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Machen Erasmian: kinds of Erasmian and kinds of Restored

Posted: June 7th, 2011, 6:25 am
by RandallButh
SImilar words are often used with quite different reference. It might be helpful when discussing pronunciation to specify the 'kind' of whatever name one puts on a system.

For example, some have referred to reconstructed Koine as 'restored' while others have referred to reconstructed 5c BCE Athenian as 'restored'.

Some refer to 5c BCE as 'Erasmian', while many refer to various local 'mixes' as Erasmian.

In the US, most local Erasmian kinds use fi, theta, chi (fricative, soft consonants), while reconstructed 5c BCE Athenian uses hard, aspirated stops for those sounds. Also in the US, many "Erasmians" pronounce 'o'-mikron like alpha, while others use an "aw" as in 'saw', while those emulating 5c BCE use w-mega for 'aw' and 'o'mikron for a close 'o'.

There is one particular kind of Erasmian that I would like to focus on in this post before suggesting distinguishing names.

Many Erasmian Anglophones follow the advice of Gresham Machen. They pronounce EI the same as H, that is, they pronounce ει the same as η. Now we can be fairly certain that such was not the case in 5c BCE Athens. At the time of Alexander and the spread of the Koine it was only EI that merged with I (iota), not H. (For documentation, see any good historical phonological study. Horrocks provides a good overview. We need to be speaking about post 403 BCE, of course, since the H symbol was originally a consonant and not the long, low, front vowel.) Such a specific sound merger dealing with only half of the pair ει/η could only have happened if EI and H were distinct at the beginning of that process. So we can ask the question, if EI is allowed to be merged with another phoneme in an Erasmian system, to which vowel should it be merged, to H (eta) or to I (iota)? The answer is straightforward. Historically, it was not a part of H, so it would be a poor choice and would misrepresent the Greek system to merge the sounds for EI and H as some kind of mid front vowel [IPA e, ε]. On the other hand EI is known to have merged with I in the third-fourth century BCE when before consonants, and before vowels as well within a couple of centuries. What this means is that the "Machen Erasmian" is just wrong on this vowel and the Machen sound equivalence was unnecessary for English speakers. "Machen Erasmianists" would do everyone a favor if they simply dropped EI= [e] and joined the flow of the Greek language and used EI= . [PS: IPA "e" is the starting sound in English "fate, bait, weight", while IPA "i" is the sound of English "feet, ski, belief, leaf".] If they were to join EI to I they would be able to distinguish indicative clearly from subjunctive in words like βλέπει "s/he sees" versus βλέπῃ "s/he would be seeing". And their resulting dialect would sound more "Greek" to Greeks and to anyone using a phonological system that is updated from "restored 5c BCE" [PS: "Restored 5c BCE" is NOT a standard Erasmian and should not be assumed to be whatever "Erasmian" someone may be familiar with].

While correcting this one item within "Machen Erasmian", one other item should also be introduced that would not affect its overall "Erasmian" nature. Machen Erasmian uses soft, fricative "fi, theta, chi" for the series or originally voiceless aspirated stops. [PS: an aspirated stop is like the "t" in English "tea, tree" as opposed to the fricative in "three, thistle".] Now those voiceless fricatives that have been adopted in Erasmian are from the Koine period of the language. More importantly, those voiceless fricatives apparently developed AFTER the voiced stops β, δ, γ became fricatives. It appears that β and γ became fricatives by the first century CE at the latest. So Machen Erasmians could do everyone a favor be including β, δ, γ, φ, θ, χ as fricatives in their system. That would go a long way to ameliorating the cacophony that is heard in modern Greek ears when a Machen Erasmian attempts to speak. [PS: Greeks endure that at conferences and join the Erasmians themselves in paying attention to the printed text. Erasmians rarely pay attention to clause-length and longer Greek when read orally, they depend on printed handouts/texts, just like in most Greek reading classes.] Anyway, Machen Erasmians could go a long way toward rapprochement with the Greek language by correcting their EI into I [iota sound] and by using fricatives for both [φ θ χ] and [β δ γ].

So finally some names to help with a score card when talking about "Erasmian".

"Restored Attic" should be reserved for 5c BCE Greek where long vowels are produced longer in time, accents like circumflex and acute are distinguished, the consonants [φ θ χ] and [β δ γ] are all stops, and vowels like η and ω are slightly lower than their short counterparts ε and ο. [PS: that is, H is closer to "ae" in "bae, baa" and ω is closer to 'aw' in "saw".

