[B-Greek] Recent discussion concerning Erasmian pronunciation

John Sanders john.franklin.sanders at gmail.com
Mon May 4 02:46:58 EDT 2009

I wish to add a few words from a slightly different aspect, an aspect formed
from Chinese.  Chinese also has a classical form of the language, which is
regularly taught to students today in middle school (high school).  And as
one perhaps would expect, most students do not find this a pleasant or easy
class, but the pronunciation scheme is not of a reconstructed schema but of
modern day standard Chinese.

There is a reconstructed pronunciation scheme, as a matter of fact, two such
schemes.  Classical Chinese was spoken as a living first language from
around the Spring Autumn period to the end of the Han Dynasty, roughly from
Homer to the Emperor Constantine.  After that period, Classical Chinese was
spoken as a second language by the elite (and government bureaucrats, often
the same individuals).  This was a very vigorous period in the language, and
some of the best literature in Classical Chinese originates from those who
spoke Classical Chinese as a second language.  But they spoke this Classical
Chinese using their current pronunciation system.  Consequently, the
pronunciation spoken during the Han dynasty period was referred to as
Archaic Chinese and the form that it had during the Tang dynasty (roughly
the Byzantine period) is referred to as old Chinese (at least this is what I
heard it called many years ago, I have not kept up with the nomenclature and
it may have changed since then).

The reconstruction of Chinese classical pronunciation occurred during the
first half of the 20th century.  Since most instructors of Classical Chinese
are Chinese native speakers, the push to use the reconstructed pronunciation
schemes met with little success, the native speakers would think that it was
interesting but not particularly useful and they had no reason to embrace
such teaching methods.  As a matter of fact, they had a reason not to
embrace such a schema.  As long as one spoke Chinese with a modern accent,
then those who had a native proficiency would be rated superior to those who
did not.  And using a reconstructed scheme would allow those who had no
proficiency at all in speaking to gain a monopoly in teaching.

Greek is different in that respect.  Even though with the occupation of
Greek lands by the Ottomans resulted in an exodus of Greeks skilled in their
language, those numbers were insufficient to meet the demands that the new
learning developed.  Erasmus, I believe, attempted to develop a true
reconstruction of the classical pronunciation, his can be considered version
one.  Given the data available to him, not a bad job.  But the whole scheme
allowed teachers who could not speak the language to teach the language.   This
is not necessarily an evil thing.  I know many of teacher of Chinese that
cannot speak the language, but they teach well what they do know
(literature, syntax, history, etc.).  But I recall one old professor, not
deceased, who learned Classical Chinese while it was still spoken as a
second language.  He loved the language and when he taught the literature,
he taught it with a feel of the language itself, something that cannot be
taught if one is not able to speak the language with confidence and ability,
even as a second language.

John Sanders
Suzhou, China

On Mon, May 4, 2009 at 10:53 AM, Michael Aubrey <mga318 at yahoo.com> wrote:

> Nikolaos,
> I'm curious. How you, as a native speaker, view those of us,
> who like Buth, use a reconstructed historical pronunciation?
> Do the historically reconstructed phonologies of Koine Greek
> by people such as RandaIl Buth, Rondal Smith, and Gerhard
> Mussies, all of which maintain an incredibly consistent amount
> of agreement, hold water in your view? Would you consider
> them as helpful and/or valid?
> Mike Aubrey
> ________________________________
> From: Nikolaos Adamou <nikolaos.adamou at hotmail.com>
> To: Jeffrey T. Requadt <jeffreyrequadt_list at hotmail.com>; b-Greek <
> b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
> Sent: Sunday, May 3, 2009 7:39:54 PM
> Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Recent discussion concerning Erasmian pronunciation
> There is a third group, native Greeks, who
> read the bible without any interruption from the time it is written,
> without a
> need of any translation, in their own language; a language with music and
> meter.
> Do they know how their language sounds?
> Or this does not count!
>  ---
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