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

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Fri Jan 10 06:03:32 EST 2003

This is a re-sending--in replacement of a message originally sent to the
list with an attached file, which of course has been left out in this

From: "Translation Officer - Bible Society of South Africa"
<translate at biblesociety.co.za>
Date: Fri, 10 Jan 2003 08:58:21 +0200

> The problem is lies in native English speakers, because there is no
> difference in English between what EI and H are supposed to be in the
> 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
> the pronunciation of what EI did become ("ee" as in I), instead of merging
> with AI (as in "height"), which EI never became, even in Modern Greek.  If
> are worried about maintaining any distinction between EI and I, you could
> a short I (ih as in bit) for I and a long "ee" for EI.

I studied Greek at an Afrikaans medium University (Afrikaans is a daughter
language of 17th Century Dutch), and we used a vowel system that worked
quite well, I think, even though it doesn't come anywhere near resembling
Modern Greek (or Classical/Koine Greek, I suppose).  The reason I think it
worked well is that no two vowels/diphthongs were pronounced in exactly the
same way.  I have attached a Microsoft Word file with the IPA symbols for
the way we pronounced each vowel/diphthong for those interested.  I suspect
that Dutch scholars would have a similar system?  English-speaking folk with
little knowledge of some language where these sounds occur, e.g. French, may
have trouble pronouncing some of these sounds; this can be a drawback in the
system for English-speaking countries.  We also pronounced rough breathing
as distinct from lenis, e.g. hOUTOS = hootos, which I think helps students
memorise the correct diacritics of words starting in vowels.

Manie van den Heever
Translation Officer: Text Processing
Bible Society of South Africa
P O Box 6215, Roggebaai 8012, South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)21 421-2040
Fax: + 27 (0)21 419-4846

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