# How did you learn the greek alphabet?

I am an undergraduate math and physics major and nowhere in my education did I explicitly study the Greek alphabet. This has recently gotten to be a SEVERE problem as I hit higher mathematics where the use of the greek alphabet is almost more common than the American one. For example, I raise my hand to ask a question about something on the board but then realize I cannot read the equation because I do not know one of the Greek letters.

I have noticed that my fellow math majors have this same problem. It seems to me like at some level of mathematics education, people just start assuming that everyone knows the Greek alphabet even though it is not taught at any stage of mathematics. But maybe that is just my case. Did other people have the Greek alphabet taught to them in junior high or high school or was it just thrown on them beginning in college?

Anyway, today I am going back to elementary school and practicing writing row after row of zeta, xi, chi, etc and trying to recite the whole alphabet from memory.

http://www.wesleyan.edu/classics/greek_resources/writing_guide/writing_guide.html [Broken]

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## Answers and Replies

Learn it as you use it. Dont waste your time writting rows after row of the letters.

cristo
Staff Emeritus
What's the American alphabet? I think you mean the English alphabet.

Anyway, no, one doesn't in general spend time learning the Greek alphabet, one simply picks it up from literature as working through the maths. It doesn't matter what the order of the alphabet it, you just need to recognise the letters. To be honest, only a few get used most of the time: I've never heard of anyone using upsilon, for example.

You just start picking them up the more you use them.

What's the American alphabet? I think you mean the English alphabet.
Haha, that is embarrassing.

Anyway, no, one doesn't in general spend time learning the Greek alphabet, one simply picks it up from literature as working through the maths.

For some reason that hasn't happened for me. :(

tiny-tim
Homework Helper
Hi ehrenfest!

Just learn the names of the letters … like a speech … so that you can say them really fast.

Then you won't see a $\nu$, for example, and think "that's an n", but not know what to call it.

You can learn how to read them later.

Is there a song or tune associated with the Greek alphabet like there is for the English one?

cristo
Staff Emeritus
For some reason that hasn't happened for me. :(
Well, it doesn't really matter. It is not a serious problem if you don't remember how to pronounce one of the greek letters in a math class-- it is far more important that you understand the maths or physics. If you're in this situation again, just ask someone what the letter is called!

Well, it doesn't really matter. It is not a serious problem if you don't remember how to pronounce one of the greek letters in a math class-- it is far more important that you understand the maths or physics. If you're in this situation again, just ask someone what the letter is called!

Okay, well I have picked up the easy letters like alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, but the hard ones like xi or zeta I need to just practice. Sure I have picked up how to identify xi or a zeta, but I don't know how anyone can just "pick up" how to write a zeta or a xi just by watching other people do it without specifically practicing it. If you can then you learn much differently than me.

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tiny-tim
Homework Helper
I found some free downloadable greek alphabet lessons at http://www.inthebeginning.org/ntgreek/lesson1/gl1.htm [Broken]
Is there a song or tune associated with the Greek alphabet like there is for the English one?

Try a google search for "learning the greek alphabet" +tune!

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Let's see if I got them:

$$\alpha \beta \gamma \delta \epsilon \zeta \eta \theta \iota \kappa \lambda \mu \nu \xi \omicron \pi \rho \sigma \tau \upsilon \phi \chi \psi \omega$$

Yay!

Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
One can learn an alphabet and language the same way one learns the alphabet and language to which one is native.

Learn by doing.

Here is another resource in addition to the one tiny-tim cited.
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/greek.htm

Kurdt
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I thought the English alphabet was the Latin alphabet :tongue:.

I just learned as I went along. I never made a conscious effort to sit and memorise it.

One can learn an alphabet and language the same way one learns the alphabet and language to which one is native.

Not if you start learning after the critical language acquisition period which is something like <12 years.

Kurdt
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Not if you start learning after the critical language acquisition period which is something like <12 years.

Thats not particularly true. My friend is a linguist and uses this as a teaching technique and it works very well. I think most governments use the total immersion technique to teach their employees a language in a short period of time.

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
You learn the Greek alphabet by going to frat parties.

I learned all the capital Greek letters somewhere in middle school or high school, but can't really remember when or where...just remember having to learn them for something along the way. The lowercase letters were stranger to learn (and yes, some of them look like a random squiggle). But, like others here, I just learned the ones I needed as I went. A new letter was never introduced without a professor actually saying it, so it was easy to associate the strange sound coming out of his or her mouth with the equally strange squiggle appearing on the board, and voila! I learned a new Greek letter. Sometimes I needed to look up a letter in print to write it correctly, since some of my professors' penmanship was equally bad in English and Greek, but it's just matching patterns.

Bleh to frat parties :yuck:

Chi Meson
Homework Helper
I first learned them from the Star Trek "Star Fleet Technical Manual." (I was 10 when it was released; I think I was required by law to get it). It was one of two standard alphabets of the "Federation." It was my father who recognized it as Greek, and I just learned them. In Junior High, when I was bored (which was most of the time) I'd take notes phonetically written in Greek letters.

tiny-tim
Homework Helper
Let's see if I got them:

$$\alpha \beta \gamma \delta \epsilon \zeta \eta \theta \iota \kappa \lambda \mu \nu \xi \omicron \pi \rho \sigma \tau \upsilon \phi \chi \psi \omega$$

Yay!

what about poor little omicron?

what about poor little omicron?

