The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Biblical Greek morphology and syntax, aspect, linguistics, discourse analysis, and related topics
RandallButh
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Re: The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Post by RandallButh » May 23rd, 2020, 7:22 pm

I think we can all acknowledge that Ancient Greek was no more monolithic than Modern Greek with respect to dialects and accents. At the end of the day, we're forced to restrict our examination to a small sample of texts produced by a small minority of literate people.
The focus needs to be on phonemes, the meaningful sound units, not on the etic differences that can be heard in different dialects. The etics will be more opaque and impossible to recover through a phonemic orthography. In other words, fronted velars are adiafora, and not worth chasing, for the most part.

However, that cline of k > g > x > γ might be helpful in an unexpected way. If a fronted velar fricative is the LAST phoneme to be affected in a set, and if we have good evidence that γ was already a fronted fricative in the first century, then we can be pretty sure that the whole set was affected. So first century ιγερος becomes evidence of a fronted  γαμμα and it testifies to its fricativization, in addition. And if χι were therefore fronted, there is a reasonable expectation that it would have been fricativized. The fly in the ointment of this discussion is the fact that old Greek only had three phonemes of the four and all were stops: aspirated-k [Χ], unaspirated-k [Κ], and voiced-g [Γ].

Meanwhile, it helps to understand that phonemic length dropped out of the system and the phonology [system of meaningful sound distinctions] re-organized itself around that.
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RandallButh
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Re: The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Post by RandallButh » May 24th, 2020, 2:27 am

FWIW:
Here is a transcription of the inscription. Spelling is preserved, punctuation and numbering has been added. Photos are available on line.

1 Διάταγμα Καίσαρος
ἀρέσκει μοι τάφους τύνβους
τε, οἵτινες εἰς θρησκείαν προγόνων
ἐποίησαν ἢ τέκνων ἢ οἰκείων,
5 τούτους μένειν ἀμετακεινήτους
τὸν αἰῶνα. ἐὰν δέ τις ἐπιδίξῃ τι-
νὰ ἢ καταλελυκότα ἢ ἄλλῳ τινὶ
τρόπῳ τοὺς κεκηδευμένους
ἐξερριφφότα ἢ εἰς ἑτέρους
10 τόπους δώλῳ πονηρῷ με-
τατεθεικότα ἐπ’ ἀδικία τῇ τῶν
κεκηδευμένων ἢ κατόχους ἢ λί-
θους μετατεθεικότα, κατὰ τοῦ
τοιούτου κριτήριον ἐγὼ κελεύω
15 γενέσθαι καθάπερ περὶ θεῶν
ἐς τὰς τῶν ἀνθρώπων θρησκ-
κίας. Πολὺ γὰρ μᾶλλον δεήσει
τοὺς κεκηδευμένους τειμᾶν.
καθόλου μηδενὶ ἐξέστω μετα-
20 κεινῆσαι· εἰ δὲ μή, τοῦτον ἐγὼ κε-
φαλὴς κατάκριτον ὀνόματι
22 τυμβωρυχίας θέλω γενέσθαι.

[space]
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Raffaele1617
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Re: The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Post by Raffaele1617 » May 24th, 2020, 9:18 am

Shirley Rollinson wrote:
May 23rd, 2020, 10:56 am
Dear Raphaele1617,
How about introducing yourself to us ?
Thanks,
Shirley Rollinson
Hi Shirley! I'm the other guy in the video linked in the top post (along with Luke Ranieri hehe). I'm a linguistics undergrad with a particular interest in historical linguistics. I've studied Latin and a bit of Modern Greek, but I have not yet had the opportunity to study Ancient Greek in any form. :-)
Stephen Nelson wrote:
May 23rd, 2020, 3:32 pm
If you get a chance to look at the study I cited above by Io Manolessou and Nikolaos Pantelidis, it documents a dizzying variety (in modern Greek dialects) with respect to velar fronting, which is extremely widespread - but not ubiquitous. Here's are some key excerpts (emphasis added):
Looks like a fascinating study, thank you for sharing! :D So as Dr. Buth has pointed out, one thing that stands out to me is the fact that palatalization of gamma is the one that we have very direct evidence of quite early - your study indicates that in modern Greek at least, if this sound palatalizes then all the others should as well, and given that the backing of palatals to velars is an extraordinarily rare sound shift (so rare that this is considered to be highly problematic for some reconstructions of PIE which distinguish palatals and velars that then supposedly merge into regular velars in the centum languages), it strikes me as unlikely that these dialects which lack palatalization are not conservative dialects. Thus there is every reason to believe that this trend of gamma being the last sound to palatalize should extend all the way back to the classical period.

