[b-greek] Re: A question about koine pronunciation

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Fri Nov 10 2000 - 10:21:31 EST

At 7:45 AM -0700 11/10/00, Glenn Cook wrote:
>Scholars on this list
>Being a very little Greeker and not too smart, I have trouble understanding
>all the fuss here. I am an audio reader and so have to hear a word when I
>read it, even in English, so need some type of pronunciation for the words.
>But! As the Koine pronunciation is dead and I will never go have a
>conversation with a native Koine speaker, what difference does it make what
>pronunciation I use? It would seem that trying to ascertain what the
>original pronunciation was is impossible at this time, unless some of you
>have audio recordings made during that period hidden away, and so we should
>all just agree on a pronunciation and go from there. We will only be using
>the pronunciation among ourselves anyway. Why is that so hard to do, even if
>we agree on the modern pronunciation?
>But then I am just a silly old man that is past worrying about being a
>purest or prestige of scholarship and just happy to be able to set here and
>read in my library and enjoy the written word. I am just happy that we have
>these written records passed down to us from the past and wish we had more,
>but also a realist enough to know that these writings and the scraps of
>their lives that the archaeologists find for us is all we have. The audio is
>gone. Sad but true, and all the work we do can only be a guess at what it
>was. And as long as we take that approach different scholars will take
>different guesses, all on deep scholarship, and we will always have these
>differences of pronunciation.
>There are not that many great Koine Greek scholars in the world. It would
>seem that these could get together and agree on a pronunciation and we could
>all follow, realizing it was not the true pronunciation. But a working one
>that we could all use.
>I love reading the posts on this list and have the greatest respect for your
>scholarship, but sometimes wonder if ego is not taking over in some of these
>Now I will shut up with my ignorance and wait to be flamed.

Flamed? On this list? We make an effort, and occasionally it is a
considerable effort, to minimize that risk on B-Greek.

Now to the substantive issue. As Rodney King asked a few years ago after
being severely pummeled by L.A.'s Finest, "Can't we--uh--uh-- just--get
along?" It really ought to be simple, shouldn't it. It surely ought to be
simple to settle upon a common standard on a matter that is to everybody's
advantage and to nobody's real disadvantage. We really ought to be able to
settle upon a common currency for Europe and then have all the member
states of the European Union actually use it; we really ought to be able to
get the U.S. to accept the far superior Metric system rather than go on and
on with our system of gallons and quarts and feet and inches and so forth,
some of which goes back all the way to the Roman monetary system; God knows
we ought to be able to settle upon a universally fair and consistent method
of voting and counting the ballots for a Presidential election; some might
even be so bold as to say that those of us who are believers ought to find
a way to respond to Jesus' prayer,"that they all may be one." But it turns
out that it ain't so easy. We can't even get everyone on B-Greek to use the
same transliteration scheme, although most people do. I would not attribute
this to the inflated egos of scholars (they have enough on their
consciences already, God knows!--and thank God, I'm not one of them!); if I
felt free to express a theological notion here, I'd suggest something about
original sin, but to be perfectly honest, I accept everything that a
doctrine of original sin implies simply as an anthropological principle of
something less than proven empirical verifiability: that human beings are
just too ornery to be willing to reach a consensus on matters, even when it
would cost little to do so and serve their mutual interest. That old
pre-Socratic curmudgeon Heraclitus has his own pithy way of saying it: hOI
PLEISTOI ANQRWPOI KAKOI (EISIN)--and there's no way of knowing for sure
whether he considered himself in the minority.


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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