[b-greek] Re: One language, many dialects, Stefanos

From: Randall Buth (ButhFam@compuserve.com)
Date: Fri Feb 01 2002 - 12:43:10 EST


I appreciate the support and consideration of data that Stephen Carlson
In bottom line terms for students,
 that would mean that in the first century
 vlepi 'he sees' (ind.: BLEPEI) should not sound like
 vlepH 'he would be seeing' (subj.: BLEPH)

(since Erasmian already uses the anachronistic, soft 'f', 'th' 'chi', and
those sounds went soft ('fricative') AFTER the voiced consonants, I am
assuming that 'Erasmians' will be happy with the consistency of using the
historically earlier fricatives 'beta', 'dhelta', and 'ghamma'. They should
least be able to live with them. Hence 'vlepi'.)

When it comes to data, there are some things that are and were clear, and
other things that were fuzzy. As long as questions are framed in an
'Erasmus or bust' framework, discussion does not profitably move forward
on the fuzzy areas.

>This shift did not affect all occurrences of EI, however,
>only those before a consonant or at the end of the word.
>Before vowels, as in BASILEIA, EI shifted to H (eta), and
>only became I when H shifted to I in the late Roman/early
>Byzantine period (e.g. c. 500).<

H was the least stable of the Roman period vowels. What Stephen has said
is correct, though the time sequencing is in question. First a couple
background points.

b1. When changes take place there are usually 'weak points' where the
hits first, or strong points where the change hits last or sometimes never.

b2. In the mouth, having three vowel heights in the front, two of which
etymologically related (in the case of long, close H, versus short, open
creates a natural point of weakness.

EI and HTA did interchange sometimes before vowels in the 2nd century BCE
at the same time that EI and I changes where entrenched all over the
Mediterranean. However, by the Roman period (63 BCE--) it looks like
even that spot dissolved.

To quote Gignac: "There is a very frequent interchange of EI and I ... in
all phonetic environments throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods."
(Gignac, 1976, p. 189.)
"In the Attic inscriptions, ... from the reign of Tiberius, EI and I also
interchange before vowels" (p. 191.)

An example of I written as EI before a Vowel (from the notes in Living
Koine Greek for Everyone):
Papyrus 109.2 TWI OIEIWI = TW UIW 'to the son' (100 CE)

From Gignac (p. 190):
DEIA (for DIA "through") [23 CE]
MEIAS (for MIAS "of one") [38 CE]

Thus, there is no historical problem in adopting EI as I in all phonetic
environments for Roman period Koine.

The complication is 'H'.
Gignac thinks that 'H' became 'I' fairly universally in the 2nd century
There is scattered evidence of this already from the BCE period.
[For the record, in Attic, H was [ae] (close to a long English 'hat')]
The evidence is complicated for a short email, so I'll give my 'bottom

There were a minority group of people running around in the first
century who did not distinguish 'H' from 'E' in their their speech. Some of

them used 'H' to write an [I] sound in addition to EI and I. Some of them
used 'H' to write an [E] sound, or either sound.

The majority distinguished H from both I and from E.

Probably, 'H' merged with 'I' for most speakers by the third century CE.

I have adopted that for Living Koine Greek and assume that the literate
writers in the NT would probably be among those who kept H separate
from E and from I.

You will notice that in my email I listed the following
EI = I
AI = E
W = O
OI = U (yes, its an 'umlaut ue')
I purposely avoided discussing H on list.
A and OU are unproblematic.
They may all be heard in context in the very brief demo at


Randall Buth

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