The other thing to keep in mind however is that the goal with our project is not to prescribe the system we think most likely was spoken by upper class speakers in the roman period (cuz this certainly ain't that hehe). Rather, our goal is to prescribe a standard which is not necessarily a-historical, but also achieves other pedagogical goals (inherently fits metre, is comprehensible to users of other systems, isn't suuuper hard to teach, etc.), aesthetic goals (we like it lol), and political goals (modern Greek speakers and attic reconstruction users don't hate it). When there is good evidence to suggest that a feature of modern Greek was present in this period, even if it wasn't ubiquitous, then as long as it matches our other goals we think an attempt should be made to integrate it. So many Greeks will simply reject any effort to use a reconstructed pronunciation, no matter how useful it may be, because ultimately they feel like a bunch of English and German and Italian speakers are trying to take something from them, do it all wrong, and ignore their perspective. This perspective, while ultimately not one I agree with, is not entirely misguided IMO. We would benefit enormously from getting more Greeks involved in or at least tolerant of historical pronunciations.

In this same vein I'd like to respectfully push back a little on some other points that have been made in this thread. Namely, this:
RandallButh wrote:
May 23rd, 2020, 7:22 pm
The focus needs to be on phonemes, the meaningful sound units, not on the etic differences that can be heard in different dialects. The etics will be more opaque and impossible to recover through a phonemic orthography. In other words, fronted velars are adiafora, and not worth chasing, for the most part.
and this:
Stephen Carlson wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 12:43 am
It's generally well-researched (or at least it fits with my research), but it makes a lot of fine phonetic distinctions that are largely out of the competence of L2 American speakers. For example I can barely hear and am not sure I can produce the palatalization of κ. I suspect that most Americans will be largely unable to follow their recommendations, except for those who are good with accents
I personally view the notion that acquiring a native-like grasp of the phonology of a foreign language being something only for people who are 'good at accents' to be akin to the notion that learning a language at all is something only for people who are 'good at languages'. This is actually an issue I have with language education in general, and one I feel very strongly about, so I really hope I don't come across as rude or dismissive, especially since we are discussing an area of expertise for you guys that I have really only dipped my toe into.

So, it's true that unlike in the case of children, a foreign phonology is something that can't really be acquired automatically, and must be studied explicitly. This is also true of vocabulary and grammar in the case of people who haven't acquired enough of the language to start consuming comprehensible input, but I think it's more true of phonology, because even people who have consumed thousands of hours of audio content in a foreign language may struggle to sound like a native.

However, I don't believe that it's actually all that hard for someone to learn to sound very close to native with a bit of study, unless they happen to have actual physiological impediments. The vast majority of people can be taught to produce any sound that exists in human language.

Personally, I've managed to acquire a native or near native accent in about six foreign languages - seven if you count me doing the reconstructed Latin pronunciation Luke and I use pretty much exactly as it is prescribed. Some of these (Spanish, Italian) took only a bit of explicit study of phonology. Japanese on the other hand has been much more difficult, and I've put many hours into acquiring pitch accent.

I am of the opinion that 2nd language teachers need training in basic articulatory phonetics and in dialect coach techniques, because sooooooooo many people are just a few intuitive explanations + a bit of practice away from sounding reeallly good.

