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

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Wed May 21 04:38:24 EDT 2008

Thank you for all the work.
Allen's work is known, of course, and on my shelf (and used!), but
his appendix on the pronunciation of Greek in England
is/was some of the source of my confusion.

You have documented it below on the Greek vowel I. Allen lists the
keyword 'bite' as the 16th century example and says that it was
already pronounced like modern English (approx. 'bayt', like the
vowels in 'write', I don't have IPA available for this browser). That
pronunciation would just scramble everything.

It appears that the English reformers Cheke and Smith c1550 were
aware that Erasmian and ancient Greek I was IPA [i] (pronounced
like the vowel in modern English 'feet'). Their choice of 'bite' to
characterize this is exceptionally poor, they could have used 'feet'.
And the Great English Vowel shift would be irrelevant since it had
already occured. I am not an English scholar so what I say in the
following should be taken as tentative. It would appear that for
Cheke and Smith at Cambridge c. 1550 the English word 'bite'
may still have had a semi-Chaucerian pronuciation like the vowels
in modern 'beet'/'beat'. Then the Great English Vowel could truly
wreak its havoc. In either case, I have never tried to imagine a
Greek system with [ai] as a sound for IWTA or to guess what
that did to English Greek studies from 1600-1850. While
recordings would be nice for our historical curiousity, aren't
we all glad that they did not use technology to preserve and
desseminate a spoken Greek so far off base? There is a
lesson in this for today, too.

My own picture of Erasmian EI are taken from classic works
like the 19th century Goodwin where the value of [e:] is already
recognized. Erasmus would have been different, of course.
Allen does document that during 1600-1850 EI was
confused with AI for the Brits, and also with I (p148) !
It would seem that the view of HTA as [close e:]
does indeed stem from the lack of a good English [open e:]. This
should also be joined to the lack of length in English phonology.
[English has an open-e in 'met' but it does not have two vowels
of that quality but different phonetic length. Consequently,
'restored Attic' in Anglophone countries tends toward 'ae' in
'bat'. This becomes a diagnostic between 'restored' and 'Erasm.']
It is not clear to me when the English started pronouncing
HTA as a close [e:]. Allen's table on 147 uses 'meat' as the
16th century keyword and then notes that around 1700 this vowel
shifted to IPA [i:](like 'feet'). Of course English also had 'great'
and 'bread' that didn't shift like 'meat' and 'heat'. 'Great' is listed
as one of the 16th century 'keywords', p. 144, so I would expect
that by 1700-1800 English schoolboy Greek might have picked
up HTA as [e:]. I don't own a Machen, but it strikes me that
he taught something like that last century [='late'], and not as
an innovation. I wouldn't blame Machen but would look a
century or two earlier.

And yes, we are 100% agreed that KOINH EI as [i] and H as
[e] was not 5th century Attic. (Teodorrson gets remarkably
close to this, for 4th c popular Attic.) The only time that KOINH
is used for Attic is when speakers from 150BCE to 300 CE
were reading the old Attic works, using their own
pronounciation. Such would not be 'wrong' it would be natural.
We can assume something like that for Paul,
Luke, and Josephus. Throughout Greek history people have
always read the older works with their newer pronounciations.
(Atticists do this for hOMHROS Homer.) That is, until
the modern era, when they have started to do the reverse,
to use various older models for reading the more developed
language strata, like using Chaucer for Shakespeare or
modern English. That is understandable for someone whose
priority interest is Plato to Homer, I could even recommend
it if a system tolerable to Greek ears could be devised. I
have played recordings of Daitz to students and had students
burst out laughing at the artificiality. I have the highest respect
for what Daitz is trying to do, but Allen apparently agrees with
my students, "The author has listened to a number of
recordings, recent and less recent, of attempted melodic-
accentual recitations of ancient Greek, and, whilst some are
less objectionable or ridiculous than others, has found none of
them convincing" Allen 129. I'm not as pessimistic as Allen
and have heard some good prose readings, but would only
use this for private fun or classical classics.



Kevin egrapse:
>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

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

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