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The final word on Greek pronunciation

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The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby jeidsath » Thu Mar 29, 2018 2:55 pm

I have just discovered Georg Christoph Lichtenberg's

Über die Pronunciation der Schöpse des alten Griechenlands verglichen mit der Pronunciation ihrer neuern Brüder an der Elbe: oder über Beh, Beh und Bäh, Bäh, eine literarische Untersuchung von dem Konzipienten des Sendschreibens an den Mond
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby chirpis » Sat Mar 31, 2018 7:32 pm

Can you tell us the important bits? :)
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby jeidsath » Sun Apr 01, 2018 6:25 pm

I posted it mainly for the title, which is satirical. It’s an 18th century polemic arguing against a scientific reformation of Greek pronunciation. It’s probably only persuasive to people who learned their Greek in 18th century German schools.
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby Kurama » Mon Apr 02, 2018 3:13 am

Perhaps this is a good opportunity to ask people around here. What do you think about Stephen Daitz's pronunciation of Ancient Greek? Has anyone listened to his recordings? I have listened to his The Pronunciation and Reading of Ancient Greek: A Practical Guide and to several lines of his recitation of the Odyssey. In fact, at one point I started transcribing his recitation of the Odyssey and made it through several dozen lines about five or six years ago (this was during my first and second unsuccessful attempts to learn Greek on my own. I am now in the third. I have not gone back to the transcribing exercises because this time I just wanted to focus on learning the grammar and actually becoming able to read Greek).

Having read Vox Graeca (also about five or six years ago), I found his pronunciation very consistent with the reconstruction found in that work. I also found it fairly clear. The Practical Guide was quite didactic and illuminating.
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby chirpis » Mon Apr 02, 2018 4:23 am

Kurama wrote:Perhaps this is a good opportunity to ask people around here. What do you think about Stephen Daitz's pronunciation of Ancient Greek? Has anyone listened to his recordings? I have listened to his The Pronunciation and Reading of Ancient Greek: A Practical Guide and to several lines of his recitation of the Odyssey. In fact, at one point I started transcribing his recitation of the Odyssey and made it through several dozen lines about five or six years ago (this was during my first and second unsuccessful attempts to learn Greek on my own. I am now in the third. I have not gone back to the transcribing exercises because this time I just wanted to focus on learning the grammar and actually becoming able to read Greek).

Having read Vox Graeca (also about five or six years ago), I found his pronunciation very consistent with the reconstruction found in that work. I also found it fairly clear. The Practical Guide was quite didactic and illuminating.


I think his instructions are accurate, but his execution sounds very exaggerated to me. My policy with Daitz is "do as he says, not as he does." :lol:
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby mahasacham » Mon Apr 02, 2018 10:32 pm

I love it when someone stirs the pot on this question.

Latin seems to be well of in regards to it's pronunciation. Unfortunately Greek has the troublesome "accents" and "long vowels" which seem to be a big deal for people trying to speak the language....... To such a degree that I see many teachers just giving up and trying to pronounce the language in a manner as close to their native language as is possible.

I suspect these back and forth conversations concerning pronunciation occured regularly with Latin, while monks would throw their hands up and exclaim "Graecum est; non legitur" (it's all Greek to me). This may have lead us to the point where Latin is actually intelligible among professional speakers in the west... And then came Christopher Rico speaking awesome biblical Greek. Unfortunately he is mainly concerned with koine.

My personal philosophy concerning ancient Greek pronunciation is to do it diachronicaly..... That is mold it as you study different layers of the language in a reverse historical direction. This in itself indicates my preference for how to learn the language as well. I like to start off easy so koine is what I learned first, then attic (via xenophon), then ionic, then homeric (not that attic is newer that ionic it just has older forms of conjugations) As I descended these layers I shifted my pronunciation from a damn near modern demotic to a reduction of iotiscism to pitch accents to adding digamnas.

My main realization is if you take modern Greek remove the iotiscism and add an Italian pitch accent, it sounds pretty darn good.

Nevertheless, currently the study of classical languages in the West (Indians still seem to have a passion for Sanskrit) is dying off. I think the online community has a great opportunity to standardize the pronunciation among the few that are left speaking and learning. And unlike how Latin was standardize 200 years ago. We have the tools of the 21st century.

Ok my fellow Helleniphiles....... Tear this post apart........ Go!
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby anphph » Mon Apr 02, 2018 10:47 pm

Just to say that it never ceases to amuse me the quantity of time and effort people put in matters of pronunciation, far beyond its arguable value for the matter of poetry. Lichtenberg seems to be, once again, the only one to get it right.
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby RandyGibbons » Wed Apr 04, 2018 11:34 pm

Every now and then I like to practice my German a bit so that it doesn't completely wither away. So thanks, Joel, and I took a crack at this satirical but also deadly serious 1782 diatribe by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg against a proposal for the pronunciation but more important the spelling of ancient Greek from a school Rector named Herr (Johann Heinrich) Voß. The battle was waged on the pages of a new German literary magazine called Deutsches Museum. Some of it I get, some I don't, but here's a sample. (I'd welcome input from anyone else whose German is up to giving it a try!)

