Returning to Consonant Clusters

My comments about the Greek word-medial consonant clusters -φθ- and -χθ- being pronounced [pθ] and [kθ] (<– IPA)  caused a bit of discussion (and many thanks for Suzanne’s related, neat link).

I know that some found my claims wanting, but in my studies of other Greek issues (particularly Greek voice & my continuing review of Paul Danove’s book), I have come across some more evidence where the orthographic γ becomes χ preceding the -θη- passive form. Here are a few examples:


Esther 2:21 προήχθη

2 Maccabees 5:18 προαχθεὶς

3 Maccabees 3:16 προήχθημεν

Wisdom of Solomon 19:11 προαχθέντες

Now in light of these examples, we must ask: Is it possible that there is a phonological rule behind this orthographic change?

Yes. It is possible. But is it likely? Is it likely, particularly in light of the already know phonological rule for doubled consonants:

[W]hen the doubled consonant is φ, θ, or χ, the resulting form shows πφ, τθ, κχ–e.g. ἀπφῦς, τίτθη, κακχάζω. Such a spelling indicates that the lengthening of these consonants consisted in a stop* element (π, τ, κ), which would not be appropriate if the original sound were a fricative, but entirely so if it were a plosive: thus [ph, th, kh –>[pph, ttph, kkh].

Allen, Vox, 21.

If anything, the evidence I have supplied here should bolster the claim that the first consonant is a plain vanilla stop in χθ just like in τθ.

Personally, I doubt it. I’ll be sticking to my original claim.

11 thoughts on “Returning to Consonant Clusters

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  1. So, if I understand you rightly, both in the classical and post-classical periods (so, whether we treat the offenders as fricatives or aspirated stops), the first consonant in the cluster is pronounced as an unaspirated stop. Is that the sense of it?

  2. There are clearly two different phenomena here: (1) a sequence of consonants of the same order, e.g. ΣάπΦω, Βάκχος; juxtaposition of a labial or guttural with an aspirate, resulting in assimilation of the labial or guttural to the aspirate: πρακ-θη –> πραχθη, λειπ-θη –⟩ λειφθη (but a dental assibilates: πειθ-θη –> πεισθη.

    1. The change of κ & π is fundamentally different than that of θ to σ.

      An aspirated stop changing to a fricative before another aspirated stop is very different than a non-aspirated stop changing to an aspirated stop before another aspirated stop.

      To put it another way, the change: [prak-tʰe] –> [prakʰtʰ] makes absolutely no phonological sense. It makes far, far more sense than φ was pronounced [p] before a θ.

  3. I’m trying to pronounce φ as /pʰ/, but it just seems too hard to overcome thinking that it is supposed to be /f/, so I’m still trying to work through this.

    Buth states that contrast in aspiration is not phonemic in Western European languages and “unnecessarily difficult,” and accepts that φ, θ, χ should be voiceless fricatives “on practical and historical grounds” (mainly the examples of Aegean and Egypt in the 1st cent.) Any comment on this?

    So are there any other places where you differ from Buth/what are they? And do you pretty much have you’re own pronunciation system? If so, you should post a chart of it.

    You’re quote from Vox deals with classical Greek, would you still say that it still applies in Hellenistic Greek too? Or is it possible that by the time of the NT

    All your examples so far are word medially, would there be any difference in word initial or final positions? Any more evidence you can give to support pronouncing these as aspirated stops?

    Interestingly, I just learned φαυλος “evil” which makes for an interesting minimal pair with παυλος. Thus, if φ should be /pʰ/, then most people are probably calling Paul evil when they are trying to pronounce his name.