Now as for why it matters, I think it boils down to two things: first, the kinds of errors that many people tend to make interferes greatly with things like poetic metre. As far as I know (please correct me if I'm mistaken) this doesn't matter much for biblical Greek, and we aren't at all saying that people who really only are interested in biblical greek should necessarily use phonemic vowel and consonant length. However, I think many people who study one form of ancient Greek will have some interest in other forms, and so our prescription is one that can work for any text and any period, not in terms of being how people actually spoke in those periods, but in terms of working both for communication and for things like poetry. Our intention is for people to take this prescription as a baseline, and modify it to suit their own needs anywhere on the spectrum between pure reconstructed attic and pure modern standard Greek phonology.

Vowel and consonant length in particular is a feature that many western European language speakers seem to assume will be too difficult to teach or acquire, but one only has to look at Japanese pedagogy to see that people will learn it quite easily when given tools and incentives to do so. I have met or heard hundreds of 2nd language Japanese speakers, and none of the ones who got to any level of proficiency had much trouble with distinguishing long and short vowels/consonants.

The other reason ties back into the politics of this that I was talking about before. People just receive you very differently when you sound 'legit' to them, and putting in a bit of work to avoid first language interference in pronunciation would go sooo far IMO to get people who prefer the modern pronunciation to be at least somewhat on board. Of course there will always be people who reject any attempt at reconstruction, but my experience speaking with a reconstructed classical pronunciation in Latin indicates to me that this doesn't have to be the case most of the time. Italians who hear my Latin pronunciation overwhelmingly like it, even as they are frustrated with people who use the 'classical pronunciation' but with their own L1 accent.

To give an example that I think illustrates this point - when English speakers hear someone doing the reconstructed Shakespearean pronunciation, they pretty much all love it with the exception of a few classist assholes who think it sounds too low class (probably because they know nothing about Shakespeare haha). However, if the only people who did the reconstruction were native Greek speakers, and you could easily hear that they were doing the 'reconstruction' phonemically, but by just substituting Greek sounds for the actual reconstruction, I would be surprised if most English speakers didn't reject it and lose interest.

I feel like doing the reconstruction with as little English accent as possible, without demanding perfection of course, would still do wonders for getting Greeks interested. It's also just a useful skill to have much in the way that learning new grammar and vocabulary is a useful skill, and plus it's really fun to speak another language using that language's phonology!

Okay, I think I've gone on long enough haha.
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Post by Stephen Carlson » May 24th, 2020, 5:02 pm

Thanks for your passionate comments, Raffaele. I too have studied have studied a large number of modern languages, and I too have striven to reproduce the languages’ phonology as best I can, even on sub-phonemic distinctions. Modesty precludes me from claiming any “near-native” proficiency in pronunciation, but in learning the languages and in speaking them with native speakers and language learners, I came to appreciate that fluency can and does happen without nearly sounding like a native speaker.

The main thing to get right then are the phonemic distinctions, so that one word does not wrongly sound like an unrelated word. I have also come to appreciate that adult learners will reach different levels of proficiency and that, while everyone can improve with much time and practice, one has to wonder whether it is worth one’s time to put time and practice on acquiring sub-phonemic phonologies instead of, say, vocabulary, especially in a language with no real speaking community left. One of my first lessons I learned from going to SBL is that scholars’ pronunciation of ancient Greek is atrocious: they can’t even get Erasmian pronunciation right. More than one guy even pronounced the diphthongs as if they were German!

Since phonemic distinctions are critical, the most important things to change are where American Erasmian gets the phonomes wrong and results in unnecessary mergers. More important is the father-bother merger in American English, which causes alpha and omicron to fall to together, something that never happened in Greek, such that the name of the famous BIble software company sounds like a “rabbit” instead of “word.” The next most important is the pronunciation of ει, which merged with (long) ι and a departure from the national Erasmians, with the American version wrongly merging the diphthong with η.

