NABOKV-L post 0014230, Thu, 30 Nov 2006 12:26:50 -0500

Re: Greek C/ Sigma AND Pale Fire
To (maybe) wrap up this topic, which was started I think by Jansy's
question about the pronunciation of C in various languages, the split
between Indo-european (IE) languages that pronouce C as K and those that
pronounce it as S (in words derived from the same IE root) is called the
centum/satem split, and it's a very well-known phenomenon in IE
historical linguistics. You can read quick summaries at and
or you can google the two words (centum satem) for more detailed info.

John Rea is of course right that orthography and specific letterforms
have little to do with pronunciation, though they're often etymological
clues that can be decoded if you know the correspondences and
sound-shifts that occurred historically in the IE language family. The
various written and printed forms of the sigma, in contrast, have solely
to do with the way Greek was written at various points during the
archaic, classical, hellenistic, and medieval periods, and the way it
was printed at various points in the history of Greek typography from
the Renaissance forward--much like Rea's example of the variant 's'
forms, traces of which persisted until printers finally abandoned the
long f-shaped 's'. Getting back to Nabokov, I don't think the G, K, and
S of PF's index have anything to do with the pronunciation of those
letters in various languages, nor do I think VN had any interest in IE
sound shifts per se. But I definitely agree with Victor Fet that
orthographic shifts b!
ween various languages (Russian, German, English, Zemblan) enabled
Nabokov to plant some very telling clues, such as Zembla = Semblerland.

Mary Bellino

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