World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0002079875
Reproduction Date:

Title: Proto-Greek  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Dorians, Indo-European languages, Linear B, Persephone, Proto-Indo-Europeans, Tocharian languages, Greeks, 19th century BC, Ancient Greek, List of country-name etymologies
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The Proto-Greek language is the assumed last common ancestor of all known varieties of Greek, including Mycenaean, the classical Greek dialects (Attic-Ionic, Aeolic, Doric and Arcado-Cypriot), and ultimately Koine, Byzantine and modern Greek. Some scholars would include the fragmentary ancient Macedonian language, either as descended from an earlier "Proto-Hellenic" language, or by definition including it among the descendants of Proto-Greek as a Hellenic language and/or a Greek dialect.[1] Proto-Greek would have been spoken in the late 3rd millennium BC, most probably in the Balkans. The unity of Proto-Greek would have ended as Hellenic migrants, speaking the predecessor of the Mycenaean language, entered the Greek peninsula either around the 21st century BC, or in the 17th century BC at the latest.

The evolution of Proto-Greek should be considered with the background of an early Palaeo-Balkan sprachbund that makes it difficult to delineate exact boundaries between individual languages. The characteristically Greek representation of word-initial laryngeals by prothetic vowels is shared by the Armenian language, which also shares other phonological and morphological peculiarities of Greek. The close relatedness of Armenian and Greek sheds light on the paraphyletic nature of the Centum-Satem isogloss.

Close similarities between Ancient Greek and Vedic Sanskrit suggest that both Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian were still quite similar to either late Proto-Indo-European, which would place the latter somewhere in the late 4th millennium BC, or a post-PIE Graeco-Aryan proto-language. Graeco-Aryan has little support among linguists, since both geographical and temporal distribution of Greek and Indo-Iranian fit well with the Kurgan hypothesis of Proto-Indo-European.



Greek is a Centum language, which would place a possible Graeco-Aryan protolanguage before Satemization, making it identical to late PIE. Proto-Greek does appear to have been affected by the general trend of palatalization characteristic of the Satem group, evidenced for example by the (post-Mycenaean) change of labiovelars into dentals before e (e.g. kʷe > te "and"), but the Satemizing influence appears to have reached Greek only after Greek had lost the palatovelars (i.e. after it had already become a Centum language).

Proto-Greek changes

The primary sound changes separating Proto-Greek from the Proto-Indo-European language included:

  • Debuccalization of /s/ to /h/ in the inter-and pre-vocalic positions (i.e. between two vowels, or if word-initial and followed by a vowel).
  • De-voicing of voiced aspirates.
  • strengthening of word-initial y- (not Hy-) to dy- (later ζ-).
  • Palatalization of consonants followed by -y-, producing various affricates (still represented as a separate sound in Mycenaean) and palatal consonants; these later simplified, mostly losing their palatal character.
  • Dissimilation of aspirates (Grassmann's law), possibly post-Mycenaean.
  • Vocalization of laryngeals between vowels and initially before consonants to /e/, /a/, /o/ from h₁, h₂, h₃ respectively.
  • The sequence CRHC (C = consonant, R = resonant, H = laryngeal) becomes CRēC, CRāC, CRōC from H = h₁, h₂, h₃ respectively.
  • The sequence CRHV (C = consonant, R = resonant, H = laryngeal, V = vowel) becomes CaRV.
  • Loss of final stop consonants; final /m/ -> /n/.
  • Cowgill's law, raising /o/ to /u/ between a resonant and a labial.

Loss of prevocalic *s was not completed entirely, famously evidenced by sȳs (also hȳs, pig, from PIE *suh₁-), dasýs (dense) and dásos (dense growth, forest); syn (with) is another example, contaminated with PIE *kom (Latin cum, Proto-Greek *kon) to Homeric / Old Attic ksyn. Sélas (light in the sky, as in the "Northern Lights") and selēnē/selána (the Moon) may be more examples of the same, if actually derived from PIE *swel- (to burn) (possibly related to hēlios "Sun", Ionic hēelios < *sāwelios).

Dissimilation of aspirates (so-called Grassmann's law) caused an initial aspirated sound to lose its aspiration when a following aspirated consonant occurred in the same word. It was a relatively late change in Proto-Greek history and must have occurred independently of the similar dissimilation of aspirates (also known as Grassmann's law) in Indo-Iranian, although it may represent a common areal feature. Specifically:

  1. It postdates the Greek-specific de-voicing of voiced aspirates.
  2. It also postdates the change of /s/ > /h/, as it affects /h/ as well: ékhō "I have" < *hekh- < PIE *seǵh-oh₂, but future heksō "I will have" < *heks- < Post-PIE *seǵh-s-oh₂.
  3. It even postdates the loss of aspiration before /y/ that accompanied second-stage palatalization (see below), which postdates both of the previous changes (as well as first-stage palatalization).
  4. On the other hand, it predates the development of the first aorist passive marker -thē-, since the aspirate in that marker has no effect on preceding aspirates.


The following table, taken from Sihler (1995),[3] shows the evolution of clusters of consonant followed by PIE /y/, into various palatal consonants and ultimately to the depalatalized representation seen in the Ancient Greek dialects.

PIE Early Pre-Greek Late Pre-Greek Proto-Greek Greek
-py-, -bhy-[4] -py-, -phy- -pč- -pt-
-ty-, -dhy- -tˢ- -tˢy- (restored) -čč- ‑ss-, ‑tt-
-ḱy-, -ky-, -kʷy- -ky-, -kʷy- -ky-
-ǵhy-, -ghy-, -gʷhy- -khy-, -kʷhy- -khy-
-dy- -dᶻ- (?) -dᶻy- (? restored) -ǰǰ- ‑zd-
-ǵy-, -gy-, -gʷy- -gy-, -gʷy- -gy-
-ly- -ly- -ľľ- ‑ll-
-l̥y- -l̥y- -aly- -aľľ- ‑all-
-Vny-, -Vmy-, -H̥ny-, -H̥my- -Vny-, -Vmy- -Vny- -Vňň- ‑ain-, ‑ein-, ‑īn-, -oin-, ‑ūn-
-m̥y- -n̥y- -amy- -any- -any- -aňň- ‑ain-
-Vry- -Vry- -Vřř- ‑air-, ‑eir-, ‑īr-, ‑oir-, ‑ūr-
-r̥y- -r̥y -ary- -ařř- ‑air-
-Vsy- -Vsy- -Vhy- -Vyy- -ai‑, -ei-, -oi-, -ui-
-Vwy- -Vwy- -Vẅẅ- /Vɥɥ/ > -Vyy-

Note that there were actually two stages of palatalization. The first stage affected only the PIE clusters /ty/, /dhy/ and likely /dy/. In the case of /ty/ and /dhy/ > /thy/, the result was consistently /s-/ initially and /ts/ > /ss/ medially. In the case of /dy/, it apparently produced /dz/ consistently, eventually represented by /zd/ in Attic Greek. Following this change, /y/ was restored after /ts/ and /dz/ in morphologically transparent formations, analogically to the /y/ that was still present after other consonants. The second stage of palatalization then occurred, which affected all consonants, including the restored /tsy/ and /dzy/ sequences.

The evidence for these two stages comes from the differing behavior of PIE /ty/ and /dhy/ depending on whether the formation is morphologically transparent or opaque. In particular, medial /ty/ becomes Attic /s/ in opaque formations (first palatalization), but /tt/ in transparent formations (second palatalization). The following table shows the differing outcomes:

PIE Proto-Greek Attic Homeric West Ionic Other Ionic Boeotian Other
-ty-, -dhy- (opaque formations);
-ts-, -ds-, -dhs-
ts s s, ss s s tt ss
-ty-, -dhy- (transparent formations);
-ḱy-, -ky-, -kʷy-;
-ǵhy-, -ghy-, -gʷhy-
čč tt ss tt ss tt ss

Note that the outcome of PG medial /ts/ in Homeric Greek is /s/ after a long vowel, and vacillation between /s/ and /ss/ after a short vowel: tátēsi dat. pl. "rug" < tátēt-, possí(n)/posí(n) dat. pl. "foot" < pod-.

