[B-Greek] Re: How do modern Greeks pronounce Biblical Greek?
R Yochanan Bitan Buth
ybitan at mscc.huji.ac.il
Sat Apr 9 15:19:20 EDT 2005
>Obviously this means that hYMEIS and
>hHMEIS are pronounced exactly the same, which can be problematic.
>... On balance, I don't think there's anything really difficult
>about learning koine with modern Greek pronunciation.
Good, and yes, the modern system can work well for reading and
learning. Especially if it helps promote a fluent, real use of the
You touched on a point worth further consideration. I call it the
"carrying capacity of a phonology and language". If a phonological
system collapses into something too simple, it may cause other
systematic changes within the morphology or syntax of the language.
The nice thing about the KOINH Greek pronunciation, a 7-vowel system,
is that we know that it was 'good enough for Paul'.
The system remained relatively stable for hundreds of years. (NB: I am
not talking about the Erasmian 10-vowel that miss-maps spelling with
the first century vowels.) The 7-vowel KOINH was capable of carrying
the ancient language without forcing rapid change.
The byzantine-modern 5 vowel system could not carry UMEIS 'you' versus
HMEIS 'we'. That was solved by changing the words. Today we say EMEIS
and ESEIS. If you pronounce the ü of U-psilon, then you preserve the
distinction of UMEIS. Incidently, this sound is also standard Erasmian
and also Allen-Daitz Restored Attic.
There is really no excuse for American students to ignore this ü, on
any system, and I would recommend that someone who speaks modern Greek
to consider adding this one vowel to their reading of old texts. It
will make a significant difference in reducing ambiguity (both U and
OI become distinct from I) and put you close to the historical
carrying capacity of Paul's day. Plus, it does not conflict with
modern Greek by crossing into the domain of another vowel. If, by
chance, you ever use ü while speaking modern Greek (and I have!) the
listener hears [i] with a tinge of something foreign, perfectly
understandable, and the conversation continues without missing a beat.
Historically, you will be using the 6-vowel system of Eysebios and
following, a dialect quite ancient and from the time of our earliest
NT manuscripts. As I mentioned in a previous email, I find myself
doing this from time to time after visits to Greece.
Or as you might find in a papyri: AIROSQE
Randall Buth, PhD
Director, Biblical Language Center
and Director, Biblical Studies in Israel
Hebrew University, Rothberg International School
ybitan at mscc.huji.ac.il
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