Greek orthography has used a variety of diacritics starting in the Hellenistic period. The complex polytonic orthography notates Ancient Greek phonology. The simple monotonic orthography, introduced in 1982, corresponds to Modern Greek phonology, and requires only two diacritics.
Polytonic orthography (πολύς "much", "many", τόνος "accent") is the standard system for Ancient Greek. The acute accent ( ´ ), the grave accent ( ` ), and the circumflex ( ˆ ) indicate different kinds of pitch accent. The rough breathing ( ῾ ) indicates the presence of an /h/ sound before a letter, while the smooth breathing ( ᾿ ) indicates the absence of /h/.
Since in Modern Greek the pitch accent was replaced by a dynamic accent, and the /h/ was lost, most polytonic diacritics have no phonetic significance, and merely reveal the underlying Ancient Greek etymology.
Monotonic orthography (μόνος "single", τόνος "accent") is the standard system for Modern Greek. It retains only the acute accent (tonos) to indicate stress and the diaeresis ( ¨ Greek: διαλυτικά) to indicate a diphthong: compare modern Greek παϊδάκια /pajˈðaca/ "lamb chops", with a diphthong, and παιδάκια /peˈðaca/ "little children" with a simple vowel. Tonos and diaeresis can be combined on a single vowel, as in the verb ταΐζω (/taˈizo/ "to feed").
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“In all the good Greek of Plato
I lack my roastbeef and potato.
A better man was Aristotle,
Pulling steady on the bottle.”
—John Crowe Ransom (18881974)