Examples of initial ty-, dhy-:

  • PIE tyegʷ- "avoid" > sébomai "worship, be respectful" (Ved. tyaj- "flee")
  • PIE dhyeh₂- "notice" > Dor. sāma, Att. sêma "sign" (Ved. dhyā́- "thought, contemplation")

Examples of the first palatalization of -ty-, -dhy-:

  • PreG *totyos "as much" (PIE *toti) > Att. tósos, Hom. tósos/tóssos (cf. Ved. táti, Lat. tot "so much/many")
  • PIE *medhyos "middle" > Att. mésos, Hom. mésos/méssos, Boeot. mettos, other dial. mesos (cf. Ved. mádhya-, Lat. medius)

Examples of the second palatalization of -ty-, -dhy-:

  • PIE *h₁erh̥₁-t-yoh₂ "I row" > Attic eréttō, usual non-Attic eréssō (cf. erétēs "oarsman")
  • PIE *kret-yōs > PreG *kret-yōn "better" > Attic kreíttōn,[5] usual non-Attic kréssōn (cf. kratús "strong" < PIE *kr̥tus)

Other Post-Proto-Greek changes

Sound changes between Proto-Greek and all early dialects, including Mycenaean, include:

  • Remaining syllabic resonants /m̥/ /n̥/ /r̥/ /l̥/ are resolved to vowels or combinations of a vowel and consonantal resonant:
    • Syllabic nasals /m̥/ /n̥/ usually become /am/, /an/ before resonants; otherwise /a/. However, /o/ usually appears in place of /a/ in Mycenaean after a labial, e.g. pe-mo /spermo/ "seed" vs. usual spérma. Similarly, /o/ often appears in place of /a/ in Arcadian after a velar, e.g. deko "ten", hekoton "one hundred" vs. usual déka, hekatón.
    • Syllabic liquids /r̥/ /l̥/ usually become /ra/ and /la/, but /ar/ and /al/ before resonants and analogously. In Mycenean Greek, Aeolic Greek, and Cypro-Arcadian, however, /ro/ /lo/ /or/ /ol/ appear in place of /ra/ /la/ /ar/ /al/. Example: PIE *str̥-tos > usual stratos, Aeolic strotos "army"; post-PIE ḱr̥di-eh₂ "heart" > Att. kardíā, Hom. kradíē, Pamphylian korzdia.
  • Loss of s in consonant clusters, with compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel (Attic, Ionic, Doric) or of the consonant (Aeolic): esmi -> ēmi/eimi or emmi.
  • Creation of secondary s from clusters, ntja -> nsa (this in turn followed by a change similar to the one described above, i.e. loss of the n with compensatory lengthening, e.g. apont-ja > apon-sa > apō-sa, "absent", fem.).
  • Conversion of labiovelars to velars next to /u/.
  • In southern dialects (including Mycenaean, but not Doric), -ti- > -si- (assibilation).

The following changes are apparently post-Mycenaean:

  • Loss of /h/ (from original /s/), except initially, e.g. Doric nikaas "having conquered" < *nikahas < *nikasas.
  • Loss of /j/, e.g. treis "three" < *treyes.
  • Loss of /w/ in many dialects (later than loss of /h/ and /j/). Example: etos "year" from *wetos.
  • Loss of labiovelars, which were converted (mostly) into labials, sometimes into dentals (or velars next to /u/, as a result of an earlier sound change). See below for details. This had not yet happened in Mycenaean, shown by the fact that a separate letter /q/ is used for these sounds.
  • Contraction of adjacent vowels resulting from loss of /h/ and /j/ (and, to a lesser extent, from loss of /w/); more in Attic Greek than elsewhere.
  • Rise of a distinctive circumflex accent, resulting from contraction and certain other changes.
  • Limitation of the accent to the last three syllables, with various further restrictions.
  • Loss of /n/ before /s/ (incompletely in Cretan Greek), with compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel.
  • Raising of ā to ē /ɛː/ in Attic and Ionic dialects (but not Doric). In Ionic, this change was general, but in Attic it did not occur after /i/, /e/ or /r/. (But note Attic korē "girl" < *korwā; loss of /w/ after /r/ had not occurred at that point in Attic.)

Note that /w/ and /j/, when following a vowel and not preceding a vowel, combined early on with the vowel to form a diphthong and were thus not lost.

