Human speech is produced
by a restriction and then release of air somewhere within the
breath channel (mouth, nose, throat). (When air passes through the breath
channel without restriction, we call that simply breathing.) Not all sounds
made by a restriction and release of air are speech sounds snoring,
sneezing, and slurping don't qualify.
The range of sounds that
are produced by the restriction and release of air and which can be distinguished
as speech sounds by native speakers of a language roughly form the sounds
from which a language's alphabet is formed, though there are usually more
speech sounds than there are letters of the alphabet. Most alphabets have
about 25 sounds along that range for which distinct written characters are
provided. English has 26 letters; Greek has 24.
These sounds that make
up the letters of the alphabet are divided into two main groups: vowels and
consonants. The sound of both vowels and consonants is produced by a restriction
of air. The restriction that produces vowels is at the weak end of the range
while something called hard consonants are produced at the strong end of the
Try pronouncing the letter 'A' [a vowel] and the letter 'K' [a hard consonant].
That will help demonstrate the range of restriction of air involved in the
production of human speech.)
In English, there is a long 'O' sound (pole) and a short 'O' sound (pot), both
represented by the one letter ').' Greek chooses in this case to represent the
two sounds by distinct letters: for long 'O' (o-mega), and for short 'O' (o-micron).
Some alphabets have what
seems to be unnecessary letters. English, for example, has the letters 'C'
and 'K.' Greek uses only 'K' (kappa).
In some cases, a sound
that is represented by a distinctive letter in one language is represented
by a combination of letters in another language. For example, Greek has a
distinctive letter (theta) for the sound represented in English by a combination
of the letters 'T' and 'H.'
Sometimes a sound will
be represented in a language both by a distinctive letter and a combination
of letters, as with the 'F' sound in English, which can be represented either
by the letter 'F' or by the combination of the letters 'P' and 'H' (ph). Greek
uses only one letter (phi).