[B-Greek] language pronunciation

Mark Lightman lightmanmark at yahoo.com
Mon May 4 23:39:25 EDT 2009

When I tell people that I read Ancient Greek for fun,
they will sometimes say "How can you stand studying
a dead language?"  My response is always the same:
"You say 'dead' like it was a bad thing." 

--- On Sun, 5/3/09, Kevin Riley <klriley at alphalink.com.au> wrote:

<Greek should not sound like American or English or French, or Spanish or Italian
or anything else.  It should sound like Greek.>
Well said and of course you're right.  But as you know, it's
more complicated than that.  Let's assume that someone
like Smyth knew what he was talking about.  He chose to
retain Erasmus because "ignorance of the exact pronunciation,
as well as long-established usage, must render any reform
pedantical, if not impossible." (Greek Grammar p.12)  But if,
like Smyth, you speak Erasmian, if not DOES sound like
Greek.  I guess according to some Modern Greeks it does
not sound anything like Greek.  So Erasmians try to make
it sound more like Greek by rolling their R's and not gliding
their vowels.  I'm suggesting, not arguing, just suggesting,
that maybe like Phemester we should not even bother. 
Or I'm not even suggesting that.  I'm just stating the fact
that since American Greek exists, I'm going to listen to
it.  And I don't regret that American Greek exists.
<If we follow your argument for pronunciation, why not for
grammar as well? >
If you mean should we call the genitive absolute a dangling
participle and the subjuntive the "should" mood, yes, I guess
maybe we should.  But I get your larger point.  To make Greek
easier there are certain things I would not do, like changing
the word order or using the English Alphabet, but I don't consider
Erasmianism on this par.  Remember that most of the letters and
dipthongs per the Erasmian scheme did sound like that in some
Greek at some period.
Nikolaos Adamou wrote:
<If someone does not want to try or use the native Greek pronunciation it is
fine: there is no need for arguments.It is a choice (right or wrong, I respect it)>
Great attitude.  I have tried it and I do use it from time to time, but
I still think Erasmianism is the best for learning ancient Greek.  Again,
I respect your respect.
Leonard Isaksson wrote:
<How are you going to learn Greek when the way
it sounds grates on your ears so that it sounds
like scratching fingernails that need to be cut 
across a blackboard?>
I understand.  Until recently I felt this way
about most Erasmians.  But Phemester changed
my mind.  Have you checked her out?  I can't 
explain why she works so well for me.  Maybe 
it's just because she fully ennunciates each syllable,
or because she speaks slowly.  Or maybe it's because
she sounds a little like a sixth Grade teacher I once had
a crush on.  But look, the entire Greek NT
is available for free on her site and on Greek Latin Audio.com.
I downloaded books from both, and have just found that
she is best helping me to learn how to listen to NT Greek.
She doesn't roll her r's.  But if she sounds okay, and if she
is easy to understand, what's the harm in listening to her
and speaking Greek like her?  If Homer, Socrates, Paul, and
Phemester were all in the same room, wouldn't they all
sound funny and a little grating to each other?  Paul, with his Turkish
accent, may sound the funniest of all.
Jeffrey Requadt wrote:
<If some French person wanted to learn to read Shakespeare-to understand it,
or even 16th-17th century English literature in general, would we really
want them to learn to pronounce it in a modern French accent? Would we tell them that that's fine, as long as they know what the words mean?> 
Why the heck not?  I bet Shakespeare sounds just fine with
a French accent.  Who am I to tell somebody who wants to read
Shakespeare that it is NOT fine to do so in whatever way they choose?
Some people even think that Shakespeare WAS French (Jacques Speare)
so maybe he himself had a French accent.  Shakespeare, like Lincoln and
the Greek NT, belong to the ages.  They are not mine or yours or anyone elses,
and anyone can do anything with them that they want.   See Nicolaos'
gracious attitude above.  Actually, I know you, Jeffery have the same
gracious attitude. 
Jeffrey Requadt wrote:
<Last, I would challenge the notion that "people actually 
learn languages better and faster it they speak it and hear
 it not like Native speakers ofthe target language, but like
 Native speakers of their own." I'm skeptical.>
I'm skeptical too.  I was actually paraphrasing what someone
on the list had said, I can't remember when or who, and when
I read it I wondered myself it it is true. 
I wonder too if there is not an underlying political correctness,
which is actually just the oppostive, in the notion that there
is something terrible in American Greek.  I wonder, I just
wonder because I don't know, if in fact what has happened
with American Erasmianism is actually more of the historical
norm. Historically, haven't people just spoken second 
languages in whatever way came natural to them?  My
grandmother never lost her strong Yiddish accent.  I don't
think if would ever occur to her whether she should or
shouldn't roll her r's.  She just did or didn't.  I think the people in her neighborhood
took less offense over these issues than some of us do on
this list.   The irony is that maybe Amerian Erasmian Greek
is the most living language of them all.  When it's just
us and our Greek NT's we do or we do not confuse alpha
and omicron, we do or we do not roll our r's.
Well, to sum up, I guess with defender's like me, 
Erasmus does not need detractors.  I am surprised, and
not at all unpleased, that based on the responses to
my post, Randall and my Native Greek friends seem to be making
more headway than I thought against the specter of Erasmus.
To quote Yeats, the best Erasmians lack all conviction,
while the Iotacists are full of passionate intensity.  That's
fine with me.  

Mark L  


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