Re: Two accents in one word??

Jim Beale (
Fri, 10 Jan 1997 15:40:17 -0500

On Jan 9, 8:06am, Carl W. Conrad wrote:

> While I really DO think that there are issues more worthy of discussion in
> Greek than accents, I don't want to leave the impression that I think
> accents are altogether negligible. Often they are keys to important
> distinctions between words that are otherwise spelled identically. One of
> the more celebrated dicta of Heraclitus says, more or less, "BI/OS and
> BIO/S are the same, but their effect is the opposite." BI'OS is "life,"
> while BIO'S is "bow" (the weapon). There are very significant differences
> between A)/RA and A)=RA, and although the present tense forms of the older
> Greek verb "go" aren't used much in Koine, woe betide the person who can't
> distinguish E)IMI/ and E)=MI in classical Attic.

As one who inclines to the study of logic, I've been intrigued by
the development of the so-called fallacy of accent. Aristotle, in
particular, _On Sophistical Refutations_, seems to be source the
source of the modern day categorizations of fallacies. Regarding
the fallacy of accent, Aristotle writes:

An argument depending upon accent it is not easy to
construct in unwritten discussion; in written
discussions and in poetry it is easier. Thus (e.g.)
some people emend Homer against those who criticize as
unnatural his expression TO MEN OU KATAPUTHETAI OMBRO.
For they solve the difficulty by a change of accent,
pronouncing the OU with an acuter accent. Also, in the
passage about Agamemnon's dream, they say that Zeus did
not himself say 'We grant him the fulfilment of his
prayer', but that he bade the dream grant it. Instances
such as these, then, turn upon the accentuation.
(_On Sophistical Refutations_, I, 4)

Homer has

(Homer, _Iliad_, 23.328f)

What is the problem with accent that Aristotle refers to?

Aristotle gives another example in a later chapter:

Accentuation gives rise to no fallacious arguments,
either as written or as spoken, except perhaps some few
that might be made up; e.g. the following argument. 'Is
OU KATALUEIS a house?' 'Yes.' 'Is then OU KATALUEIS the
negation of KATALUEIS?' 'Yes.' 'But you said that OU
KATALUEIS is a house: therefore the house is a
negation.' How one should solve this, is clear: for the
word does not mean the same when spoken with an acuter
and when spoken with a graver accent.
(_On Sophistical Refutations_, I, 21)

> What irks me about the accents is that grammarians invented the system of
> noting them, ONLY AFTER the ancient pitch-accent had become obsolete, in
> order to show how the Greek of older, classical Attic HAD BEEN PRONOUNCED
> at the time when the classics of Greek prose and poetry were written. It is
> ironic, therefore, that accents then became obligatory in Greek being
> written in the late Hellenistic period when a stress accent had replaced
> the older pitch accent. I know of only a handful of modern teachers of
> Greek who teach pronunciation of Greek in terms of a pitch accent; those
> who use the accents (and I do myself) generally teach students to STRESS
> the syllable that has the accent rather than to raise the pitch for an
> acute or lengthen a vowel so that one can raise and then lower the pitch
> for a circumflex.

Likewise also with those that depend on accent: for the
lowering or raising of the voice upon a phrase is
thought not to alter its meaning-with any phrase, or
not with many.
(_On Sophistical Refutations_, I, 21)

Does Aristotle here mean the lowering and raising of the pitch or the
volume of the voice?

> I never really got much of a grip on the accents until I started teaching
> Greek and found that my ignorance about them was embarrassing:

That makes me feel better. :-)

My arms may not be leathern, but my hide feels _tanned_ anyway :-)

In Christ,
Jim Beale