    1. Buth considers it unclear whether φ had changed from pʰ to ɸ by the New Testament was written, though its probable that they changed at the very least by the end of the Roman period (page 5 of his pdf). By practical, he means that it is unnecessarily difficult for Western European speakers and by “historical,” he refers to the change that did eventually occur. Buth refers to Horrocks:

      Geoffrey Horrocks, Greek, A History of the Language and its Speakers. Longman, 1997:112 ‘There is also possible evidence for a fricative pronunciation of /kh/ (second century BC) and /ph/ (second century AD) in the Asia Minor Koine.’ (Horrocks, 113): ‘Though the evidence is frankly meagre, it would perhaps be reasonable to assume that frication in the Koine began in various areas outside Egypt during the Hellenistic period and that it had been widely, though by no means universally, carried through by the end of the fourth century AD.’ ”

      In terms of how I personally pronounce Hellenistic Greek, I follow Buth, while recognizing that this particular change cannot be confirmed for the New Testament.

      Regarding other sources, I have none presently. Allen’s Vox isn’t completely relevant to the Koine period, but there’s plenty of helpful information and a very direct historical relationship. With that said, I *will* have access to Gignac’s two volumes on Greek phonology & syntax in the papyri in the coming weeks. I’ll definitely post on his discussion when I get a chance to peruse it.

  4. I like what Carl says. And I wonder why Hephaestion calls her, Πσάπφοι; it’s almost a double play with the πσ then the πφ. The word medial cluster gets attention more because of the initial cluster.

    So, how about looking at variations within a single text by a single author? Compare these sentences in Aristotle’s Physics:

    διόπερ ἀνάγκη τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον προάγειν ἐκ τῶν ἀσαφεστέρων μὲν τῇ φύσει (184a line 19)

    διὸ καὶ ὁ ποιητὴς γελοίως προήχθη εἰπεῖν “ἔχει τελευτήν, ἧσπερ οὕνεκ’ ἐγένετο”· (194a line 31)

    οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον ἔτι προάγουσι τοῦτο
    συμβαίνειν ἀναγκαῖον. (251a line 22)

    What makes Aristotle’s χθ so striking (on page 194a) is because it is not γθ. Much much mor naturally, he does collocate the two consonants χθ elsewhere but only as a natural and orderly sequence of algebraic symbols:

    τὸ μὲν οὖν ΓΘ, ὃ διελήλυθε τὸ Α, μεῖζόν ἐστι τοῦ ΓΕ (232b line 3)

  5. Also compare:

    2 Maccabees 5:18 προαχθεὶς
    2 Maccabees 10:1 προάγοντος
    2 Maccabees 10:27, 11:10 προῆγον

    Sirach 0:12 προήχθη
    Sirach 20:27 προάξει

  6. Is this partly rhyming phrase of Sophocles (Oedipus at Colonus, 233) meant to be alliterative?

    χθονὸς ἔκθορε

    Is the χ and κ contrast in the orthography suggesting a different pronunciation of χθ and κθ? The word-initial cluster, of course, is different from the word-medial cluster (as in your proposed [prak-tʰe]).

    What I’m trying to suggest (with 3 comments now) is that there might be some confusion here in this discussion between (what tagmemicists distinguish as) phonemics and phonetics. (I remember reading in the 1980s a published study in which experimental phonologists had given subjects a button to push to avoid an electric shock when “correctly identifying” allophones of particular phonemes. The subjects talking afterwards would explain how they’d come to early conclusions and strategies based on orthography — i.e., “the sound is the ‘hard C’ not the ‘soft C'”. The point is there was some “psychological reality” in the native speakers of the language that helped them use or perhaps confuse orthography to class variant consonant sounds.) Maybe the χ in χθ (whatever the position in the word) was pronounced in a number of different ways to our outsider ears. κθ and / or ξ and / or χθ might have fairly represented the strange-to-say γθ.

    1. (what tagmemicists distinguish as) phonemics and phonetics

      This distinction is probably Pike’s greatest acheivement, in terms of it’s continuing influence on all linguistic & phonological theory since the 1940s-50s.

      Maybe the χ in χθ (whatever the position in the word) was pronounced in a number of different ways to our outsider ears. κθ and / or ξ and / or χθ might have fairly represented the strange-to-say γθ.

      Maybe. But which different ways? The psychological reality of a given phoneme or phonemic consonant cluster and it’s allomorphic variations are going be driven by phonological principles — something I’ve been trying to show in my two posts on this subject.

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