The Greek language underwent pronunciation changes during the Koine Greek period, from about 300 BC to 300 AD. At the beginning of the period, the pronunciation was almost identical to Classical Greek, while at the end it was closer to Modern Greek.

Diachronic phonetic descriptionThe ancient distinction between long and short vowels was lost in popular speech at the beginning of the Koine period. "By the mid-second century [BCE] however, the majority system had undergone important changes, most notably monophthongization, the loss of distinctive length, and the shift to a primary stress accent."[45]

From the 2nd century BC, spelling errors in non-literary Egyptian papyri suggest stress accent and loss of vowel length distinction. The widespread confusion between ο and ω in Attic inscriptions starting in the 2nd century AD was probably caused by a loss of vowel length distinction.[46]

Transition to stress accent

Diphthong [72] had started to become monophthongal in Attic at least as early as the 4th century BC as it was often written ει and probably pronounced [eː]. In Koine Greek, most were therefore subjected to the same evolution as original classical /eː/ and came to be pronounced /i(ː)/. However, in some inflexional endings (mostly 1st declension dative singular and subjunctive 3 Sg.), the evolution was partially reverted from c. 200 BC, probably by analogy of forms of other cases/persons, to η and was probably pronounced /eː/ at first (look up note on evolution of η for subsequent evolution).[73]

Other long-first-element ι diphthongs ( and [74] became monophthongal by the 2nd

Other long-first-element ι diphthongs ( and [74] became monophthongal by the 2nd century BC, as they were written α and ω;[75] the former was probably pronounced /a(ː)/, while the later may have been pronounced /ɔ(ː)/ at first if openness distinction had not been lost yet, and was eventually pronounced /o(ː)/ at any rate (look up discussion of single vowels ο and ω below for details). From the 2nd century AD, Atticism caused for a widespread reintroduction of the ancient spelling with the final ι, but in any case was not pronounced.[76]

When augmented from ευ in verbs, diphthong ηυ had been altered to ευ from the 4th century BC.[77]

Other long-first-element υ diphthongs (ᾱυ, ηυ and ωυ) had become monophthongal from the 1st

Other long-first-element υ diphthongs (ᾱυ, ηυ and ωυ) had become monophthongal from the 1st century BC, as they were written as α, η and ω;[78] the first was probably pronounced /a(ː)/, while the two later may have been pronounced /ɛ(ː)/ and /ɔ(ː)/ at first if openness distinction had not been lost yet (/e(ː)/ and /o(ː)/ otherwise), and were eventually pronounced /i(ː)/ and /o(ː)/ at any rate (look up discussions of single vowels ο and ω and single vowel η below for details).

Apart from η, simple vowels have better preserved their ancient pronunciation than diphthongs.

As noted above, at the start of the Koine Greek period, pseudo-diphthong ει before consonant had a value of /iː/, whereas pseudo-diphthong ει before consonant had a value of /iː/, whereas pseudo-diphthong ου had a value of [uː]; these vowel qualities have remained unchanged through Modern Greek. Diphthong ει before vowel had been generally monophthongized to a value of /i(ː)/ and confused with η, thus sharing later developments of η.

The quality of vowels α, ε̆, ι and ο have remained unchanged through Modern Greek, as /a/, /e/, /i/ and /o/.[79]

Vowels ο and ω started to be regularly confused in Attic inscriptions starting in the 2nd century AD, which may indicate that the quality distinction was lost around this time. However, this may as well indicate the loss of length distinction, with an earlier or simultaneous loss of quality distinction. Indeed, the fact that some less systematic confusion is found in Attic inscriptions from the 4th century BC may alternatively point to a loss of openness distinction in the 4th century BC, and the systematization of the confusion in the 2nd century AD would then have been caused by the loss of length distinction.[46]

The quality distinction between η and ε may have been lost in Attic in the late 4th century BCE, when pre-consonantic pseudo-diphthong ει started to be confused with ι and pre-vocalic diphthong ει with η.[80] C. 150 AD, Attic inscriptions started confusing η and ι, indicating the appearance of a /iː/ or /i/ (depending on when the loss of vowel length distinction took place) pronunciation that is still in usage in standard Modern Greek; however, it seems that some locutors retained the /e̝/ pronunciation for some time, as Attic inscriptions continued to in parallel confuse η and ε, and transcriptions into Gothic and, to some extent, Old Armenian transcribe η as e.[81] Additionally, it is noted that while interchange of η and ι/ει does occur in the Ptolemaic and Roman period, these only occur in restrictive phonetic conditions or may otherwise be explained due to grammatical developments.[82]

Koine Greek adopted for vowel υ the pronunciation /y/ of Ionic-Attic. Confusion of υ with ι appears in Egyptian papyri from the 2nd century BC and 2nd century AD, suggesting a pronunciation of /i/, but this occurs only in restricted phonetic conditions or may be a regional trait (since Coptic did not have /y/.)[83][84] Transcriptions into Gothic and, to some extent, Armenian suggest that υ still retained a /y/ pronunciation, and the transition to /i/ in mainstream Greek is thought to have taken place at the end of the 1st millennium.[85]

The aspirate breathing (aspiration, referring here to the phoneme /h/, which is usually marked by the rough breathing sign), which was already lost in the Ionic idioms of Asia Minor and the Aeolic of Lesbos (psilosis),[86] later stopped being pronounced in Koine Greek. Incorrect or hypercorrect markings of assimilatory aspiration (i.e. un-aspirated plosive becomes aspirated before initial aspiration) in Egyptian papyri suggest that this loss was already under way in Egyptian Greek in the late 1st century BC.[87] Transcriptions into foreign languages and consonant changes before aspirate testify that this transition must not have been generalized before the 2nd century AD, but transcriptions into Gothic show that it was at least well under way in the 4th century AD.[88]


Among consonants, onl

Among consonants, only β, δ, γ and ζ are certain to have changed from Classical Greek. Consonants φ, θ and χ are assumed to have changed, too, but there is some disagreement amongst scholars over evidence for these.

