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

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Wed Mar 8 08:15:48 EST 2006

On Mar 8, 2006, at 7:04 AM, James Tauber wrote:

> On Wed, 8 Mar 2006 05:51:18 -0500, "Carl W. Conrad"
> <cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu> said:
>> 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.
> While we may be uncertain of some things, I think we know more than  
> "it
> is all very theoretical" or "a theoretical construct" might  
> suggest. As
> you know, some people come to this list saying things like "we have no
> idea how NT Greek was pronounced" which is not true at all. As Dr Buth
> reminds us, we can say things like AI=E phonemically without  
> necessarily
> knowing how that phoneme might compare phonetically to the way I, say,
> pronounce 'e' in English.
> Everything I've read from Allen to Sommerstein to Steriade to Probert
> assumes the following:
>>> An acute then means the last mora is accented.
>>> A circumflex means the second-to-last mora is accented.
> And I would be intrigued if Caragounis denied that.

My impression (from reviews; I still haven't been able to look at a  
library copy) is that Caragounis denies that there was a pitch  
accent. That's one of the objections raised by Moises Silva in his  
review of the new Caragounis book (Westminster Theological Journal  
(fall 2005).

>>> 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.
> Oh, absolutely. I was just pointing out to other readers that the
> written form doesn't reflect the phonological.

Fair enough! I always thought it amusing that the rough breathing on  
hAI and hOI in the standard printed forms we use for ancient Greek is  
on the final iota. In that regard, our B-Greek transliteration format  
better represents the pronunciation (at least, the pronunciation of  
the rough breathing at the time when the rough breathing was still  

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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