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In Tsakonian (a modern descendant of Doric Greek), the letter combination ΣΧ is pronounced [ʃ] (the first sound in English "ship").

However, it seems clear that this wasn't the ancient pronunciation, since this combination wasn't used to transcribe Hebrew [ʃ] in the Septuagint.

When did this pronunciation start? Or is it a purely orthographic device, not applying to words that naturally have sigma and chi together like σχίσμα (schisma)?

  • 1
    "The uniqueness of Tsakonian derives both from its exclusive innovations and from the archaisms it has preserved. These innovations include, for example, on the level of phonology, the change of [r] to [ʃ] in word-initial position or in second position in a consonant cluster, e.g. Ancient Gk. (A.Gk.) rhúnkhos > S.Τsak. [ʃúkʰo] ‘nose’, A.Gk. metrô > S.Τsak. [metʃú] ‘to count’" (Nikos Liosis, “Tsakonian”, in: Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics) – Alex B. Feb 7 at 6:05
  • For details, we need to read Χαραλαμπόπουλος 1980 — Φωνολογικὴ ἀνάλυση τῆς τσακωνικῆς διαλέκτου. Διδακτορικὴ διατριβὴ. Θεσσαλονίκη: Ἀριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο Θεσσαλονίκης, Φιλοσοφικὴ Σχολὴ, 1980. – Alex B. Feb 7 at 6:14
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Since no-one has provided a more definitive answer, I will provide what I think is probably the case.

Tsakonian, being considered a dialect of standard Greek, is unlikely to have any type of traditional orthography, so any spelling conventions are comparatively recent. Therefore, the use of ΣΧ for [ʃ] is most likely a simple orthographic device, unrelated to historical development. I will guess that its use was suggested by the fact that in standard Greek ΣΧ is pronounced, at least before a front vowel, as [sç], which is acoustically similar to [ʃ]. Quite possibly, the German use of "sch" for the same sound provided additional impetus for the choice.

Not definitive, I know, but I think something along the above lines is highly likely.

  • The Wiki article on Tsakonian supports this: [ʃ] actually comes from [r], while [sx] gives Tsakonian [kʰ]. – TKR Feb 6 at 19:28
  • @TKR Ah, so Tsakonian doesn't preserve [sx] in words like schisma? That seems like a nice final piece of the puzzle, if you want to add that (or provide it as an answer of your own). – Draconis Feb 6 at 19:46
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The Wikipedia article on Tsakonian gives some information on relevant sound changes. This supports varro's conjecture that the Tsakonian spelling of ΣΧ for [ʃ] is merely orthographic, and doesn't reflect a sound change like [sx] > [ʃ].

Relevant points from the Wiki article:

  • Word-initial [r] > Tsakonian [ʃ]: *ράφων [ˈrafɔːn] > σχάφου [ˈʃafu]. (It's not clear to me whether this is the only source of Tsakonian [ʃ].)
  • [sx] > Tsakonian [kʰ]: ίσχων [isxɔːn] > ίκχου [ˈikʰu]
  • Not only word-initial - see a quote from Nikos Liosis in my comment above. – Alex B. Feb 7 at 6:17

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