Varro mentioned in this answer:

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.

I'd never heard of this before, but it would make sense with the transcriptions of messías and Elissa. On the other hand, we see Iēsous with a single sigma.

What is the consensus on this? Is there other evidence for σσ having a distinct sound? And if so, what might it have been?

  • I just found out about the existence of san and its history. The WP article gives an idea or two about [ʃ], but none about σσ. Maybe the key is the history of Greek's sister languages?
    – Rafael
    May 17 '18 at 20:45
  • 1
    I don't think this is necessarily evidence for a difference in the Greek sounds. Maybe [ʃ] was phonetically longer than [s] in the relevant language(s), or the Greeks heard it as such, or maybe they were just looking for an orthographic way of indicating "this isn't [s]", which would have been difficult as they didn't have digraphs of the sh type. (FWIW, I can't find my copy of Sturtevant but I'm pretty sure he treats σ as always standing for [s], whether single or geminate.)
    – TKR
    Nov 2 '18 at 18:03

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