"Machen Erasmian" would be used for a collation of EI with H, fricatives for only φ θ χ, ο/ω reversed as 'o'="aw" in "saw" and ω = 'o' in "note", and normally with no distinction on the kind of accent. This is a very common form of USA Erasmian.

"Corrected Machen" would be Machen Erasmian with the corrections added above: EI would go with I and the stops [φ θ χ] and [β δ γ] would all be fricatives.

"Alpha Erasmian" could refer to a Machen-esque Erasmian where o-mikron is merged with alpha. Some have referred to this as Astartean Erasmian because some phrases like τον θεον "the god" sound like ταν θεαν, which is Doric for "the goddess" (cf. John 1.1). :o This, too, is fairly commonly encountered in the USA.

"British Erasmian" might be used as a subtype of Machen Erasmian where the accents are often ignored in reading. [There are various vowel qualities in some of the British Erasmian systems which would further complicate matters.]

"Restored Koine". By way of contrast with "Restored Attic" above which has tried to consistently apply the "Erasmian" principle of a historical reconstruction of one symbol=one sound, "Restored Koine" could refer to reconstructed Koine where the stops [φ θ χ] and [β δ γ] are fricatives, vowel sounds are seven [ι η ε α ο ου υ] or six in later Koine [from the time of Origen: ι ε α ο ου υ], and accents are read as the correct stressed syllable (or sometimes without stress in the case of grave when read fast). There is a new webpage link for a description of all of this: ... n_2008.pdf.

We might as well add a note on 'historical pronunciations'. Often, "Historical Pronunciation" is used for Modern Greek with its five vowel system [ι ε α ο ου], fricative consonants, and accents that are read as the correct stressed syllable. Modern Greek was the pronunciation at the time when Greek studies became more widespread in Europe following the fall of Constantiople. 'Modern Greek' is probably the best term for this today since most linguists would consider both Restored Attic and Restored Koine to be historical pronunciations.

The use of some adjective on "Erasmian" will help both Erasmians and non-Erasmians understand what is being talked about.

Re: Machen Erasmian: kinds of Erasmian and kinds of Restored

Posted: June 13th, 2011, 10:07 am
by Paul-Nitz
It's good to now be able to distinguish between the names for different systems of pronunciation. We might add German tradition Erasmian, though I imagine few outside my chuch body speak it.

I've recorded here my thoughts about the possibility of using Restored Koine Pronunciation in teaching my African students. I'd be happy to hear the thoughts of anyone on B-Greek who has an interest. I've included all my thoughts, but I am especially interested in advice concerning αι and οι (see my comments on those pairs below).

Somewhere I read that when the Restored Koine system of pronunciation was being constructed, it took into account what the American and Western European tongue could reasonably be asked to form. In considering whether to switch to Restored Koine in my teaching, I'm taking into account what the Bantu tongue can reasonably be expected to pronounce.

Another part of my consideration is that the Restored Koine will be different from what their future fellow African pastors know and what other teachers in our ministerial training system use. The brand of Erasmian they use came out of the German tradition and is slightly different than either American or British Erasmian (noted below).

I would not like to mix the two systems, but I am considering some practical alterations.

Notes: I've only used the phonetic vowel symbols I'm familiar with. If they don't match International phonetic symbols, I hope the example words will make them clear.


Letter...............Erasmian(German)................Rest. Koine

Omicron................ŏ, ə (ton)................ō (tone)
The ō sound is used in Chichewa (bambo). ŏ is not used and is difficult for Chichewa speakers to produce. Restored Koine is clearly easier Pronouncing ō rather than ŏ.

I doubt that pronouncing τον θεον as /tōn theōn/ would cause any problem of communication between RK and Erasmian speakers.

Eta................ā (late)................ā
No issue here. In fact, Chichewa for "yes" is /ā/.

Iota................ĭ (hit)................ē (heat)
Chichewa does not have ĭ and it is difficult to pronounce for Chichewa speakers. Restored Koine ē is present and seems preferable.

Epsilon................ĕ (pet)................ĕ
Short vowels are difficult for Chichewa speakers, but in this case it's worth the effort to teach the short "e" for the sake of distinguishing words in Greek.

