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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 . It was originally called wau. It was later called the "elusive" (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 add to the confusion, in modern times, the sequence στ or ΣΤ is sometimes used instead of the stigma symbol.

The sound in Greek

The letter digamma as it appears in four fonts.

Mycenaean Greek

The sound existed in Mycenean Greek, as attested in Linear B and archaic Greek inscriptions using digamma. It is also confirmed by the Hittite name of Troymarker, 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, 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. For example, the words (king), found in the Iliad, which would originally have been [wanaks], and (wine) are sometimes 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.Cretanmarker Doric ibêna, cf.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 Italymarker (Italia from Oscan Viteliu *Ϝιτελιυ) or of the Veneti (Greek Ἐνετοί - Enetoi). By the 2nd century BC, the phoneme was once again registered, compare for example the spelling of for vates.

"Pamphylian digamma"
In some local (epichoric) alphabets, a variant glyph of the letter digamma existed that resembled modern Cyrillic И. In one local alphabet, that of Pamphylia, this variant form existed side by side with standard digamma as two distinct letters. It has been surmised that in this dialect the sound /w/ may have changed to labiodental in some environments. The F-shaped letter may have stood for the new [v] sound, while the special И-shaped form signified those positions where the old [w] sound was preserved.

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 Oitylomarker used to be called Vitulo earlier, until the Classical Attic-Ionic form, /'itilo/, was introduced.[902] 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 U+1D7CA and U+1D7CB. Their intended use is as mathematical symbols, not regular text.

The И-shaped "Pamphylian digamma" was additionally encoded as U+0376 (uppercase) and U+0377 (lowercase) in Unicode version 5.1.



  • 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

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek digamma (Ϝ, whose name in Greek was probably Ϝαυ) and upsilon (Υ), Etruscan v ( visually a backwards F ) and Latin F, V, and Y; V later developed into U and W.

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