Archive-name: greek-faq/linguistics
Last-modified: 1994/03/31

Soc.Culture.Greek Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Last Change: 17 April 1993


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1. Difference between Ancient Greek pronunciations and modern
        Greek pronunciations??


I ask the people to send me stuff in order to make this file more
complete. I'm just a kind of editor, and I cannot know everything.

YOU'll determine if this FAQ is good or not!


1. Difference between Ancient Greek pronunciations and modern
        Greek pronunciations??

[ This question spawned a HUGE thread!! I'm quoting from the various
 correspodents who participated in this thread . Basically, there are
 two subtopics here:

 a. How does one express pronounciation of Greek text in English-like
 b. How did ancient Greeks pronounce their written works??

 There's no end to this debate. I'm just quoting the various opinions
 and (mis)information ;-) presented in USENET -- nfotis . I hope no one
 asks again about that subject :-/ ]

From: (Andrew Gollan)
---- (Daniel R. Guilderson) writes:

|I have an English translation of Homer's Odyssey. There is a
|pronunciation key in an appendix but the author states that ALL 'c's
|are pronounced as 'k' and all 'ch's as 'kh'. Well I know that modern
|Greeks pronounce Chios as hee'os. So how would you pronounce Circe^
|(circumflex over the e) and Cynthera? I can't imagine pronouncing
|Circe^ as kir'kee, although anything is possible I suppose.

|Maybe someone from s.c.g can comment on some of the differences
|between Ancient Greek pronunciations and modern Greek pronunciations?

You are pushing shit uphill trying to reconstruct the Classical Greek
pronunciation from the "English" equivalents. All but a very few English
works adopt the Latinized spellings of the Greek names, which were themselves
at best an approximation. We then apply modern English pronunciation to
the Latin spellings resulting in completely warped pronunciation.

        Latinized       Greek letter    Sound
        ---------       ------------    -----
        a (short)       alpha           u as in 'cup'
        a (long)        alpha           a as in 'father'
        b               beta            b as in 'bed'
        c               kappa           as french hard c: 'comment'
        d               delta           d as in 'dog'
        e (short)       epsilon         e as in 'pet'
        e (long)        eta             as all of 'air'
        f               -               -
        g               gamma           g as in 'god'
        h (initial)     rough breathing h as in 'hot'
        i               iota            i as in 'pit'
        j               -               -
        k               kappa           as french hard c: 'comment'
        l               la(m)bda        l as in 'lid'
        m               mu              m as in 'mud'
        n               nu              n as in 'net'
        o (short)       omicron         o as in 'pot'
        o (long)        omega           aw as in 'awful'
        p               pi              as french p: 'Paris'
        q               -               -
        r               rho             rolled r as in french: 'rue'
        s               sigma           s as in 'sad' (mostly)
        t               tau             as french t: 'tu'
        u               omicron+upsilon oo as in 'tool'
        v               -               -
        w               -               -
        x               xi              x as in 'fax' (even first in a word)
        y (short)       upsilon         as french u: 'tu'
        y (long)        upsilon         as french u: 'sur'
        z               zeta            zd

        ch              khi             c as in 'cot' (emphatically)
        ph              phi             p as in 'pot' (emphatically)
        th              theta           t as in 'top' (emphatically)

        ae              alpha+iota      as all of 'eye'
        au              alpha+upsilon   as ow in 'cow'
        ei              epsilon+iota    a as in 'take'
        eu              epsilon+upsilon as all of 'yew' (sort of)
        oi              omicron+iota    oy as in 'boy'

The latinization is not quite regular in its treatment of upsilon. Words
which start with upsilon in Greek always have a rough breathing (i.e. an
initial 'h') but this is not always transcribed into latin. Also some
upsilons are transcribed as 'u' not 'y', which adds to the confusion.
Note the major differences between the long and short versions of the vowels,
this, combined with the total absense of any marking for the length, gives
you a lot of leeway for mispronouncing these names. Without looking them
up in the Greek you just can't know the length.

The Greek accent of the time was a melodic rather than the modern stress
accent. There were three marks an acute ('), a grave (`) and a circumflex (~)
which indicated the type of pitch change to apply to a word. Almost all
words have exactly one stress mark somewhere in the last three syllables.
This is not recorded in the Latinization.

From: ("Christina C. Christara")

It seems correct that the c's are pronounced as k's.
In ancient Greek,
an i is pronounced as i in kit (i.e. short ee)
An eta is pronounces as ee (i.e. long)
An y is also pronounced same as i (but thinner).
Therefore Circe^ should be Kirkee
and Cynthera Kintheera.
Here the `th' combination is pronounced as the first 2 letters in `think'.

