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I couldn't find any clear rules/guidelines regarding this, so I'm asking the question here: If an otherwise English sentence begins with a word that is written in non-Latin script (e.g. Greek letters), does this word have to be capitalized?

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    Can you give an example? I think I remember reading about something specific to math or chemistry but I'm not sure it's applicable universally.
    – Laurel
    Oct 3 '18 at 2:00
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    Λογος is the Greek word for 'word'. Here, I have capitalised the first letter. To me it would be wrong not to use it. λογος is the Greek word for 'word', is incorrect, to me.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 3 '18 at 3:05
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    If the word comes from a language with an orthography similar to that of English, then, yes, absolutely. Greek and Cyrillic alphabets qualify.
    – Ricky
    Oct 3 '18 at 3:42
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    I'd follow the correct way the foreign word is written in the given usage, irrespective of its position in the sentence. Case changes of foreign words within a body of text will be additional burden on the reader and liable to be confusing.
    – Kris
    Oct 3 '18 at 10:34
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    @NigelJ Classic example! The reader has to contend with Λ and λ although the context may have nothing to do with the difference. In fact, it may not occur to the reader that Λογος and λογος are the same thing you are talking about, without a second take. It could be worse in other cases.
    – Kris
    Oct 3 '18 at 10:39
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There is a similar situation in mathematics, where we have variables. If you start a sentence with a variable, should you capitalize it? Absolutely not, because the variables n and N may mean different things. So should you leave it lowercase? No, because this is inelegant*. So what do you do? The generally accepted solution is never to begin a sentence with a variable. For example, the APA Style Blog says

"Do not begin a sentence with a lowercase statistical term (e.g., t test or p value), a lowercase abbreviation (e.g., lb), or a symbol that stands alone (e.g., α)."

If you have any doubts about whether your readers will know that λογος and Λογος are the same, use this rule. For example, rather than saying

Λογος is a word that ...

say

The word λογος ...

If you're writing for an audience that you are sure knows enough about the foreign alphabet to recognize capital letters, you can ignore this advice and capitalize foreign words at the beginning of a sentence.

*but much, much, better than capitalizing it.

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  • I think this is the best approach, especially when readers may not be familiar with the foreign script. Plus, I feel that starting a sentence with a foreign-language word is impolite, as makes the reader do more work to parse it. I'd also add that you should be wary of using italic or other type-styles on foreign words if your reader is not very familiar with the language: the typographical changes that occur in italic letter forms can be quite surprising if you're not familiar with them: for example, the italic forms of т and и in Cyrillic look very like the Latin letters m and u.
    – KrisW
    Nov 14 '18 at 16:26
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    If one is writing for the readers who don't know that λογος and Λογος are the same, isn't it much better to just write logos or Logos? What would be the point of writing it in Greek script if the readers are unfamiliar with it? (The situation is different in mathematics, where the practice of using Greek symbols is entirely independent of any knowledge of Greek language.)
    – jsw29
    Nov 14 '18 at 17:15
  • @jsw29: you may be writing for a broad range of readers. Nov 14 '18 at 18:31
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I.M. Mills and W.V. Metanomski's On the use of italic and roman fonts for symbols in scientific text provides some guidance on the use of Greek characters in scientific uses. All the examples given use lower case.

However, stylistically, this does not necessarily work in other circumstances and I think there is not a rule. Ancient Greek did not have a distinction between upper and lower case, but modern Greek does. Some Ancient Green (and Latin) modern texts use all upper, all lower or English-style sentence casing. Basically - it's a bit all over the place.

I would capitalise it in cases where the reader would be reasonably expected to know Greek letters and write it in (italicised) Latin script where they wouldn't with the Green afterwards in brackets.

Think of your reader - if you expect that they know the Greek alphabet, they probably know upper and lower cases. If not, use the Latin alphabet with Greek as a follow-up.

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    These rules for scientific uses only apply for chemistry — not even mathematics. Oct 15 '18 at 12:48

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