The loss of /h/ and /w/ after a consonant were often accompanied by compensatory lengthening of a preceding vowel.

The development of labiovelars varies from dialect to dialect:

  • Labiovelars next to /u/ had earlier been converted to plain velars. Cf. boukólos "herdsman" < *gʷou-kʷolos (cf. boûs "cow" < *gʷou-) vs. aipólos "goatherd" < *ai(g)-kʷolos (cf. aíks, gen. aigós "goat"); elakhús "small" < *h₁ln̥gʷh-ús vs. elaphrós "light" < *h₁ln̥gʷh-rós.
  • In Attic and some other dialects (but not, e.g., Lesbian), labiovelars before some front vowels became dentals. In Attic, and kʷh became t and th, respectively, before /e/ and /i/, while became d before /e/ (but not /i/). Cf. theínō "I strike, kill" < *gʷhen-yō vs. phónos "slaughter" < *gʷhón-os; delphús "womb" < *gʷelbh- (Sanskrit garbha-) vs. bíos "life" < *gʷih₃wos (Gothic qius "alive"), tís "who?" < *kʷis (Latin quis).
  • All remaining labiovelars became labials, original kʷ kʷh gʷ becoming p ph b respectively. This happened to all labiovelars in some dialects, e.g. Lesbian; in other dialects, e.g. Attic, it occurred to all labiovelars not converted into dentals. Many occurrences of dentals were later converted into labials by analogy with other forms; cf. bélos "missile", bélemnon "spear, dart" (dialectal delemnon) by analogy with bállō "I throw (a missile, etc.)", bolḗ "a blow with a missile".
  • Note that original PIE labiovelars had still remained as such even before consonants, and hence became labials also in this position, whereas in many other Centum languages, such as Latin and most Germanic languages, the labiovelars lost their labialization before consonants. (Greek pemptos "fifth" < *penkʷtos; compare Old Latin quinctus.) This makes Greek of particular importance in reconstructing original labiovelars.

The results of vowel contraction were complex from dialect to dialect. Such contractions occur in the inflection of a number of different noun and verb classes and are among the most difficult aspects of Ancient Greek grammar. They were particularly important in the large class of contracted verbs, denominative verbs formed from nouns and adjectives ending in a vowel. (In fact, the reflex of contracted verbs in Modern Greek—i.e., the set of verbs derived from Ancient Greek contracted verbs—represents one of the two main classes of verbs in that language.)



As Mycenaean Greek shows, the PIE dative (suffix -i), instrumental (suffix -phi) and locative (suffix -si) cases are still distinct, and are not yet syncretized into a single dative case.

Nominative plural -oi, -ai replaces late PIE -ōs, -ās.

The superlative in -tatos becomes productive.

The peculiar oblique stem gunaik- "women", attested from the Thebes tablets is probably Proto-Greek; it appears, at least as gunai- also in Armenian.


The pronouns houtos, ekeinos and autos are created. Use of ho, hā, ton as articles is post-Mycenaean.


An isogloss between Greek and Phrygian is the absence of r-endings in the Middle Voice in Greek, apparently already lost in Proto-Greek.

Proto-Greek inherited the augment, a prefix é- to verbal forms expressing past tense. This feature it shares only with Indo-Iranian and Phrygian (and to some extent, Armenian),[6] lending some support to a "Graeco-Aryan" or "Inner PIE" proto-dialect. However, the augment down to the time of Homer remained optional, and was probably little more than a free sentence particle meaning "previously" in the proto-language, that may easily have been lost by most other branches.

The first person middle verbal desinences -mai, -mān replace -ai, -a. The third singular pherei is an innovation by analogy, replacing the expected Doric *phereti, Ionic *pheresi (from PIE *bʱéreti).

The future tense is created, including a future passive, as well as an aorist passive.

The suffix -ka- is attached to some perfects and aorists.

Infinitives in -ehen, -enai and -men are created.


