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Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

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Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby dominics » Tue Feb 23, 2016 6:50 pm

I have just started learning ancient-greek and had a few lessons so far using the Erasmian pronunciation.

However, I just had a lesson with an ancient-greek teacher who is from Greece. She advised me to learn ancient-greek with a new-greek pronunciation, although she didn't give many arguments.

What do people think? Are there any advantages? Disadvantages?

I do not speak modern greek and also have no real ambitions to learn it, -although I wouldn't mind not sounding like a complete fool when visiting Greece one day and ordering some food. Any advice?
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby bedwere » Tue Feb 23, 2016 7:28 pm

The problem with the Modern Greek pronunciation is, as you will soon find out, that so many phonemes sound [i] like in tree. For example,

ι ει υ οι η ῃ

That means that it will be difficult to understand the meaning of many Ancient Greek words (not to speak of moods and tenses of verbs) by hearing their sounds as pronounced by a Modern Greek speaker. Of course, if you don't intend to communicate in Ancient Greek ever, this will be of little or no concern to you.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby jeidsath » Tue Feb 23, 2016 8:42 pm

I wonder if it doesn't affect your silent reading as well. I had a lot of trouble distinguishing words with φ and π for about a year because I wasn't very good at pronouncing them differently (I try to use the aspirated). I'd actually recommend the modern fricative pronunciation for θφχ for that reason (although I believe that even in modern times there have been regions of Greece that had an aspirated pronunciation for some of them).

So even if you read silently, and your brain is doing something related to aural processing behind the scenes, the modern Greek confusion could affect comprehension (and probably does). You can sort of live with it in the Koine because of the prepositions everywhere, but it strikes me as something that would make Attic much harder.

Also, what precisely is the list of conflated sounds? Starting with bedwere's: ι ει υ οι η ῃ αι. I think that we need to add the non-graphically distinct doubtful vowels α/ι/υ, which were either long or short. Also α, ᾳ, ῳ, ω. ο and ω and ε and η. I have listened to a number of hours of modern Greek, but I'm not sure if I'm 100% correct on the above list.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby bedwere » Tue Feb 23, 2016 9:51 pm

Small correction: αι sounds actually [e]. See table
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby Markos » Tue Feb 23, 2016 10:05 pm

dominics wrote:Are there any advantages?

You will be able to easily understand the magnificent videos of Paul Nitz, who uses a slightly modified Modern Greek pronunciation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw89SOC8yjk

When I first started learning Greek, nothing like this was available. If you do decide to go with MG, use Paul early and often.
dominics wrote:Disadvantages?

You won't understand quite as well the magnificent audios of Bedwere, who uses a slightly modified Erasmian pronunciation.

https://archive.org/details/Esafx

When I first started learning Greek, nothing like this was available. If you decide to go with Erasmian, use Bedwere early and often.

I guess what I am saying is, you can't go wrong either way.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby jeidsath » Tue Feb 23, 2016 10:12 pm

Short: ε ο
Long/Short: α ι υ
Long: η ω

Dipthongs: αι ει οι υι ευ ου αυ ηυ
Special Dipthongs: ᾳ ῃ ῳ

Going by the bedwere's table, modern Greek pronounces them:

a -- ᾰ, ᾱ, ᾳ
(av) -- αυ
e -- ε, αι
(ev) -- ευ
i -- ῐ, ῑ, ῠ, ῡ, η, ει, οι, υι, ῃ
(iv) -- ηυ
o -- ο, ω, ῳ
u -- ου

So modern Greek is trying replace 21 sounds with just 8.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby Timothée » Tue Feb 23, 2016 10:28 pm

I cannot at all recommend pronouncing Ancient Greek the modern way. Knowing Modern Greek adds to the understanding of Ancient Greek a little, so if you have the strength, do teach yourself both. But keep them separated. The academe of Greece is somewhat foreign to me, but I know that many non-academic Greeks have primaevally and primitively fanciful ideas of language. They will say poetic things such as foreign people cannot understand Ancient Greek (let alone modern) because they have not been nurtured by the Greek soil and climate, even though they may only have superficial understanding of the ancient variety. They might be very reluctant to admit that pronunciation could have changed over the centuries and millennia.

I really do not wish to speak ill of Greeks, and my words above shall be read only in the context of linguistics amongst non-linguist Greeks. I find it immensely hard to believe that an Englishman who has no linguistic education would argue with a foreign scholar of Old English about how Bēowulf reads and what it actually means.