In modern Greek, i, eta, and y are all pronounced almost the same.
There is no short, long, thin e.
As for the 'ch's I don't think that there is a respective sound
in English. The closest is a strong 'h'. 'kh' is not that far either.
Also, as far as I know, ancient Greeks pronounced the first sound
of some words deeper than modern Greeks.
These words, when they lost the deep sound in the beginning
(this could have happened at the end of the Hellenistic period),
were written with a so-called `spirit' (daseia in Greek)
to remind the deep sound. Such words are found in English
starting with `h'. Examples `hyper' (yper), hippopotamus
(ippopotamos), hero (eros, pronounced eeros, this does not mean love)
horizon (orizwn, the w is omega), rhetor (retwr) etc.
Another difference between ancient and modern Greek pronounciation
is the diphthong case. Modern Greeks pronounce `ai' as `e' (epsilon),
`ou' as `u' (as in put), `ei' as `ee', `eu' as `ef' or `ev',
`au' as `af' or `av', while ancient Greeks pronounced the two
sounds with their original sound, i.e. each phthong separetely,
without creating new phtongs.

From: (Kostis Dryllerakis)

        There is a wide debate about the pronunciation of ancient greek.
It is obvious that we have no sound record of the era and we can only
reconstruct sounds from their evolution to modern greek (actually there
are studies about the "special" words that imitate sounds like pain,
and animal sounds but I haven't heard of definite conclusions).

        The controvercy on the pronunciation of ancient greek started when
European classic scholars requested a code to be adopted as the
"standard one" among them. Erasmus is principally responsible for the
pronunciation given to ancient greek from scholars even now. His
proposal was based to the closeness of the ancient greek to the latin-based
languages and was many times arbitrary. Later in his life he is said to
have renounced his own pronunciation scheme.

        So the controversy will remain live. For us greeks, we would like
to believe that our language is not only close to ancient greek to its
symbols but also to its sounds. I beleive that I speak for all of the fellow
scientists when I say that we are at least amused by the pronunciation of the
greek alphabet as used in mathematics related sciences.

Take care when you refer to "correct pronunciation" to mention a particular
era in history since you do not expect people at Homer's time to have
pronounced things the same way as in classical or Hellenistic times. In case
you believe this is possible it might be wise to also check the modern greek

From: (Edward Wiener)

The languages of Western Europe absorbed many Greek words
and place names through Latin translations. Remember that
in Latin, Cicero is pronounced "Kikero," Caesar as "Kaisar,"
and so forth. When these Latinised names were transmuted
into English, French, and the other languages of Western
Europe, the spelling for the most part remained the same,
but the difference in pronounciation was not taken into
account. Circe, if I am not mistaken, is indeed pronounced
"kir'kee" in Greek. Interestingly, Russian and other Slavic
languages preserved the ancient pronounciation of Greek
names better than Western Europe. Cyprus, in Russian,
is Kipr, Plato is "Platon," Thucydides is "Fukidid," etc.

From: (mike.siemon)

>       There is a wide debate about the pronunciation of ancient greek.
>It is obvious that we have no sound record of the era and we can only
>reconstruct sounds from their evolution to modern greek (actually there

That is part, but only part, of the data. There are, additionally, the
transcriptions of Greek words into other languages (Latin, Persian,
Coptic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and on into the later movements of peoples of
various languages), all variously well known -- plus of course borrowing
in the other direction INTO Greek, at various times. There are also the
comments on pronunciation BY ancient Greek grammarians (not as good at
this as the Sanskrit school leading to Panini, but still quite valuable).

All of this can be used to cross-check and validate/falsify hypotheses
about ancient Greek pronunciations, and the hypotheses themselves and
the standards for reasoning about them derive from a very considerable
modern development of phonology and theoretical linguistics.

None of this makes the results "certain" -- but a lot more is securely
known than in the first fumbling days of the rediscovery of Greek by
the Western Europeans. It is also a somewhat distinct issue from that
of a TEACHING pronunciation of Greek -- there are enough unresolved
(and probably unresolvable) problems like just how to produce the pitch
accents (simply importing Asian models begs the question) that teachers
generally follow and establish local practive even knowing that it is
not a good "reproduction" of the ancient sound.

From: (Michael Polymenakos)

>Maybe someone from s.c.g can comment on some of the differences
>between Ancient Greek pronunciations and modern Greek pronunciations?

The big differences:

 The differences between H, I, Y, EI, OI and YI (did I forget one?)
have become extinct. Actually, the popular Greek singer Savvopoulos and
some computer-armed speech scientists came forward a few years ago,
proving that a difference still exists, although it is nowhere as
pronounced as it used to be.

 Ditto for O and W (omega), ditto for E and AI.

The 'h' sound before some words (represented by ` on the first letter)
has dissapeared. Example Hellas -> Ellas. Ditto for the differences in
pronounciation marked by psili vs daseia vs perispomeni. For that
reason, (and to ease the transition to automation), all these
punctuation points were merged to one, a few years ago.

