Eta (letter)

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Eta (uppercase Η, lowercase η) Greek: ἦτα) is the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 8. Letters that arose from Eta include the Latin H and the Cyrillic letter И.



In the modern system of writing Ancient Greek, eta represents the long vowel [ɛː]. In Modern Greek, it represents [i]. When the letter was first borrowed, it represented [h]. The letter was borrowed into the Cyrillic alphabet as И.

Consonant h

The letter shape H was originally used in most Greek dialects to represent the sound /h/, a voiceless glottal fricative. In this function, it was borrowed in the 8th century BC by the Etruscan and other Old Italic alphabets, which were based on the Euboean form of the Greek alphabet. This ultimately gave rise to the Latin alphabet with its letter H.

Long e

In the East Ionic dialect, however, the sound /h/ disappeared by the sixth century BC, and the letter was re-used initially to represent a development of a long vowel /aː/, which later merged in East Ionic with /ɛː/ instead.[1] In 403 BC, Athens took over the Ionian spelling system and with it the vocalic use of H (even though it still also had the /h/ sound itself at that time). This later became the standard orthography in all of Greece.

Other regional variants of the Greek alphabet (epichoric alphabets), in dialects that still preserved the sound /h/, employed various glyph shapes for consonantal Heta side by side with the new vocalic Eta for some time. One of them was a tack-like shape, looking like the left half of an H. This system was first used in the southern Italian colonies of Heracleia and Tarentum. When Greek orthography was codified by grammarians in the Hellenistic era, they used a diacritic symbol derived from this half-H shape to signal the presence of /h/, and added as its counterpart a reverse-shaped diacritic to denote absence of /h/. These symbols were the origin of the rough breathing and smooth breathing diacritics that became part of classical Greek orthography.[2] The tack symbol has been reintroduced into modern scholarly representation of archaic Greek writing under the name of Heta.

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