Alpha to Eta?

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Sun Aug 12 19:23:48 EDT 2001


At 7:10 PM -0400 8/12/01, Barry Hickey wrote:
> I'm attempting a self study of Koine Greek and have come upon a question.
>Why does the final stem vowel alpha change to an eta in the Genitive
>singular and Dative singular of a noun like GLWSSA?  What rule of grammar
>necessitates the change?

There are two or three different rules involved here:

(1) The stem vowel of first-declension (alpha) nouns must be LONG in the
genitive and dative singular endings; so if the nominative (and accusative
as well) is in short alpha, as it is in quite a few first-declension nouns,
the genitive singular will be in long-alpha + S while the dative singular
will be in long-alpha with an iota subscript;

(2) In Attic and Ionic dialects (the basis of Koine forms), long alpha
gradually became eta over the course of time; therefore most short-alpha
first-declension nouns have genitive sg. in -HS, dative sg. in Hi;

(3) HOWEVER, that change of long-alpha to eta was inhibited if the
long-alpha was preceded by E, I, or R; consequently short-alpha nouns such
as GEFURA ("bridge") have genitive sg. in -AS (the alpha long) and dative
sg. in A- (also with the alpha long).

There are in fact quite a few apparent irregularities in the morphological
paradigms of Greek that can be shown NOT to be anomalies if one is
cognizant of the phonological principles and history involved.
-- 

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad at ioa.com
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/



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