 But what do I know? I am a programmer, not a linguist. J.T.Pring writes
in his preface of the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Greek:

<<After the hellenistic period, the distinguishing power of word-accent
lay in its position rather than its pitch, and the former distinctions
in vowel length were lost. Certain words now show a stronger tendency to
keep the primary stress in their inflected forms. A E I O have remained
more or less unchanged in quality; OY was already U before the end of
the classical period; and W merged with O as a mid back vowel after the
first century AD, and the second element of AY HY had developed into a
labial fricative. H and EI had both become I by early Byzantine times. Y
and OI were being confused as `u' [thats two dots over the u] in
Hellenistic Greek, and both became i by the tenth century.

 Double consonants have been reduced to single, except in a few
dialects. The aspirated voiceless stops Theta, Phi, Chi had changed to
fricatives by the fourth century AD, and initial h (marked by the "rough
breathing") had dissapeared. By the same date, the voiced stops
represented by Beta, Delta, Gamma had become replaced by fricatives. but
in certain modern forms the labial and dental stops are still
preserved after M N, being now written as P T, eg GAMPROS < GAMBROS,
DENTRO < DENDRON. The original voiceless P T K following a nasal have
changed to voiced (which can also occur without the nasal environment,
especially in the initial position). Among other phonological changes
are (i) loss of many initial and medial unaccented vowels, including the
verbal augment. (ii) Loss of nasals finally and before a continuant
consonant. (iii) Dissimilation of voiceless consonant groups, eg FTERO <

[things in brackets are Michael's comments]

From: (Lambros Skartsis)

[ About the Erasmian model of pronounciation ]

> ("Christina C. Christara"):
>> (Lambros Skartsis)
>>I think that it was Erasmus who first claimed the above, as well as that
>>the today's "soft" greek consonents (ghamma, dhelta, etc.) were pronounced
>>as "hard" by the ancients (i.e., "g", "d", etc.) - and so the term
>>Erasmian pronounciation. I believe that this theory is very highly
>>disputed today.
>I received another message about this, and I think you are right.
>Indeed, I have heard that there is a dispute about the pronounciation
>proposed by Erasmus, and that many of his interpretations of the
>Greek sounds/letters/language are questioned.
>When I was in high-school I was taught the Erasmian interpretation
>and nothing else. I heard about the dispute later.

Actually, even this dispute became an emotional matter for the greeks.
If you really think about it, not only the language but the way it is
pronounced is a matter related to the national characteristics of a nation.
Imagine ancient greek pronounced the Erasmian way: with all these hard
consonents and the abundance of two-vowel sets (i.e., vowel followed by
vowel). The latter is something that we know very well that was
considered as quite bad-sounding to a anc.greek's ear ("hasmodia").
Actually the whole effect would be an almost .... dutch sounding - and
hence the accusation by many greeks that all these Erasmian theories
so often adopted by germanic scholars were a part of the well-known
trend of association of ancient greek culture/arian theories/modern germanic
peoples. The greeks of course go to the other extreme and often preach that
hardly any basic change occured in accent.
For the dipthong pronounciation argument (i.e., e.g. "oi"="i" or "o-i") I had
seen some time ago the following evidence against the Erasmian pronounciation
[the validity of the theory behind which , as I said earlier, I believe not
to be that popular any more(?)]: an Athenian
speaker is said to have confused his audience by the use of the word
"loimos" vs. "limos" (both, in modern greek would be pronounced as "leemos",
while they mean [in both anc. and modern greek] a desease and hunger,
respectively). For a confusion to have occured, it is argued, both words
should have been pronounced the same in ancient greek, as well.

From: (Roger Squires)

[Mr. Fouliras notes that
1) noone really knows what the *real* pronunciation was like,
2) that accent marks were added later to help with the learning task,
3) that there were various dialects of ancient Greek.]

As my final contribution to this thread, I will note that the author
of the above tape set spends many minutes at the beginning
of the tapes making all of these points, and more, discussing
why we should bother learning how to pronounce ancient Greek
(not only for intellectual honesty, but for a complete aesthetic
experience); how we know the way the language was pronounced
(a specific greek Grammerian was mentioned, talking about
the circumflex ("bending the pitch"), the grave and acute accents,
as well as a specific example of how the borrowing of a Greek
word into Latin (pilosopia) gives a clue to the pronunciation
of 'p,'); and finally, that there were various dialects -- the
Aeolic, the Attic, the Ionic -- and that the only one of these
that we have much evidence for is the Attic of classical Athens,
that though we have few clues how Homeric Greek might have been
spoken, since the received texts of Homer are from the later period
anyway, this is what is will be covered.

