Pronunciation, was Re: Did Paul Speak Greek with a Turkish Accent?

From: Stephen C. Carlson (
Date: Sat Mar 20 1999 - 12:19:09 EST

At 09:30 AM 3/19/99 +0000, Jonathan Ryder wrote:
>"Stephen C. Carlson" wrote:
>> Thus, his vowels were: A, E=AI, H, I=EI, O=W, OU, and U=OI.
>Is that E=AI as in fair or laid? (or have I missed the point)

As an American, my vowel in "fair" has a very strong r-coloring,
and "laid" is not what I was thinking of (unless it is the French
word of that spelling). I suppose the "e" in "let" is more like it.
By "E=AI" I meant that the vowels E and AI were pronounced the same
(for some speakers of Koine).

>Can you give similar english word examples for EI, OI etc.?

EI as "ei" in "receive." OI=U is not an English sound, but cf.
French 'u' as in "tu" or German 'č' (ue) as in "čber".

>Could anyone summarise different pronunciations (erasmus, modern etc) with English
>examples (if you're conscious of vowel differences between UK and US English then
>please make a note)

The biggest difference is that Modern Greek pronounces many vowels as I
(cf. English "beet"), but all the distinct vowel spellings are given
distinct Erasmian pronunciations. Thus, EI, H, I, OI, U all have the
same modern pronunciation, and AI and E also have the same pronunication,
but 7 different Erasmian pronunciations as in "bate" (EI), "bed" (H),
"beet" (I), "boy" (OI), French "but" (U), "bite" (AI), and "bet" (E).
[NB: The English vowel in "bed" is longer than the vowel in "bet",
perhaps like UK "bear".]

In Koine, which spanned many centuries and many regions, it is
difficult to talk about a consistent pronunciation, but it seems that
when many MSS were written (Egypt, 50-150?), E and AI were like the
vowels in "bed" or "bet", EI and I were like the vowels in "beet",
H was like the vowel in "bate", OI and U were like the vowels in
French "but", and OU was like the vowel in "boot".

However, if one is to communicate Greek words to others, it is probably
better to adopt an agreed upon standard (e.g. Erasmian or Modern), than
a more historically correct pronunciation for Koine around the time of

Stephen Carlson

Stephen C. Carlson              
Synoptic Problem Home Page
"Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs chant the words."  Shujing 2.35

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