I just came across "bêta" used to mean "beta version of software", as in "Android Auto : il vous suffit désormais d’un smartphone Android pour tester la bêta".


I learned that the accent circonflex was invented to mark a vowel length distinction that is now obsolete, and usually hints that a letter was removed in the past. Does the usage of "beta" go back so far? I would have assumed describing software as "beta" to be a 20th century phenomenon, and besides, the Greek letter beta is not spelled with an accent in French (selon my dictionary).


2 Answers 2


The ê letter has been chosen to represent the ancient Greek (êta) of βτα (modern Greek ή). It corresponds to an open long vowel [ɛː] while AmE uses [eɪ] and BrE uses [i] instead 1.

The French circumflex mark here the length of the vowel and not a letter that would have disappeared.

Êta is also present in these other letters from the Greek alphabet:

zêta: ζτα:

êta: τα

thêta: θτα

No accent is needed with delta because of the following l. The Greek vowel is different too (epsilon representing the short closed vowel [e]): δέλτα

An acute accent is required in the last Greek letter to represent this same [e] in French:

oméga: ὦ μέγα

1 For english usage, see Why are Greek letters pronounced incorrectly in scientific English

  • 1
    British English uses [i]. In North America it's always [eɪ], so the first syllable is identical to the word "bay". Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 0:39
  • @CanadianYankee Thanks! Answer updated.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 1:21

The Greek letter is usually spelt bêta. But the use of the word as in version beta is indifferently spelt with or without the circumflex.

Anyway whether bêta ot beta it is still pronounced [bɛta].

If you look at the wiktionary it says:

(Non standard) Variante de bêta.
Les cellules beta.

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