With modern pronunciation you will lose all the grasp of poetic metre. All poetry will cease to work (in the meter). [fenetemikinosisosθeʲsin / emenonirotisenantʲosti / izðanikeplasʲonaðifoni / sasipakui] (Something like that.)

Disadvantages? If you try to pronounce Modern Greek in the Ancient Greek way in Greece, you may be taken as a supporter of the junta. This is due to how katharevusa was used and what kind of connotations using it has.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby mwh » Tue Feb 23, 2016 11:02 pm

You can learn modern Greek or you can learn ancient Greek (or best of all, both, as Timothée says). I wouldn’t mix the two. To learn ancient Greek with a modern Greek pronunciation is perverse and will only confuse you, as bedwere indicated. Only Greeks do that; it’s not so very perverse for them since they’re only applying their native phonology to an earlier stage of their language.

It’s ill-advised for a non-Greek learning ancient Greek to erase so many functional phonetic and phonemic vowel distinctions. For one thing, as Timothée stresses, you lose the binary quantitative differentiation characteristic of ancient Greek, e.g. short vs. long α, ι, ο/ω, υ.

With the consonants, it doesn’t matter so much, since modern Greek preserves their distinctions even while slightly changing their sounds, but you might as well approximate the ancient sounds rather than the modern, except perhaps in the case of φ, which English-speakers hear as π unless pronounced as /f/ as in English. I have nothing nothing against using English phonology, analogously with modern Greek practice. It’s virtually inevitable. Anything other than modern Greek pronunciation will sound barbaric to a Greek, however, and it's useless to argue.

As to ordering food in Greece, most of the words are different from ancient Greek anyway (some of them Turkish, though it’s best not to say so), so it’s best to learn the modern Greek. It won’t do you much good to use the ancient words with modern pronunciation.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby jeidsath » Tue Feb 23, 2016 11:07 pm

In my experience, less educated Greeks have much more common sense about it. I have conversations every now and then with an older gentleman from Cyprus (living in the US) who is a pleasure to talk to about Greece, Greek, and Greek pronunciations. The Cyprus part helps, I am sure. I have another correspondent who lives in Greece, who communicates with me in modern Greek (I use Google Translate to understand him), and I write back my best attempt at Koine. We sort of understand each other. His parents taught the ancient language in University, but he never studied it. But he really enjoys the idea of a foreigner studying Greek. The only hard experience I had was with an older woman who stopped by our reading group (she was of Greek extraction, but spoke only English), and she couldn't understand why we would use a different pronunciation than the people at her Orthodox Church (or that there might in fact be any language differences between classical and modern Greek).

On the other hand, I have found that I need to use a lot of patience speaking with anyone who took the classical track in school and shows up at the reading group. Generally I try to emphasize how much I enjoy the sound of Modern Greek (I do), and patiently repeat myself that I use "Allen's pronunciation" whenever I'm corrected by them (which is often), and eventually try to turn the conversation to scripture (to demonstrate that I can understand the language), and to poetry (to demonstrate why I might consider a different pronunciation than the modern). With some patience, you will eventually get them onto the topic of how most modern Greeks don't know how to scan poetry, and then you can just nod your head.

EDIT:

mwh wrote:As to ordering food in Greece, most of the words are different from ancient Greek anyway (some of them Turkish, though it’s best not to say so), so it’s best to learn the modern Greek. It won’t do you much good to use the ancient words with modern pronunciation.


My archeologist friend tells me that in areas with lots of German tourists (at least a couple of decades ago), the waiters can take orders in Ancient Greek if you use a German accent.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby thornsbreak » Wed Feb 24, 2016 5:58 am

Just to throw my hat in the ring...

people get way too excited about the pronunciation debate. Whatever you do, my top advice is to try to speak the language and listen to the language as much as possible, so that your brain gets to use oral/aural parts of memory in addition to visual. The more of the brain engaged, the better! It's especially helpful to listen to recordings, as Markos says, "early and often!"

The other most important advice I'd give you, is find a way to make learning Greek FUN so you stay motivated. Greek is difficult, and the number one reason most people fail is simply because they stop working at it. For me, a book called Thrasymachus has made all the difference, because it is fun short little stories that are easy to read once you get a little Greek under your belt. Anything that is fun and keeps you motivated is priceless for learning Greek, regardless of the pronunciation.

Those two points are far more important than any pronunciation choices.

