Re: Re- Teaching accents

From: David Moore (
Date: Wed Sep 20 1995 - 10:35:40 EDT

On Wed, 20 Sep 1995, Carl W. Conrad wrote:

> 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
> pronunciation!

        Just to add my .02, I don't teach the accents when teaching
beginning Greek. It is certainly helpful to know the accent system - but,
IMO, for the beginner, not necessary. For one thing, the texts available
for NT Greek in Spanish don't present a complete set of rules for
accentuation. I do teach the basic facts about the accent system, but
don't require that Greek words be accented in student papers and tests.

        I refer students who may be interested in mastering the accent
system (and who have the requisite English skills) to D. A. Carson, _Greek
Accents: A student's Manual_ which gives an adequate treatment of the

        Something to consider when discussing this matter is that the NT,
as originally penned, had no system of written accents; our oldest extant
MSS do not contain them either (except for those MSS where accents were
added later). Normally, the context tells how same-spelled words (What's
the TT for that?) should be understood and pronounced. For the beginner,
accents come in handy to avoid problems in the use of the lexicon, but a
little care and observation of the context can keep things on track.

        Certainly, to go on in Greek, one must master accentuation, but,
IMO, it's a subject best studied in a more concentrated and complete manner
than its treatment in most grammars.

        One more point: although the three forms of the accent are
preserved in Koine, our best info on pronunciation in that epoch
indicates that the tonal accent had become simply a stress accent by that

David L. Moore Southeastern Spanish District
Miami, Florida of the Assemblies of God Department of Education

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