As Joel shows, the title of Lichtenberg's riposte is "On the pronunciation of sheep sounds in ancient Greece compared with their newer brethren on the Elbe: Or, On Beh, Beh and Bäh, Bäh, a literary undertaking by the registered clerk of the Office of letters to the moon [or something like that]."

The first sentence reads (in my very very rough translation):

    "If the shallow mockery, the pedantic arrogance and the risible sensitivity, in a word, the complete lack of taste and feel for the appropriate, which characterize the newest essays from Herr Rektor Voß in the Deutsches Museum - if these are the result of his deep studies on Homer and the construction of Greek hexameters, then the authorities should publicly forbid the study of Homer and the construction of hexameters."

Well, that pretty much sets the tone! Here is Voß's proposal, according to Lichtenberg:

    "The Greeks expressed the sound of their sheep with βη βη, the Latins occasionally the ɛ through æ; the a as well as that of the Greeks transforms itself in one and the same words in η as ακουω ηχουν, ερειδοω ηρειδου, φιλεω φιλησεις, etc. On these grounds taken together, Herr Voß concludes, with others: the Greeks expressed their η neither as a nor as ɛ but with both together, in other words ä, or, because with him the sheep on the Elbe must have the votum decisivum, as äh, because people until now pronounced it either as ih, as still is customary in England, or as ɛh, which gradually began to become universal in Germany." [Joel, you're our expert here. Does this make sense linguistically?]

All well and good, but where Herr Voß really went off the rails was that he wanted Greek names henceforth to be written as such in German. No longer Athen but Athän, no longer Hebe but Häbä, no longer Theba but Thäbä. Observe, Lichtenberg says, how Voß, by means of his own, laughable pedantry turns a reasonable conjecture shared by others into a proposal to reform an orthography that has been accepted across almost all of Europe, for not the slightest gain; an orthography which a man more reasonable than he wouldn't want to change even if that conjecture were to rise to the level of a certainty.

Voß had been asked, with the purpose of exposing the sheer stupidity of his proposal, whether he now wanted to write Herr Jäsus and Amän instead of Amen. He objected to the question but fell for the bait. He wasn't advocating a change in the spelling of "sanctified names, only for the profane names of his Homer.

And here's a thought (from Lichtenberg) that some might agree with today:

    To any non-partisan and reasonable man any battle over the pronunciation of a vowel even in a still existing language seems laughable, when it is conducted by people who were neither in the country nor had ever even spoken with a single person from the country.


Lichtenberg was a scientist (physicist) first, a satirist second. He supplies specific reasons why these battles can never have an end, arguments again which sound reasonable even today. If Voß's orthography proposal were to prevail, it wouldn't be because they represented the truth, only that they had become customary.

Anyway, that's a taste. Besides the serious arguments, there's plenty of sarcasm, puns (e.g., Aber Herr Voß will ja nur die Homärischen [sic, Vossian spelling] Helden so zer-Vossen) and fun with Greek, German, and English (Voß was an Anglophile, and that plays a role in the piece) animal sounds.

(You saw how the title said "a literary undertaking by the registered clerk of the Office of letters to the moon". At the end of the piece, Lichtenberg offers a challenge to Herr Voß, but says he will not answer. Closing sentence: Aber das [i.e., Herr Jäsus schreiben] will ich tun, wenn es mir zu nah gelegt wird, ich will hingehen und recta den Mond verklagen. Having taken the time to browse this piece, I'd appreciate anyone's interpretation of "recta den Mond verklagen".)

Randy Gibbons, howling at the moon?
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby mwh » Thu Apr 05, 2018 5:25 pm

Not entirely apropos, but irresistible, on the subject of animal sounds: in Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s the wellknown hellenist Bruno Snell published a scholarly article on the voice of the ass in Apuleius’ Golden Ass (Das I-Ah des goldenes Esel), in which he discussed how the ass’s voice is represented in various languages. It concluded by noting that only in Germany do asses say “I-a.” Very fortunately for him, the subversive political point (Germans saying Ja to Hitler) evidently escaped the notice of the Nazi authorities.

EDIT. Textkit's censor evidently recognizes only one meaning of ass and treats it like f***. :roll: What a donkey.
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby jeidsath » Thu Apr 05, 2018 6:38 pm

I've fixed the Textkit rule which unjustly censored beasts of burden from the board.
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby RandyGibbons » Thu Apr 05, 2018 8:00 pm

And these musings on Germans imitating their animals has me recalling a term I heard somewhere, "bow-wow theory".

A little quick research:

In 1769 Johann Gottfried Herder (Goethe's companion) participated in a competition sponsored by the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin. Contestants were to respond to the question, "En supposant les hommes abandonnés à leurs facultés naturelles, sont-ils en état d’inventer le language? E par quels moyens parviendront-ils d’eux mêmes à cette invention?" Herder's essay Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache won the prize.

