value of accents?

Eric Weiss eweiss at
Fri May 31 01:22:40 EDT 2002

Like many, I learned NT Greek accentuation only rudimentarily, and was
taught to treat accents as syllable stress marks.

I read Wenham's explanation/justification for omitting most accents in
his Greek grammar. I then skimmed through D.A. Carson's book (Baker,
1985, I believe) on accents, hoping to find some justification for
rigorously learning accents, perhaps to counteract Wenham and to
stimulate me to learn accents. Carson lists 3 approaches to the Greek
accents - 1. Ignore them (a la Wenham); 2. Use and show them, but
pronounce the words the way one wishes; 3. Treat the accents as syllable
stress marks. (I believe I got that correctly from skimming Carson).
Carson then said he prefers and uses method 3 as a pedagogical tool to
help students learn vocabulary -- and maybe to enforce a consistency.
Since students will encounter the accent marks in the typical Greek NT
text, it's better to know what to do with them than to be baffled. At
the beginning of his book, Carson suggests that those who learn NT Greek
primarily for preaching purposes can do all right with methods like
Wenham's, but the serious scholarly student needs to learn the accent
system. Carson also says it's murky re: when the accents stopped being
tone/pitch indicaters and became syllable stress marks. (If treated only
as syllable stress marks, there is no functional difference that I can
see among grave, acute and circumflex -- only if they indicate pitch
does it matter which accent is used.)

Anyway, what I went to Carson to find, I did not find -- i.e., a good
justification for learning accents (with the obvious exception of where
accents differentiate between words, e.g., TIS, ALLA, ARA). I believe
his book provided only a few examples of how accentuation affects
translation/meaning, but he admits like Wenham that the earliest uncial
mss. lacked accents. I think Wenham says they didn't come into use until
9th century(!!) in NT mss. So the accents we do find in the NT might at
times be scribal conjectures, perhaps?

Bottom-line: I did not find a reason to purchase and study Carson's
book, as he did not convince me that learning more than I already know
about accents was necessary. I was taught and use Carson's preferred
method of consistently pronouncing NT words with the stress on the
accented syllable.

Can anyone convince me of the necessity of learning accents more than
what is briefly given in most 1st-year NT grammars?

Eric S. Weiss

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