Re: Fluency and an Epigraphic Language

From: Dennis Hukel (
Date: Tue Jun 06 2000 - 16:10:06 EDT

Dear Listers,

I agree with Matthew O'Donnell's email regarding fluency of Koine Greek. What opportunities do we have of speaking with
others in Koine Greek? I have been to 2 Annual Meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature with thousands of
scholars from all over the world. Some did not know English; but I never heard of 2 scholars having to result to
communicating in Koine Greek because they had no other language in common.

Ancient Greek is spoken different ways among different language groups. In Greece, the last I heard, the ancient
language is pronounced like the modern one. Since English does not have the sound of upsilon, and it is difficult to
learn, thus U and OU have come to have the same sound; but is that true in France and Germany where they do
differentiate these sounds? In English we do not trill our R's, so we leave the rho untrilled; but what do they do in
countries which do trill R's? In English some stop consonants are aspirated at the beginning of words but not at the
end of words, making phonemically indistinct the orginal difference between tau and theta, and kappa and chi; but there
are some languages which do still make a distinction. There are still other examples, such as eta and EI, but the point
is every different language group has learned different phonetic values for pronouncing Ancient Greek. I noticed that
Allen's book on Greek pronunciation (Cambridge) has an "OI" value for omicron and omega, while most books have the
sounds in "not" and "no"; I have many books on Ancient Greek phonology and they all do not say the same thing!

Since our main goal is to read and interpret philologically, why force everyone into one difficult-for-all
pronunciation so they can talk to each other fluently? As in Modern Hebrew, once you resurrect a dead language and make
it fluent again, it regains a life of it own. It starts to change and adapt for language needs--and none of us want

I think it would be most helpful in learning Koine Greek if each letter and diphthong had its own distinct value
(sometimes 2 values) (some of which are difficult to pronounce), but be somewhat accommodating to the student's natural
range of pronunciation when he is reading out loud.

Dennis Hukel

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