Re: Accent marks

From: Steven Craig Miller (
Date: Sun Mar 12 2000 - 20:59:29 EST

<x-flowed>To: Mitchell Gray, and the participants of the B-Greek list,

MG: << 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? >>

This question -- "Are accents important?" -- gets asked all the time, and
while some will suggest that they should be ignored, others will claim that
they have some limited value -- usually "pedagogic" value.

CWC: << ... the Koine Greek speaker knew from custom and habit of hearing
and speaking where the accents were on words and which accents they were.
The writing of accents is a help primarily to those who DON'T know the
language and are in the process of learning it and want to pronounce it
correctly. >>

Perhaps the reason some claim that accents have little, or no real value,
is because for them (and really, for most of us) ancient Greek is only a
written language and not one to be spoken. What is the value of learning
how to pronounce ancient Greek, if one is never going to speak it? (This is
asked only as a "rhetorical" question.)

And if one will look at a dozen or so first-year grammars, one will find
that most of them merely give a cursory description of accents at the
beginning of their grammar, only to largely ignore the accents of most
words for the rest of their grammar.

Moses D. Hogue, in the back of his "The Irregular Verbs of Attic Prose"
(1889), gives lists of Greek words (largely the many cognates to irregular
verbs) sorted by declension, gender, and accent. So that the first list of
words are first declension feminine paroxytones ending in eta, the second
list are first declension feminine oxytones ending in eta, and so forth.
But this is the only book I've ever found which presents vocabulary lists
in such a manner. (I would like to hear of other such books, if they exist.)

In order to pronounce ancient Greek, one needs to know more than where the
accent falls, one also needs some idea as to how syllables are divided. And
I would dare say, one would search in vain in most first-year grammars to
find anything more than a very cursory suggestion on syllabification. I've
never seen any first-year grammar which presented all its vocabulary words
with indication of its syllable structure. Should BLEPTW be pronounced as
BLEP-tw or as BLE-ptw? Should AISCROS be pronounced ais-CROS or as
ai-SCROS? (Here I'm using lower case letters to mark the unstressed
syllable.) I just recently discovered (after over 15 years of studying
Greek) that I've been mispronouncing both BLEPTW and AISCROS (or that is
the way it now seems to me having re-read section 140 of Smyth-Messing's

If the grammarians who write first-year grammars thought that proper
pronunciation (with proper stress on the syllable accented) was really
important, one would think that their books would have included more drills
to teach accentuation and audio tapes on correct pronunciation.
Occasionally (and rarely) one can find a first-year grammar with a cassette
tape to help one learn pronunciation, but most first-year modern language
programs will have a whole series of cassette tapes.

-Steven Craig Miller
Alton, Illinois (USA)
FWIW: I'm neither a clergy-person, nor an academic (and I have no post-grad

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