Q: Re: Pronunciation of the Greek diphthong "ei" and (vs.) the Greek letter "eta"

Stephen C. Carlson scarlson at mindspring.com
Thu Jan 9 17:16:38 EST 2003

On Thu, 9 Jan 2003 16:00:24 -0500 "Robert E. Wermuth"
<robertewermuth at worldnet.att.net> wrote:
> Yet, in my experience, most Greek instructors seem to make no distinction
> between the (way they teach the) pronunciation of the EI dipthong vs. the
> pronuniciation of H, i.e., both pronounced with a long "a" sound. This
> seems to really cloud the beginning student's
memorization, particulary
> when, in the Subjunctive, there is a lengthening of the thematic vowel
> learned previously in connection with the Indicative. Is this an accurate
> OR effective method of instruction if good student success is the goal?

The problem is lies in native English speakers, because there is no phonemic
difference in English between what EI and H are supposed to be in the Erasmian
system.  This also true for pi/phi, kappa/chi, and tau/theta because
aspiration is non-phonemic in English, but we can maintain the phonemic
distinctiveness of these sounds by adopting the pronunciation of a later
period, which English can more or less handle except for chi.

So, it seems to me if you want to keep EI and H distinct, you ought to adopt
the pronunciation of what EI did become ("ee" as in I), instead of merging it
with AI (as in "height"), which EI never became, even in Modern Greek.  If you
are worried about maintaining any distinction between EI and I, you could use
a short I (ih as in bit) for I and a long "ee" for EI.

Stephen Carlson

Stephen C. Carlson, 
mailto:scarlson at mindspring.com 
"Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs chant the words."  Shujing 2.35

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