contribution was amazing, but there is a lot of misinformation circulating. Greek, like most languages, exhibits a lot of sandhi effects (sounds blending together when speaking fast) that often goes unnoticed. I'm not a linguist myself but I have studied the Greek/English chasm extensively. There are quite a few linguists that try to make things better, but there is still work to be done and also there is little in the way of standardization. So all in all, pieces of advice:

1) Increase upper lip and tongue tension. You should be feeling upper jaw and lower jaw vibrations a lot.

2) Tap-roll "R"s, tongue should hit something in the top of your mouth (sometimes when speaking fast it's ok to slur it) -

trial words Κρανίο (skull), Άρτος (-formal- bread), Τράπεζα (bank), Αφρός (foam/froth), Ριφιφί (a tunneling heist, from the 1955 movie), Ραχούλα (hilltop), Χαρά (joy), Χρησμός (divination) - tap or short roll, whatever feels easier. It shouldn't be a "spanish-proportion" trill though. Just two or three taps. Don't make it should like an boat engine or a pavement breaker. This is why you wrote there is no rolling. There is a rolling to some "R", but a shorter one. Just be sure to HIT something with your tongue. Try smiling a bit to get it right. The lower lip does not do anything, there is no protruding.

3) Reduce sibilance of s and z by using the tongue less and open the jaw a bit more.

In that sense those two sounds are LESS dental, whereas all the other assorted sounds should be MORE dental (t, d). There is no sh. There is no soft z, as in measure or french. There is no ch, chair. There is no j, jeep. Forget about those. Sometimes when speaking fast those sounds can naturally form, but better be oblivious to that. Using them deliberately sometimes amounts to "childish" or "being playful" talk. ex. a soft z (zh) in the utterance "ζουζουνάκο μου (my honeybug)" It's ok for the occasional ch or j to creep in, no-one will really notice that, because Greeks are not sensitive to those sounds being different phonemes.

4) Make all plosives (k,p,b,g etc.) UN-aspirated (no "with-air" as you called it, not "breathy")

Focus on voicing the second sound instead of the first for example pie - vs - πάει. ִIt helps to think of π as a "slower" version of p that leads to a fuller diphthong with less glide. Pie sounds like one syllable whereas the πάει more like two syllables. Same rules apply to all plosives. Make it about fuller vowels and not about sharper consonants (your analysis on this spot was rather accurate).

5) When speaking in Greek it should feel like you're expending more energy and your mouth will probably get drier.


A feast of good things to chew on! Thanks again. For me, at least, they'll be a second leg of the journey to better pronunciation (my first being something like what I put in this guide). Acquiring an accurate pronunciation is, I think, often a matter of practicing in successive approximations, combined with acquiring increasing speed with the unfamiliar positions the mouth requires.

I think linguistic analyses help one to correct specific flaws by pointing out the subtle differences one may not have thought about. But in the end, it all must be fluid and unforced, in the sense that one need not think about it any more. Along the way, one needs to give up the thinking, and simply focus on getting the right sound (once the ear is trained to know what that is). It's like learning to walk: stand, turn and fall, single step (plop), a pair of steps, toddle, lose hesitancy (while suffering catastrophic failures), waddle, more forward motion, walk, run. Same principles, same need for balance; it just gets smoother. My mouth is dry just thinking about it! ;)


You're a graduate?! That's so not fair! I just started middle school, it's terrible...


I SO sympathize. Middle school was the worst of my whole time in school too. It's a tough age to be. Hang in there! Eventually it gets better!


Really? school can get better? right now it's really hard, nobody likes me and I am not very smart...


Not just school can get better, but all of life. Hard things always make us groan, but really, they also make us grow, so actually they can help make things better sometimes. Nobody liked me back then either, but I've made friends since and have many now. Don't worry. It will happen to you too. After all, I like you already. And you don't really know how smart you are. It takes a lot of time to know. School won't ever teach you that either. And smart isn't everything anyway. Friendly, kind, and thoughtful are all more important. And those can win you friends too. Work at what's hard, and don't be afraid. Face everything with courage. You will come through.


It's hard not to be afraid when you're bullied, but maybe soon I will have at least one friend...


Yeah, being bullied is definitely the pits. But it's not your fault. In fact, the fault all lies with the bully. If you need real protection, talk to a teacher or school counselor, your parent, some adult that you trust. For the rest, remember that bullies are bullies because they are cowards themselves, however tough they may seem. They're afraid too, which is why they bully - to cover up their fear. It may not stop you from feeling afraid, but it can help you to summon your courage and be free to take action.

And it's always good to have a friend.


I could never tell on someone! I feel so bad when I do that...I mean what if I hurt their feelings? I would never forgive myself...


But it's not right for you to be made to feel afraid either. You have to decide how much danger there really is of your being seriously hurt. If there's enough, you must tell, and not feel guilty about that, because you also have a need to feel and actually be safe. Really, that's asking for help.

