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Problems with writing and pronociation?
by Guest User - Sunday, 5 September 2010, 04:41 AM


I come from an English speaking country and I have just started this Greek Online course. Whilst learning the Greek alphabet and its sounds I am encountering the following problem;

For example the H (eta) in Greek sounds like an ee in beet. On the other hand, the sound of H (like in hair) is written as X (he). So, if I need to write for example Helen in Greek do I use the H (eta) or the X (he)? i.e in such cases do I use the one which is written as an H or the one which sounds like an H.

Thanks in advance smile

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Re: Problems with writing and pronociation?
by Greg Brush - Sunday, 5 September 2010, 05:35 PM
  Greek does not have a /h/ sound, so when transliterating an English name or word which begins with or contains /h/, use Greek χ, which represents the Greek sound nearest to /h/:
Helen = Χέλεν
hobby = χόμπι
half [soccer position] = χαφ
high tech = χάι τεκ
hamburger = χάμπουργκερ
jihad = τζιχάντ

Greg Brush
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Re: Problems with writing and pronociation?
by Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets - Sunday, 5 September 2010, 05:43 PM
  Kersten, I need to correct a few things, otherwise you won't understand my answer.

First, letters are just arbitrary shapes that we use to denote (more or less) sounds. The connection between a letter and a sound is purely arbitrary. In other words, there's nothing particularly h-like in the shape H. So another writing system may use it for another sound, like Greek does (where it is a vowel), or French and Spanish (where it is silent, i.e. is not pronounced at all).

Second, Greek does not have the sound of English H as in "hair". It just doesn't. What X denotes are two different sounds, depending on the vowel following it. One is a hard sound identical to the sound which is written "j" in Castillan Spanish (or "ch" in German "Bach"). The second is a soft sound as in German "ich".

Third, look at your question: if you want to write down something in Greek, why should the fact that a Greek letter has, coincidentally, another meaning in another language, in any way influence the way you should write? You're writing Greek, not that other language, so use the Greek letters for the sounds they represent in Greek.

As for your specific question, what if you want to write "Helen" in Greek? You've got two options:
  • translate the name: Helen is actually an Ancient Greek name (Helen of Troy!), so it has a Modern Greek version. That is Eleni, in Greek written Ελένη.
  • transcribe the name: that's if you want to emphasize that you're using the English version. Now, as I wrote, Greek doesn't have the English h-sound. But unlike French, which ignores it when borrowing words from English, Greek approximates it by replacing it with X (as in χόμπι: hobby). Note that it is an approximation: they are not the same sound. In any case, if you want to transcribe rather than translate the name "Helen", the closest you can make it in Greek is Χέλεν.
That's about it. When writing Greek, just think about what the Greek letters represent in Greek. Whether they happen to look like other letters in the Latin alphabet is immaterial.
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Re: Problems with writing and pronociation?
by Guest User - Thursday, 9 September 2010, 04:31 AM


Thank you all for your answers!

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Re: Problems with writing and pronociation?
by Guest User - Saturday, 6 August 2011, 09:40 PM
  that's what we call 'greeklish' in Greece! We usually use 'x'...
xairomai, exw, xathika etc