Can we use the greek alphabet to write others languages?

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Can we use the greek alphabet to write others languages?

Post by adilsonlc » Wed Jan 16, 2008 5:51 pm

My brother knows Sanskrit, an old language from India, and this language is written in an alphabet called Dêvánágari.

As dêvánágari is composed by sounds like ram, lam, pam, om, with the modificators, something like mácrons and bráquias, is quite easy to use dêvánágari to write sentences in Portuguese, English or any other modern language, even in Hindi, the actual language of India.

Is it possible to do the same with the greek alphabet?


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Post by edonnelly » Wed Jan 16, 2008 6:57 pm

I believe there is a (rather small, I think) place where the spoken language is basically Spanish, but the Greek alphabet is used when writing it. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the place and/or language. Maybe someone else will chime in with more knowledge on the subject.
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Post by mingshey » Wed Jan 16, 2008 7:26 pm

Wikipedia article on Greek Alphabet has a list of "Use of the Greek alphabet for other languages" slightly past the midway.

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Post by jk0592 » Wed Jan 16, 2008 10:08 pm

And let us not forget Mathematics, and many branches of physics and engineering, which use a fair amount of the Greek Alphabet...
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Post by swiftnicholas » Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:33 pm


People often confuse language and script. Language is a natural feature of human life, while a script is a mechanical creation used to represent the sounds of our language. The Greek language itself was written with Linear B characters, and the Cypriot syllabary, before the Greek alphabet was devised, and it is often written with our alphabet for readers who don't know the Greek letters. We transliterate Asian languages, among others, on menus and in newspapers.

Some scripts are more flexible and exact than others. The Linear B script requires more signs, and more rules and exceptions to represent the same words which the Greek alphabet does with greater ease. The Greek alphabet was not the first script to use vowel signs, as is often claimed, but their version of the Phoenician consonantal script was a great advance in orthography, and made writing more accessible to non-specialists. There are some curious features of the Greek alphabet itself: for instance, why would they devise a sign for the sound ks, when they could just as easily use a k combined with an s? The same question could be applied to the zeta, which was probably zd, but in some regions it was in fact written as sd, with two characters.

So the Greek alphabet could certainly be used to represent another language, but some alteration might be needed, just as the Greeks didn't use all of the Semitic signs for "s", but needed to adapt or create symbols for unrepresented sounds, such as vowels. If it was used for Sanskrit, for example, some of the retroflex or aspirated characters would require either some additions, or at least some complicated rules, or the decision to live without a full representation of sounds. You could even create your own set of characters, but it wouldn't be a great vehicle for communication until other people learned them as well.

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Post by Arvid » Thu Jan 17, 2008 2:45 am

The Greek alphabet is really a blunt instrument when it comes to writing down phonological distinctions, especially if they differ from those of Greek. Don't get me wrong: it was a tremendous invention, one of the greatest in history. It was marvelously easy to learn, and perfectly adequate for a native speaker, who would instinctively know all the distinctions that weren't represented. Foreign learners were less well served. The same could be said for pretty much every writing system, of course, and the Roman alphabet is an even coarser representation.

As adilsonlc points out, however, the ancient Indians managed to achieve a level of phonetic sophistication that wouldn't be equalled in the West until the 19th century, if not the 20th. Much as I love the Classical authors and learning about their civilization, one of my greatest regrets is their really spectacular incompetence in transcribing languages other than Greek and Latin. Often all we have of many languages are place names and personal names transcribed by Greek and Latin writers, and this lack of phonological competence makes them almost impossible to assign to language families and branches. We would dearly like to know what modern ethnic groups (if any) are represented by these "barbarian" names and words, but in most cases it's almost impossible to recover this information filtered through the Greek and Roman alphabets. Where is Paṇiṇi when you need him?

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