The narrator fully acknowledges that although his reconstruction
is necessarily hypothetical, nevertheless it is based on solid
scholarship, and he references the _Vox Graeca_ that others in
this thread have mentioned, and another work I can't recall now,
also discussing why his reconstruction is superior to that of Erasmus.

Included in the tape are examples of the opening lines of
the Iliad, as spoken by a modern Greek, by a person speaking
the Erasmeian reconstruction, and his reconstruction, including
all of the pitch and metrical accents. The tapes, after
covering the pronunciation of individual letters, progresses
to that of the various accent marks, and then to how to
master the poetical meter of e.g. Homer, using a five step
learning process. The last examples given are passages
from major authors like Aeschylus, Euripides, Plato, and
lastly, that of the only complete extant poem of Sappho,
with a soooo exquisite dovely cooing quality to it that my
spine tingles now thinking of it.

From: (M. Wiltink.a73A.telnr-015-138378)

It seems to me that most, if not all of the people here start with
English renderings of Latinised versions of Greek names and then
wonder where things went wrong.

The Greeks had no such letter as the c. They had sigma, which poses
no problems and becomes s, and kappa, k. This is where most of the
trouble starts. Most Greek words passed on to recent times came via
Latin. Latin, however, had no (well, almost no) k and used c, pronounced
...k. Then modern languages started pronouncing c as either s or k,
depending on what letter followed it. Believe it or not, ALL c's in
words derived from Greek should be pronounced k. The same, by the way,
goes for c's in Latin words, though this should not be taken to mean
that I want everybody to pronounce 'circus' 'kirkus'. There are words
that have become sufficiently English to pronounce them by the rules
for English, which say that ce, ci are pronounced se, si. But in most
Greek names, I myself do prefer to write and pronounce k - Alkibiades,
to name one example.

[ ("Christina C. Christara") comments on the last

I agree, with a minor comment.
I think the (ancient) Greeks had 2 alphabets, which were very similar
to each other. One was called western or Chalkidean (by people from
Chalkis) and the other eastern or Ionian (by people from Asia Minor,
centered in Miletos).
I think (but I am not sure) that the western had a 'c'.
But Athens at some point around 400 BC decided to adopt the eastern-
Ionian alphabet and drove all Greeks in that way. The western-Chalkidean
alphabet was used as basis for the Latin alphabet (indirectly
through the Etruscan one?). Todays Greek alphabet is the eastern-Ionian
one, with the lower case letters developed later.

End of parenthesis -- nfotis ]

The same goes for ai, which became ae in Latin and is generally, though
not universally, pronounced ay as in 'hay'. Personally and subjectively,
I prefer the sound found in 'high'. The upsilon, u, is a bit different.
It was transcribed y in Latin but in German and in Scandinivian languages
y is still pronounced u. This is sometimes a major source of irritation for
me, as most ski-jumping commentators pronounced 'Nyk\"anen' 'Nikaanen'
instead of 'Nukaynen' during the time he was all over Sportnet.

From: (R. Wallace)

[ Regarding the last post... ]
This is almost, but not quite, right.

There were in fact many Greek alphabets. I suspect every city had its
own variant. and even within cities there is not total consistency. They
do, however, fall into families, and the division between east and west
is significant.

The origin of the letter c is rather odd. The Romans got their alphabet
from the Etruscans, who got it from the Greeks. There is a dispute as to
whether the alphabet the Etruscans adopted was a west or east Greek
alphabet. Common sense would suggest that they got it from the nearest
Greeks to them, those in Cumae, who used a variant of the west Greek
alphabet. On the other hand, the occasional use of the east Greek letter
samech is evidence against this view. It was not, however, the Athenian
alphabet; it contained, for example, the letter Koppa, which became the
ancestor of our Q. Etruscan did not distinguish between voiced and
unvoiced gutturals (K and G), and so used both of those letters for the
same sound. The Romans, however, did (like us) make the distinction, but
instead of doing the rational thing and reinstating the original uses of
the Greek letters, they marked the gamma to signify when it was
unvoiced. So: C is originally a gamma (write a capital gamma leaning a
bit and you will see how it happened); G is a gamma with a marker to
show that it really is a gamma. And that is why the Roam alphabet
acquired 3 letters for the same sound: K,C and Q.

Just to make life complicated, in some forms of Greek writing the sigma
is written a bit like our c. This has been adopted by some modern
scholars (we call it the lunate sigma) especially by epigraphists who do
not want to beg questions about where words end.

[ In another post, regarding Greek alphabets ]

Lambros Skartsis ( wrote:
: (R. Wallace) writes:
: >... The Romans got their alphabet
: >from the Etruscans, who got it from the Greeks. There is a dispute as to
: >whether the alphabet the Etruscans adopted was a west or east Greek
: >alphabet. Common sense would suggest that they got it from the nearest
: >Greeks to them, those in Cumae, who used a variant of the west Greek
: >alphabet.
: Richard, wasn't Cumae a colony of the greek city called Cyme, in Euboea?
: (the colony retained the name Cyme, Cumae being the latin version).
: That is the only theory I am aware of (I can't pretend to have much
: knowledge on the
: topic!), i.e., that Etruscans took their alphabet from Cyme. But did
: the mother-city (metropolis) in Euboea use the west form of the alphabet?