Just those two changes will get the speaker most of the way there. Both the Lucian and the Buth systems go beyond that and propose different realizations of the phonemes from the Erasmian, especially in the consonants. Even though there is resulting tension in Buth’s arguments about the phonemic system and his sub-phonemic recommendations, I understand the reason: Erasmian adopts the phonologies of different periods and producing a chimera of a system that never existed, however tolerably comprehensible it might have been. If one is going to make changes to Erasmian and not adopt modern, one should go for a system that actually existed at some point in time, as opposed to at no point in time. For me, the ideal is when φ θ χ shifted away from their aspirated values, because it otherwise is a very big ask for people to acquire, as adults, phonemic distinctions that don’t exist in their native languages, and a well-chosen period can avoid that. This puts our goal some where in the late Koine period. I’m pleased to see that there is interest in research the phonology of this period, though I worry that since neither the classicists nor the modern Greeks are interested in changing their systems, the constituency for this is minuscule. You may as well have better luck getting physicists to make the charge of an electron positive instead negative (due to Franklin’s mistake) or mathematicians to redefine π to be the ratio of the circumference to the radius instead of the diameter (Euler’s mistake).
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

RandallButh
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Re: The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Post by RandallButh » May 24th, 2020, 5:15 pm

Rather, our goal is to prescribe a standard which is not necessarily a-historical, but also achieves other pedagogical goals
I assume that you have read the discussion on goals and criteria for pronunciation choice in the PDF at www.biblicallanguagecenter.com ?
https://www.biblicallanguagecenter.com/ ... n-2012.pdf

Yes, I agree that anyone can learn to approximate an accent. However, the first and foremost requirement is to be inside the phonemic ballpark.
Consequently, if the language was NOT using length phonemically (see the Nazareth Inscription [listed a few posts above and fixed IN STONE] and Dead Sea Greek [especially Babatha archive] for examples), and it wasn't, then the system should not build an artificial pronuniciation in order to benefit "spelling" or "classical poetic scansion" or some otherwise laudable goal. Students will not follow the rhetoric and word choices properly if they are using a system phonemically foreign to the Koine. We don't use Chaucerian pronunciation for post-Great-Vowel-Shift Shakespeare.

PS: It is good, of course, to teach π τ κ as unaspirated "Spanish" stops.
Let the students practice, including "clean" vowels /i/ /e/ /ε/ /a/ /o/ /u/ /y (AKA ü)/
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Stephen Nelson
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Re: The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Post by Stephen Nelson » May 26th, 2020, 1:18 am

I hate to flog a dead horse with the whole issue of velar fronting. But one salient example that comes to mind is a video of Professor Christophe Rico, teaching Greek by giving commands in the imperative mood.

Here’s a link to the video at the 12:53 mark:

https://youtu.be/BiNLxi6hHFI?t=773

There he says, “τρέχε!” over and over again, in a variety of ways (i.e. "τρέχε ταχέως!"). Now, as a practitioner of Erasmian pronunciation, I imagine he has absolutely no compulsion to palatalize ‘χ’ > [ç] before a back vowel. So, it probably just doesn’t occur to him. His “χ” (in BOTH 'τρέχε' AND in 'ταχέως') seems to have the exact same value as in 'τρέχων' - rumbling harshly in the back of the throat.

Now, I suppose this phoneme is still inside the same ‘phonemic ballpark’. Nobody would ever have any issue understanding “run!” that way. So, fronting χ before ε can reasonably viewed as Dr. Buth described it - an opaque etic difference that’s essentially adiafora, and not worth chasing, for the most part. After all, it is a feature of some local dialects (per the above).

The elephant in the room is that Professor Rico’s native language doesn’t have this phoneme at all. And neither does English. So, obviously, there should be some reasonable expectations for L2 language learners. L1 accent retention to some degree is expected. And a high level of 'permissiveness' over minor nuances of pronunciation probably puts students at ease. It's just less hassle.

Now, if this were a lesson in Modern Greek, for example, any non-native speaker may still end up saying “τρέχε ταχέως!” ('τρέχε γρήγορα!' in Demotic) with the exact same ‘foreign’ accent unconsciously. Even a fluent speaker might make this 'mistake'. And, it may or may not provoke a correction from a stringent teacher - [x] > [ç].

