Re: Greek Pronunciation

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Thu Sep 17 1998 - 01:01:49 EDT

Ward Powers wrote:

>Two considerations are of importance, IMHO, in choosing a prounciation
>schema for today for koine Greek. First, that it be historically valid:
>that is, that it employ pronunciations which were actually used within the
>koine period; secondly that it be phonemically valid: that is, that it
>employ a phonemic system, "one phoneme, one pronunciation". This latter
>requirement means that if you have a one-to-one relationship between
>spelling and pronunciation, then if you can pronounce a word you can spell

That of course is the problem...languages don't always differentiate between
phonemes, and if we are going to follow a scheme that reflects 1st century
pronunciation (whatever that was exactly) we may find ourselves running
headlong into the "one phoneme, one pronunciation" maxim (with which I
personally agree).

>I advocate (and in my Greek Grammar book I teach) the following:
>Z ZHTA dz as in "adze" [reminding one that functionally ZHTA is and
>functions as a double letter in Greek, like xi and psi, (e.g., taking
>perfect reduplication of just epsilon) and at times functions as a dental
>(e.g., in obeying the "dental drop-out rule") and at times as a sibilant].
>A as in along (short) or father (long)
>E as in penguin
>H as in where/there

Is this an Australian pronunciation thing ? My American English pronounces
the "e" in penguin and where/there the same, ie., short "e", *e*volution.
In order to keep E and H distinct, most grammar books suggest that H be
pronounced like long English "a" as in ob*ey*.

>I as in (short) or ski (long)
>O as in got
>U as in put (short) or truth (long)
>W as in throw
>AI as in aisle
>EI as in eight
>OI as in boil
>UI as in penguin (short) or suite (long)
>AU as in Strauss
>EU as in feud
>OU as in group
>This schema is almost totally phonemic: the only duplication is that long
>upsilon and OU are pronounced the same, so that LUW and LOUW would not be
>differentiated. But as long upsilon is not very common, this proves in
>practice to be a minor problem.

>May I commend this pronunciation schema as offering significant practical
>advantages, especially for teaching Greek to beginners.

I agree with the rest of your system; but an interesting thing happens in
actual practice: when people speak a language, then tend to hurry over
vowels at the beginning of words or in unaccented syllables. Witness the
Shewa vowels in Hebrew or the English word "history", which most pronounce
"h'story" as if the "i" wasn't there at all. So it is I've observed with
Greek; when I pronounce or hear Greek pronounced, there is a tendency to
rush over and thus shorten the vowels at the beginning of a word. There is
also a slight difference in some consonants as well; the one that stands
out the most to me is XI, which when pronounced at the beginning of a word
resembles the German ch in Ach, Bach (pronounced in the back of the
throat), but when it occurs in the middle of a word its more like the
German Ich (pronounced in the front of the mouth).


Dale M. Wheeler, Ph.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

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