Greek letters. The names of Greek letters. Greek alphabet

The Greek alphabet began to be used continuously from the end of the 9th to the beginning of the 8th century BC. E. According to the researchers' assumption, this system of written signs was the first, consisting of both consonants and vowels, as well as signs used to separate them. What were the ancient Greek letters? How did they appear? Which letter completes the Greek alphabet, and which one begins? About this and much more later in the article.

How and when did the Greek letters appear?

It must be said that in many Semitic languages the letters have independent names and interpretations. It is not entirely clear when exactly the signs took place. Researchers offer various datings of this process from the 14th to the 7th centuries BC. E. But most of the authors converge on the 9th and 10th centuries. Later dating is somewhat implausible, since the earliest finds of Greek inscriptions can refer to around the 8th century BC. E. Or even earlier. In the 10th and 9th centuries, North-Semitic fonts had a certain similarity. But there is evidence that the Greeks borrowed a written system specifically from the Phoenicians. This is plausible also because this Semitic group was the most widely settled and actively engaged in trade and navigation.

general information

The Greek alphabet includes 24 letters. In some dialects of the pre-classical era other signs were used: heta, sampi, stigma, koppa, san, digamma. Of these, the three letters of the Greek alphabet listed at the end were also used to write numbers. In the Phoenician system, each symbol was called the word that began with it. So, for example, the first written sign is "alef" (bull, then), the next is "bet" (house), the third is gimel (camel) and so on. Subsequently, with borrowing, for more convenience, changes were made to almost every title. The letters of the Greek alphabet thus became somewhat simpler, having lost the interpretation. So, Alef became an alpha, bet - betoy, gimel - gamma. Later, when some characters were changed or added to the written system, the names of Greek letters became more meaningful. So, for example, "omicron" is a little oh, "omega" (the last character in the written system) - respectively, is a large Fr.


Greek letters were the foundation for the creation of the main European fonts. At the same time, initially the system of written signs was not simply borrowed from the Semites. The Greeks made their own changes to it. Thus, in the Semitic script, the direction of the outline of the symbols was either from right to left, or in turn in accordance with the direction of the lines. The second way of writing was called "bustrofedon." This definition is a combination of two words, with the Greek translated as "bull" and "turn." Thus, a visual image of the animal, pulling the plow along the field, is formed, changing the direction from the furrow to the furrow. As a result, in Greek writing the priority was the direction from left to right. It, in turn, caused a number of corresponding changes in the form of some symbols. Therefore, the Greek letters of the later inscription represent a mirror image of Semitic symbols.


On the basis of the Greek alphabet, a large number of systems of written signs were developed and subsequently developed, spreading in the Middle East and Europe and used in the written language of many countries of the world. Cyrillic and Latin were not an exception. It is known that, for example, when creating the Old Slavic alphabet , Greek letters were used primarily. In addition to the fact that the symbols were used to write a language, they were used as international mathematical symbols. Today Greek letters are used not only in mathematics, but also in other exact sciences. In particular, these symbols are called stars (for example, Tau Ceti used 19 letters of the Greek alphabet "tau"), elementary particles and so on.

Archaic Greek letters

These symbols are not included in the classical written system. Some of them (sampi, koppa, digamma), as mentioned above, were used for numerical records. At the same time, two - sampi and koppa - are used today. In the Byzantine period, the digamma was replaced by the ligature of stigma. In a number of archaic dialects, these symbols still had a sound meaning and were used when writing words. The Latin system and its varieties are considered to be the most important representatives of the Greek direction. In particular, they include the Gaelic and Gothic letters. Along with this, there are other fonts that have a direct or indirect relationship to the Greek alphabet. Among them, one should mention the ogham and runic systems.

Symbols used for other languages

In a number of cases, Greek letters were used to fix completely different languages (for example, Old Slavonic). In this case, new symbols were added to the new system-additional signs reflecting the existing sounds of the language. With the course of history, in such cases, individual written systems were often formed. For example, it happened with Cyrillic, Etruscan and Coptic alphabets. But often the system of written signs remained essentially unchanged. That is, when it was created, Greek letters were predominantly present and only a few additional symbols.


The Greek alphabet had several varieties. Each species was associated with a certain colony or city-state. But all these species belong to one of the two main categories used in the western and eastern Greek spheres of influence. The difference between the varieties was in the sound functions that were attributed to the symbols added to those already contained in the written system. So, for example, in the east the "psi" sign was pronounced as ps, in the west the same as kh, while the "chi" sign in the east was pronounced kh, in the west - ks. The classical Greek font was a typical sample of the Ionic or Oriental type of writing system. Officially, it was adopted in 404 BC. E. In Athens and spread later throughout the territory of Greece. Direct descendants of this font are modern written systems, such as, for example, Gothic and Coptic, preserved only in church use. They can also include the Cyrillic alphabet adopted for the Russian and a number of other languages. The second main type of the Greek written system - the western one - was used in some parts of Italy and other western colonies belonging to Greece. It is believed that this version of the letter marked the beginning of the Etruscan script, and through it - Latin, which became the main one in the territory of Ancient Rome and Western Europe.

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