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Greek Language Index for Herbs and Spices


Greek writing was one of the first European scripts and is the pre­decessor of all cur­rently used Euro­pean alphabets, which includes besides Greek also Latin and Cyrillic; two more contemporary scripts, Georgian and Armenian, are more distantly related. All these have separate indices on the Spice Pages; however, this Greek Index also includes some Coptic spice names, as the two scripts are very closely related can be rather easily merged.

The Greeks had derived their script from Phoenician writing, yet they changed the meaning of some of the original characters. Phoenician consonants (analogs to Hebrew pharyngeal Plosive ayin ע and palatal glide yod י) were made into vowel signs (e. g., eta η and iota ι) in the new system, which thus makes no structural difference between vowels and consonants. This innovation turned out to be important and long-lived, and all modern descendents of the Greek alphabet have retained that characteristic.

Another unique feature of the Greek alphabet are distinct shape for upper-case and lower-case letters (the latter evolved from cursive handwriting); it is not shared by any unrelated writing system. The only variable letter is sigma (σ) which assumes a variant shape when it occurs word-finally (ς).

Starting with the Age of Hellenism, Greek script used a number of diacritics to indicate various forms of accent and aspiration: The acute accent denotes a rising tone (in a word-final syllable within a sentence, it was replaced by a falling tone denoted by the gravis accent), and the circumflex accent indicates a rising-falling tone of a long vowel or diphthong. Word-initially, there could be aspiration of a vowel or rho (indicated by the spiritus asper, example with alpha: ) or lack of aspiration (spiritus lenis, example: ); yet, υ and ρ are always aspirated in that position. Aspiration is transliterated as H, but does not influence the sorting.

Modern Greek writing has largely retained the classical letter shapes; the exceptions are lower-case theta (classical mostly ϑ, modern always θ) and phi (classical φ, modern sometimes also ϕ); note that some fonts may render the variants identical. In this index, I use the less common variants for the benefit of search engines and to have a better optical contrast between Old and Modern Greek; the spice articles feature the more common spellings.

Moreover, modern Greek writing has only one accent called tonos that looks like a rather steep acute accent. The Unicode standard makes a clear distinction between acute and tonos (example: alpha-acute and alpha-tonos ά). Some systems (Internet Explorer, Konqueror) have often problems with the Old Greek symbols, which needs extra CSS to fix. The only other diacritic in Modern Greek is the dialytica (diaresis) which marks non-diphthongic vowel clusters. The modern pronunciation differs much from the classical one; in particular, many vowels and diphthongs are pronounced identically as I, which is ignored in the classically-inspired transliteration here.

I have expanded this index to include approximately 50 names of spices in the Coptic language. Coptic is the final stage in the development of the Ancient Egyptian language and flourished from the century until the mid of the second millennium, but fell into decline thereafter due to the prestige of Arabic. The last native speakers are said to have abandoned Coptic in the or century, but the language is still in liturgical use among Christian communities in Egypt. Coptic existed in several dialects and did not develop a normalized orthography. The spice names stem from dictionaries assembled in the and early centuries which I found on the Web, and they should be taken with a grain of salt. The lexical ordering here follows the Greek model, which is different from the consonant-based sorting convention employed by coptologists.

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