Re: accents

From: Stephen C. Carlson (
Date: Tue Feb 11 1997 - 23:01:46 EST

At 06:01 2/11/97 -0600, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>At 3:06 PM -0600 2/10/97, Paul F. Evans wrote:
>>Carl,I would like to demonstrate my usual knack for the
>>"basic" and elementary question. In the recent discussion
>>of accents, it has been observed, and I am well aware of
>>the fact, that accents were not original to the text (NT
>>in particular). Where do they come from, and by what system
>>were they put into place? And if they do, in some instances,
>>make a material difference to meaning, surely where the
>>meaning is ambiguous in the first place, or a textual variant
>>disputed, accents cannot be the determiners?
>I have to plead ignorance on this one, but I would readily defer five or
>six list-members whom I know to be fully competent to offer a quick answer
>to this one. I do know that later Greek MSS do show accents and breathing
>marks, but my impression is that these were a Byzantine invention, intended
>to indicate how Greek HAD been pronounced prior to the gradual shift-over
>to a stress-accent pronunciation that may have been in process already as
>the shift in pronunciation of 2/3 of the vowels to an (English) long-E
>sound, "itacism" was completing itself (dare I use he "reflexive voice"

The following is from Smyth, section 161 (p. 38):

"The invention of th marks of accent is attributed to Aristophanes
of Byzantium, librarian of Alexandria about 200 B.C. The use of signs
served to fix the correct accentuation, which was becoming uncertain
in the third century B.C.; marked the variation of dialect usage; and
rendered the acquisition of Greek for foreigners. The signs for
accents (and the breathings) were not regularly employed in Mss.
till after 600 A.D."

If there was quite a bit variation in the accent among the Greek
dialects, then that variation would have placed considerable
pressure on the Koine to level the accents.

Stephen Carlson

Stephen C. Carlson                   : Poetry speaks of aspirations,              : and songs chant the words. :               -- Shujing 2.35

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