Re: Accent Marks

From: D. Charles Pyle (
Date: Sun Mar 12 2000 - 01:55:21 EST

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Mitchell Gray wrote:

> Dear B-Greekers,
> I was recently reading Bill Mounce's Basics to Biblical Greek and in
> chapter 4 he talks about punctuation and accent marks. In it he says that
> accent marks were not present when Koine Greek was being used. But he
> tells us that they should be used today. Are they really that important?
> I read more than a few words and placed the accent in different places and
> didn't really notice a difference. Should the beginner really try hard to
> understand the accent marks and what they do to the word or is that just
> another burden for the student just starting?


In my opinion, it is very important for the beginning student of Greek to
learn well the accents and their proper usage. After becoming better
equipped to deal with the nuances of and becoming more familiar with the
language you can ignore them much of the time. The primary reason for
learning them is to distinguish between a number of words and their various
grammatical forms. For example, it is the difference between KRINW (present
indicative without the circumflex: "I am judging" or "I judge") and KRINW
(future indicative with the circumflex over the omega: "I will judge").

I just wanted to add that I agree substantially with the remarks of
Professor Conrad previous to mine. They are excellent advice for the
beginner. I also wanted to add something further on the pronuniation of
Greek in relation to other languages. There are schools of thought that
advance the idea that the correct pronunciation or Koine is that of modern
Greek, and it is a fact that there are differences of pronounciation in
America as opposed to that of Europe. However, it is also a known fact that
the pronunciation of a number of languages has changed over time, from
English to Hebrew (for example _Tau_ was pronounced differently dependant
upon position of the letter within the word or upon other factors but it is
pronounced identically regardless of position or accent today by Hebrew
speakers. _`Ayin_ was pronounced similarly to Arabic _Ghain_ anciently but
today is not much more than a glottal stop).

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.
You should choose a pronunciation from a school of thought with which you
are comfortable and stick with that for the sake of learning the language.
However, if you plan to learn and use Demotike in Greece, you should learn
to pronounce it the way that they do natively.

On the accents themselves, if I am not mistaken, it is believed that the
accents demonstrated the pitch of the accent for the reader (acute with a
slightly higher pitch; grave with a slightly lower; circumflex with a slight
but quick raising and lowering of pitch on the syllable) for liturgical use
in ancient times. I try to inflect the words with such a thought in mind
but it is not necessary for the student and might make things more confusing
for some. It is not as easy to pronounce Greek in this manner as one might
think. Most just place stress upon the accent and leave it at that. That
would be my advice to you for now. Just my two centavos for the night.
D. Charles Pyle

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