From: Randall Buth (ButhFam@compuserve.com)
Date: Sun Feb 03 2002 - 10:59:59 EST
>I feel we're just going over old ground.
Sorry you feel that way, I was hoping you would be interested in data
and new applications. There are actually several different issues
involved so I will try to get them linked closely to the data.
>I'm pleased to see that you've
>moderated the dogmatism of before to a "broadly speaking" ...
>something I find much more acceptable than "it is beyond
>any doubt" and "it's not even a close call."
Actually, I feel you've misinterpreted two contexts.
It is still true that
"it is beyond any doubt" that
EI and I
referred to the same phoneme in the first century.
It is not even a close call.
That is not dogmatism if it is a fair appraisal of the evidence.
Every researcher of the phenomenon comes to the same
conclusion about EI and I.
It seems to me that you are failing to come to grips with this.
"broadly speaking" refers to the fact that every researcher also
integrates this slightly differently into the overall scheme of things.
This is also a true statement, especially since I tied that one to the
whole vowel system.
>EI = I
>AI = E
>W = O
>OI = U
>A = A
>OU = OU
>H = H and I
I still say this, because that's the evidence.
>but the evidence is only the interchangeability (I liked
>Stephen's choice of word -
>for it cuts BOTH ways) of spelling.
[rb: sorry, I don't follow your parenthesis, here. Those symbols
work in both directions because EI = I and I = EI for those
speakers. That was my position and what my "=" meant.
It means that the Erasmian position was not operating in the
>It is going very much further than any such evidence can prove
>to say that all vowels/vowel combinations affected were
>PRONOUNCED in the same way, and further again to say
>that the interchangeability shows both were pronounced in
>only ONE way.
Here, I think you are miscommunicating. I distinguish between
PHONEMES, which are meaningful-sound units, and raw phonetic
sounds, which, for one, we don't have and for two, are ALWAYS
different every time they are repeated. If you have a machine that is
precise enough it will record every "a" that you pronounce slightly
differently. One phoneme is usually pronounced in more than one
way, e.g, a vowel in a stressed or opoen syllable will often be longer
than in a closed or unstressed syllable. Even in languages that have
phonemic vowel length, of which I speak a couple.
>It's building conjecture on conjecture.
>Even "over and over again" is in fact a comparatively
>small percentage, most of the manuscripts support the
>spelling we have in our NT texts.
Again, this miscommunicates. I build on the texts that we have and I
read the language data against what we know about language
systems and their development.
I've worked out the phonology of more than one sub-Saharan
language and know a little bit about how this works. I build
on the texts and an assumption that they are human speakers of
a human language that were not trying to mislead us with tricks.
Your "small percentage" is a strange comment. Have you read first
century papyri? The NT is a literary document regularly copied by
professional scribes. They have produced a relatively clean text though
I am now suspecting that there are more itacisms than you may imagine
in our old papyri and uncials. In any case, when you leave the safe
confines of a literary document and pick up colloquial stuff--you
may change your tune greatly. Try the short little Loeb, Papyri 109,
mentioned in another email. Delightful stuff and quite easy to read if
one knows what they are doing. (In fact, I will send some separate
emails with hard data on points in this paragraph.)
>This puzzles me: If you really believe that there is such a firm
>link between spelling and pronunciation, it is surely more
>logical to adopt the Erasman position of pronouncing words
>the way they are spelt in the texts we ACTUALLY USE
>(accepting that this means different pronunciation systems
>to different people).
Here, I wonder if you know how shaky a historical position the
Ersamian reconstruction sits on? It was not handed down from any
living source. The most illogical Erasmian equations are EI = H
and OU = U (sometimes), since those are both different spellings
and historically linking the wrong symbols for Roman Koine.
I really like the following -- truly --
>Or do you really want us to start changing our texts to look
>KE DIA TI DI HMIN PANTOTE DIALOGIZESQE EN BARBARH,
>TUS ECUSI KE FILUSI
[sic: ECOUSI KE FILOUSI, rb]
>THN ELLHNIKHN; DUNASE, DYNAMEQA, (this, I
>suppose, is evidence that psi and upsilon are pronounced
>the same way ;-)
[rb: just a typo between the Greek Greek-keyboard
and the b-greek system, an investigator is supposed separate static
from real data, you know that, right? :-)]
>PROFERIN TAS FONAS OS
>MH DE FOBI
[sic: FOBOU, rb, what is it about FOBOU that wasn't clear?]
>AMARTIAS, PTEOMEN GAR APANTES KE HGOUME EGOGE OTI TO
>MAQANTI GLOSSAN DE PUHSE DEKA
>MURIADAS "PARAPTOMATON" GLOSSHS.
