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I'm asking here because I think the In Praise of Folly wiki may have an error in the Greek transliteration:

Μωρίας ἐγκώμιον (Morias enkomion)

My initial thought was the gamma is the typo, and that they meant a nu, but in googling Μωρίας ἐγκώμιον I'm finding may sites that use the gamma, as well as sites that use the nu Μωρίας ἐνκώμιον.

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As far as I know, Μωρίᾱς Ἐγκώμιον is correct.

This would be standard Attic Greek for "Encomium [praise-ode] of Folly".

Neither Greek nor Latin had a letter for the sound [ŋ] (which English writes with "ng" as in "sing"). This sound is a velar nasal, so the closest equivalents are the velar stop /g/ and the alveolar nasal /n/. In Greek, they thought it was more like /g/, so they wrote it with a gamma before the velar consonants κ χ γ. The Romans thought it was more like /n/, so they instead used the letter n before the velar consonants c g, as in incohāre.

Interestingly, it seems that the Romans also used the letter g for this sound before another nasal, as in magnus. In this case, it's because the underlying phoneme is /g/, which assimilates in quality to [ŋ] (rather than /n/ assimilating in place).

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  • Draconis, thank you. ἐγκωμ- – DukeZhou May 17 '18 at 19:09
  • @Draconis: I don't know if "died out" is quite the way to express it. I think it would more accurate to say that /gn/ (as in magnus) was phonetically realised (by partial assimilation) as [ŋn], which by a fairly natural transformation deleloped into a Romance [ɲ], as in Karolus Magnus becoming Charlemagne. – varro May 18 '18 at 0:21
  • @varro Fair; fixed – Draconis May 18 '18 at 0:31
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It is not a typo. It's just that neither Greek nor English spelling is phonetically perfectly accurate, and they have chosen a different way to represent a sound that has no separate letter. Transliteration should not work letter by letter, but sound by sound.

The letter γ is not always pronounced as [g]. Before κ, γ, ξ, and χ (velars) it is pronounced as [ŋ], the same sound as found in the English word "king". However, it is not necessary to use the letter 'g' to produce the velar nasal in English. The standard transliteration would indeed match 'γκ' with 'nk' or 'nc'.

If you want to communicate the pronunciation precisely, use IPA. If you just want a simple transliteration, then it's correct as written (Μωρίας ἐγκώμιον = Morias enkomion). Whether or not to include accents in the transliteration is a matter of taste.

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  • Possibly the transliteration of the Greek should be changed to engkomion, (although perhaps this thought is merely folly... ;) – DukeZhou May 17 '18 at 19:11
  • @DukeZhou I think the 'n' in "enkomion" is already pronounced as [ŋ], so no need to put in the extra 'g'. The standard transliteration matches indeed 'γκ' and 'nk' or 'nc'. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 17 '18 at 19:15
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    @DukeZhou If you really want to make sure the pronunciation is unambiguous, use IPA. But I thought it was just a question of a transliteration (to make the words readable to those who don't know Greek), it's not needed. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 17 '18 at 19:25
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    I guess the reason I'm pursuing is having found search results related to the text for both Μωρίας ἐγκώμιον and Μωρίας ἐνκώμιον. So there definitely seems to be confusion. – DukeZhou May 17 '18 at 19:28
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    In some old inscriptions and manuscripts, ἐν+(word beginning with γ/κ/χ) sometimes kept the ἐν spelling, but the commonly accepted practice (the "correct" practice as it developed) is nowadays (and for some time now) to use the ἐγ‐ spelling. – varro May 18 '18 at 0:30

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