There is a tradition the Cumae was founded from the Greek city Cyme in
Aeolis in Asia Minor (just a bit north of Smyrna). Strabo says it was a
joint foundation of Chalcis and Cyme in Euboea, which explains its name
(he says that they did a deal that the city should be called after Cyme,
but be a colony of Chalcis) , but he also records traditions that it was
a colony of Chalcis alone, and gives another explanation for the name. I
would guess that this means that the Cyme stories are just attempts at
etymology (but who knows?).

Anyway, none of this is relevant, because they did use a version of the
Chalcidian alphabet in Cumae. I think the Chalcidian alphabet is
classified as a Western alphabet, isn't it?

[ He checked, in David Diringers 'The Alphabet' (3rd edition I think), and
 he seems right ]

From: (Roger Squires)

The Pronunciation and Reading of Ancient Greek: A Practical Guide
Stephen G. Daitz
ISBN 0-88432-125-8

Audio Forum, a div. of Jeffrey-Norton Publishers
On-The-Green, Guillford, CT 06437

New York sales office:
145 E. 49th, NY,NY 10017

London sales
31 Kensington Church St.
London W8 4LL, U.K.

Other tapes in The Living Voice of Greek and Latin Lit.:

_The Birds_
Cicero, selections
Greek Poetry
The P. & R. of Ancient Latin

From: (Dimitrios FILIPPOU)

From "Vox Graeca: A Guide to Pronunciation of Classical Greek", by W.
Sidney Allen, 3rd Edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,
Great Britain 1987, pp. 177--179.

                        SUMMARY OF

(`English' refers to the standard or `received' pronunciations of
Southern British English. Asterisks indicate less accurate

alpha (short)           As first `a' in Italian `amare'
                        *As vowel of English `cup'
                        (N.B. not as vowel of `cap')

alpha (long)            As second `a' in Italian `amare'
                        *As `a' in English `father'

alpha with iota         As `alpha (long)'

alpha-iota              As in English `high'

alpha-upsilon           As in English `how'

alpha (long)-           As `alpha-upsilon'

beta                    As English `b'

gamma                   (1) As English "hard" `g'
                        (2) Before kappa, chi, gamma, mu:
                        as `n' in English `ink' or `ng' in `song'

delta                   As French `d'
                        *As English `d'

epsilon                 As in English `pet'

epsilon-iota            As in German `Beet'

epsilon-upsilon         Pronounce as two vowels: `epsilon' `upsilon'

zeta                    [zd] as in English `wisdom'

eta                     As in French `t^ete'

eta with iota           As `eta'

eta-upsilon             As `epsilon-upsilon'

theta                   As `t' in English `top' (emphatically pronounced)
                        *As `th' in English `thin'

iota (short)            As in French `vite'
                        *As in English `bit'

iota (long)             As in French `vive'
                        *As in English `bead'

kappa                   As French "hard" `c', or English (non-initial)
                        `k', `ck', or "hard" `c'

lambda                  As French `l', or English `l' before vowels
                        *As English `l' in other contexts

mu                      As English `m'

nu                      As `n' in French or *English `net'

xi                      As `x' in English `box'

omicron                 As in German `Gott'
                        *As in English `pot'

omicron-iota            As in English `boy', `coin'

omicron-upsilon         As in English `pool' or French `rouge'

pi                      As French `p', or English (non-initial) `p'

rho                     As Scottish "rolled" `r'

sigma                   (1) As `s' in English `sing', or `ss' in `less',
                        (2) Before `beta', `gamma', `delta', `mu': as
                        English `z' (N.B. but not elsewhere)

sigma-sigma             As `sigma' `sigma'

tau                     As French `t'
                        *As English (non-initial) `t'

upsilon (short)         As in French `lune'

upsilon (long)          As in French `ruse'

upsilon-iota            [no pronunciation rule given]

phi                     As `p' in English `pot' (emphatically pronounced)
                        *As `f' in English `foot'

chi                     As `c' in English `cat' (emphatically pronounced)
                        *As `ch' in Scottish `loch'

psi                     As `ps' in English `lapse'

omega                   As in English `saw'

omega with iota         As `omega'

[The author of this monography discusses also how to pronounce the
accented vowels and the double consonants. In conclusion, he says
that the accents should not be pronounced in a `melodic' way -- which,
he states, was the way Ancient Greek was spoken --, but rather in
a `stress-based' way like Byzantine and Modern Greek, because the
Ancient Greek melodic pronounciation of accents is not known. He
also states that the iota-subscript should not have any effect on the
pronounciation of the vowel it accompanies. Finally, he says that
double consonants should be pronounced the same as single ones, only
a bit longer.]

