[B-Greek] Koine, Erasmian, and Modern pronunciations

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Tue May 20 04:46:10 EDT 2008


Thank you for this, espcially the note on the effect of the
English vowel shift POST-Erasmus.

Would you be able to expand on this? It raises some
My understanding of the English vowel shift is that it was
triggered before Erasmus time, especially vowels like
EE becoming [i:] and OO becoming [u:]. I sometimes
forget that Erasmus was 100 years before Shakespeare
and would have been interacting with English that was
still finishing out the ramifications of the already-started
great vowel shift.

>>On Erasmus I have not done a historical search to separate the
real Erasmus from what is done in his name ('the feminine
goddess' TON QEON of some 20th cent. Americans should not be
attributed To Erasmus.)
However, it is commonplace for 'Erasmians' to join
HTA with EI in sound.
There is something fundamentally wrong with doing this and it is
Part of the reason why 'Erasmian' is out of sync with any Greek of
Any age.

> ... Erasmus did not adopt his pronunciation, but it was adopted in
England and then spread to the continent from there.  But then the Great
Vowel Shift in English wrecked the whole system in England. >

RB: could you elaborate here? If the English shift to [i:] had already
happened, How would it wreck the Anglo-Erasmians? More
specifically, how did Anglo-Erasmians end up joining EI to HTA?

>In some Classical departments the
Greek students pronounce PH, TH, KH as fricatives because the aspirate
pronunciation is too difficult for English speakers, but if those same
students also take Sanskrit, then it is a different story.  I have never
understood why Greek aspirates - and there are only three - are too
difficult, but the many aspirates of Sanskrit are possible to pronounce.>

Yes, your point is right on target.
However, there is a practical difference when simply reading or
when using for communication, where the other speakers must
distinguish each other's production (but this is something that
classicists are not doing anyway, so their objection is moot.)
One needs some smooth, clear models to listen to. I would
agree with you that the Sanskrit group shows what should be
done in the classics classes, with the addition of using the
language for real communication if they want it internalized.

We run into a similar problem teaching people Hebrew. Many Israeli
teachers object to `ayin and Het as 'too difficult' for Europeans but
students do fine in Arabic where they are not given a choice. In this
case the majority Hebrew dialect without `ayin and Het has already
established itself within fluent and mothertongue speakers.

Since Greek studies do not have a meaningful contingent of
second language speakers, we have a chance to get things
right! I am happy to listen to anyone fluent, but for someone
training for classics it would be nice for them to get it right if
they are going to use Restored Attic ("edited Erasmian").
If they're not going to get it right, then they should join
Koine speakers (and virtually join Josephus and Luke) for a
Third Sophistic, where they will have an easier time of getting
it right. With proper pedagogy, the next generation could have
speakers of 5th c BCE Attic, 1st c CE Koine,
and 'modern dialect' ancient, hopefully all fluent enough to
follow each other. As a caveat:  it's hard to listen to
stuttering that is intended to be wrong, and modern
Greek will have a hard time listening to correctly restored
Attic if it isn't made very smooth and pleasant sounding. I
don't really see a place or a need for Anglo-Erasmian
(or other flavors).

>> 1) the post-Alexander papyrii and inscriptions show that
>> EI sounded like I.
>> 2) HTA did not immediately follow EI into I but remained
>> Separate for many centuries. That means that in the
>> 4th c BCE the Athenians were NOT pronouncing HTA like
>> EI.
>> If they had been pronounced the same, then both of those
>> Graphs would have joined I in sound in the 3-4 c BCE.
>> Restored Attic solves this by lowering HTA towards a
>> Long 'ae'. That works for the 4c BCE. For the 3c BCE and
>> Throughout the KOINH a correct reading joins EI with I in
>> Sound and pronunciation.
>> The Westcott Hort NT was spelled with many EI in positions
>> Where people knew the sound was I:
>> But people wanted their Erasmian and they didn't want to
>> Mispronounce some words in the NT, so they changed the
>> Westcott-Hort spelling. That is logical and reasonable, except
>> For starting from a wrong starting point. >>

And thank you again for some historical help on the venerable
Dutchman. Supporting PDFs or URLs would be especially nice
for future reference.


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

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