Languages develop double consonants and other quirks for different reasons -- English' double consonants were originally developed because the consonants were doubled in speech, like Latin, and that later developed to how early modern, modern, and contemporary English all used double consonants to show that the proceeding vowel was a short vowel. In Spanish, the letter ⟨n⟩ was doubled to show that the consonant used was pronounced /ɲ/, and Korean uses double letters to show that consonant with voiced aspiration is used. Over time, pronunciation of these changes, and due to this, they are still used with new pronunciation.

My Case And Argument As To Why I Ask:

One thing I notice is that even going back 1900 years, to my understanding, the letter Veeta ⟨β⟩ was most likely pronounced as either or both of /v/ or /β/, and I see that, for instance, the Hebrew word רַבִּי pronounced as /rabi/ was transliterated as ῥαββί. I would think that this alone would imply that it could have been that ⟨ββ⟩ was a digraph for the sound /b/ but ⟨β⟩ on its own would have been either /β~v/, thus rendering the word as being pronounced as probably /r̊abi~rabi/. This is probably a weak argument to turn to, but ⟨γ⟩ when in digraphs, the first becomes /ŋ/. But I think that a stronger argument is is that the letter Veeta is from the Phonecian letter beth, which was pronounced as both /b/ and /β/, and it was adopted into Hebrew performing these two functions which then became /b/ and /v/ (perhaps as it did into modern Greek, but /b/ was dropped.)

I have digressed, but I pray this shows better why I ask this question.

Either way, linguistics, especially historical linguistics, it can be hard to be certain of anything, especially if lacking in complex descriptions or especially recordings.

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    The consensus is simply that consonants written double (aside from γγ, where "γ" was used as a way to represent [ŋ] as you mentioned) were pronounced double or long in Ancient Greek. See Can a syllable be open before a lenghtened consonant? and geminate or long consonants in Ancient Greek? I don't know if there were any interesting changes to this convention in later types of Greek, though. Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 23:37
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    Which part is the question? Are you asking how doubled consonants are pronounced in Ancient Greek, or Modern greek, or stages in between? Are you asking what the historical origin of ττ, κκ, γγ etc are?
    – user6726
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 23:37
  • I am asking wherefore the doubles came about, and how they were pronounced in each of the "major" stages of greek, for the lamen, so I would say: pre-"biblical-era Koine," biblical era, and then what we know today as greek. I established my case in why I ask it with the consideration of the letter veeta/beeta, and how a hebrew word was transliterated into Greek. Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 23:51
  • In long, it's more of an over-all history question. Mine interest is particularly within Koiné, but I figured it would be better to just go with all three, to show a history there. It's better for three separate questions -- greek is such an old language. Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 23:59
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    @WiccanKarnak Yeah, I decided to make it a bit more clear. It is an historical linguistics question. I understand that a language will probably keep double letters from its past, but their pronunciation may change, or fulfill different purposes. I am hinting heavily that I refuse to believe that some double letters had no difference from the normal sound. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 4:55

1 Answer 1


Your speculation is more or less right, not a weak argument at all.

In a word like רַבִּי ~ ῥαββί ~ rabbi we can see the influence of Hebrew/Aramaic. The dot you see in the beth is, as you probably already know, a dagesh. The dagesh in Hebrew indicates various pronunciations whose common feature is that they involve a "stronger" version of a sound. For example, a beth without a dagesh was pronounced as the fricative /β/ whereas one with a dagesh was pronounced as the stop /b/.

The underlying phonological processes for this were various. One of them is simply forte/lene positions, e.g. postconsonantal vs. postvocalic. Another is duplication. Semitic languages have a root system where words usually consist of three consonants, and one of the "defective" root types is roots where two consecutive consonants are the same. They are defective because in speech those two consonants tended to merge into one long consonant, which was also represented in writing. That long consonant, even if originally a weak version of the phoneme, would then become a strong version. For example, /β:/ would be /b/ (I can't remember right now if that would be /b/ or /b:/). As one of the indicators of the root, this pronunciation carried semantic value.

The caveat is that the dagesh was invented long after the time of both Hebrew and Koine Greek. Thus, in the Hebrew writing system of the time, strong/weak pronunciations of certain letters were not marked. Problematically, a casual reader of that word with a cursory knowledge of Hebrew would probably conclude that it was weak because of its postvocalic position. My speculation is therefore that the Koine Greek spelling you identify is an attempt to represent that difference. We can see in the modern writing system that רַבִּי has a strong beth, but they could only hear it, not see it. So the transliterators into Koine Greek opted to helpfully mark it.

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    This does seem to show that the speculation in the original post is reasonable, but I don't quite see how it shows that the speculation is right. It seems possible that ῥαββί came to be pronounced with /v/ fairly early on in Greek even though it comes from a Hebrew word pronounced with /b/ or /b:/. And it also seems possible to me that Hebrew words were originally adopted into Greek with just a length distinction, as /b/ and /b:/. It seems to me that to answer to the OP's question, it's necessary to use data that is more directly about the pronunciation of Greek. Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 19:39
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    To summarize my thought, Koine Greek transliterators wrote a double consonant because there was a double or "hard" consonant in Hebrew. On reflection, @sumelic, I think the implicit premise is that < ββ > is how Koine Greek would represent such a consonant, which I took for granted. I don't have the knowledge to confirm it. (If I'm misreading even your comment, I apologize!) Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 22:52

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