From: (Michael Polymenakos)

>By the way, Greek netters seem to have some ideological reason
>to believe that their native language is very similar to
>classical Greek. In practise I've had a lot of troubles when

 I think that there is some confusion here between 'language' and
pronounciation. The language is extremely similar, especially if one
compares late hellenistic period Greek (circa 1 a.d.) with modern
Greek. It is much easier for me as a modern Greek to read the New
Testament (1950 years old), that it is for an english-speaking person to
read Chaucher (a modern piece of work, by comparison).

 The pronounciation changed a lot. But, again, changes since the late
hellenistic period are minor compared to the changes to English since
half that long ago. In general, it is agreed that Greek pronounciation
has changed very little since 1000ad.

 In fact, as recently as a few decades ago, a number of regional
dialects used syntactical and phonological features of corresponding
ancient Greek dialects (in mountainous northern Laconia, for example,
where the ancient Doric dialect survived practically intact).
Unfortunately, after WWII, control of education was taken away from the
local village/parish level, and all Greeks now sound like they are from
Athens. Only recently did Greeks realise what a terrible waste of
valuable cultural resources that was.

[ When challenged "why these valuable resources, in light of the need to
 rebuild the country from zero?", in my words, he replied:

1. There was no effort to study and record these languages. Where
some research was made (with the Tsakones, for example), dialects were
found that were completely identical to the corresponding ancient Greek
dialects for those regions. Having records of these dialects would
provide us with valuable information about ancient and byzantine Greek.

2. Ditto for all the regional literature of these areas. Along with
these dialects, we also tossed away volumes of oral tradition. Again,
where ever research was made, the knowledge gained was tremendous. By
the time the Greek state woke up to what had happened, and started
funding research projects, many papoudes and giagiades had died, and
with them many stories that the younger generation did not learn because
anything said in a village dialect was considered 'unimportant' and
'uncultured'. The end result was the same as if though thousands of
books had been burned.

 In all fairness, it is hard to blame anyone for what happened. With
Greece badly underdeveloped in the 1920s, the big restructuring of
education, which became totally centralised after WWII, was nescessary.
Back then development was the only priority, and the funds for research
were not available.

>pronouncing Greek names in the classical way, which is usual
>for Finns (even tourists without any classical education).
>I was unable to find my way to Herakleion before I learned
>to call it "Iraklio".

 But what is the 'Classical Way'? This subject started with a question
on the pronunciation of 'Circee'. All english educated people know that
this is pronounced 'Sir-see'. Yet, everyone who expressed an opinion on
this group so far has agreed that the right pronounciation is 'Kir-kee'.
As for "Herakleion', most americans would pronounce it 'He-ra-KLEI-on',
because the anglisezed word does not carry the accent mark, which makes
the classical prounanciation 'He-RA-klei-on'.

According to J.T. Pring's comments which I posted a few days ago:

Both the Eta (H) and the Epsilon-iota (EI) had become I by early
byzantine times --> hi-RA-kli-on

The initial h dissapeared by the fourth century AD --> i-RA-kli-on

The final 'n' began dropping out of use in local dialects sinse
Byzantine times, and is now becoming rare, but many people still use it,
in fact pre-1980 road signs and maps usually read "HRAKLEION".

So, one's classical pronounciation of 'Herakleion' would have been as
much understood in 1992ad as it would have been understood in 400ad. Not
bad, I think.

From: (Dimitrios FILIPPOU)
[ Regarding Allen's book ; added R. Wallace's <> and
 Stavros Macrakis' <> remarks to this message. R.Wallace's
 comments are prefaced with RW>, while Stavros' are prefaced with
 SM>; I hope these aren't too hard to follow -- nfotis ]:

SM> Below, some comments on your notes.  But the basic questions you don't
SM> address are: why would the ancients bother to invent six different
SM> ways of writing the sound "i"?  And two different ways of writing "e"
SM> or "o"?  And sometimes doubling consonants, and sometimes not?  And
SM> how do you explain the structure of ancient poetry without referring
SM> to syllable quantity, which depends on vowel length?
SM> The other issues (pronunciation of gamma as hard g or as gh, etc.) are
SM> less important, because they don't change the STRUCTURE of the system.
SM> In fact, I think it would make sense -- at least for teaching in
SM> Greece -- to preserve the modern pronunciation for them.  Keeping
SM> distinct pronunciations for the diphthongs and long vowels (eta,
SM> omega), on the other hand, would preserve the ancient structure and
SM> seems important.