The consonant ζ, which had probably a value of /zd/ in Classical Attic[89]The consonant ζ, which had probably a value of /zd/ in Classical Attic[89][90] (though some scholars have argued in favor of a value of /dz/, and the value probably varied according to dialects – see Zeta (letter) for further discussion), acquired the sound /z/ that it still has in Modern Greek, seemingly with a geminate pronunciation /zz/ at least between vowels. Attic inscriptions suggest that this pronunciation was already common by the end of the 4th century BC.[91]

Horrocks agrees with Gignac on finding evidence that geminate consonants tended to simplify beginning from the 3rd century BC, as seen in their arbitrary use in less literate writing.[92][93] However, degemination was not carried out universally, as seen where the South Italian, south-eastern and some Asia Minor dialects preserve double consonants.[94]

Consonants φ, θ, which were initially pronounced as aspirates /pʰ/ and /tʰ/, developed into fricatives /f/[95] and [θ].[96] On the other hand, there is no specific evidence of the transition of consonant χ from aspirate /kʰ/ to fricative [x~ç] in the Koine Greek period. There is evidence for fricative θ in Laconian in the 5th century BC,[97] but this is unlikely to have influenced Koine Greek which is largely based on Ionic-Attic. According to Allen, the first clear evidence for fricative φ and θ in Koine Greek dates from the 1st century AD in Latin Pompeian inscriptions.[98] Yet, evidence suggest an aspirate pronunciation for θ in Palestine in the early 2nd century,[99] and Jewish catacomb inscriptions of the 2nd–3rd century AD suggest a pronunciation of /f/ for φ, /tʰ/ for θ and /kʰ/ for χ, which would testify that the transition of θ to a fricative was not yet general at this time, and suggests that the transition of φ to a fricative may have happened before the transition of θ and χ.[100] There may be evidence for fricative φ in 2nd century AD Attic, in the form of omission of the second element in the ευ diphthongs (which were pronounced [ef, ev]) before φ.[101] Armenian transcriptions transcribe χ as /kʰ/ until the 10th century AD, so it seems that χ was pronounced as aspirate by at least some speakers until then.[102]

There is disagreement as to when consonants β, γ and δ, which were originally pronounced /b/, /ɡ/, /d/, acquired the value of /v/,[103] [ɣ~ʝ], and /ð/ that they have in Modern Greek.[104] There is evidence of fricative γ as far back as the 4th century BC, in the form of omissions before a back vowel.[105] In the papyri from the 2nd century BC γ is sometimes omitted or inserted before a front vowel, which indicates a palatal allophone [ʝ] or [j].[106] However, to Allen these do not seem to have been a standard pronunciation.[26] Some scholars have argued that the replacement of old Greek ϝ /w/ with β in certain late classical dialects indicates a fricative pronunciation.[107] Ancient grammarians describe the plosive nature of these letters, β is transcribed as b, not v, in Latin, and Cicero still seems to identify β with Latin b.[108] Gignac finds evidence from non-literary papyri suggesting a fricative pronunciation in some contexts (mostly intervocalic) from about the 1st century AD, in the form of the use of β to transcribe Latin "v" (which was also undergoing a fortition process from semi-vowel /w/ to fricative /β/.)[109] However, Allen is again sceptical that this pronunciation was generalized yet.[110] Increasingly common confusion of αυ and ευ with αβ and εβ in late Roman and early Byzantine times suggests that the fricative pronunciation of β was common if not general by this time.[111][112] Yet, it is not before the 10th century AD that transcriptions of β as fricative վ v or γ as voiced velar ղ ł (pronounced [ɣ~ʁ]) are found in Armenian, which suggests that the transition was not general before the end of the 1st millennium; however, previous transcriptions may have been learned transcriptions.[113] Georgian loans in the 9th-10th centuries similarly show inconsistency in transcribing β and γ as a stop or fricative; β is consistently rendered as ბ b rather than ვ v, while γ may be written with an adapted symbol ღ for fricative /ɣ/ or with ჟ [ʒ] (approximating [ʝ] in palatal position), but also with stop გ g.[114] There is probable evidence for a peculiarly early shift of /d/>/ð/ in 6th century BC Elean, seen in the writing of ζ for δ.[115] Gignac interprets similar spellings in the Egyptian papyri beginning in the 1st century AD as the spirant pronunciation for δ in the Koine, but before the 4th century AD these only occur before /i/.[116] However, not all scholars agree that there is a reasonable phonetic basis for the earlier fricativization of δ before ι.[117]

The weakness of final ν /n/, frequently before a stop consonant, is attested in Egypt in both Hellenistic and Roman times, seen directly in graphic omission and hypercorrect insertion, though its complete loss would not be carried through until the medieval period and excluding the South-Italian, south-eastern and Asia Minor dialects.[118] The development of voiced allophones [b], [d], [g] of voiceless stops π, τ, and κ after nasals is also evidenced in Pamphylia as early as the 4th century BC and in the Egyptian papyri (mostly Roman period) in the interchange with β, δ, and γ in post-nasal positions (where these letters retained their ancient plosive values, as noted above.)[119] Hence μπ, ντ, γκ would later be used for /b/, /d/, /g/, via assimilation to the second element.[120] In Egypt this development is seen as an influence of the Coptic substrate.[121] But at the same time, this change has now become standard in Modern Greek, and so it appears to have occurred in other areas as well.[122]