I'm a bit confused by the information I've seen online about ancient Greek υι: it seems an original diphthongal pronunciation was replaced at some point in Attic Greek by a monophthongal pronunciation [yː] (the same as long υ)—but I'm not clear on the timeline of this, what happened in other dialects, or whether there were any exceptions to this development in Attic itself. Can anyone give me the complete picture?

Stuff I've read so far:

  • The Wikipedia article "Ancient Greek phonology", §3.2 Diphthongs says "The diphthongs /ei ou yi/ changed to /eː uː yː/ in the early Classical period in most cases, but /ei yi/ remained before vowels."

  • The Wikipedia article "Greek orthography" says "The diphthong υι [yi̯] was monophthongized to [yː] in Classical Attic Greek, but survives in some other contemporary dialects and in early Koine."

  • Luke Ranieri's Greek Pronunciation Chronology document on Google Docs shows the pronunciation of υι as changing from yi̯ to yː circa 400 BC (no conditions mentioned)

  • I know that some words show variation between spellings with υι and υ before a vowel, such as "μυῖα, Att[ic] μῦα"(Liddell and Scott)

  • A comment on this website by Cairnarvon says "During the fifth century υι is pronounced like a monophthong except in the feminine ending -υια, which is the model for the later restoration of the diphthong elsewhere." and suggests consulting W. Sidney Allen's Vox Graeca for more info.

  • As far as I can see so far, Allen discusses υι only relatively briefly, in the section “Diphthongs before vowels” in Chapter 2.

    Here he seems to distinguish between two changes, an earlier “prehistoric” monophthongization before consonants (which I gather resulted in spellings with υ, not υι), and a later monopthongization before vowels “beginning with ῡ̔ός for υἱός in the 6 c. B.C. (e.g. hexameter ending ευδικο hυοσ). Fem. participles in -υῖα a were preserved until the 4 c. B.C.” (Vox Graeca 1968, page 77)

    By the third edition (1987), this note seems to have been extended with the folllowing qualification: “This development seems to have been peculiarly Attic, as explicitly stated by Herodian (see Threatte, p. 338), and later υἱός at least was restored.” (page 81)

I'm wondering especially about the following points:

  • Is the later sound change (before vowels) regularly associated with a change in spelling from υι to υ (as in μῦα), or did the spelling υι continue to be considered standard (aside from misspellings) after the sound change? Or did υι initially get replaced by spellings with υ, and then the Attic form died out and was replaced with υι again (like how Attic ττ eventually lost out to σσ)? If the last, when was the spelling (and pronunciation) υι restored?

  • If the spelling υι persisted, how do we know when words spelled with υι came to be pronounced with [yː]? While variation with υ spellings could indicate a merger, it seems like it could also indicate real pronunciation variation between a diphthong and monophthong (e.g. due to dialect mixing). Are there written ancient sources that say that υι sounded like υ?


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