[B-Greek] Koine Greek Pronunciation - Homer and corollaries

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Sun Apr 13 04:33:10 EDT 2008

kevin egrapse-
>Mounce's pronunciation as given in the book is Erasmian with some
acknowledgement of the Classical pronunciation recommended by JACT, etc.
The recording is with an American accent, of course, which is probably no
more nor less accurate than an educated British accent.  What surprised me
lately was learning how much different classical Greek dialects varied from
Attic.  If we want to be "accurate" we should not only be reading Homer with
non-Attic sounds, but also all the other non-Attic authors - unless they
wrote in Attic.  Somehow, it seems a little silly to have to change
pronunciation from author to author and genre to genre, even if the original
performers may have done something like that.

[RB] agreed. we don't normally do that for English or any other language
of communication.

>I  think it was probably that
consideration, along with a belief that Attic represented the "best" Greek,
that led to the practice of pronouncing all pre-Byzantine Greek as if it
were Attic - or what people at any time imagined Attic to be like.  The
current system - which is not exactly Erasmus' system - is partly based on
the practice of making all written letters have different sounds to make it
easier for students to relate the written letters to the sounds.  That is
probably not a bad thing, even if it is artificial in the majority of
languages.  And the result - at least on paper - is very close to what most
experts consider to have been the pronunciation of Attic around 400 BC.
That few teachers or students bother to pronounce it as recommended is not
the fault of the system.

>Personally, I am persuaded that Randall has a very good system that is the
closest of any to what C1st Greek actually sounded like, and would like to
see it used widely in NT Greek classes.  But I also can't help admiring
Attic Greek spoken well by one of the few teachers who have mastered it.

[RB] I have a special respect for Attic. (which isn't Erasmian, see below.)
LIke hearing someone read Chaucer 'like Chaucer'.

 I would never say that teaching NT Greek with an Attic pronunciation is
wrong.  But then, I also find Cypriot Greek appealing, so apparently my
appreciation of "good" Greek is somewhat suspect :)

Kevin Riley>

I would like to clarify a couple of the points above about Homer/Attic.
Erasmian is fairly distinctly not Attic, nor Homerian.
The reconstructed Attic pronunciations do not usually distinguish
between Attic and Homer, though Allen does make a very telling
comment in his book on Attic pronunciation, that
if one needs to choose on which side to error,
it would be natural and in keeping with the language to
use a later pronunciation for an earlier (like Plato for Aeschylos),
something that happened in history, rather than an earlier for a later
(like Aeschylos for Plato), something that never happened in history.

How can a beginning student tell if the pronunciation is Erasmian or
It they pronounce  FWNH hard like an american 'p' it is Attic.
If they pronounce FWNH soft like an american 'f' it is Erasmian.
If they pronounce Wmega more like some dialects of 'aw' it is Attic.
If they pronounce Hta closer to 'ae' than 'ey' it is Attic.
If they pronounce Omikron like 'aw' [or 'a' ?! ] it is Erasmian.
If they distinguish circumflex from acute it is Attic,
if they ignore the accent altogether it is British/Latin.

Needless to say, I consider Allen's historical comment quite useful.
It would say that 4-5c Attic could be used for Attic, Ionic or Homeric.
Koine (1c) could be used for Attic and Homer just like Josephus and
Plutarch presumably did.
Byzantine ("6 vowel Koine") could be used for Byz, Koine, Attic etc.
and Modern could be used for all.
All of these have happened in history. Now, of course, we have
a new child on the block, Erasmian. To be honest, I'm not sure
what it's good for, but it's certainly popular. I have one friend that
I speak with who controls an Erasmian-Attic.
What is that?
Vowels, iota subscript, and accents like Attic, but consonants like
Erasmian. What is most fun is that we can communicate with
each other. He understands me and I him. (He also acknowledges
that my system fits the New Testament era much better, but after
twenty-five years of hard work he is not able to consider changing.)

This last point is something that New Testament and Koine
students need to consider a little more seriously. They will end up
with what they practice for ten+ years. If they're really good and
really diligent.     But is that where they will want to be?
And while they might theoretically be able to spell better than
Plutarch or Paul, their phonology will not match the language of
the authors that they are reading. And if Erasmian,  one not used
at any period of the language.

To put it in English terms, while it might be nice to aim to spell
English better than the KJV translators, I'm not sure that reading
Shakespeare with a pseudo-Chaucerian system is a fair price
to pay. Nobody teaches English that way, and English is much
worse than Greek when it comes to spelling.

Even better than all the above, it doesn't have to be EITHER/OR.
I can have fun reading Chaucer with a 'chaucerian' accent at
times, but use a later dialect when reading for content and at
all other times when speaking. But that does involve working
towards fluency in a later dialect.
It is this last point that is the most important of all and regularly
overlooked in all the Greek pedagogy that I am familiar with.
Building toward true fluency.
That is the most meanigful nugget in this whole discussion.
That is what my Erasmattic-ian friend has also worked towards.
That is what raises the question of pronunciation as something
truly practical, since I don't know how to get fluent in a language
without speaking it A LOT. And one would think that many/most
of the students of NT Greek would consider that a worthy goal.
If they dedicate their lives to a literature, then fluently controlling
the language of that literature would seem to be a common goal.
the surprise for students is that after getting their PhD they will
find that the pedagogy left them quite some distance away from
this goal, while their French and Russian literature colleagues
are all chattering away in their language of specialty, even if they
have never visited a country where it is spoken.   Last Fall
at SBL I spoke with a name that those on the list would all
recognize and discussed the possibility of meeting with several
teachers for a three-week ancient-Greek-only jam session. S/he
thought it a good idea but pointed out the obvious -- it will be
hard to find people ready to do that. S/he wasn't. The gap is so
wide. That is the little trade secret that students are not told at
the beginning. One would think that it should influence
pedagogical decisions. We should avoid what we know
prevents or blocks  fluency and do what we know leads to
fluency. ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς

Simple. Now we just need three thousand hours 'on track'.


Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
Learn Easier - Progress Further - Remember for Life

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