Re: Consonantal iota

Carl W. Conrad (
Thu, 23 Jan 1997 07:32:10 -0600

At 9:40 PM -0600 1/22/97, Stephen C. Carlson wrote:

>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

>>>(corresponding to the Hebrew consonant yod). The only way it could

>>>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

>>yesterday was that editors, by putting a smooth breathing before the

>>upper-case Iota, seem to be indicating pronunciation as a vowel. That

>>Romans used an I for both vowel and consonant we do know, but what

>>have we for Greek pronunciation of initial I as a consonant at any


>I think that whatever evidence we have, it is actually *against*

>I being a consonant/semivowel. First, this semivowel (IPA [j];

>"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

>words, though not of Semitic origin, carry the accent on the initial

>indicating a vowel: e.g. I)/AKXOS, another name for Dionysus.

>I would reluctantly conclude that the initial iota is probably a

An additional argument in favor of the position taken here by Stephen,
although only by analogy, is the fact that the Latin consonantal U
(pronounced like our "w," commonly spelled with a "V") was
transliterated into Greek in the same period as OU: e.g. VERGILIUS -->
OUERGILIOS, VARUS --> OUAROS. This would seem to indicate that the only
way Hellenistic Greek could represent these consonantal sounds outside
their repertory of consonants was <underline>as vowels</underline>.

Carl W. Conrad

Department of Classics, Washington University

One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130

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