Re: The sound of "o"...

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Sep 18 1996 - 09:05:30 EDT

At 4:11 PM -0500 9/17/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>Sorry to bring up an old theme, but there is a new twist...
>I'm interested in the pronunciation of omikron in the NT period and in
>scholarly "Erasmian" pronunciation. I just heard a CD from Parson's technology
>which pronounces it like "o" in "Bob". I have always pronounced it like "o" in
>"obey", and I believe that this is the pronunciation in modern Greek.

If you don't have a copy of it, I'd be glad to reproduce Edward Hobbs' note
from August 2, 1996 with subject header, "Greek Pronunciation." While it
doesn't offer full details on Erasmian pronunciation, it says enough, I
think. I wouldn't go overboard in the direction of precision on the vowel
sounds, but I'll tell you what I teach.

>I have two questions:
>1. Do some scholars pronounce it this way, or do they all pronounce it
>like "o"
>in "Bob"? The practical question is, will people laugh at me if I continue to
>pronounce it like "o" in "obey" ;-> I notice that books vary. Machen says that
>it is pronounced like "o" in "obey". JACT says "o" as in "pot". Robertson's
>short grammar says that "There was little difference in sound, if any, between
>the sounds o, w, and ou. They were sounded nearly like our oo (not a
>Does he really mean "oo" as in "boot"?

I don't really think so--I think he really means that they were all pretty
much like the "o" sound in "boat." The problem is: WHEN were they all
sounded similarly, if ever?

If you really want to get into this, you're going to have to look at Sidney
Allen's book. I will only say that my own understanding of the
pronunciation of these "o" sounds in _5th-4th century Attic_ is that "O" is
a short closed "o" perhaps like the "o" in "go"; "OU" is a long closed "o",
probably more like the "o" in "blow"; "W" is a long open "o" perhaps
something like the "o" in "Offenbach."

>2. How was this pronounced in NT Greek, anyways, or was there variation?

HOWEVER, my understanding is that by the NT period, "OU" has come to be
like the "oo" in "boot"; it is also used to represent the sound of the
Latin consonantal U (i.e. V) in proper names: e.g. Latin VERGILIUS = Greek

What I teach is pronunciation of Omicron pretty much like the "o" in "off,"
Omega like an English long "o" as in "pole," and "OU" like the "oo" in
"boot." I am under no illusion that this is the pronunciation ever used at
any particular time for Greek. I teach this pattern so that there will be a
reasonably clear distinction between the O-sounds (and it's also the way I
was taught).

The subject is an interesting one, to be sure, but I think one has to
distinguish sharply between the pronunciation of Greek as a body of facts
regarding any particular time and place where Greek was spoken and written
and the pronunciation of Greek as a pedagogical convention.

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

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