Modern Greek phonology | consonants


Greek linguists do not agree on which consonants to count as phonemes in their own right, and which to count as conditional allophones. The table below is adapted from Arvaniti (2007, p. 7), who does away with the entire palatal series, and both affricates [t͡s] and [d͡z].

Consonant phonemes
Labial Dental Alveolar Velar
Nasal /m/ μ /n/ ν
Plosive voiceless /p/ π /t/ τ /k/ κ
voiced /b/ μπ /d/ ντ /ɡ/ γκ
Fricative voiceless /f/ φ /θ/ θ /s/ σ /x/ χ
voiced /v/ β /ð/ δ /z/ ζ /ɣ/ γ
Tap /ɾ/ ρ
Lateral /l/ λ
Examples for consonant phonemes[1]
πήρα pira/ 'I took'
μπύρα bira/ 'beer'
φάση fasi/ 'phase'
βάση vasi/ 'base'
μόνος monos/ 'alone'
τείνω tino/ 'I tend'
ντύνω dino/ 'I dress'
θέμα θema/ 'topic'
δέμα ðema/ 'parcel'
σώα soa/ 'safe' (fem., for clarit)
ζώα zoa/ 'animals'
νόμος nomos/ 'law'
ρήμα rima/ 'verb'
λίμα lima/ 'nail file'
κόμμα koma/ 'comma'
γκάμα ɡama/ 'range'
χώμα xoma/ 'soil'
γόμα ɣoma/ 'eraser'

The alveolar nasal /n/ is assimilated to following obstruents; it can be labiodental (e.g. αμφιβολία [aɱfivoˈlia] 'doubt'), dental (e.g. άνθος [ˈan̪θos] 'flower'), retracted alveolar (e.g. πένσα [ˈpen̠sa] 'pliers'), alveolo-palatal (e.g. συγχύζω [siɲˈçizo] 'to annoy'), or velar (e.g. άγχος [ˈaŋхos] 'stress').[2]

Voiceless stops are unaspirated and with a very short voice onset time.[1] They may be lightly voiced in rapid speech, especially when intervocalic.[3] /t/'s exact place of articulation ranges from alveolar to denti-alveolar, to dental.[4] It may be fricated [θ̠ ~ θ] in rapid speech, and very rarely, in function words, it is deleted.[5] /p/ and /k/ are reduced to lesser degrees in rapid speech.[5]

Voiced stops are prenasalised as reflected in the orthography to varying extents, or not at all.[6] The nasal component—when present—does not increase the duration of the stop's closure; as such, prenasalised voiced stops would be most accurately transcribed [ᵐb ⁿd ᵑɡ] or [m͡b, n͡d, ŋ͡ɡ], depending on the length of the nasal component.[6] Word-initially and after /r/ or /l/, they are very rarely, if ever, prenasalised.[1][4] In rapid and casual speech, prenasalisation is generally rarer, and voiced stops may be lenited to fricatives.[4] This also accounts for Greeks having trouble disambiguating voiced stops, nasalised voiced stops, and nasalised voiceless stops in borrowings and names from foreign languages; for example, d, nd, and nt, which are all written ντ in Greek.

/s/ and /z/ are somewhat retracted ([s̠, z̠]); they are produced in between English alveolars /s, z/ and postalveolars /ʃ, ʒ/.[7] /s/ is variably fronted or further retracted depending on environment, and, in some cases, it may be better described as an advanced postalveolar ([ʃ˖]).[7]

The only Greek rhotic /r/ is prototypically an alveolar tap [ɾ], often retracted ([ɾ̠]). It may be an alveolar approximant [ɹ] intervocalically, and is usually a trill [r] in clusters, with two or three short cycles.[8]

Greek has palatals [c, ɟ, ç, ʝ] that contrast with velars [k, ɡ, x, ɣ] before /a, o, u/, but in complementary distribution with velars before front vowels /e, i/.[9] [ʎ] and [ɲ] occur as allophones of /l/ and /n/, respectively, in CJV (consonant–glide–vowel) clusters, in analyses that posit an archiphoneme-like glide /J/ that contrasts with the vowel /i/.[10] All palatals may be analysed in the same way. The palatal stops and fricatives are somewhat retracted, and [ʎ] and [ɲ] are somewhat fronted. [ʎ] is best described as a postalveolar, and [ɲ] as alveolo-palatal.[11]

Finally, Greek has two phonetically affricate clusters, [t͡s] and [d͡z].[12] Arvaniti (2007) is reluctant to treat these as phonemes on the grounds of inconclusive research into their phonological behaviour.[13]

The table below, adapted from Arvaniti (2007, p. 25), displays a near-full array of consonant phones in Standard Modern Greek.

Consonant phones
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Retracted
Nasal m ɱ n ɲ̟ ŋ
Stop p b t d ɟ˗ k ɡ
Affricate t͡s d͡z
Fricative f v θ ð ç˗ ʝ˗ x ɣ
Approximant ɹ̠
Flap or tap ɾ̠
Lateral l ʎ


Some assimilatory processes mentioned above also occur across word boundaries. In particular, this goes for a number of grammatical words ending in /n/, most notably the negation particles δεν and μην and the accusative forms of the personal pronoun and definite article τον and την. If these words are followed by a voiceless stop, /n/ either assimilates for place of articulation to the stop, or is altogether deleted, and the stop becomes voiced. This results in pronunciations such as τον πατέρα [to(m)baˈtera] ('the father' ACC) or δεν πειράζει [ðe(m)biˈrazi] ('it doesn't matter'), instead of *[ton paˈtera] and *[ðen piˈrazi]. The precise extent of assimilation may vary according to dialect, speed and formality of speech.[14] This may be compared with pervasive sandhi phenomena in Celtic languages, particularly nasalisation in Irish and in certain dialects of Scottish Gaelic.