Why are there two types of sigma?

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Cotijo

New Member
Spanish - Spain
Hi! I have been searching for information about this and can't find any conclusive response. Why are there two types of sigma in lower case letters (-σ, -ς)? I get that having two different kinds of sigma may help the reader to understand when a word finishes and the next one starts, as it happens in Arabic, for example, but when lower case letters were invented in Greek they were already writing with spaces between words, so it doesn't make too much sense, does it?
Does anybody know what arguments took part in the decision of standardising these two lower case sigmas? How are they related?
Thank you very much :).
 
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  • sotos

    Senior Member
    Greek
    The ς originates from c, used in roman and byzantine times instead of Σ (while Σ and σ were still used). Space between words was not always used, or was not easily seen. Final ς is probably a 18th century invention. In byzantine and post-byzantine script, often the final σ or C was combined with the previous vowels to form complex symbols.
     

    Cotijo

    New Member
    Spanish - Spain
    The ς originates from c, used in roman and byzantine times instead of Σ (while Σ and σ were still used). Space between words was not always used, or was not easily seen. Final ς is probably a 18th century invention. In byzantine and post-byzantine script, often the final σ or C was combined with the previous vowels to form complex symbols.
    Κατάααλαβα. Ευχαριστώ πάρα πολύ! Και για περιέργεια... Ξέρει κάποιος πώς αποφάσισαν να κρατήσουν και τα δύο στην τυποποίηση της γλώσσας;
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings all

    This explanation is not what I was first told when I started classical Greek at school (when I was about 13 years old). The explanation I then received was that in cursive writing, σ was easier and quicker to write in the middle of a word as it left the stylus or brush or quill in a more convenient position to start writing the next letter; whereas at the end of a word, it made less difference, and ς (a closer approximation to the upper-case Σ, or the four-bar sigma which I have not the fonts to replicate here, but it looks like a slanted mirror-image of Z) was maintained.

    The convention of spacing between words was not usually practised in antiquity. But it certainly was by the mediaeval monks to whom we owe the transcription and preservation of nearly all the ancient (Latin and) Greek texts we possess, before printing came along in the 15th century.

    Now whether this is the right, or a better, explanation than sotos' (in # 2), I am not expert enough to say. I'd welcome others' views.

    Σ
     
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    sotos

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Both σ and ς derive from C. There were some writing conventions that they seem useless today. e.g. the accent on the final syllable was "βαρεία". All these might had a meaning at the age of manuscripts, when one was dictating and many were writing, the latter not necessarily knowing perfect greek or not knowing the text. So, the "dictator" had to give the signal that a word is ending, by changing the accent of his voice or prolonging the S, otherwise two consecutive words could be understood as a composite word (space is not audible). Tricks to counterbalance the Babel effect.
     
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