Re: koin/ classical-difference

From: l. j. swain (
Date: Wed May 03 2000 - 00:35:57 EDT

christopher eckels wrote:
> Question. what is the difference between studying koin greek versus the
> classical greek? A siminary I know calls koin greek baby greek. was koin
> greek all lower case letters, and thus the new testament written in the
> lower case greek alphabet. Lastly I notice some greek manuscripts written
> with the use of capitol greek letters, why? Is there a difference .

Hello Christopher,
I seem to be the only one paying attention at the moment, and while
there are others on list more qualified than I to address this, I'll
give it a go.

Koine Greek grew out of the expansion of Greek language and culture
under Alexander. Or to put it another way, language changes. And we
note some significant changes between say Herodotus in the fifth century
BCE, and Aristotle in the fourth century BCE. BUT, once Aristotle's
pupil Alexander takes Greek far and wide, we see many more changes. As
non-native speakers are trying to learn Greek, the natural tendency
toward simplification of language occurs more and more rapidly and more
and more often. Koine Greek then is the dialect based on Classical
Attic (i. e. Athenian) Greek which arose in the late fourth and
subsequent centuries BCE and into the CE period. Hence, this dialect
became the "lingua franca" of the Mediterranean at this time, and so was
called "H KOINE DIALEKTOS", the common language.

Some of the features are:
More dependence in Koine on prepositions rather than on postposition (i.
e. the endings) to convey meaning, simplified syntax, less use of
particles, and simpler sentence structure. Of course all this is a
generalization, but that should give you some idea, at least until Carl
or Carlton answers more fully.

As for the pejorative "baby Greek" appellation, I don't about that. The
difference between reading say the Gospel of Mark and the Epistle to the
Hebrews is quite a significant one in my book. Mark is fairly easy to
read, and should give a good student no difficulties. Hebrews in places
however still presents some challenges, and I've been reading Greek
almost 20 years. So, I wouldn't say Koine is "baby" at all, I found
Herodotus easier to read than Plato, but that doesn't mean his Greek is

Finally, to your question about manuscripts. The difference you note is
because some manuscripts are written in different scripts. It is an
anachronism, but think of it as writing using different fonts from your
word processor (BTW, when I do teach word processing, I always get a
kick on doing a tangent on the development of fonts from Carolingian
scripts and letter forms, but that's a different story). The capital
letters then are one type of script, called Uncial (from a letter of
Jerome as I recall, who said something about litterae uncialis, or
something like that) in which the letters are drawn as if between two
lines on the page, rarely would they be Jerome's "inch high" letters,
but they give us the impression of being "capitals". Uncial scripts
were the formal bookhand scripts, written imitations in the beginning of
Capitals-letters chisled in stone for official inscriptions. Minuscule,
the small letters, is a set of scripts in which the letters can be
formed more rapidly and closer together thus saving both time and space,
if not necessarily making it easier to read. Minuscule scripts were
based on cursive writing, made cleaner for ease of reading.

To return then to your question, was koine written only in "small"
letters and classical in "large", no. The script has nothing to do with
the dialect.

I hope this very, very, very brief, (and therefore somewhat inaccurate
and misleading) note at least answers your questions alittle bit. I
don't have my books with me so I can't provide a beginning bibliography
for you, but I'm certain someone onlist will be able to.

Larry Swain

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