(Note: [ʃ] is the first sound in English "ship".)

I've seen the sound [ʃ] represented in a few different ways in Greek writing: σ in Hebrew names in the LXX, σχ in modern Tsakonian, ψ in Sappho's name.

But I don't think I've ever seen [ʃ] transcribed into Latin. My guess is that it would be written s, but I don't know where I would find examples.

Do we know of any Latin transcriptions (Old, Classical, or Late, but not Medieval or later) of words containing [ʃ]? Direct transcriptions of naturalized Greek words like Iēsūs don't count.

  • 2
    The Vulgate in this definition is excluded, right? It is late Latin, but probably all Hebraic names (Simon, Messia) are transliterations of Greek transliterations (although the naturalized version of שִׁמְעוֹן is Συμεών). Could the double sigma in μεσσίας, as opposed to the single shin in מָשִׁיחַ have something to do with representing a different sound?
    – Rafael
    May 17, 2018 at 13:07
  • 1
    In some forms of ecclesisatical Latin, sc before a soft vowel sound (e, i, ae, oe) makes the /ʃ/ sound, like in Italian. I doubt this was ever used to transcribe that sound, though.
    – brianpck
    May 17, 2018 at 15:49
  • @Rafael The Vulgate is generally excluded, because all the foreign names in it seem to come through the Greek. Messias is a good thought, but the single sigma in Iēsous also comes from a shin, doesn't it?
    – Draconis
    May 17, 2018 at 16:01
  • @Draconis Agreed. I realize the double-sigma hypothesis raises a lot of questions, that's why I was just asking. But couldn't it still be that Ἰησοῦς had been already adopted into Greek with the sound [s] at the time of the Septuagint? Of course, this would also need an exception for initials. Yet יִשַׁי>Ἰεσσαί>Iesse, but maybe it has just to do with vowel quantity or something else. UPDATE: sorry, I read your message before even noticing varro's answer
    – Rafael
    May 17, 2018 at 20:11

1 Answer 1


There are plenty of examples of a foreign [ʃ] being transcribed by Latin "s" (or medially "ss") but the vast majority come via Greek. Apart from the numerous Hebrew names found in the Greek Bible, there are various Parthian or Sassanian names that contained [ʃ], for examples "Arsaces" for the Parthian king "Arshak", but this too comes via Greek Ἀρσάκης.

The sound [ʃ] did not apparently occur in the Celtic and Germanic dialects the Romans encountered, so there are unlikely to be any examples from that direction.

There is, of course, Punic, and one may perhaps point to the alternate name for Dido "Elissa", which seems to come from a Punic "Elishat".

A further note on the medial "ss":

I think it's highly likely that originally Greek σσ had a distinct sound from σ which made it a closer match to a foreign [ʃ] than σ would have been, which is why it turns up in μεσσίας (and perhaps "Elissa"), but I have no reason to think the same applies to Latin.

  • Very interesting! Was medial ss used only for [ʃ], or also for foreign [s]?
    – Draconis
    May 17, 2018 at 16:41
  • I can't off-hand think of any, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. I'll add a note to my answer with some further thoughts on this.
    – varro
    May 17, 2018 at 16:47
  • I've also heard that Elissa might come from Greek (borrowed from Phoenician), but I don't know a solid source on this.
    – Draconis
    May 17, 2018 at 17:13
  • It's possible, but I don't know for sure.
    – varro
    May 17, 2018 at 17:16
  • Another possible example of [ʃ] as σσ or ss could be: יִשַׁי>Ἰεσσαί>Iesse?
    – Rafael
    May 17, 2018 at 20:15

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