Alpha................ă (hat)................ah (Shalom)
................ah (Shalom)
Really no problem with either system. In fact, I'm not sure there is a true difference. If you learn that α is always "ah," it will naturally turn into ă when final.

Upsilon................ü (über)................ü
German tradition Erasmian is ü for upsilon, but often slouched into ĭ. This ü sound is very difficult for our Chichewa speakers. They will "hear" it as either ĭ or "oo."

If I understand the Restored Koine system correctly, they distinguish between "oo" and ü, the former being reserved for the dipthong "ου."

If we teach Restored Koine, I think it would be best to model the ü sound for upsilon, but allow students to use "oo" sound if they find it difficult.

Pair οι................oy (toy)................ü
Erasmian wins hands down for ease of pronunciation (moyo). This is the most jarring change of pronunciation for those who speak Erasmian. οι ανθρωποι sound very different with ü. for distinguishing Greek words. If we taught Restored Koine, I'd be tempted to teach "oy" for οι, but I feel it's going to be confusing to mix systems. So, what would I do? Again allow for "oo" in place of ü? οι ανθρωποι prounced as "OO ανθρωπΟΟ" would cause confusion with του ανθρωπου.

Pair ει................ay (height)................ē (feet)
German tradition Erasmian differs here from other Erasmians who use ā. Either "ay" or ē can be easily pronounced by a Chichewa speaker. I wouldn't expect too much confusion between the German tradition Erasmian speakers and Restored Koine speakers.

Pair αι................ay (height)................ĕ, ā
I'm uncertain about the correct Restored Koine for αι. In one book (Epictetus) I found ĕ listed for αι. But the audio file seem to pronounce και as /kā/. If we have a choice, ā is far easier for Chichewa speakers than ĕ.

This is again a big change from Erasmian and could cause confusion. But I imagine Erasmian speaking teachers would quickly understand the change. I'm less concerned about Restored Koine speaking students understanding Erasmian speaking teachers since the text is always before them.

Pair αυ................ow (cow), av
A big change from Erasmian, but not difficult to pick up on since it is a very distinct change.

π τ κ................aspirated................unaspirated
No problem either way for Chichewa speakers to pronounce (thawani, tenga) and little chance of confusion between Erasmian and Restored Koine speakers.

Pair –ντ-................"nt"................"nd"
(e.g. παντα)
No real problem either way, but I would prefer "n" + unaspirated "t", which in the end sounds like "nd," but more natural.

γ................g................velar voiced fricative "gh"
The Restored Koine "gh" is more difficult, but not impossible for Chichewa speakers. If students had trouble with it, it would make little difference if they substituted "g."

Rough / Smooth
Breathing Mark
................'h" & glottal stop................glottal stop, glottal stop
"H" is not a problem for Chichewa speakers. The default for any beginning vowel is Chichewa is sans glottal stop. Glottal stop is used (exclamation "a, a, a, a").

I personally miss the distinction between Rough and Smooth breathing in the Restored Koine.
If we would teach Restored Koine pronunciation, I wonder, would it be worthwhile to preserve the distinction between Rough and Smooth by teaching that Smooth breathing mark indicates a glottal stop and Rough breathing mark indicates NO glottal stop. This would seem to match the orthography of Spanish. The addition of "h" (I think) indicates NO glottal stop. So, Habanero is pronounced "abanero" without a glottal stop. This would, I think, be an easy thing for our Chichewa speakers and would help preserve distinction between some Greek words (ἅυτη αὐτή).

I'm happy for any input.

Paul D. Nitz, Lilongwe

Re: Machen Erasmian: kinds of Erasmian and kinds of Restored

Posted: July 31st, 2011, 6:33 pm
by Paul-Nitz
My post above contains the full story of considering what pronunciation system to use for my African students.

After working with the Living Koine books more, I am coming to the conclusion that Restored Koine would work with

1. Omicron+iota would be pronounced OY (toy)
2. Alpha+iota would be pronounced AY (tie).
3. Smooth breathing marks would indicate a GLOTTAL STOP.

My reasoning is:
1. U umlaut is too difficult to pronounce. Let upsilon be "OO" and Omicron+iota be OY. It would make life much easier for my students.
2. Alpha+iota pronounced as AY doesn't interfere with fluent pronunciation and let's it be nicely distinct from Epsilon and Eta.
3. It keeps the distinction between smooth and rough breathing marks, but keeps my modified system closer to pure Buthian Restored Koine.

Any advice from the pronunciation gurus?

