The surviving Koine Greek corpus contains quite a lot of transcribed Semitic words, borrowed from Hebrew, Aramaic, and maybe others. (For example, the LXX is full of Hebrew names.)

Were there standard conventions for these transcriptions, either documented at the time, or derived from later analysis? For example, is there a consistent mapping between the three Hebrew dental stops (daleth, t'eth, and taw) and the three Greek dental stops (delta, theta, and tau)? Or is the transcription more ad-hoc, with e.g. some transcribers using theta and some using tau for the same Hebrew phoneme?


1 Answer 1


In the oldest stratum of loan words Semitic t and k are generally represented by τ and κ, while the emphatic stops ṭ and q are represented by θ and χ. Witness the names of the letters tau and theta. In later loan words Semitic t and k are generally represented by aspirated θ and χ, while ṭ and q are represented by unaspirated τ and κ. This probably has to do with a sound shift in NW Semitic, whereby the plain stops became aspirates (and later fricatives in post-vocalic position), while the emphatic stops remained unaspirated. But there are exceptions.

Reference: E. Masson, Recherches sur les plus anciens emprunts sémitiques en grec, Paris 1967.

  • 1
    Does /p/, with no emphatic counterpart, consistently pattern with the unemphatic stops (so it's later transcribed with phi)?
    – Draconis
    Aug 11, 2019 at 14:20
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    (Also, is it known roughly when this change took place?)
    – Draconis
    Aug 11, 2019 at 14:57
  • @Draconis. The "later" convention seems to be fully in place in the LXX, so it is probably not later than the 2nd century BC.
    – fdb
    Aug 12, 2019 at 8:44
  • @Draconis Josephus writes his name Ἰώσηπος so there is at least one exception
    – b a
    Aug 12, 2019 at 16:37
  • @fdb I see! If you have a few examples for each of these (old-style, new-style, and what happens with /p/) I'd be glad to accept.
    – Draconis
    Aug 12, 2019 at 19:59

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