Re: Re- Teaching accents

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Sep 20 1995 - 07:30:22 EDT

At 5:26 PM 9/19/95, Karen Pitts wrote:
>On Tue, 19 Sep 1995, DR. KEN PULLIAM wrote:
>> I have a question for those who teach Koine Greek. How valuable
>> is it for the first year student to be taught the rules for
>> accenting?
>I've shephered two classes of adults through Koine Greek through our church
>where what the seminary covers in a semester takes us 2 to 3 years. Believe
>me, I try to keep it as simple as possible. I think accents are essential.
>There are several words that differ only in accent. EI (if) without an
>accent, and EI (you are) with a circumflex are examples of early vocab which
>require knowing the accents. I don't think the accents are any more confusing
>than conjugation for native English speakers, the concepts of tenses that
>convey type of action rather than time, or the middle voice. At least accents
>have fairly straightforward rules.

I teach classical Attic mostly, but I am currently teaching Homeric in one
class and Koine in tutorial. I always go through the accents carefully,
tell students that they should learn the rules for accentuation of verbs
and enclitics, and tell them that they OUGHT to memorize the place of
accents on adjectives and nouns. I do think that it's important to get the
accents right on the 3+ different senses of "H", two senses of "ARA", etc.
On the other hand, I've never taken grades off for a missed accent on a
paper. And the reason is a confession that I make to my classes but haven't
really publicized: Some forty years ago in Munich I turned in a seminar
paper on Aristophanes to Rudolf Pfeiffer and got back on it only one
comment, "which, being interpreted, is": 'It's evident that you never
really learned the accents on Greek; I suggest that you either get them
right or omit them altogether!'

While it is certainly true that the accents help to distinguish words that
are spelled the same way, can anyone demonstrate any other value to
teaching them or writing them? And perhaps more significantly, does anyone
who teaches them also endeavor to teach a pronunciation in terms of a pitch
accent, which is what the accents were really meant to illustrate? I
imagine that most people teach students to use a stress accent on the
syllable accented in the Greek word. I make one single effort to show
students what the pitch accent MAY have sounded like (I don't really think
we have anything but a theoretical conception of this, although I am aware
that some scholars have prepared tapes of the PROPER pronunciation of the
accents). In fact, I rather suspect that those of us who teach Greek and
participate in this List use five or six different standards of

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

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