Re: On hearing (and uttering) Greek aloud

From: Stephen C Carlson (
Date: Thu Aug 01 1996 - 11:44:37 EDT

Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>Without citing the original post, I want to endorse as warmly as possible
>Edward Hobbs' wise comments on pronuncication and aural reinforcement:
>1. I cannot imagine that learning Greek without reading aloud and acquiring
>an aural equivalent of the written words ever being successful. One needs
>to HEAR the words--at least mentally (which means learning them by oral
>pronunciation, of course), if one is really to accumulate vocabulary

I wholeheartedly agree and I'll never cease to thank my Homeric Greek
teacher who insisted that I memorize and recite aloud the proem to the

>4. I would agree with the argument that modern Greek pronunciation is
>probably closer to the pronunciation of 1st-century Koine Greek--with OI,
>U, I, H, EI all pronounced "ee"--but to use this pronunciation before
>others, most of whom have learned the Erasmian pronunciation, doesn't
>contribute to communication. And finally, that process of "ITACISM"--the
>leveling of the vowel & diphthong sounds to a single common "ee" sound can
>ruin one's spelling of Greek (as Egyptian papyri show very clearly in
>numerous instances of letters written by literate but unsophisticated

I'll be sending a chart of the classical, Koine, and modern Greek
pronunciation I prepared last fall based upon W. Sidney Allen's VOX
GRAECA. It is my impression that it was by the ninth century that
pretty much all of the changes that make up modern Greek pronunciation
were complete. The Koine period was a transitional period and there
were many changes in the second through fourth centuries.

For example, Allen concludes that OI in the first century was
pronounced like the vowel in the French 'feuille' (German [o"i],
'oei'). By the beginning of the second century it became like the
vowel in the French 'lui' (German [u"i] 'uei') then shortly afterwards
to a long upsilon (French 'tu' German [u"h] 'ueh'). Both the upsilon and
OI were subsequently itacised by the ninth century.

According to Allen, H was a closed 'e' as in Eng. 'day' in the first
century, but the Hi (with the iota subscript) was pronounced as English
'ee'. H then itacised by the third century. Finally, EI (both spurious
and genuine) had changed to an 'ee' by the third century B.C. except
between vowels. Thus, kingdom, BASILEIA, was pronounced in the first
century as "basileya."

Many of the changes in pronounciation (including AI > E in the second
century) can be seen in the NT MS tradition.

>In sum, it's practical to learn the Erasmian pronunciation and to use it in
>aural reinforcement of vocabulary acquisition and it reading aloud of
>original Greek texts to get the habit of thinking in Greek word-order.

A good recommendation.

Stephen Carlson

Stephen C. Carlson, George Mason University School of Law, Patent Track, 4LE              : Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs     : chant the words.  -- Shujing 2.35

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