Iotacism

Iotacism

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Encyclopedia
Iotacism is the process by which a number of vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s and diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s in Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 converged in pronunciation
Pronunciation
Pronunciation refers to the way a word or a language is spoken, or the manner in which someone utters a word. If one is said to have "correct pronunciation", then it refers to both within a particular dialect....

 so that they all sound like iota
Iota
Iota is the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 10. It was derived from the Phoenician letter Yodh . Letters that arose from this letter include the Roman I and J and the Cyrillic І , Yi , Je , and iotified letters .Iota represents...

 (i) in Modern Greek
Modern Greek
Modern Greek refers to the varieties of the Greek language spoken in the modern era. The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic...

.
In the case of the letter eta
Eta (letter)
Eta ) is the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet. Originally denoting a consonant /h/, its sound value in the classical Attic dialect of Ancient Greek was a long vowel , raised to in medieval Greek, a process known as itacism.In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 8...

 specifically, this process is known as itacism (from the resulting pronunciation of the letter's name as ˈita).

Vowels and diphthongs involved


Ancient Greek had a broader range of vowels (see Ancient Greek phonology) than Modern Greek. Eta
Eta (letter)
Eta ) is the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet. Originally denoting a consonant /h/, its sound value in the classical Attic dialect of Ancient Greek was a long vowel , raised to in medieval Greek, a process known as itacism.In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 8...

  was a long
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

 open-mid front unrounded vowel /ɛː/, and upsilon
Upsilon
Upsilon is the 20th letter of the Greek alphabet.  In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 400. It is derived from the Phoenician waw. The name of the letter is pronounced in Modern Greek, and in English , , or...

  was a close front rounded vowel
Close front rounded vowel
The close front rounded vowel, or high front rounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is y...

 /y/. Over the course of time, both of these vowels came to be pronounced like the close front unrounded vowel
Close front unrounded vowel
The close front unrounded vowel, or high front unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ....

 iota
Iota
Iota is the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 10. It was derived from the Phoenician letter Yodh . Letters that arose from this letter include the Roman I and J and the Cyrillic І , Yi , Je , and iotified letters .Iota represents...

  [iː]. In addition, certain diphthongs merged to the same pronunciation, especially epsilon
Epsilon
Epsilon is the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet, corresponding phonetically to a close-mid front unrounded vowel . In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 5. It was derived from the Phoenician letter He...

-iota and (later) upsilon-iota .

In Modern Greek
Modern Greek
Modern Greek refers to the varieties of the Greek language spoken in the modern era. The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic...

 the letters and digraphs "" are all pronounced "i", i.

Issues in textual criticism


Due to iotacism, some words with originally distinct pronunciations are now pronounced similarly, and this is sometimes the cause of differences between manuscript readings in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

. For example, the upsilon of humeis, humōn "you, your (pl.)" and the eta of hēmeis, hēmōn "we, our" could be easily confused if a lector were reading to copyist
Copyist
A copyist is a person who makes written copies. In ancient times, a scrivener was also called a calligraphus . The term's modern use is almost entirely confined to music copyists, who are employed by the music industry to produce neat copies from a composer or arranger's manuscript.-Music...

s in a scriptorium
Scriptorium
Scriptorium, literally "a place for writing", is commonly used to refer to a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the copying of manuscripts by monastic scribes...

. As an example of a relatively minor (almost insignificant) source of "variant readings", some ancient manuscript
Manuscript
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

s spelled words the way they sounded, such as the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus
Codex Sinaiticus
Codex Sinaiticus is one of the four great uncial codices, an ancient, handwritten copy of the Greek Bible. It is an Alexandrian text-type manuscript written in the 4th century in uncial letters on parchment. Current scholarship considers the Codex Sinaiticus to be one of the best Greek texts of...

, which sometimes substitutes a plain iota for the epsilon-iota digraph and sometimes does the reverse.

English-speaking textual critics use the word "itacism" to refer to this phenomenon, and loosely for all inconsistencies of spelling involving vowels. The word itacism comes from ita, the pronunciation of the name of the letter η (eta
ETA
ETA , an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna is an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization. The group was founded in 1959 and has since evolved from a group promoting traditional Basque culture to a paramilitary group with the goal of gaining independence for the Greater Basque Country...

) with iotacism.

See also

  • Greek language
    Greek language
    Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

  • Greek alphabet
    Greek alphabet
    The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

  • Ancient Greek phonology
    Ancient Greek phonology
    Ancient Greek phonology is the study of the phonology, or pronunciation, of Ancient Greek. Because of the passage of time, the original pronunciation of Ancient Greek, like that of all ancient languages, can never be known with absolute certainty...

  • Modern Greek
    Modern Greek
    Modern Greek refers to the varieties of the Greek language spoken in the modern era. The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic...

  • Vowel shift
    Vowel shift
    A vowel shift is a systematic sound change in the pronunciation of the vowel sounds of a language.The best-known example in the English language is the Great Vowel Shift, which began in the 15th century...

  • Minuscule 541
    Minuscule 541
    Minuscule 541 , 554 , ε 400 , is a Greek minuscule manuscript of the New Testament, on a parchment. Palaeographically it has been assigned to the 15th century....

     and Minuscule 543 - manuscripts with an unusual number of itacistic errors