That said, people here really are unfairly biased against a modern pronunciation. I learned with a modern pronunciation, and it has not caused me any trouble. In fact, as Markos mentions, it makes a variety of helpful resources more accessible, such as Randall Buth's Greek as a Living Language course, most communicative Greek videos on youtube, the entire New Testament as read by Spiros Zodhiates, and a host of ecclesiastical materials and chants from the Greek Orthodox Church. I am an Orthodox Christian, so if I am ever at a Greek church or monastery, I am able to actually listen to the services and understand - which is basically the last context where ancient Greek continues to be used almost as a living language. The other big benefit here is that you can actually listen to materials pronounced with a fluid, natural intonation by people who basically understand what they are saying (though there are certainly some Erasmian/reconstructed type recordings which also accomplish this, most notably, Christopher Rico's Polis course, Bedwere's excellent recordings, and some others).

I also want to point out an often overlooked point in these sorts of discussions, which is that it really isn't that hard to learn how to understand people who are using an alternate pronunciation scheme. It is helpful to be familiar with all the schemes, and I think it is very good practice to listen to examples from all of them. It only takes a little effort and a brief immersion to begin to recognize the differences, which are mainly vowels - and we are actually quite adept at deciphering different vowel values in different English accents, for example. So don't be scared, as though learning one pronunciation will mean that you absolutely can't understand the others.

DO, however, pick ONE scheme and stick to it when you are SPEAKING, or you will probably end up confusing yourself. It is far easier to navigate between the different ones you are hearing than to try to learn to SPEAK 2 or 3 different pronunciation schemes.

Best of luck, and happy learning!
μέγας ὁ θεός· καλὸς ὁ ζῦθος· μαίνεται ὁ δῆμος.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby demetri » Wed Feb 24, 2016 4:55 pm

For nearly forty years I have used BOTH. 8)
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Feb 24, 2016 5:23 pm

When I first visited Athens in 2008, a local gentleman gave me a lecture about the error of the Erasmian pronunciation. All I did (honestly!) was asking "Excuse me please, is that the temple of Hephaistus?" I don't know how I pronounced it, but apparently at least not Ífestos!
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby demetri » Wed Feb 24, 2016 5:43 pm

Do not feel badly. I would have made the same "error" myself. :lol:
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby ἑκηβόλος » Tue Mar 08, 2016 9:15 am

Let me tell you a few things from my experience.

I started in Bible College with Erasmian (Greek limited to English phonemes + χ chi) for 3 years. Then I went to University (part-time) and started with Modern Greek. In the second or third year, I started Classical Greek with an Attic pronunciation. After two years of maintaining 3 pronunciation systems, I simplified to Modern only for every period. My reason for adopting just one pronunciation was for ideological reasons rather than out of any practical difficulty in maintaining different pronunciations concurrently. During the same period, I studied Polish, Arabic, Coptic, Sanskrit, Dutch, Old Church Slavonic, Latvian, comparative Baltic and Slavonic linguistics, and Old English. Aside from a couple of adverbs that felt they could poke their heads up in a number of languages, there was no problem with learning different languages concurrently or - in the case of English and Greek - with learning the same "language" with different pronunciation systems (if we are to understand that a language can be called by the same name when so many changes in vocabulary, structure and the speech community have taken place).

Currently, I am trying to use the Restored Koine pronunciation for all Koine and earlier periods of Greek, and of course using Modern Pronunciation for the Modern Greek. What I have been finding in doing that is that I can speak okay and automatically with people in Modern Greek, but when I listen to talk-back radio or the news or something, that I "hear" things in Restored Koine where it is different to the Modern - that is to say that when someone says ikogenia, I process that as ükogenia, and so too with the eta. That is similar to the way that I process American English - an American pronunciation of "fast" sounds like "fest" to my ears, but the little interpreter in my head sparks up with "fast", or even the same way for variant words like "Cilantro", which invoke an equivalent "coriander" in processing. I think that in learning the same word in different pronunciations for different periods, it is a little like processing dialects of the same language.

Moving on to a different point now...

People who talk about Modern Greek pronunciation and how using it might affect comprehension, but have not grappled with the difficulties themselves seem to always talk about the simplification of the vowel system as the biggest disadvantage. It's not. There are no vowels in Modern Greek that are not more or less in English. The problem in pronunciation is in the consonants. The rough-sounding consonants, the voicing of consonants in the right combinations within words and across word boundaries, and the timing of syllables is where it gets difficult to pronounce with a Modern Greek pronunciation.

