Re: ei=i, (was Accent)

From: William G. Gartig (
Date: Thu Feb 17 2000 - 12:02:59 EST

     I guess I'll just jump into the fray over the pronunciation of Greek. Here goes!

     It seems to me that it's O.K. to use an academic pronunciation (like the Erasmian
I learned in the Classics Department at the University of Texas at Austin) or a
Traditional/Modern Greek pronunciation when reading Hellenistic Greek, and that is the
biggest decision: whether to make scholarly attempt at reproducing ancient speech or
use the current-day pronunciation of the people for whom Greek is a living language.
     (This is analogous to the decision about whether to teach modern Hebrew
pronunciation or an academic pronunciation that distinguishes between letters that
Modern Hebrew pronounces the same.)
     Next to that decision, the question of what sort of academic pronunciation one is
going to use pales.
     Of course, it is important to know what letters and combinations of letters were
pronounced the same or similarly in various periods for detecting errors of hearing in
textual transmission. But one can know this whatever system of pronunciation one
     Myself, I learned Greek in the Classics Department of the University of Texas at
Austin, where I was taught what I think is the British classical pronunciation (eta
and episilon-iota said as the a in late, zeta as the dz in adze, psi as in lips, chi
as the ch in Bach, loch, iota subscripts not pronounced, etc.). In contrast, I began
Hebrew with a course in conversational Modern Hebrew at UT and went to graduate school
at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, where a modern American synagogue pronunciation
influenced by Israeli pronunciation is dominant.
     I very much value having learned Modern Hebrew pronunciation, as it allows me to
both understand and speak to contemporary Jews, where an academic, seminary
pronunciation would be a hindrance.
     The benefit of the Traditional (Modern Greek) pronunciation, I imagine, based on
my experience with Modern Hebrew, is that one is better able to understand the
liturgy in Greek in a Greek Orthodox church and to communicate with Modern Greek
speakers. (It also happens to be closer to First Century pronunciation than our
academic attempt to speak Attic.) I wish I had studied Modern Greek and could speak
it to some degree, but I have actually had far less contact with Greek Orthodox people
than with Jews. If someday I ever "hang around" a Greek Orthodox church or monastery
and attend services regularly, I will really learn the Traditional pronunciation.
Until then, I will probably stick with the Attic pronunciation I was taught just
because it is hard to change one's ways.
     Actually, I recently tried teaching beginning students both the Erasmian academic
pronunciation I was taught and Modern Greek pronunciation, but I abandoned it after a
while because it seemed to confuse the students.
     I would like to hear others join in on this question.
     --Bill Gartig

Steven Craig Miller wrote:

> To: Randy Buth,
> << Perhaps some perennial questions can be cleared up by focusing on one
> piece at a time. [D. Charles] Pyle wrote: << What I suppose that I am
> trying to say is that because it is not known precisely how ancient Koine
> Greek was framed with the lips, there really is no correct or incorrect way
> to pronounce the tongue for one's own purposes. >> Well, 'Yes' and 'No'.
> The logic of this moves in the direction of saying something like "because
> we don't know everything, anything goes". Actually, we can say things like
> 'ei' (e-psilon and iota) was pronounced the same as 'i' (iota) in first
> century Greek. This would have been true for majority, common Greek, Greek
> in Judea, and even Greek among the educated classes. Thus, Paul, Gamliel,
> Josephus, the disciples and Jesus, Epictetos, "Apostolic fathers". Anybody
> seriously disagree? >>
> Actually, I thought the advice given by D. Charles Pyle was more or less
> correct. Although it seems to be true that most of the EI diphthongs were
> pronounced like an Iota (Horrocks [1997] claims that EI followed by a
> consonant was not always pronounced like EI followed by a vowel), is such a
> fact really important when reading Hellenistic literature? Do you think it
> wrong to read Josephus with a pre-Koine Attic or Erasmian accent? If so, why?
> -Steven Craig Miller
> Alton, Illinois (USA)
> FWIW: I'm neither a clergy-person, nor an academic (and I have no post-grad
> degrees).
> ---
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