Saturday, March 05, 2022

Phonotactics and Ancient Greek

1. Definition-Phonotactics is "The set of allowed arrangements or sequences of speech sounds in a given language" (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition). The sounds permitted in one language might not be allowed in another: each language places limits on how language users arrange phonemes (minimal units of sound): certain sound combinations just will not work. For example, the consonant clusters "sr" and "dl" do not occur at the beginning of English words. See

Another example of phonotactic constraint is the restriction placed on syllabic structure; there is a reason why we have monosyllabic, bisyllabic, and trisyllabic words: t
he sound that words make governs their syntactical placement. Hence, phonology is the linguistic realm wherein phonotactics is conducted. My study of this subject has shown me that phonotactics largely deals with patterns maybe even more than it focuses on determinate rules. Nonetheless, there is a prescriptive tenor to this area of linguistics.

2. Ancient Greek and Phonotactics-Ancient Greek is no exception as linguists have undertaken phonotactic studies of this language too. What have scholars discovered from analyzing ancient Greek phonology?

In Greek Writing from Knossos to Homer, Roger Woodard makes this observation: "
The phonotactic restrictions of Greek permit only three consonants to occur at the end of a word, namely, |-s, -r, -n]" (page 44). However, Woodard offers one exception to this statement. See page 56, note 130.

Some examples of what Woodard has in mind are
λόγος, ὕδωρ, γάρ and ἐάν. Greek words also may end with a vowel at times (ἀγάπη and σοφία).

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