AskDefine | Define digamma

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  1. The sixth letter of the Old Greek Alphabet.


Extensive Definition

Digamma (uppercase , lowercase ) is an archaic letter of the Greek alphabet, used primarily as a Greek numeral.
The letter had the phonetic value of a voiced labial-velar approximant /w/. It was originally called wau. It was later called (digamma — "double gamma") because of its shape. It is attested in archaic and dialectal ancient Greek inscriptions, and is occasionally used as a symbol in later Greek mathematical texts.
Digamma, like Upsilon, derives from the Phoenician letter Waw, and in its turn gave rise to the Roman letter F.


It is also used as the Greek numeral 6. In ancient usage, the numeral had the same form as the letter digamma. However, in medieval and modern usage, the numeral has normally been written in the graphic form of a stigma (, ), which historically is completely distinct from digamma; it is a medieval ligature of sigma and tau. To complete the confusion, in modern times, the sequence στ or ΣΤ is sometimes used instead of the stigma symbol.

The sound /w/ in Greek

Mycenaean Greek

The sound /w/ existed in Mycenean Greek, as attested in Linear B and archaic Greek inscriptions using digamma. It is also confirmed by the Hittite name of Troy, Wilusa, corresponding to the Greek name *Wilion.

Classical Greek

The sound was lost at various times in various dialects, mostly before the classical period.
In Ionic, [w] had probably disappeared before Homer's epics were written down (7th century BC), but its former presence can be detected in many cases because its omission left the meter defective. An example is the word (king) found in the Iliad, which would originally have been [wanaks]. Also (wine) was used in the meter where a word starting with a consonant would be expected. Further evidence coupled with cognate-analysis shows that was earlier [woinos] (cf.Cretan Doric ibêna, Latin vinum and English "wine"). For some time, word-initial /w-/ remained foreign to Greek phonology, and was dropped in loanwords, compare the name of Italy (Italia from Oscan Viteliu *Ϝιτελιυ) or of the Veneti (Greek Enetoi). By the 2nd century BC, the phoneme was once again registered, compare for example the spelling of for vates.

Modern Greek

The digamma survives even today as /v/ in the Modern Greek Tsakonian dialect, the only dialect not descended from ancient Koine Greek, the famous, and only, example being βάννε /'vannε/ "lamb" for standard Greek ) (cf. Cretan ).
The city of Oitylo used to be called Vitulo earlier, until the Classical Attic-Ionic form, /'itilo/, was introduced. The diphthong - which is attested in the Iliad already (2.285) - is probably due to an early attempt to render the foreign sound: [oi] = [wi].

Unicode representation

In Unicode digamma has code uppercase U+03DC Ϝ, lowercase U+03DD ϝ .
In July 2006, another pair of the uppercase and lowercase digamma with bold typeface, were added to the Unicode standard version 5.0 and have codes 0x1D7CA and 0x1D7CB. Their intended use is as mathematical symbols, not regular text.



  • Peter T. Daniels - William Bright (edd.), The World's Writing Systems, New York, Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN 0195079930
  • Jean Humbert, Histoire de la langue grecque, Paris, 1972.
  • Michel Lejeune, Phonétique historique du mycénien et du grec ancien, Klincksieck, Paris, 1967. ISBN 2252034963
  • "In Search of The Trojan War", pp.142-143,187 by Michael Wood, 1985, published by BBC.

External Links

digamma in Tosk Albanian: Ϝ
digamma in Arabic: ديغما (حرف إغريقي)
digamma in Asturian: Digamma
digamma in Breton: Digamma (lizherenn)
digamma in Bulgarian: Дигама
digamma in Catalan: Digamma
digamma in Welsh: Digamma
digamma in Danish: Digamma
digamma in German: Digamma
digamma in Modern Greek (1453-): Δίγαμμα
digamma in Esperanto: Digamo
digamma in Spanish: Ϝ
digamma in French: Digamma
digamma in Scottish Gaelic: Digamma
digamma in Galician: Digamma
digamma in Icelandic: Dígamma
digamma in Italian: Digamma
digamma in Hebrew: דיגאמא
digamma in Swahili (macrolanguage): Digamma
digamma in Kurdish: Digamma
digamma in Latin: Digamma
digamma in Lithuanian: Digama (raidė)
digamma in Hungarian: Digamma
digamma in Dutch: Digamma
digamma in Japanese: ディガンマ
digamma in Norwegian: Digamma
digamma in Norwegian Nynorsk: Digamma
digamma in Polish: Digamma
digamma in Portuguese: Ϝ
digamma in Russian: Дигамма (буква)
digamma in Simple English: Digamma
digamma in Slovak: Digama
digamma in Slovenian: Digama
digamma in Swedish: Digamma
digamma in Thai: ไดแกมมา
digamma in Chinese: Ϝ
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