First, let's see some *facts*:

 1.  The system of (Ancient and Modern) Greek writting -- as
     we know it today -- has been developped by the Alexan-
     drian and (mostly) by the Byzantine grammarians.  For
     example, it is the Byzantines who introduced the small
     Greek letters around the 9th c. AD.

RW> This is true, but the writing system is immaterial. There is a good deal
RW> of inscription material from the 5th and 4th centuries BC, and arguments
RW> from orthography are based on that.

SM> Although the system of diacritics (accents, breathings, iota
SM> subscript) was introduced by the Alexandrines, the consonants and
SM> vowels were around long before that!  As for small letters, I don't
SM> see how that affects pronunciation.

 2.  There's not much -- if any at all -- difference between
     the Byzantine (after, say, 4-5th c. AD) pronounciation 
     and the Modern Greek pronounciation.   According to Allen 
     himself, changes from the Ancient Greek pronounciation
     (i.e., Allen's version) to the Byzantine/Modern Greek
     pronounciation may have come as early as in the first 
     century of Roman occupation of Greece (2nd c. BC).

RW> Quite right. Spelling mistakes in 2nd century AD papyri seem to show that
RW> substantial changes in pronunciation had taken place, while spelling (as
RW> often) remained more conservative. I vividly remember the first time I
RW> was faced with the text of a papyrus letter from this period, written by
RW> a young man who clearly had not been paying attention to his teachers at
RW> school! It didn't look like Greek at all! Then I pronounced it in the
RW> Modern Greek way, and it all became clear. But the fact that the pattern
RW> of variation in spelling is quite different from that of the 4th or 5th
RW> centuries is evidence that pronunciation had changed (as you would
RW> expect it to over such a period).

 3.  How the Ancient Greeks (here, we are talking about the
     Attic dialect, 5-4th c. BC) were pronouncing certain 
     letters, diphthongs, etc. is and -- I think -- will
     remain an unsolved problem.  

SM> Of course, the _exact_ pronunciation will never be known, but there is
SM> lots of evidence to help us get a good idea.  Modern pronunciation is
SM> one kind of evidence.

     On the one hand, we have the bleating of the sheep in 
     Aristophanes which is written as:

     beta-eta (w. acc. circ.) -- beta -eta (w. acc. circ.)

     In Modern Greek pronounciation this reads: "vee-vee",
     when common logic suggests that it should be read as
     "bebe".  Therefore, Allen recommends that "beta = `b' 
     as in `book'"; and "eta ~= epsilon".

RW> There is actually more to the argument than this. Latin, for example,
RW> transliterates beta as a B, and epsilon as an E. 

SM> True, we expect sheep to say "be be" and not "vi vi", but there is a
SM> lot of other evidence for these pronunciations.  When you say
SM> "therefore", it's as though this is the only evidence!

     On the other hand, we have the oracle of Delphoi to the
     Athenians, who could not understand whether it meant
     that they would suffer from famine ("limos") or from
     plague ("loimos") the first year of the Peloponnesian
     War (the Athenians' confusion is quoted by Thucydides).
     This confusion can be understood only if the Athenians
     were pronouncing

           iota = omicron-iota

     as Modern Greeks do.  But Allen suggests: "NO! omicron
     -iota = o-ee (i.e., a "true" diphthong).  (Allen discus-
     ses this notorious quote of Thucydides, but, I don't
     remember his points -- I returned the damned book :-( )

RW> No. The story requires the pronunciations to be similar, but not
RW> identical.

Some other *observations*:

a.  Allen accepts the Byzantine/Modern Greek pronounciation
    of the accents on the basis of "we don't know enough about
    the melodic accent reading of the Ancient Greeks".

SM> I don't think he "accepts" the modern pronunciation as being a good
SM> reconstruction; he simply recommends using it to simplify things,
SM> since the tonal system is not fully understood, and adds a lot of
SM> difficulty to teaching the language.  Given what we know of the
SM> Ancient Greek tonal system, by the way, it is more like the Japanese
SM> or Serbian systems than it is like the Chinese system.  Foreigners
SM> have trouble learning the Japanese and Serbian systems, and in fact
SM> usually "hear" the tones in those languages as stress patterns at
SM> first.  Given that there are no speakers of Ancient Greek, it would
SM> seem unproductive to spend a lot of time teaching this.  Conversely,
SM> teaching modern pronunciation would NOT help travellers in Greece make
SM> themselves understood!

    Could not this apply also in the way the Greek letters are read?
    I.e., once we don't know for sure how the Ancient Greeks
    were reading certain vowels, consonants, combinations of
    letters, etc., why don't we stick to the closest relative,
    the Byzantine/Modern Greek pronounciation?

