Re: Consonantal iota

Stephen C. Carlson (
Wed, 22 Jan 1997 22:40:38 -0500

At 03:52 1/22/97 -0600, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>At 9:27 PM -0600 1/21/97, Lee R. Martin wrote:
>>Pardon my intrusion, but it seems to me that the iota in Jerusalem,
>>Jordan, Jesus, John, et. al. is a pronounced as a consonant, not a vowel
>>(corresponding to the Hebrew consonant yod). The only way it could be
>>pronounced as a vowel is to add a syllable, e.g. ee-er-u-sa-lem,
>>ee-or-dan, ee-ey-sus etc.
>I think that this MAY be true, but how do we KNOW it for sure? What I said
>yesterday was that editors, by putting a smooth breathing before the
>upper-case Iota, seem to be indicating pronunciation as a vowel. That the
>Romans used an I for both vowel and consonant we do know, but what evidence
>have we for Greek pronunciation of initial I as a consonant at any time?

I think that whatever evidence we have, it is actually *against* initial
I being a consonant/semivowel. First, this semivowel (IPA [j]; English
"y") is not phonemic in Greek. Second, the initial y- sound from the
parent language changed to either a h- or Z-. Third, some existing Greek
words, though not of Semitic origin, carry the accent on the initial iota,
indicating a vowel: e.g. I)/AKXOS, another name for Dionysus. Therefore,
I would reluctantly conclude that the initial iota is probably a vowel.

Stephen Carlson

Stephen C. Carlson                   : Poetry speaks of aspirations,              : and songs chant the words. :               -- Shujing 2.35