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, 2019 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, 2019 at 6:14

2 Answers 2


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, 2019 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, 2019 at 19:46

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, 2019 at 6:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.