PD Nitz

Re: Machen Erasmian: kinds of Erasmian and kinds of Restored

Posted: July 31st, 2011, 10:05 pm
by RandallButh
1. "oo" shouldn't be υ because ου is already "oo" [assuming you intended "oo" as 'boot' 'heavy shoe']
the solution is simply for students to hear alot of the sounds. the second solution is for the students to do what the Greeks themselves did in the later first millemium: use ι.

2. But the ε sound is not a problem, so why not use it for αι ?

3. 'glottal stop'? Not a lot of languages use glottal stop as a phoneme. Did I miss something?

I find it nicer to aim at a real system used by a language rather than inventing an expanded, artificial configuration. that may sound strange when talking about an ancient language, but the seven vowel configuration was demonstrably in place at the turn of the era, and specifically in Judea.

Re: Machen Erasmian: kinds of Erasmian and kinds of Restored

Posted: February 4th, 2012, 10:29 am
by Paul-Nitz
R. Buth,

Thanks much for your reply. Somehow I missed it in August.
RandallButh wrote:1. "oo" shouldn't be υ because ου is already "oo" [assuming you intended "oo" as 'boot' 'heavy shoe']
the solution is simply for students to hear alot of the sounds. the second solution is for the students to do what the Greeks themselves did in the later first millemium: use ι.
Okay, I'll try the ü for upsilon. But it's an awfully hard sound for Bantu because it requires a tight mouth and muscles that have not been used. Bantu pronunciation requires a loose mouth. (An expatriate friend of mine learned Tonga well. One day he made a visit to a dentist. When he returned with a "frozen" mouth, his friends said, "Today you are speaking very good Tonga!")

The way I intend to train my students to say ü (or an approximation of it) is to pronounce omicron+iota (owee) very shortly (a bit like my mother used to say "Oi vey"). This swallowing of a final "ee" sound is very common in Chichewa. And, as I try this short /owee/ out myself, I find the corners of my mouth are dropping and I get pretty close to the German ü.
RandallButh wrote:2. But the ε sound is not a problem, so why not use it for αι ?
Actually ε (as a short English "e") is a bit of a problem for my Bantu guys. All short vowels are absent in Chichewa. "I penned him a letter" would be pronounced "I paind heem a later." I'm already expecting that my students will be pronouncing βλεπω pretty much like βληπω. Teaching them ε and αι are the same may end up meaning η ε and αι are all the same. Again, I've come to a conclusion that a very clipped pronunciation of alpha+iota comes very close to what you suggest, the short "e." That's what I'm trying to test out myself and I've almost got it down. It sounds closer to short "e" than it does to AYI ("tie").
RandallButh wrote:3. 'glottal stop'? Not a lot of languages use glottal stop as a phoneme. Did I miss something?
The glottal stop is phonemic in Chichewa. Koma is "but," but khoma is "to knock." (I once got my car stuck in a gamepark at twilight because I thought the park guide said kalulu "rabbit." What he really said was khalulo "HOLE!!!"). But, I've changed my mind about that one. I'm thinking of just using the normal Erasmian H for rough breathing mark. I just can't give it up, myself... it's phonemic for ME. Since I'm all they got for modeling the pronunciation, it'll have to do.

Sorry that I don't know IPA. It would make this a bit easier to understand, I'm sure.

Turns out that a friend has paved the way for me to attend the Fresno seminar, so I hope to learn more there.

PD Nitz

Re: Machen Erasmian: kinds of Erasmian and kinds of Restored

Posted: February 4th, 2012, 11:12 am
by RandallButh
I'll look forward to meeting you in Fresno.

Some of the difficulties that you describe are typical for 'five-vowel' languages. However, practice over a month or so, and lots of listening to the target sounds can get anyone over the hurdle if they want to. Incidently, modern Greek is five-vowel. AI=E has the mid sound, and HTA has raised up into IOTA. So modern, and Machen Erasmian, lose the H [e] vs. EI distinction of KOINH.


Randall Buth

Re: Machen Erasmian: kinds of Erasmian and kinds of Restored

Posted: February 13th, 2012, 5:30 am
by Paul-Nitz
Paul-Nitz wrote:The glottal stop is phonemic in Chichewa. Koma is "but," but khoma is "to knock."
Oops. That's wrong. The Unaspirated/Aspirated consonants are phonemic. The glottal stop is simply absent in Chichewa.