[B-Greek] Long/short vowels, macrons, and Unicode

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Wed Mar 8 05:51:18 EST 2006

On Mar 8, 2006, at 1:37 AM, James Tauber wrote:

>> Certainly an acute accent may appear on a long vowel or a short
>> vowel, and yes, only a circumflex must appear only on a long vowel or
>> on the second vowel of a diphthong. An acute on a long vowel is by no
>> means uncommon.
> Most modern phonological analyses of Ancient Greek accentuation take a
> moraic approach where a short vowel is seen as having a single mora  
> and
> a long vowel and diphthong as having two.

I know what you mean, but I did a "double-take" when I saw "moraic."  
It's a word I can't find in my dictionary and initially questioned  
whether you meant "moronic" or "mosaic" or even something related to  
the vision or pronunciation of Moray eels.

Although the matter of how the accents were pronounced is talked  
about, to some extent, in the grammars, it really ought to be  
recognized that it is all very theoretical. I've read that Caragounis  
claims there never was a tonic accentual pronunciation of ancient  
Greek. I think there probably was, but I do think it ought to be  
realized that the explanations offered for it (that the acute is a  
musical fifth above, the grave a third, the circumflex a rising to a  
fifth and falling to a third on a long vowel or diphthong of two  
morae) is pretty much a theoretical construct.

> An acute then means the last mora is accented.
> A circumflex means the second-to-last mora is accented.
>> From this it follows that only a long vowel or diphthong can take a
> circumflex. And also that a long vowel is just as able to take an  
> acute
> as a circumflex (the distinction is simply which mora is accented).
> Note that the placing of the accent on the second vowel of a diphthong
> is a writing convention that is somewhat misleading from a  
> phonological
> viewpoint because if the accent is a circumflex, it is actually the
> first mora that is accents phonologically. In other words, when  
> Ancient
> Greek was still a pitch-accent language, it AU= would have had a
> high-pitch on the A mora, not the U, despite the fact the accent is
> written over the U.

You're right, of course, But since the question was about the  
conventional writing and printing of ancient Greek texts with accents  
and macrons, I thought the question was about the written form.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad2 at mac.com
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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