Having only a basic grasp of the Greek alphabet (as used in math and physics mostly), I am sometimes confused when looking at Greek spelling of certain proper names or words. The most common source of this confusion for me is the weird relationship between the letters ν and γ. It seems to me that in some contexts γ is read as if it were ν and I'm curious to know why. Below are the two examples that caught my attention recently:

  • φεγγάρι (transliterated as fengari) - the word for moon
  • Πλαγκταί (transliterated as Planktai) - name of the Wandering Rocks from Homer's Odyssey

In both these cases we have a gamma apparently serving as a nu. I was even suspecting the existence of some other forms of certain letters (a'la final forms in Hebrew), but I used Emacs (amateur linguist's best friend) to confirm that those were ordinary gammas.

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    A Greek-specific site was proposed earlier this year and rejected due to inactivity. I would appreciate more feedback about this question being off-topic. I only found two non-language-specific sites, Language Learning and Linguistics. Where should I ask this question in the absence of more specific sites? Finally, a more direct communication prior to closing would be more welcoming to a new user. Aug 11, 2020 at 10:29
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    Hi, this is a very sparsely populated SE site, so whether you are greeted or not is a bit random. If you can edit your question to be about how to learn the difference, rather than what the difference is, then it might be on topic here. The fact that a more suitable SE does not exist does not mean that the question is necessarily on topic here.
    – Tommi
    Aug 12, 2020 at 6:44
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    The plain answer is that double letter "γγ" is pronounced "ng" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma). Simiarly, "εὐαγγέλιον" is transliterated into Roman script as "evangelion", not "evaggelion". Double letters having a distinct sound is not unusual among Indo-European languages - Spanish double ll is pronounced either as a y or a French j depending on accent, and doesn't sound like a "l" at all. Aug 19, 2020 at 11:00
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    Thanks for the answer @RobertColumbia. Somehow I was expecting some deeper reason, but I guess it's not always the case. Aug 19, 2020 at 19:44
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    Note that the sound of gamma before another velar (γκχ) is /ŋ/, the velar nasal, not /n/, the dental~alveolar nasal. Evidently the ancient Greeks did not consider these two sounds similar enough to write with the same letter; and as /g/ never preceded /g/ or /k/ or /kʰ/ they considered the context-dependent reading tolerable. Oct 4, 2020 at 2:01


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