Re: Upsilon

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Feb 02 1996 - 08:33:04 EST

On 2/1/96, wrote:

> On 1/31/96, Eric Vaughan wrote:
> >> Upsilon is transliterated as both "y" and "u". What is the correct (or
> >> accepted) pronunciation of it? I've always (probably incorrectly)
> >> pronounced it with a sound in between the long and short "u". I
> >> appreciate any answers.
> "Carl W. Conrad" <> on Wed, 31 Jan 1996 replies...
> >The "Y" was taken into the Roman alphabet to represent upsilon precisely
> >because it had a sound that was no longer represented by the Latin "U" (as
> >presumably it would have been if upsilon's sound had not undergone a
> >change). Probably by the Christian era it was already being pronounced as
> >it is in modern Greek: like an English long E (exactly as iota, EI, OI were
> >also pronounced).
> >
> >The "proper" pronunciation? The Erasmian standard has always been, I
> >believe, that it should be like a French U or like a German umlauted U.
> >
> >There may be some alternative answers to this question; don't be surprised
> >if there are!
> I would only add that some suggest that Upsilon has an occassional V sound
> (as in Victory) or W sound (as in Wax). Examples include the name DAUID
> (David) and EUAGGELION (gospel).

Interesting point, Tim. I wonder when this took place. We find historians
writing Greek in the first and later centuries of our era transliterating
Roman names like Varus and Vergilius as OUAROS and OUERGILIOS, which should
mean that the OU + vowel was our W sound. But when was the Latin
EVANGELIUM, representing the Greek EUAGGELION first being pronounced with
our V sound? Does anyone know?

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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