Herder's essay is regarded as a milestone in the theory of the natural rather than divine origin of language, and the moyen Herder proposed: onomatopoeia. Herder imagines a primitive man picturing to himself a lamb. The lamb stands before him, as represented by his senses, white, soft, woolly. The conscious and reflecting soul of man (unlike the brutish wolf, who only wants to eat the lamb) looks for a distinguishing mark - the lamb bleats! - the mark is found. (Weiß, sanft, wollicht - seine besonnen sich übenden Seele sucht ein Merkmal - das Schaf blöket! sie hat Merkmal gefunden. Now that I understand that blöken means to bleat, I get a few more of the jokes in Lichtenberg.)

Rousseau's Essai sur l'origine des langues was published posthumously in 1781. (One of you is dying to point out that this theory goes back to Plato's Cratylus!)

So Herder's sheep/lamb/mutton (Schöps) was a hot topic (as well as a hot meal) when Herr Voß made his proposal regarding the pronunciation and spelling (in German) of ancient Greek names. This is probably why Lichtenberg acknowledges that Voß's ridiculous proposal to reform European orthography of Greek names stems from a linguistic theory that is itself a 'reasonable conjecture' (see my summary above).

In an 1861 article, Max Μüller called this idea of Herder, Rousseau, and others the "bow-wow theory" of the origin of human language. Μüller later wrote that he intended this term to be a less awkward substitute for 'onomatopoetic' and didn't mean to make a joke of it, though unfortunately it had become one.

Thanks, Joel, for helping me get my German chops back :lol: .
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Apr 05, 2018 8:29 pm

"recta den Mond verklagen"
Apparently this means "take the moon to the court", but whatever that means, I don't know.

About onomatopeia - it brings to my mind the story in Herodotus 2.2, much earlier than Herder and even Plato. You can check it out; it tells about two kids a pharaoh deprived of language. They lived with a shepherd who never spoke to them and goats, and behold! the first word they uttered was βεκός, a Phrygian word according to Herodotus. I think it's just Herodotus joking, the point implied being that it was the goats that taught the children to speak!

jeidsath wrote:I've fixed the Textkit rule which unjustly censored beasts of burden from the board.

Can we say f*** now?
[edit: apparently not!]
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby jeidsath » Thu Apr 05, 2018 9:05 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:"recta den Mond verklagen"
Apparently this means "take the moon to the court", but whatever that means, I don't know.


I believe that it's a reference to some relative of the "Devil and his Grandmother" fairy tale. The Grimm version has nothing like it, but see the version that was later collected as Die Länder Knötchenbach, Kuhreibtsich, Katzenklapperich und Lammfälltsich by Heinrich Pröhle.

Die lagen beide mit einander in Streit wegen des Mondes, denn der Teufel wollte das halbe Mondenlicht haben und hatte sich schon mehrmals beim Rasiren in den Hals geschnitten. Seine Großmutter aber sprach, so lange sie noch am Leben sei, gäbe sie ihm nichts davon heraus. Er sagte mir, daß er nur darauf warte, bis er sich einmal den Hals ganz abgeschnitten habe, und daß er, sobald das geschehen sei, seine Großmutter und den Mond selber sogleich verklagen würde.


More or less: The devil and his grandmother are arguing because the devil wants to have some moonlight and has cut his neck many times shaving in the dark. His grandmother refused, and the devil said, "Just wait until one I day I cut my neck completely through, and then I'll sue both you and the moon!"
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby Archimedes » Mon Apr 09, 2018 2:03 am

mahasacham wrote:to adding digammas


Some years ago, I laid eyes on a booklet by Daitz that had digammas inserted into the text of the opening lines of the Iliad. What is the board's opinion of incorporating the pronunciation of the digamma in oral recitations of the Iliad? Also, could anyone provide a scan of Daitz's opening lines of the Iliad with digamma if available?

There is a nineteenth century edition of the first three books of the Iliad which is followed by the same text with digammas added. But the digammas-added version lacks any accentuation. Why is that?
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby mwh » Tue Apr 10, 2018 6:20 pm

These days it’s generally thought that by Homer’s time digamma was no longer pronounced. So it’s probably wrong to insert it, even when its absence causes hiatus. But who can resist restoring it in oral reading?
You’ll find some discussion of digamma in the Homeric Greek forum.

I can’t imagine why accentuation should not be used in a digamma-added text. Written accents came later, but accentuation was built into the language from the start. Since the digamma is a consonant (or semi-consonant), however, it would be unorthodox to use breathings.
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Re: The final word on Greek pronunciation

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Apr 11, 2018 4:21 pm

mwh wrote:Since the digamma is a consonant (or semi-consonant), however, it would be unorthodox to use breathings.

Unorthodox or not, the rough breathing ("h") was still pronounced when it was there, wasn't it? I believe this is also reflected in English spellings, where we see things like "who", which I believe to be cognate to Greek ὅς, originally ϝὅς or hwós, or whatever orthography suits one best.

By the way, are there any surviving inscriptions in an epichoric script that uses both digamma AND eta with a consonantal value "h" (like the rough breathing)? It seems to me that generally speaking those dialects that kept the digamma relatively late lost the rough breathing early on and vice versa, but are there any exceptions?
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