RW> Some people regard this as a good argument. At least Ancient Greek
RW> pronounced as Modern Greek does sound as if it might be a real language!
RW> The argument against is that the modern pronunciation makes nonsense of
RW> Ancient Greek poetry, and loses much of the sound-play in any ancient
RW> text. Personally, I find this objection compelling, but it is possible
RW> to take a different view. But this is just a question of pedagogic
RW> convenience, and doesn't contribute to the question of how the language
RW> was pronounced. I think Allen is right about accents. It is certain that
RW> the ancient accents were pitch accents (as in Chinese) rather than
RW> stress accents; we know a good deal in theory about how they were
RW> pronounved (the musical interval over which the voice moved on a
RW> particular syllable and so on) but all actual attempts to put it into
RW> pracitice seem unconvincing to me. And students have quite enough hassle
RW> learning the language as it is! 

SM> Of course, we don't know "for sure", but we do have a lot of good
SM> evidence, including borrowings, related languages, and the internal
SM> structure of the language and the orthography.

b.  If we adopt Allen's recommendations certain sounds will
    be excluded from the Ancient Greek pronounciation.  Even
    if Allen is right in saying that most likely "beta = 
    English `b'", I find it hard to believe that the Ancient
    Greek (more precicely, the Athenians) had not ANY of the
    following soft (e.g., fricative) sounds in their 

        v --> Modern Greek "beta"
        y (as in English `young') --> M.G. "gamma"
        th (as in English `there') --> M.G. "delta"
        th (a in English `theatre') --> M.G. "theta"

    All languages that I'm familiar with (Modern Greek,
    English and French) have at least some of the above 
    sounds.  Why not Ancient Greek?

SM> !!  Actually, the (modern) "gamma" (the gh sound before a/o/u, not the
SM> y sound before i/e), "theta", and "dhelta" sounds are UNCOMMON in the
SM> world's languages.  For instance, none of Italian, Japanese, French,
SM> Turkish, Serbian, German, or Hawaiian has any of them.

c.  If we adopt Allen's recommendations, we get a pronouncia-
    tion full of hiatuses ("hasmodies").  My poor ear suffers
    when I try to read loudly by Allen's system words such

          aiphnidiazomai (= I get surprised)
          chairekakos (= malicious), etc.

SM> Why would you expect Ancient Greek to sound good to your ear?  Latin
SM> pronounced according to the historical pronunciation sounds strange to
SM> Italians, too.

    as it suffers when I hear my colleagues talking about
    "k-eye" (and they mean "chi" = `hee'), or "ps-eye" (and
    they mean "psi" = `psee') in Maths.

RW> Yes of course, what do you expect? And the pronunciation of Chaucerian
RW> English sounds weird to me! But we will all agree that Mathematicians
RW> pronounce Greek in a barbarous way!

SM> These are of course incorrect pronunciations according to Allen.
SM> Something like "k-eye" is the pronunciation of "kai" (and), not of the
SM> letter chi.

d.  Allen makes a direct attack in the Preface of the latest
    edition of his monography, on another Swedish (?) scholar
    who dares to say that Attic Greek was pronounced almost 
    the same as Byzantine/Modern Greek from the 4th c. BC. 
    This attack -- it's just a dismissal of the Sewde's 
    position w/out much justification -- has really surprised
    me.  (I'm not used to such scholar stabbings in the 
    Prefaces of books!)

In conclusion, I believe that anyone who wants to learn Ancient
Greek, he should better learn to pronounce it the way Byzantines
did and (Modern) Greeks do.  In this way, he/she will be
learning at least 50% of the Modern Greek language as well!

RW> If I were teaching a Greek, I might agree. The principal objection to
RW> believing that the modern pronunciation is basically the same as the
RW> ancient pronunciation (apart from the inherent plausibilty of any
RW> language remaining unchanged in pronunciation for two and a half
RW> thousand years, through a period when we know that accentuation,
RW> grammatical structure, and vocabulary did change substantially) is that
RW> it assumes that when the ancients adopted the alphabet they chose a
RW> system which was by no means phonetic (i.e. there are several ways of
RW> representing the same sound). In other words, the ancient greeks were
RW> dotty, which I am unwilling to accept. It is surely more likely that
RW> they initially adopted a system where there was a more or less
RW> one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds, and that gradually
RW> pronunciation changed while orthography remained the same (as indeed it
RW> has done in many languages, including English and French), leading to
RW> these poor kids in the 2nd century AD getting all their spellings wrong.
RW> That, I think, is where the evidence, but we will always be guessing. 

SM> Pronunciation is probably the easiest thing to learn about Modern
SM> Greek if you know Ancient Greek.  (Although of course too many
SM> foreigners don't bother!)

Dimitrios Filippou

PS. I repeat: I'm not a classicist neither a linguist! Just an 
"boring/bored" engineer ....:-)

End of Linguistics Part of the FAQ
Nick (Nikolaos) Fotis         National Technical Univ. of Athens, Greece
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