Why did the Ancient Greek script invented the letter ξ ?

  • Hi Frank,

    Greek kas indeed many [ks] --> ξ (and [ps] --> ψ) clusters.
    Ξξ is the combination of either κ + σ or χ + σ.
    E.g. verbs with thematic present stem [-k-] form future stem [-ks-], which is the thematic stem + the future tense suffix «-σω» -sō:
    «διώ-κ-ω» dĭṓkō --> I pursue, chase/am pursuing, chasing > «διώ-κσξ-ω dĭṓksō--> I will pursue, chase
    The same with stem [-kʰ-]:
    «Τρέ-χ-ω» trékʰō --> I run/am running > «τρέ-χσξ-ω» tréksō --> I will run.
    The letter ξ appears relatively late, as the Cretan also known as green alphabet did not have specific symbol for [ks], Cretans used for ξ (Ϻ here is the letter San).
     

    Αγγελος

    Senior Member
    Greek
    There is a conjecture, that maybe the existence of a special character for xa in the Cypriot syllabary induced those who first adapted the Phoenician alphabet to Greek to adopt a Phoenician letter (the samech) for the consonant cluster x. This would make sense if this adaptation first took place on Cyprus, where Greeks and Phoenicians were in intimate contact. But there is no indication that this is where the adaptation took place, and in fact, the Cypriots kept using their syllabary well into the 4th century BC, despite the obvious advantages of the alphabet.
     

    ianis

    Senior Member
    Portuguese - Portugal
    Just saw in an interview, with Professor Bambiniotis, this was a process that affected several letters, as χ and Φ were once κη and πη and ξ and ψ, κσ and πσ, they say it was a process of simplification by requiring only one letter, τσand τζ appeared too late for the same phenomenon to take place.
     
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    Αγγελος

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Just saw in an interview this was a process that affected several letters, as χ and Φ were once κη and πη and ξ and ψ, κσ and πσ, from what I understand it was process of simplification by requiring only one letter and τσ appeared too late for the same phenomenon to take place.
    ΚΗ and PH were distinct phonemes, and it made sense for distinct letters to be developed for them, particularly as there already was a distinct letter (Θ, from Phoenician tet) for TH. Indeed, it is conjectured that X and Φ developed from Θ (which originally looked like ⊕) by respectively dropping the circle and the horizontal stroke. KS and PS were not phonemes, they were just consonant clusters, for which there was no a priori reason to have single letters.
     

    ianis

    Senior Member
    Portuguese - Portugal
    Thanks Αγγελος, wasn't understanding very well the relation between Θ, X and Φ which he also mentions. BTW he makes the same separation you do in his explanation starting at 14'45" (the question is introduced at 13'42").
     
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    Linnets

    Senior Member
    The letter ξ is also useful to distinguish words with the prefix εκ(σ)- from those with the prefix εξ-: thus ἔκστασις (note also English ecstasy with -cs-), not *ἔξτασις; however I don't know if there was a difference in pronunciation between εκ(σ)- and εξ- but I think they were pronounced the same and there was only a spelling difference.
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    Just to add that in ancient Greece /ks/ was represented not only by Ξ but also by X. The eastern alphabets used the first one and the western alphabets used the second one, the ancestor of the Latin X.
    In this map the blue colour represents the regions where the eastern alphabets were used and the red colour the regions where the western alphabets were used (Wikipedia):
    1619596257581.png
     
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