Re: Bear with me, here. :-)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Oct 17 1999 - 07:34:59 EDT

At 9:35 PM -0500 10/16/99, Joe A. Friberg wrote:
>Carl et al.:
>I have never been stringently taught a system of pronunciation, and
>generally encountered a very lax attitude towards the subject. I also have
>not purused the subject on my own--yet. My question then is two-fold:
>1. I have always assumed that the primary difference between omicron & omega
>was quantitative/length rather than quality. Was this true at some point,
>and when did it cease being true?
>2. Would you begin to recommend a bibliography on the subject, covering the
>different proposed systems, reconstructions, etc.?

Steven Miller has mentioned W. Sidney Allen, Vox Graeca: The Pronunciation of
Classical Greek (Cambridge UP, 1987) and Stephen G. Daitz, The
Pronunciation and Reading of Ancient Greek: A Practical Guide (2nd revised
edition; Jeffrey Norton Publishers, 1984). About these I would say (1) that
W. Sidney Allen's work is generally deemed the authoritative statement
about ancient Greek pronunciation, although I have my doubts about some of
his assertions, and (2) that Daitz's concern really is practical: he
endeavors to help those who will make the effort to imitate what current
theory (i.e. Allen) holds to be the right way to pronounce Greek as
fifth-century Athenians pronounced it--and that is quite different from any
of the varieties of "Erasmian" pronunciation of which I am aware,
insisting, for instance, that Epsilon and Omicron be pronounced as short
closed vowels and Eta and Omega as long open vowels. Daitz has also
produced recordings of his readings Homeric epics and several other items
classical Attic poetry and prose.

In recent years considerable attention has been paid to an article by Chrys
C. Caragounis, "The Error of Erasmus and Un-Greek Pronunciations of Greek,"
Filologia Neotestamentaria 16 (November 1995), 151-85. Caragounis argues
that even Allen's reconstructed ancient pronunciation is essentially
"Erasmian" and WRONG, and that the proper pronunciation of ancient Greek
does not differ markedly from the pronunciation of modern Greek. I've read
the article, as have others on the list; I find much of what he has to say
cogent, but I simply can't believe that the vowels and diphthongs of
fifth-century Attic can have already undergone that major "itacism" whereby
Eta, Iota, Upsilon, EI, OI, and UI are pronounced more or less the
same--although the evidence of Egyptian papyri from the early Christian era
does show that this pronounciation of the vowels was common at that time,
and this is attested also by NT MS confusion of hHMEIS and hUMEIS and
several other words which, though spelled differently, were pronounced

I am pretty well convinced that ancient Greek is NOT pronounced today in
most countries in a manner very much like that in which it was pronounced
in ancient Greek-speaking places, but I think there must have been at least
as much variation from place to place as there is variation in the
pronunciation of English today in different places of the world. And
ultimately, I don't think it really matters, so long as one learns a
consistent pronunciation so that one can have the aural reinforcement of
hearing words and sentences to assist with learning the language--I think
that sounding out what one is learning to read is vital to successful
language learning. For this reason I warn my students that the
pronunciation system I am teaching is arbitrary--unlikely to be very close
to the way the language was ever spoken in any one particular place, but
Iinsist that my students learn my own modified "Erasmian" system and read
aloud regularly in class.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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