This is very clear Koine Greek (except for the errors of retroversion
where you transgressed phoneme boundaries), yet is certainly NOT
what I would recommend. Every language community has the right
to set their own spelling standards. Greek is set. If you would take
the time to look at a letter like Loeb, Select Papyri, #109, you will
see something that just about matches your exercise above. Very
neat, very revealing.
>True, nobody will much mind whether they hear PARAPTOMA or
>PARAPTWMA, but what about whole words like WS = OS, or
>TW = TO?
Not a problem, at all. That is what those people were hearing and
were able to live with. You incidently raise an issue that is overlooked
>You conjecture a system that all too often throws away the means
>by which meaning is conveyed.
That is exactly the argument to use against the full modern Greek system.
Greek speakers themselves couldn't handle the ancient language when it
was in modern dialect speech. YMEIS 'you' and HMEIS 'we' are
commonly mixed up in NT texts because Byznatine Greek pronounced
them both as IMIS. The spoken language, of course, was not indifferent
to this and spoken Greek developed ways around this. Today one says
ESIS and EMIS for "you" and "we".
On the otherhand--the nice thing about using KOINE phonemes is that
we know they were able to live with the system. We do not need to
'see' if it would work, it did work. Koine Greek was a relatively stable
language that slowly and naturally developed from the 2nd c BCE to the
mid-first millenium CE. Somewhat more surprising to me is the fact that
the elite in the society were able to maintain a classical/koine writing
dialect throughout the first millenium, and from Eusevius' time to Rashi's
time they were using the modern Greek vowel system plus "U" (that's
> and yes, we can hear the way
>modern Greek is pronounced, but I think you're projecting too
>much too far back into time.
Those are strange words for being on the wrong side of the
evidence. It makes me think that you actually think that there
is/was some historical validity to the Erasmian system for the
NT writers. Which makes this correspondence is necessary.
> If language loses one means of
>expressing a particular meaning, people develop alternative ways
>to convey that meaning.
That is an excellent statement and observation, though the amount
of ambiguity that a language can tolerate may surprise you.
Language learners are always surpised and taxed while they go
through the long process of becoming fluent in a new language.
>There are occasions where understanding
>the NT relies on the very distinctions that you maintain were
>already lost. If such distinctions HAD already been lost, I
>think the writers would have used alternative ways to make their
Again, you sound like you think that W must have been distinct
from O just because ERCOMEQA and ERCWMEQA would
have been distinctly perceived as grammatical words.
Not true. They were pronounced "the same" (please remember
that we're talking phonemes here) and a good exegete
needs to deal with that. It turns out that most contexts allow a
listener to get the right interpretation/word without a second
thought: e.g. INA ERCWMEQA .
In the few contexts where there is true ambiguity it will often
mean that the distinction is not vital to the argument OR that
there is enough redundant information and shared expectations
to reasonably resolve the ambiguity. A speaker or writer needs
to make themselves clear. Sometimes they fail, and in a face to
face encounter, the audience raises a question: "did you
mean ...?" In the exegetical literature I am amazed at the amount
of ink that has been spilled on things like interpreting a 'genitive'.
Part of the purpose of a genitive is to leave the relationship
under-specified. "A" is related to "B". It wasn't felt necessary to
spell out the relationship. If the exegete asks too many questions
about the genitive they may easily miss the true prominence and
theme of the composition.
>PS: Cross-threading, I know, but I'm longing to hear how you
>distinguish between statements, questions, exclamations and
Hmmm. Did you mean literally "hear"? or did you mean "wonder
what kind of answer i will give about ..."?
Since I have a feeling that you're primary interest is not the sound
itself I'm going to go with the latter. And you already know the
answer. One READS a text according to Relevance Theory.
(That is a fancy/simple/elegant theory about how everyone is also
reading every statement against an ASSUMED context.) What
one knows about a speaker, their assumptions, directions,
interests and what one hears in the immediate context, they all
go into one's interpretation of an utterance. That is how I know
that Jesus used traditional blessings over food. Jesus' words
are NEVER quoted in the feeding stories when it says he "took the
bread and blessed." They were not quoted, because everyone knew
what he said. At least once upon a time.Some people call this
'common sense', but it has actually been developed over the past
two decades quite nicely in linguistics and communication theory.
The theory doesn't claim that no mistakes are made--to the
contrary, it is able to explain exactly how the mistakes that are
made are made.
Randall Buth, PhD
Director, Biblical Language Center
and Lecturer, Biblical Hebrew
Rothberg International School
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