But if the hurt is something smaller, something you can bear, then be courageous and decide to bear it. That's courage in itself, because it means you are willing to be hurt. But that is for a good reason. How do you think that will make you feel? Probably not quite so afraid, either. Then you might even be able to look the bully in the eyes and show your courage. And if you have the strength, try, and try again, to be a friend to the bully. It may not work, but then again it might. If the bully stops feeling afraid, he or she may stop being a bully, and then anything good can happen.

People's feelings do get hurt once in a while, but mostly we recover eventually. Whatever we can do to help ourselves start recovering can also help us to help others in their recovery. There's nothing to be ashamed of there - quite the opposite!


I have been hurt a lot the past few years, I'm so alone and I have nobody to trust or count on, and I couldn't be mean to someone to save my life. Actually It wouldn't be too bad if I weren't alive, I mean nobody even acknowledges my existence...I can't even talk to anyone I'm so shy, I have so many things I'd like to say but no matter what I do I just can't get it out :( I'm so sad, and I wish for once in my life I could just be normal like everyone else and stop being such a doormat...


I would never want to tell you to be mean - quite the opposite! You're right never to go there.

I was shy once also, and I know how much that can hurt all by itself. I think you are showing a lot of courage just by talking to me here, because you are showing your feelings and thoughts, and when you're shy you can be afraid to do that. But I am saying that exactly that willingness is one of the paths "getting it out". We all need someone to do that with sometimes, and that's why it hurts so much to feel alone.

I remember feeling much the way you do myself, and it can make me feel it again all over. But because of my past experience, I can know that you're already headed towards the way out of it. I'd like to reveal that to you as much as I can. And if possible I'd like to help you to feel a bit better about it too. But the reality remains that it truly is hard. The path involves finding people you can trust, getting their attention enough that you can open up to them, and then actually opening up. And all of that can be full of fears and can seem hopeless, because you can't picture where you'll find anyone, and can't see yourself being so open.

But I never expected to meet you in this way today, or in this "place", this nowhere of cyberspace, and never imagined us talking like this just a short time ago. Did you? So we (all of us) always need to forget about (and decide to ignore!) that hopeless feeling, because the fact of the matter is that we never know what will happen, even just seconds from now. And all of life is like that! So we can never say that our life doesn't matter, because if we do, we just don't know what we're talking about. It's the fear doing that talking, and the answer is to look at that fear, see it for what it is, how worthless and bullying, and then turn around, walk away, and never remember it again. That's courage. And that's what you're doing right now, so you've got it. So keep it, and keep on doing it, no matter how fearful and how much it hurts. Do it everywhere you are, whenever you are, and with whomever you're with. And at some time, something else you never expected will happen. Keep looking for what you're looking for - they are good things! And then you also will see them when they appear to you, and recognize them, and you will have them. And the more you take courage in this way, the less you will be thinking about feeling fear or hurt, and those feelings will start to go away.

It's right there in front of you somewhere, but you do have to do the work of searching for yourself. It's so much easier to work, though, than it is to mope or just feel! So don't let yourself get too distracted. Look at everyone you see as a person you might be able to trust, try something and see if you can trust in anything that happened. If so, hang on to it. If not, try again somewhere or with someone else. Because you're not really alone - there are people all over the place around you. The trick is to find those someones you're looking for, and to know how to find them. The more you work at that, the more you will learn how to do it too. There's a terrific lesson you can learn anywhere, even in school. And there's hardly anything smarter in life than working on that one.

Blessings on you, dear one.


Oh wow, you're making me cry. I'll try to have courage but it's hard when I've been alone for 13 years, you've been so nice to me. Thank you so much for helping me and for being so kind to me, I really appreciate. You make me feel so special, and I have never felt that way before, I always thought of myself as dirt that everyone walks all over and doesn't care about. You have changed my mind, and I am so happy to have had the pleasure to meet you.


You are gentle, sweet and appreciative anyone who does not want to be your friend is missing out!


There you go, Poetry. Another friend, and he's so right. And I think you must love a lot more than poetry, too. It shows.


Oh my! Now you're making me cry too! You're absolutely welcome, and it's been a great privilege for me to talk with you today, because I rarely encounter other people who are so willing to open up and share as you have with me. That makes me feel special too, and you absolutely must know how special you are just for being able to do something like that. Sometimes people don't care, and sometimes they walk all over others. It's happened to me too. But it's not that you're dirt. That's about them - who they are and what they are doing then. When it happens to you, the important thing is to remember who you are and that you're not going to turn around and do the same kind of thing. That feeling of being dirt is just another of those feelings to look at, stare down, and walk away from, every time the feeling appears. That feeling is the dirt, and it is good to walk all over it.

It's very much my pleasure also to have met you today, and I hope we can talk again sometime.


The ZH (/ʒ/) sound exists in English; for example, it's the way the s of "pleasure" /ˈplɛʒə/ or the 'si' in "delusion" /dɪˈluːʒən/ is pronounced. (IPA transcripts are from Wiktionary)


Of course it does! I can't think how I overlooked that at the time. Thanks for pointing it out.

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