A School Grammar of Attic Greek

Thomas Dwight Goodell


38. Consonants are classified according as the different organs of speech are active in pronouncing them.

a. Those are sonant (voiced) in which the vocal cords are active, as in the vowels. (The vibration may be felt by placing the finger on the throat at the "Adamʼs apple.") These are λ, ρ, μ, ν, γ nasal; β, δ, γ (middle mutes); and ζ.

Those are surd (voiceless) in which the vocal cords are at rest. These are σ (sibilant, spirant); π, τ, κ (smooth mutes); φ, θ, χ (rough mutes); and ψ and ξ.

b. Mutes (stopped sounds), as the ancients pronounced them, require complete closure of the mouth passage, by lips or tongue, a brief pressure of the breath behind the barrier (the nasal passage being also closed by the soft palate) and then a quick opening of the barrier. Thus the breath finds an explosive exit; the sound can be but slightly prolonged, and is not easily pronounced alone. These are

π, β, φ labial (or π-mutes); closure by the lips;

τ, δ, θ dental (or τ-mutes); closure by the tongue just back of the front upper teeth;

κ, γ, χ guttural (or κ-mutes); closure by the back of the tongue against the soft palate.

c. Οf these, π, τ, κ are smooth mutes, in contrast with φ, θ, χ. The latter are rough mutes or aspirates; in them the οpening is more explosive, a π-, τ-, or κ-sound followed by a distinct h-sound, as in top-heavy, hot-head, pack-horse. In the sonants β, δ, γ the breath is checked by the vibrating vοcal cords, so that less breath gathers for explosive exit than in the aspirates. The Greeks called these middle mutes, midway between the smooth mutes and the aspirates in the force οf the final element.

d. In the nasals, μ, ν, γ nasal, the nasal passage is open, the soft palate being lowered; thus the breath, after passing between the vibrating vocal cords, finds exit through the nose; the oral passage is closed, in μ by the lips, in ν by the flattened tongue against the front teeth (the lips being open), in γ nasal by the back of the tongue against the soft palate (the lips being open).

e. ψ for πσ, ζ for δσ (σ being probably made sonant), and ξ for κσ are called double consonants

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