6

Background

In the very helpful document ‘Typing ancient (polytonic) Greek in a Windows environment’, there is a noticable difference between the accent shown where the English keyboard Q key is, as compared to that of the semicolon.

Picture of polytonic Greek keyboard layout (normal state).

The accent on the Q key (left of final sigma) looks like a proper accent, whilst that on semicolon (right of lambda) looks more vertical – a bit stumpy. When rendering these in EB Garamond, this is my result (red lines added):

Two different acute accents as rendered in EB Garamond.

Notice how the red lines are obviously not parallel. Q-key style accent is to the left, semicolon-style accent to the right.

Question

What is the difference between these two accents, apart from aesthetics? Some options that come to mind:

  • It is purely aesthetic. (Though I doubt it; why then would it be shown in the keyboard layout.)
  • The semicolon-key accent (the stubby one) belongs to modern Greek, whilst the Q-key accent (the one with a regular slant) belongs to Ancient Greek.

It would be great to know what the difference is, especially considering that typing Ancient Greek will be highly important to me in my future thesis work.

Note

For reference, here is a mirrored alpha with grave accent, superimposed by an alpha with the q-key-style acute accent; notice how the accents align with each other.

Alpha with grave accent, mirrored, superimposed by regular alpha with acute accent

0
9

This page has some helpful info.

On an English keyboard, the accent found on the semicolon renders a tonos (modern); the accent found on the Q renders an oxia (ancient).

Basically, these two accents – tonos and oxia – exist in Unicode for historical reasons, but there is (or ought to be) no actual difference between them in meaning or usage; the oxia is now deprecated, and most fonts display the two accents identically, Garamond being a notable exception.

This shouldn’t cause any practical issues for most use cases. However, if you are writing code that processes Ancient Greek it is something to be aware of, because some online texts use the oxia and others the tonos, so trouble will ensue if your code only knows about one type of accent (I speak from bitter experience).

2
  • Interestingly, Duolingo does not treat them similarly; it considers the oxia to be different from the tonos and in error.
    – Canned Man
    May 15 at 12:29
  • 3
    @CannedMan That's because Duolingo was made by programmers and not linguists.
    – cmw
    May 15 at 12:34
5

The third page and section of the documentation you linked to says:

typing Greek accents

Therefore this guess is correct:

The semicolon-key accent (the stubby one) belongs to modern Greek, whilst the Q-key accent (the one with a regular slant) belongs to Ancient Greek.

4
  • I’ve used the document several times, but after finding it seven or eight years ago, I have forgotten that there is indeed a page explaining these things. Why are these symbols different?
    – Canned Man
    Jan 18 at 12:41
  • 1
    @CannedMan I don't know, but I'd be happy to learn. I think this calls for a new question about how the polytonic acute (and other accents) evolved into the monotonic accent. Although modern Greek is off-topic in itself, its relation to ancient Greek like this is perfectly fine in my opinion.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 18 at 13:25
  • Long overdue, but now done: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/16006/…
    – Canned Man
    May 15 at 12:43
  • @CannedMan Excellent!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 15 at 12:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.