Re: hHMIN, hUMIN : were both pronounced the *same* ?

Carl W. Conrad (
Fri, 6 Dec 1996 16:55:24 -0600

At 4:01 PM -0600 12/6/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>Acts 13:26 (GNT) Andres adelfoi, uioi genous Abraam kai oi en umin
>foboumenoi ton qeon, hmin o logos ths swthrias tauths exapestalh.
>In "A Textual Commentary on the GNT", Bruce Metzger talks about text
>variants which choose hHMIN vs. hUMIN, and he says:
> The interchange of hU for hH (both were pronounced EE), and
> vice versa, was a common blunder among Greek scribes...
>Certainly, they sounded similar, but the *same*? At a time that both forms
>were in active use in the language?
>I hate to disagree with Bruce Metzger, who knows an awful lot more than I
>do, and for whom I have a lot of respect, but I find it very difficult to
>believe that hHMIN and hUMIN were both in common use but pronounced
>identically. Yes, I know that they would be pronounced the same in modern
>Greek, but modern Greek uses different pronouns which clearly distinguish
>the two. By the time the two pronouns were indistinguishable, I would have
>expected different pronouns to come into use, as they now have.
>How could a language fail to distinguish "you" from "we"? Can you imagine
>negotiating anything in such a language? If the direct participants in a
>conversation can't be distinguished orally, it is rather hard to communicat=
>about anything!
>Of course, in German, the second person formal pronoun "you, sir or madam"
>sounds the same as the third person singular "she". But "she" isn't directl=
>involved in a conversation that "I" am having with "you", which means it is
>possible to have an intelligible conversation.

Well, I rather think that they both WERE pronounced near enough the same as
to be potentially confusing. How do we know in English whether "you" is
singular or plural without saying "you all"? For that matter, I've known
plenty of instances of "you all" used for a second-person singular. And in
German, while it's true that the 3rd singular can be differentiated from
the polite "you" by verbal inflection: Sie gehen vs. sie geht, how can one
readily distinguish in the spoken language between the polite 2nd plural,
"Sie gehen," and the ordinary 3rd plural "sie gehen"? I think such
confusions are not uncommon; another one in English is the 3 forms of
to/two/too. I've wondered how spoken ancient Greek distinguished between
the three or four different forms and meanings of "H": "verily," "or"
(which also serves for "than"), "he said," and it seems to me that there
are a couple others also: oh, yes: it is a variant 3d singular of EIMI,
"be." This sort of ambiguity is, I think, not at all uncommon in the spoken
forms of languages.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR