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

Kevin Riley klriley at alphalink.com.au
Tue May 20 22:02:39 EDT 2008

Thank you for this, especially 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''s 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?
K:  Allen's Vox Graeca summarises most of the information.  EI was taken to
be a diphthong and was /&I/ at the time.  This developed to /AI/, which is
why many Greeks words with EI borrowed into English are pronounced as /AI/
in modern English.  It is only recently that EI has been confused with H.  I
have books from as late as 1960 which advocate pronouncing EI the same as AI
  Open /O:/ had not yet moved to close /o:/ and so originally the English
pronunciation was correct, but the pronunciation of Greek /O:/ moved to /o:/
then /ou/ as English did.  Because no Greek sound was identified as /e:/ or
/o:/, there was no problem.  Had they correctly identified EI as /e:/, then
EI would have been confused with I not AI and later H.  I will try to give
approximate values of vowels, in order of C16th, early C20th, today [JACT
recommended pronunciation]
A - /&/, /&:/ : /&/, /ei/ ; /a/, /a:/
E - /e/ : /e/ : /e/
H - /E:/ : /e:/ : /E:/
I - /I/, /@i/  : /I/, /AI/ : /I/, /I:/
O - /o/ : /o/ : /o/
W - /O:/ : /ou/ : /O:/
U - /IU/, /IU:/ : /ju/, /ju:/  : /y/, /y:/
AI - /&I/ : /AI/ : /AI/ 
EI - /&I/ : /AI/ : /e:/
OI - /Oi/ : /Oi/  : /Oi/
AU - /au/ : /O:/ : /au/
EU - /eu/ : /ju/ : /eu/
OU - /ou/ OR /u:/ : /u:/ : /u:/
& = 'a' in 'man'.  The exact sound of OU was probably with an O pronounced
like the German umlaut O - can't remember how to make that on my computer. 
The pronunciation of OU should have developed to /au/, but all the books I
have, and those I have seen from the C19th give /u:/.  I am not sure when
that replaced /ou/, but it must have been fairly early.  Maybe in the C18th
when the /@i/ pronunciation replaced /&I/ for AI and EI.  When NOUS was
borrowed in C17th, it came with an /au/ pronunciation.  All the C19th
scientific words with EI (seismic, Pleistocene, etc) came with an /AI/
I think the recent confusion of EI and H is because /E:/ is not found in all
English dialects, and /e:/ is the nearest sound.  If EI is pronounced as
/I:/ and H as /e:/ for Koine there is no problem, but both are likely to be
wrong for Classical Attic.
Kevin Riley

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