re: Omega vs. Omicron, condensed

From: yochanan bitan (
Date: Tue Jun 06 2000 - 06:14:52 EDT

Wow, I wake up in the morning and find a flaming molotov cocktail with
whipped cream exploding all over. Sounds like Bob Dylan's 115th dream. :-)


re: big-O and little-O, W-mega and O-mikron
Several issues have been raised in different emails and I'll group them

Clay wrote:
>It hardly seems necessary to review the morphology of verbs and
>to illustrate that traditional grammarians have assigned a meaningful
>distinction to O/W in NT Greek morphology. The loss of this distinction
>would raise the general level of polysemy in the NT morphological system
>significantly. In other words we would have more ambiguous forms.

Well, NA Erasmian (NorthAmerican Erasmian) merges EI and H. Two of the
biggest workhorses for Greek morphology. Phonemic Koine kept EI and H
distinct. You get this one back.
Likewise NA Erasmian merges U and OU in post vocalic environments. Koine
kept them very distinct.
Those mixups, EI/H and U/OU were CONTRARY to the phonemic system of Koine.
The majority, mainstream Koine speakers did not mix-up these last pairs.
{{They were too busy mixing up EI with I and also mixing U-psilon with OI,
and E-psilon with AI. :-})
So ironically, the polysemy does not dramatically increase but ends up
lining up with the real homonymy rather than a false one. And we know that
it was workable because it remained stable over several centuries.

>I wonder if the confusion O/W in the texts starting in the early Roman
>period is really sufficient evidence to conclude that the meaning
>distinction had ceased to exist?

The spelling confusion was widespread, starting in the Hellenistic,
pre-Roman period. But, like the unpronounced iota in the dative, writers
were able to preserve the correct forms more often than not according to
context. The sound distinction O/W had ceased to exist but the meaning
categories continued. Thus, the subjunctive categories were still fully
operable (e.g. -EI versus -Hi, which was also maintained as a distinctive
sound) and the dative case (TO versus TWi), and singular (-ON) versus
plural (-WN) were all understood and maintained, though several of the
forms become homonyms. NB: they are just different homonyms from the
homonyms of NAErasmians.

Wayne egrapsen:
>Randall is probably right. But the distinction between W and O continued
>be maintained much of the time in the writing system, just as
>dialectally-neutralized distinctions in English are still maintained in
>writing system, most of the time, unless we've had enuf (!) of the
>difficulties thru (!) which we've been led with our orthography history.
>Since most Greek students just reference info from the written system,
>seems to me almost a moot point, unless we are looking for instances where
>text critical variants in Greek might be due to neutralization of a vowel

I agree with this, though the text critical readings are sometimes not
trivial and it is not a 'moot point' when someone begins to work on
internalizing the language -- something must be chosen.
The biggest payoff does not come in what is chosen, but in the choosing
itself. Deciding to incorporate sound as a necessary stepping stone for
"fluently" reading texts. That's how I ended up on this issue. It was very
much pragmatically driven with a goal to fluency. As for the choice? I
didn't want to end up sounding hopelessly and historically non-Greek.
(Would you want to be fluent but still say "paher-layz vooz france-say- z?"
(for the accent: imagine someone decending an offramp in white shorts,
polka-dot shirt and camera.)
And I like to read papyri. :-}) Like my greetings in this letter.
(remember: TWi OIEIWi 'to the son' [100AD]? the lesser payoff, but payoff
A parallel question arises: if we were to teach modern English literature
in a century or two, should we use the collapsed modern english phonology
or artificially reconstruct something for the spelling?
Do we want to read the texts and listen to the texts within the real
I would argue that people would be better off using modern phonology for
modern English than a reconstructed Chaucer for modern English in order to
help with spelling, (especially a reconstructed "Chaucer" that is 'wrong'
on 2 or 3 counts. See immediately below) I like to know and feel how much
of a system is being immediately perceived, and the exegetical implications
for Rom 5.1 are not trivial.

