Re: Omega vs. Omicron

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Jun 05 2000 - 15:35:32 EDT

At 1:03 PM -0700 6/5/00, Wayne Leman wrote:
>Randall is probably right. But the distinction between W and O continued to
>be maintained much of the time in the writing system, just as
>dialectally-neutralized distinctions in English are still maintained in our
>writing system, most of the time, unless we've had enuf (!) of the
>difficulties thru (!) which we've been led with our orthography history.
>Since most Greek students just reference info from the written system, it's
>seems to me almost a moot point, unless we are looking for instances where
>text critical variants in Greek might be due to neutralization of a vowel
>If I am missing some other practical ramification, I'm all ears (or is that

I wholly accord with Wayne here. Clay wrote:

> When I talk to my old friend who was born
>and raised in rural Alabama his use of vowels blurs some distinctions that
>are crucial to my understanding of North Western US English and real
>substantive loss of meaning takes place which results in constant requests
>for clarification.

I think that we could raise much the same question about the spelling and
writing of American English (perhaps also about British English, mutatis
mutandis): certain sounds are associated with the spellings -IGH- and
-OUGH- and -AUGH-. We have become reasonably inured to seeing "light"
spelled "lite" and "right" spelled "rite" and and "night" spelled "nite."
But if we see a sentence such as "The two armies fawt all nite," we have no
trouble understanding it although we recognized the spelling is not
standard. I think that's all that's involved in the evidence for
pronunciation of Omega and Omicron. The papyri seem to indicate that the
two vowels are substituted frequently enough for each other by the less
literate. My guess is that the Latin long O that ends the 1st singular of
verbs was pronounced pretty much the same as the Omega that ends the 1st
singular of verbs in Koine Greek.

What is valid in Clay's latest Molotov cocktail (that's his own image and
he has just used it again) is that it may well be pedagogically easier to
teach Greek with a pronunciation in which all the vowels and diphthongs are
clearly differentiated. But on the other hand, if we understand clearly
that spelling and pronunciation are related to each other in only the most
vague and general manner, maybe that isn't so important as it superficially
appears. I once taught written French to a woman who had lived 20 years in
Paris and who could speak the language very well but couldn't write it. It
came as quite a shock to her to learn that of the six forms of the present
conjugation of a first-conjugation verb (je parle, tu parles, il/elle
parle, nous parlons, vous parlez, ils/elles parlent) only the first and
second plural forms of the verb display a spelling that clearly marks how
it is pronounced, but that the different spellings parle, parles, parlent
are all pronounced identically.


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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