It is the usual thing for language learners to simplify their target language to not go beyond their mother tongue (mother dialect actually), and even in L3, 4, etc. learning, the phonetic structure of the target language or dialect has to be built again from the mother tongue, even if the phonemes were learnt for an earlier additional language - of course more readily. In the case of the difference between Modern Greek and English that means consonants and the rules of consonantal assimilation (going the other way from Greek to English, the main problem would be the reduced quality of vowels in some unstressed situations - which conversely for some English speakers using a Modern Greek pronunciation means that some vowels are reduced unnecessarily. Those are features of cross-linguistic interference.

Back to the original point now ...

I met an older gentleman Mr Zhao from Shanghai in Sydney some years ago, who had been taught English by a teacher who had a mentality like Erasmus. On the assumption that his students were basically learning English to read it, not speak it, he had taught them to say every letter as a sound. He pronounced "knife" as "ke(r)-'knee-fe(r)", and "come" as "co(r)-me(r)" [the "r" not prononced, but marking that the character of the preceding vowel is short]. Once I realised what was happening, as a speaker of Modern English, I had minimal difficulty following what he was trying to say. Which leads to the final point that I want to say here.

If you learn Greek with the Modern Greek pronunciation, you will need to learn spelling as something additional. That can be both good practice and it can be a right pain. It is what hundreds of millions of people who learn English have to do. It will give you time to dwell longer on what you are learning, it wil be a skill that you will have acquired and closer affinity to the written form of the language, but it will take some extra time in your study.

Those then are the two drawbacks in learning Modern pronunciation, the production of consonants and the need to master spelling.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby Manuel » Tue Mar 08, 2016 2:53 pm

I don't feel strongly about pronunciation, since so much of it is uncertain with both Ancient Greek and Classical Latin, but there is a reason why some words have changed spelling in Modern Greek - for example pronouncing Akhilleus in Modern would give Ahilefs, which sounds pretty bad - hence why it's been shifted to Ahileas.

But in some cases I find myself using Modern pronunciation just for the sake of euphony, particularly with words that have an upsilon (eg. mythos rather than muthos). There's of course a "reconstructed" way to pronounce the upsilon, but we just don't have that sound in English.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby ἑκηβόλος » Wed Mar 09, 2016 2:52 am

Manuel wrote:pronouncing Akhilleus in Modern would give Ahilefs, which sounds pretty bad

In the South-Italian dialect of Modern Greek (Κατωιταλιωτικά) ψυχή is pronounced φσυχή. That is hard for me to get the tongue around.
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Re: Learning ancient-greek with modern-greek pronunciation?

Postby daivid » Tue Mar 22, 2016 1:03 am

ἑκηβόλος wrote:I met an older gentleman Mr Zhao from Shanghai in Sydney some years ago, who had been taught English by a teacher who had a mentality like Erasmus. On the assumption that his students were basically learning English to read it, not speak it, he had taught them to say every letter as a sound. He pronounced "knife" as "ke(r)-'knee-fe(r)", and "come" as "co(r)-me(r)" [the "r" not prononced, but marking that the character of the preceding vowel is short]. Once I realised what was happening, as a speaker of Modern English, I had minimal difficulty following what he was trying to say. Which leads to the final point that I want to say here.

It is not the same at all. Erasmus is unlikely to be the exact sounds of early Attic Greek but almost certainly does represent the phonemes of that era. English spelling does not however represent an early archaic form of the language. It is such a mess because it is a mix of spelling systems with various groups imposing different phoneme grapheme mapping from the Normans onward. Hence attempting to speak English as it is spelt results in a spoken form that not merely never has been spoken by native speakers but could never be a spoken form.

ἑκηβόλος wrote:If you learn Greek with the Modern Greek pronunciation, you will need to learn spelling as something additional. That can be both good practice and it can be a right pain. It is what hundreds of millions of people who learn English have to do. It will give you time to dwell longer on what you are learning, it wil be a skill that you will have acquired and closer affinity to the written form of the language, but it will take some extra time in your study.


Many native speakers of English, myself included, never master the spelling system of their own language. Using modern pronunciation forces one to learn spelling as something additional as you say. Why would one make learning Greek harder by doing such a thing when it can be avoided by using either Erasmus or restored pronuciation? What hope have I got in managing that when I can't do it even for English?
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