Teaching Greek Pronunciation

From: Ward Powers (bwpowers@eagles.bbs.net.au)
Date: Wed Mar 05 1997 - 09:21:05 EST

Sam Johnson, who started the discussion on Greek pronunciation, has posted
now the suggestion that it may be time to say "enough" on this threead.

I have a few points to make before we wind it up.

Some time ago I became aware that there are a number of scholars of Greek
heritage who affirm that the modern pronunciation of the Greek language is
the same as that used by those who spoke Greek in the first century. This
for example is the position, as I understand it, of Isidoros in his
contributions on this thread, and possibly of some others who have posted to
this thread, and some whose writings have been cited. Other scholars very
strongly disagree, denying that this is so.

I researched this matter in some depth when I was writing my Grammar, "Learn
To Read the Greek New Testament". Perhaps the reflections of someone who has
actually gone into print recommending a particular pronunciation scheme to
be taught to students (and has thus and thereby stuck his neck out quite a
distance on this issue) may be of interest to some on the b-greek list.

My conclusion is: the contention that modern Greek pronunciation is the same
as that used in the first century is quite unsustainable. There is enough
evidence in the literature to show decisively that this is far from being
the case.

Some major points to note here are (a) the vowel shift subsequent to the NT
period that has led to many vowels and diphthongs coming to be pronounced
with the same sound in modern Greek which in NT times were clearly
differentiated; (b) the diphthongs AU and EU, which clearly were, and
behaved as, diphthongs in koine Greek, coming to be pronounced as AV and EV
today; (c) some consonant clusters being needed in modern Greek to achieve
consonant sounds that existed on their own in NT times.

If this point - the difference in pronunciation between ancient Greek and
modern Greek - is not granted, then it must only be on the basis of a
careful refutation of the evidence for such a pronunciation change between
NT times and now.

When this point IS granted, it is then relevant to ask, Why would anyone
wish to teach NOW a pronunciation which was not the one used when the NT was
written? The answer will depend upon whether one sees some advantage in
establishing a nexus between koine and modern Greek, or whether rather the
goal is to help a student to the greatest extent possible in the task of
learning to understand the Greek NT.

The use of modern pronunciation makes the task of the student of koine
considerably more difficult. What we should teach students is, rather, a
system of pronunciation based upon ancient Greek pronunciation which is also
a phonemic one. That is: one letter or diphthong, one pronunciation.

Thus: both in order to be closer to the pronunciation of NT times, and also
to give the student maximum assistance in learning NT Greek, do not teach
modern Greek pronunciation, but instead use a phonemic scheme derived from
how ancient Greek was pronounced.

Ward Powers

Rev Dr B. Ward Powers			Email:  bwpowers@eagles.bbs.net.au
10 Grosvenor Crescent			International Tel: +61-2-9799-7501
SUMMER HILL  NSW  2130			Australian Tel:     (02) 9799-7501

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