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Greek pronunciation oddities

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Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby wonderingaboutgreek » Fri May 15, 2009 6:06 pm

Sometimes I think I have got classical Greek pronunciation cracked, then I come across oddities. Here is one. It would be great if anyone could put me right on this one, and explain where the odd pronunciations come from, and perhaps give some clues as to how to check out other odd things.

This one is the pronunciation of the titles of some of Plato's dialogues.

The Meno seems to get pronounced with a long e, but in Greek it is an epsilon. People say Mee-no, when I would expect Meno with the first syllable sounding like men (as opposed to women)

The other one is the Phaedo. The Greek has alpha-iota, so I would expect the pronunciation Fido (like the dog), but a lot of people say Fee-do.
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Re: Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby 1%homeless » Sat May 16, 2009 3:05 am

Um... You should forget almost everything you learned about English pronunciation of Greek -and Latin for that matter. I recommend Vox Graeca by Allen if you really want a really good approximation of how Ancient Greek sounded like.

Classical Greek most likely did not have an "F" sound to Phaedo. It was more like the English "P" in poker. The reason why Phaedo is spelled with "ae" is because this is a Latinized spelling of Greek. In Latin, "ae" is pronounced similarly to Greek's "ai".
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Re: Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby modus.irrealis » Sat May 16, 2009 1:59 pm

Yeah, the traditional English pronunciation of classical names is not a very good guide to classical Greek pronunciation.

For Meno, it seems that in certain cases a short stressed vowel became long in English -- the same thing happened in Plato, where the a in Greek was short. And ee is just the traditional pronunciation of "ae", like in Caesar or archaeology.
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Re: Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby wonderingaboutgreek » Sat Jun 06, 2009 9:33 pm

Thanks very much. That makes it clearer. I had not thought of the analogy with Caesar, which I shall now try to pronounce like the German Kaiser.
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Re: Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby Essorant » Sat Jun 06, 2009 11:37 pm

Caesar would have no clue who "Seezer" is.
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Re: Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby Scribo » Sun Jun 07, 2009 12:01 pm

Essorant wrote:Caesar would have no clue who "Seezer" is.


Nor half the Ancients their English/Romance language/Greek counterparts now, changing and editing the name is a necessity of study many generations later in another tongue, although you do find once you've studied the Classics that the English equivalents seem somewhat inappropriate, the worst is the complete lack of agreement on how to transliterate Greek names, Τυρταιος seems almost unpronounceable to me unless carefully tackled solely because the English pronunciation would render him TUR=TAY-US which is a long way from the original, and so on. For learning the sounds, my greek teacher had us recite from pieces of tragedy and would not stop until we all had a rather firm grasp, our "reward" was working on the 1st declension :S:S
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Re: Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby paulusnb » Mon Jun 08, 2009 3:30 am

Funny you all bring this up. I recently had the same discussion with my brother about the pronunciation of Bacchae and Phaedrus. He had to lead a seminar on the Bacchae for some great books class and kept pronouncing the ae diphthong "ee" because that was the way the guys in his department were pronouncing it. I tried explaining to him that the pronunciation was not classical (Greek had no such diphthong and Latin was not pronounced "ee"). He was not interested. But I wonder, would pronouncing Phaedrus as anything other than "Feedrus" be like saying Iulius Kaiser at a cocktail party? In other words, does it make you an a**? I have always said "Feyedrus." Most people who know of the Phaedrus, but do not know Greek, believe it should be pronounced "feedrus." I get corrected, thereby making them feel better for correcting a Latin teacher's Greek. I usually oblige them. No need to fix the world.

For "ad infinitum," I hear "ad infineyetum." If I say it how it should be said, people give me shaming looks, correcting the Latin teacher who should know better. Again, I just nod and smile the way I would to a child who corrects me for breaking some bit of decorum known only to him.


On a side note, I have always said "Delfee" instead of "Delfeye." Many people say "Delfeye." Again, I was corrected by a fellow teacher one day. I do think that she relished it. (I must admit that I am on shaky ground with this one, since my pronunciation depends upon modern Greek--or so I believe). http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Delphi gives "Delpheye" for the classical name and "Delphee" for the little town there today. Do people say "delfee" because modern greek pronounces the oi diphthong in δελφοι as "ee"?
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. ~Swift
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Re: Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby modus.irrealis » Mon Jun 08, 2009 12:57 pm

Technically, in English these are all Latin words, so I'd assume you use "ee" in Delphi, due to the long i, which is traditionally pronounced "eye" in English, because of English sound changes of course.

But from the perspective of Classical Greek, Feyedrus is not any better than Feedrus. The closest thing in English would probably be Pie-dros, but I don't think that pronunciation would work all that well. I've actually seen claims that αι merged with ε in Greek before φ became a fricative. If that's true, then feye would be a combination that never occurred in Greek. But all that doesn't really matter -- if I have a point, it's that the correct English pronunciation is just what English speakers use, and that seems to be in flux with a lot of classical names, where the traditional English pronunciation is giving way to a restored pronunciation, like with "a priori" where I hear "ay pree-Oree" as often as, if not more often than, the traditional "ay preye-Oreye".
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Re: Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby paulusnb » Mon Jun 08, 2009 1:04 pm

modus.irrealis wrote:But from the perspective of Classical Greek, Feyedrus is not any better than Feedrus.


As a result of this forum, I am becoming more and more aware that Classical Greek pronunciation is a complex thing. I never knew, for example, that φ was pronounced more like "p." Interesting.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. ~Swift
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Re: Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby modus.irrealis » Mon Jun 08, 2009 2:15 pm

Technically an aspirated p, which Greek distinguished from an unaspirated p, but in English the two are allophones so they don't register as different sounds to English speakers unless they're taught to hear the difference. But when it comes to Classical Greek pronunciation I can only second 1%homeless's recommendation of Vox Graeca.
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Re: Greek pronunciation oddities

Postby spiphany » Mon Jun 08, 2009 2:30 pm

wonderingaboutgreek wrote:Thanks very much. That makes it clearer. I had not thought of the analogy with Caesar, which I shall now try to pronounce like the German Kaiser.

Kaiser (as well as the Russian tsar/czar) is actually derived from the name "Caesar", I believe.

When using Greek names in English I would stick with the customary English pronunciation and not worry too much about what the actual Greek pronunciation would have been. Naturalizing names is a fairly common practice -- after all, we say "Cologne" not "Köln" and pronounce Paris and Berlin as "PEAR-iss" and "birLIN" not "paree" and "bearleen".

If you're reading Greek or Latin, however, by all means go with a more historically accurate pronunciation.

modus.irrealis wrote:Yeah, the traditional English pronunciation of classical names is not a very good guide to classical Greek pronunciation.

...And to make things even worse, every European language has their own particular method for pronouncing classical names. In German, for example, you have "Platon," "Herodot," and "Horaz" with the corresponding German vowel sounds and stress patterns. I'm fairly fluent in German otherwise, but when I'm confronted with Greek names, there's enough interference from English that I still manage to get it wrong every single time.
IPHIGENIE: Kann uns zum Vaterland die Fremde werden?
ARKAS: Und dir ist fremd das Vaterland geworden.
IPHIGENIE: Das ist's, warum mein blutend Herz nicht heilt.
(Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris)
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