That's weird, it did not show up. Its there though-click on the latex.

tiny-tim
Homework Helper
That's weird, it did not show up. Its there though-click on the latex.

So it is! ooh that has cheered me up!

hmm … according to http://www.physics.udel.edu/~dubois/lshort2e/node61.html#SECTION008100000000000000000 [Broken], the LaTeX code for omicron is just o.

$$\alpha \beta \gamma \delta \epsilon \zeta \eta \theta \iota \kappa \lambda \mu \nu \xi o \pi \rho \sigma \tau \upsilon \phi \chi \psi \omega \omicron$$

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Kurdt
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
The marvels of internet search engines.

I just kinda picked up on all of them. Really, they are quite neat to write too, once you get them down Just try to look at them sometimes, and they will just come....

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I just LOVE writing zeta and xi. The squiggles are fun. Delta is kind of fun too. I vaguely recall taking a couple tries to get xi written correctly when I first encountered its lowercase form. I had a tendency to make a few more loop-de-loops than required. But it hardly mattered, because I knew what that loopy thing in my notes was supposed to be regardless of getting carried away writing it.

I also had a great deal of fun listening to my p-chem prof saying d$$\xi$$. I wish I was in Dixie, hurrah, hurrah.

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JasonRox
Homework Helper
Gold Member
I'm starting my Master's in Mathematics and I don't even know it!

I just do whatever. I know alpha though. I used to say "x looking thing".

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I'm starting my Master's in Mathematics and I don't even know it!

I just do whatever. I know alpha though. I used to say "x looking thing".

It's not an X...it's a fish!

JasonRox
Homework Helper
Gold Member
It's not an X...it's a fish!

lol

I'll say that next time.

I even called lamba (I think that's what it is) the "upside down y". I used to be horrible at writing greek letters so I'd start my problems with...

Let alpha = x and lamba = y, so et...

I actually lost marks one time!

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
lol

I'll say that next time.

I even called lamba (I think that's what it is) the "upside down y". I used to be horrible at writing greek letters so I'd start my problems with...

Let alpha = x and lamba = y, so et...

I actually lost marks one time!

Yes, it does look like an upside-down y. That's pretty sad to lose marks for writing out the words though. Maybe it's that little bit of right-brained artisticness that makes it easier for me to just match patterns when writing those letters. I could never just write out the Greek alphabet, but when I need to use a letter, I've never had much trouble writing it. It DOES suck when someone is lecturing and talking about either mu or nu though...it's hard to hear the difference...sort of like b vs d. Except I can say b as in boy, and d as in dog to make that clear. Mu as in...um...micro? :uhh:

I would lose points too, but all my homework is online, so I just grab a pic of the greek symbol, and that's it. I just plug it in, and there I am with the right answer, no problems at all

Kurdt
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I can't remember where I encountered xi but it took me a few goes to get it. Now like moonie I take a sad pleasure in writing it.

The first time I encountered xi was in a differential equations lecture. At first I just stared at it confused, I was going to ask what that weird character was but didn't for fear of looking silly (I was the only freshman in the class), so I finally collected myself and made some attempts to write it down. I erased and rewrote it about five times and then tried to focus back on the lecture. I noticed that several more xis had a appeared so again it took several attempts to write all of them down. By then I was trailing far behind in the proof of the theorem, so I decided to transcribe the xis on the board as English "z"s in my notes. This worked for a while until the professor introduced z as something else. So then I went back to writing the xis...

At the end of the class, the proof became an incomprehensible entanglement of xis and zs in my notes and in my head.

Seriously, its not chinese....

jtbell
Mentor
I've never heard of anyone using upsilon, for example.

How many particle physicists do you know?

As for how I learned the Greek alphabet, I did it piecemeal as I encountered the letters. The textbook for the general-physics type course I was teaching this past semester has a table of the Greek alphabet, along with tables of physical constants, unit conversion factors etc. I'm sure my original textbooks must have had them, too.

Don't ask me to recite the Greek alphabet in order, though. Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, ...er, epsilon, um :uhh:... (sneak a peek) zeta???

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
H

Don't ask me to recite the Greek alphabet in order, though. Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, ...er, epsilon, um :uhh:... (sneak a peek) zeta???

:rofl: Yeah, there's a natural tendency to want to put zeta at the end. It's the only time going to church helped me, because I remember the quote "From alpha to omega, the beginning to the end..." from funeral masses, so remember omega is the last letter, not zeta.

A good friend of mine has his PhD in math...his dissertation exhausted the English and Greek alphabets and started delving into the Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets to have enough characters to use.

jtbell
Mentor

I was in grad school when the upsilon was discovered in 1977, so I remember some of the excitement surrounding it. That experiment at Fermilab under Leon Lederman had announced the previous year that they had discovered a new particle at a lower energy, which they called the "upsilon." A few months later it turned out not to exist after all, but was an artifact created by their data analysis procedure, so people re-dubbed it the "oops-Leon."

And then Leon came back the following year with the "real" upsilon.