  • "one": nominative *hens, genitive *hemos; feminine *mʰiā (> Myc. e-me /hemei/(dative); Att./Ion. εἷς (ἑνός), μία, heis (henos), mia).
  • "two": *duwō (> Myc. du-wo /duwō/; Hom. δύω, dyō; Att.-Ion. δύο, dyo)
  • "three": nominative *trees, accusative trins (> Myc. ti-ri /trins/; Att./Ion. τρεῖς, treis; Lesb. τρής, trēs; Cret. τρέες, trees)
  • "four": nominative *kʷetwores, genitive *kʷeturōn (> Myc. qe-to-ro-we /kʷetrōwes/ "four-eared"; Att. τέτταρες, tettares; Ion. τέσσερες, tesseres; Boeot. πέτταρες, pettares; Thess. πίτταρες, pittares; Lesb. πίσυρες, pisyres; Dor. τέτορες, tetores)
  • "five": *penkʷe (> Att.-Ion. πέντε, pente; Lesb., Thess. πέμπε, pempe)
  • "six": *'
  • "seven": *hepta
  • "eight": *oktō
  • "nine": *ennewa
  • "ten": *deka

Example text

Eduard Schwyzer in his Griechische Grammatik (1939, I.74–75) has translated famous lines of Classical Greek into Proto-Greek. His reconstruction was ignorant of Mycenaean and assumes Proto-Greek loss of labiovelars and syllabic resonants, among other things. Thus, Schwyzer's reconstruction corresponds to an archaic but post-Mycenaean dialect rather than actual Proto-Greek.

  Original text Proto-Greek reconstruction
Schwyzer, 1939 Modern
Homer, Odyssey 1.1
(Ionia, 8th century BC)
Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον ανερα μοι ενσεπε (or -τε), μοντja (μωντjα?), πολύτροπον *anerã moi enʰekʷet, montˢa, polutrokʷon
Plato, Apology
(Athens, early 4th century BC)
ὅτι μὲν ὑμεῖς, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, πεπόνθατε ὑπὸ τῶν ἐμῶν κατηγόρων, οὐκ οἶδα· ἐγὼ δ’ οὖν καὶ αὐτὸς ὑπ’ αὐτῶν ὀλίγου ἐμαυτοῦ ἐπελαθόμην, οὕτω πιθανῶς ἔλεγον. καίτοι ἀληθές γε ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν οὐδὲν εἰρήκασιν ‘ϝοττι μᾱν (?) υμμε, ω ανερες Αθᾱναιοι, πεπᾱσθε υπο κατᾱγορων μεο, ου ϝοιδα· εγω δε εον (?) κ. α. υ. α. ολιγοιο εμεο αυτοιο επελαθομᾱν, τως (or *τω) πιθανως (or -ω) ελεγοντ. κ. αλᾱθες γε ὡς (or ὡ) ϝεπος ϝειπεεν (or ϝευπ.) ουδε ἑν ϝεϝρηκᾰτι *çokʷid mān umʰe. ō aneres Atʰānaïoi, pepãstʰe upo katāgorōn meho. oju woida; egō de ōn kai autos up’ autōn oligoço emeho autoço epi latʰomān, tō pitʰanō elegont. kai toi ãlātʰes ge çō wekʷos wewekʷehen oude hen wewrēkãti
The Lord's Prayer, Matthew 6:9
(Syria, late 1st century AD)
πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου πατερ αμμεων ὁ (τοισι) ορϝανοισι (resp. singular) (ἁγιον or αγνον εστωδ) ενυμα τϝεο *pater ãmʰōn ho worʱanoihi, çagion estōd enumã tweho

Notes: The reconstruction assumes that the old combinations of sonorants + s in either sequence (*ns, *ms, *rs, *ls, *u̯s, *i̯s, *sn, *sm, *sr, *sl, *su̯, *si̯ ) were pronounced as unvoiced sonorants ([n̥, m̥, r̥, l̥, ʍ, ç]) before they were simplified as short voiced sonorants with compensatory lengthening ν, μ, ρ, λ, (ϝ), (ι) in most dialects or as long voiced sonorants νν, μμ, ρρ, λλ, υ(ϝ), ι in Aeolic. It is also assumed that the PIE syllabic nasals (*n̥, *m̥) were pronounced as nasal [ã], before it split into α in most dialects and ο as a variant in some dialects (Mycenaean, Arcadian, Aeolic).

See also



This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.