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I'm studying computer science and I'm starting to come across a lot of maths! I thought it would be fun (yes I really am a geek!) to learn the greek alphabet as it used in mathematics. I was wondering if I should learn the English pronunciation or the Greek? I'm asking for clarity i.e. there is no confusion when discussing because different pronunciations have been learned.

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closed as off topic by Chandru, t.b., Asaf Karagila, yunone, Jonas Meyer Jul 19 '11 at 17:33

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Για σου πατριδα. Link to a related question - english.stackexchange.com/questions/11363/… –  ja72 Jul 18 '11 at 13:40
Of course use English pronunciations when speaking English. But, in fact, so-called "English" pronunciations vary by region, even by profession. So find the pronunciations common among those you want to mention Greek letters when talking to. –  GEdgar Jul 18 '11 at 14:02
@Swlabr: I pronounce $\psi$ with a plosive "p" at the front, like the end of "lapse" so I am not sure who everyone is. For me the letter sounds like "psee". –  Carl Mummert Jul 18 '11 at 15:19
@Carl: It's "psi" as in the beginning of "psychology" for me. –  Jyrki Lahtonen Jul 18 '11 at 15:25
There are as many avowedly correct pronunciations of Greek as dialects in English. My Hebrew teacher told us of various theories for cognate languages. Don't waste time arguing about this - in maths a symbol is as symbol - one of the finite number mathematicians have yet used, and the countable number they will ever use - regardless of pronunciation or orthography ... –  Mark Bennet Jul 18 '11 at 20:55

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This is a source of confusion for a lot of Greeks studying abroad. My suggestion is to use the English pronunciation so you can effectively communicate with other programmers. If you say, for example, here we have "veeta equals zero", they are going to look at your strangely, or think you are talking about the Velveeta cheese!. Use "beta" as others expect to hear it.

It is like learning another language if you are used to the Greek pronunciation as I was.

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But then do you say betta or beeta ? That varies by region and by profession. EPS-ih-lon or eps-EYE-lon? –  GEdgar Jul 18 '11 at 14:05
By the way, I first read it as "greek" too, but he said he was a "geek", not a "greek", so I'm assuming he doesn't know the greek pronunciation either. –  Vhailor Jul 18 '11 at 14:52
The caveat, of course, is when you do work with Greeks. I've been 'corrupted' to now always say veeta, mee, tav, and hee (for $\chi$, with a "German" h)... –  Willie Wong Jul 18 '11 at 15:03
Look at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_alphabet and there is table of Greek letters with English lettres (that hint towards pronunciation) –  ja72 Jul 21 '11 at 18:10

A key point that GEdgar has brought up is that the pronunciation varies from area to area, and from person to person. There are several different variations that I know of. Just listen to other people in your area whom you respect and try to find a pronunciation that they would understand without too much confusion.

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The confusion point should never really arise - I often make up the names of greek letters (I think they are all called psi, with a few exceptions), but as long as you point at the board and make clear the letter you are talking about, no-one should get (too) confused. –  user1729 Jul 18 '11 at 15:30
That's true, sadly; students are often not educated about the Greek alphabet. Nowadays when I use a $\xi$ for the first time (which I pronounce "ksee"), I have to stop and have a mini-lecture about the fact that it is really a letter, not just a squiggle, and teach the students how to write it. –  Carl Mummert Jul 18 '11 at 15:33
I had George Mackey as a math professor once: He had really bad handwriting to start with, but every Greek letter looked the same. So (if trying to take notes) you really had to keep up and listen in order to tell what Greek letter it was in the formulas. –  GEdgar Jul 18 '11 at 15:43
There are at least three different schemes for pronouncing the names of Greek letters: the Greek way (the 'canonical' way, but not often heard in English-speaking countries), the British way and the American way. As Carl says, it's probably best to learn whatever most people around you are using. –  Chris Taylor Jul 18 '11 at 15:49
For writing Greek letters, I give students this: covingtoninnovations.com/pens/GreekChart.pdf –  GEdgar Jul 18 '11 at 16:09

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