Thomas derives from Aramaic תאומא (cognate with the Hebrew תאום). My understanding was that Aramaic, like Tiberian Hebrew, had the fricative [θ] as a conditioned allophone for the plosive [t], and that the latter would always appear at the start of a word. Why then was Thomas transliterated with a Θ rather than a Τ?

1 Answer 1


It is because, at least in the later borrowings, Semitic ṭ ט is regularly represented by τ [t], while t ת is represented by θ [th]. It has to do with the fact that the Semitic emphatics are unaspirated, while the plain stops are aspirated.

The fricative pronunciation of Greek θ, and of Aramaic/Hebrew post-vocalic t does not emerge until well into the Christian era.

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    I'm sure that this is correct. But it is paradoxical, because the letter θ actually derives from ט, and τ from ת. I assume this is because at the time the alphabet was borrowed, θ, like ט, was seen as the marked one of the pair, even though its distinction was aspiration rather than velarisation.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 13, 2015 at 20:33
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    @ColinFine. Exactly. That is why I wrote "at least in the later borrowings".
    – fdb
    Apr 13, 2015 at 21:37

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