So, here’s where I think the Lucian system may intend on pushing students, assuming that they are capable of both hearing and ‘approximating the accent’ -

In the case of “τρέχε ταχέως!”, presumably, the goal would be to palatalize/front 'χ' before the front vowel - in order to conform to the etic subtlety of Standard Modern Greek as closely as possible. That way, if a native Greek speaker were in the class, that person would feel comfortable speaking naturally and would hear others speaking the same way. I think this is an example of the ‘political’ compromise they have in mind.
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Paul-Nitz
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Re: The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Post by Paul-Nitz » May 26th, 2020, 7:55 am

Interesting and deep look at pronunciation here. Thank you.

My priority is teaching and learning (Instructed Second Language Acquisition). In that regard, here are three opinions based on my experiences and observations.

  • Native accent should not be a goal. Non-native speakers can and do attain pronunciation within phonemic bounds. So should our Greek students. Non-native speakers exceedingly rarely attain a native accent and it is not a reasonable goal in teaching.

  • Accent should only be corrected when it results in a breakdown in communication. Phonemic ballpark is the right approach.

  • Unaspirated stops should be a goal. Pronouncing Ancient Greek with π τ κ as unaspirated stops not only sounds better, but also makes for easier flow in speaking sentences. I don't think this is in too hard for Am.Engl. speakers. It certainly easier to learn than y for οι and υ since the sound exists in the language (spa, sta, ska)

  • Recognize that correct Output does not mean Input will be comprehended. Non-native speakers can learn to SPEAK/UTTER a new sound (e.g. beginning unaspirated p, t, k, or implosive b, d) but will not HEAR the difference. The only exception is if they have spent a very long time in the language and in an immersive situation in which they have experienced many reward/punishment many times for distinguishing/not distinguishing.
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Paul D. Nitz - Lilongwe Malawi

Stephen Nelson
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Re: The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Post by Stephen Nelson » May 26th, 2020, 11:53 am

Stephen Nelson wrote:
May 26th, 2020, 1:18 am
There he says, “τρέχε!” over and over again, in a variety of ways (i.e. "τρέχε ταχέως!"). Now, as a practitioner of Erasmian pronunciation, I imagine he has absolutely no compulsion to palatalize ‘χ’ > [ç] before a back vowel.
Sorry, I meant to say FRONT vowel, not BACK vowel!
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Post by Stephen Carlson » May 26th, 2020, 6:41 pm

Paul-Nitz wrote:
May 26th, 2020, 7:55 am
  • Native accent should not be a goal. Non-native speakers can and do attain pronunciation within phonemic bounds. So should our Greek students. Non-native speakers exceedingly rarely attain a native accent and it is not a reasonable goal in teaching.
  • Accent should only be corrected when it results in a breakdown in communication. Phonemic ballpark is the right approach.
  • Unaspirated stops should be a goal. Pronouncing Ancient Greek with π τ κ as unaspirated stops not only sounds better, but also makes for easier flow in speaking sentences. I don't think this is in too hard for Am.Engl. speakers. It certainly easier to learn than y for οι and υ since the sound exists in the language (spa, sta, ska)
I like these points, but as an L1 English speaker, points 1 and 3 are in tension. The only way I can pronounce π τ κ as unaspirated stops is by making them sound very much like b d g, and for point 2 to work, β δ γ need to be fricativized.
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Paul-Nitz
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Re: The 'Lucian Pronunciation' of Koine Greek

Post by Paul-Nitz » May 27th, 2020, 8:35 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:
May 26th, 2020, 6:41 pm
The only way I can pronounce π τ κ as unaspirated stops...

I thought so too, until I found a little trick. We speak unaspirated stops after an S. Say "stop, stop, stop." Then, without changing ANYTHING else, remove the "S" for a unaspirated "top, top, top." Repeat with ski, and spa. The fact that we actually use the sound in English is a great advantage.

Producing that unaspirated "top" is not so hard. Learning to hear the difference between unaspirated "top" and "dop" is another thing altogether.
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Paul D. Nitz - Lilongwe Malawi

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