>We have an established system of vocalization which
>maintains this distinction. [R.B.--O/W]

I would call this a "left-footed Chaucer". Koine Greek is more complicated
than an "established" NorthAmerican pronunciation.
Attic (or actually most pre-2nd century BCE) had W-mega as a long 'aw' and
O-mikron as a short 'oh' (please ignore the 'u' glide usually added to
English 'oh'). Most 'NA Erasmians' reverse this and drop length. Why
maintain the unhistorical reversal? In addition, most Erasmians are also
unfluent, so 'status quo' should not be much of an inertial
impediment--when someone begins to seriously develop fluency they can adopt
whatever pronunication to reinforce, much like a modern language student
begins to change and correct when they first go to an area where a language
is really spoken. And most importantly, most NA Erasmians mix EI/H and U/OU
as mentioned above.

Carl egrapsen:
>But on the other hand, if we understand clearly
>that spelling and pronunciation are related to each other in only the most
>vague and general manner, maybe that isn't so important as it
>appears. I once taught written French to a woman who had lived 20 years in
>Paris and who could speak the language very well but couldn't write it. It
>came as quite a shock to her to learn that of the six forms of the present
>conjugation of a first-conjugation verb (je parle, tu parles, il/elle
>parle, nous parlons, vous parlez, ils/elles parlent) only the first and
>second plural forms of the verb display a spelling that clearly marks how
>it is pronounced, but that the different spellings parle, parles, parlent
>are all pronounced identically.

C'est vrai. I understand Carl's point to be arguing that some amount of
ambiguous spelling in a language is tolerable. The question is how much? I
would say, why not adopt the amount that was fairly stable from 2ndcBCE to
4thcCE? And line it up with the same ambiguities that they felt rather than
introduce different ones? Luke, Paul and their generation didn't seem to
feel it unbearable and generally wrote correctly.

Frank Hughes egrapsen:
>In other words the
>shorter vowels lengthened to have much the same values as the long
>This, by the way, is what helps me choose ECHOMEN over ECHWMEN in Romans
>5:1 even the attestation of ECHWMEN is rather better. I also believe
>that ECHOMEN (we have) fits the context much, much better than ECHWMEN
>(let us have).

AKRIBWS, exactly.

Mike sangrey egrapsed:
>if I write "too wrongs make a write" you know I've misspelled. Why?
>because you are fluent in the language. In other words, there are
>clues which give the listener (reader) a clue--'wrongs' is plural, 'write'
>a verb and has an article here.
>The question of how one obtains fluency remains.

NAI. = Yes. We want to read written texts fluently, but human beings are
pre-wired to function with spoken language. Most everyone who has learned
to speak a language comments on what a significant positive effect that has
on reading. This is true for modern languages, even for old languages. we
haven't begun to tap in on this.
Where does one want to end up? Fluent reading is greatly enhanced
pedagogically by fluent speaking. (this is the practical payoff.) And If
someone wants to develop fluency to the point of thinking in the language
(and that is a pile of work, I know--from experience with many other
languages) would someone like to know that they are rubbing shoulders with
Luke and Paul, or would they like to end up knowing that they speak some
distinctly different?

A coulple of other issues have not been raised.
     --there is the modern perspective:

Does one want to end up sounding terribly un-Greek to modern Greek
speakers? We have an opportunity to have our cake and eat it too. We can be
historically true to the broad period of language that interests those on
the list
AND be tolerably close to modern ears. (Some mentioned wanting to have
greek speakers listen to the Demo CD. I would be interested in comments.)

Additionally--one can even use a Koine pronunciation for reading the old
texts, if Koine is the focus period. That also would match history. People
naturally read older periods of a language with their modern pronunciation.
We read Shakespeare with our modern dialects. Israelis read Biblical Hebrew
with modern Israeli. [However, modern Arabic dialects will sometimes adjust
their dialect for the literary language, but not necessarily to the same
standards as each other.] We can assume that Josephus, Paul and Luke read
classical texts with a pronunciation closer to their own normal speech than
to the old Attic.

Enuff foar twodeigh.
Randall MBOUQ

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