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

Date: Mon Mar 22 1999 - 01:08:30 EST


George Blaisdell wrote:

> We had a couple of Athenian students in my Greek 101 class some 25 years
> ago, and for the first couple of weeks they cruised while we struggled
> with the alphabet etc. But as I am recalling, once the rest of the
> class caught up on mundane looking at the Greek, the two Athenians
> struggled just the same as the rest of us to learn the forms, and by
> their own words they said the Attic was very much a foreign language to
> them.
> So your assertion that Greeks with 'some' [and not a lot] of education
> understand the GNT fairly readily came as a surprise to me. So my
> question is: How much is 'some' education?

That depends on a number of things, not the least is, how much they go to church.
Any language is learned through familiarity. If you hear (and pay attention!) the
same readings over and over, year after year (and the entire NT is read in church in
the course of a year, though you'd have to go every day to hear it all), then after
a while you make the connections. If you drop into church a few times a year, late,
spend most of your time looking at other people, and leave early, well... you might
not do so well with the Greek equivalent of the thee's and thou's. Also, did your
Athenian friends ever read the bible and the other church prayers at home? A lot of
the standard daily prayers (which can include generous amounts of the psalms) are by
people like St. Basil the Great or St. John Chrysostom-- whose Greek is in many
cases a lot more complicated than St. Paul at his worst! But you get used to it,
and it's kinda cool the way they said this or that, or wove a string of biblical
references together (try St. Symeon the New Theologian sometime for poetry and
depth. His Greek's not that hard but he'll knock your socks off with what he says.)

The difference between modern and koine is probably about like that between Chaucer
and Hemmingway. Of course some Greek newspapers and a lot of other stuff is written
in Katharevousa, so the NT is not quite as remote as Chaucer would be for us; even
high-church Anglicans don't speak Chaucerian in church! My point about
pronunciation is just that, by using the living pronunciation, it all "feels" like
the same language, so you make the connections more readily. Modern, Byzantine, and
NT are all part of the same auditory space. So it's doable, even if it takes a
little practice.

Opportunity for practice there is. It takes 27 thick books to get through the
Orthodox liturgy in the course of a year-- a lot of it is repeated; some you only
see once a year; but in seven years you'll hear it all, even if you go only on
sundays. Then there are tons and tons of non-liturgical private prayers that are
strongly recommended or required, for example, if you plan to go to communion, or
after you've been. You pick your favorites, or your confessor assigns a you a rule,
and you work with it over time. You can get whatever amount of exposure you want.
I've watched many pious old grandmas chant the main services almost in their
entirety along with the chanters, just from memory. But, being pious, they were
into it, and had been for many years.

You may be interested to know that some of the hymnography for Christmas was
actually written in Homeric Greek. Well, it's a stretch, and I can read Homer; it's
a stretch even for native speakers. But what the heck! A churchgoer of reasonable
piety hears that stuff probably several hundred times over a lifetime, without even

The main thing, though, is to recognize that the NT has a foreground as well as a
background, and that we are the poorer for not knowing it. How many educated Hindus
are as ignorant of Hindu literature since the Bhagavad Gita as most educated
Christians are of Christian literature after the first century?

If you haven't already done so, you might see the related comments I made the other
day under the sender's name "jabe" (my old email address) to the "Re: The Original
Bible Project" thread.

I hope this is all somehow on point.

Best regards,

John Burnett.

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