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Misconceived Greek Pronunciation?

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Misconceived Greek Pronunciation?

Postby Montmorency » Wed Mar 20, 2013 9:45 pm

So, it seems like recent events have somewhat revived my interest in Classical Greek.

Now, that interest entails correct pronunciation. Reading various online sources and listening to some audio created by a certain Mr. Daitz, I've discovered that I operated under quite a few misconceptions in the past.

Is it true that:

*Chi is pronounced like "kh" in "Khyber Pass" and not "kh" like in "chalah; that is, not like a throaty Semitic "ch" but like an aspirated "k"

*Zeta is pronounced "zd", not "dz"

*Omega is pronounced like "aw" in "saw", not like "ow" in "(archer's) bow"; by corollary, omicron is not pronounced like "aw" in "saw" but like "o" in "go" in a heavy Russian accent

*Eta is pronounced like "a" in "cat", not just like the diphthong "ei" or like "a" in "hate"

*Short-upsilon is pronounced like "ew" in "hew"

*Short iota is pronounced more like "i" in "hill" than "ee" in "feel"; by corollary, long-iota is more like "ee" in "feel" than just a short-iota with protracted phonation (i.e. "eeeee")

*The iota in subcripted vowels is actually pronounced: subbed-omega sounds like "oi", subbed-alpha sounds like "ai", and subbed-eta sounds like "ai" as well

At least I seem to have been right all along about the diphthong "eu" - it's not pronounced like "ew", or "you", or "ow", but something like "Oh" in an exaggerated English accent!

And what's the story with the grave accent? Is it a low-tone, or is it the invisible default for all non-accented syllables (and so serves as a reminder when present)? That is, is it like the Chinese fourth tone, or is it like the Chinese 5th tone?

Speaking of Chinese, why isn't there any video/audio featuring a Chinese speaker or at least a native speaker of some pitch-accent language reciting Classical Greek in a moderate prosody? As far as I can tell from my searches, the possibility is not even discussed anywhere. What think? (And yes, I feel like this Anglo-dude Daitz' pronunciation is a bit too affected for natural speech.)
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Re: Misconceived Greek Pronunciation?

Postby Montmorency » Thu Mar 21, 2013 11:44 pm

Hmm - plenty of views.

I know most of it is well-worn ground.

I'm just looking for either confirmation or contradiction on those items of pronunciation; the last bit isn't so important.
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Re: Misconceived Greek Pronunciation?

Postby spiphany » Fri Mar 22, 2013 10:56 am

Phonetics isn't my strength (my ear for these things isn't very good), so I don't have any strong personal convictions on this. And of course there's generally a huge gap between the theory and actually being able to apply it in one's own pronunciation.

Some of the details about vowel quality etc. are still hotly debated in academic circles. If you're interested in this, the standard book on the topic is W. Sidney Allen's Vox Graeca which gives the evidence for and against various interpretations. It's a bit technical if you don't have any background in phonetics, but I assume from your post you have some basic phonetic knowledge. (He also has a book on Accent and Rhythm in Greek, but I'm not sure if it's been superceded by more recent scholarship)

Pronunciation is also something where you are going to get a different answer depending on what time period you're talking about (there's more than a few centuries separating Homer from Plato).

There's still a lot of disagreement about the grave accent in particular. I think it's often considered to be a neutral tone rather than a falling tone because of manuscript traditions which used it for all unaccented vowels, but again, I'm not au fait with all the details, just the general outlines of the debates.
If you read German there's an interesting article by Danek and Hagel that suggests the pitch change is not really restricted to the accented syllable, but spread across the word/phrase and that the syllable represents a pitch peak. This made a lot of intuitive sense to me but I don't know how it compares to other current theories about the pitch accent.

I have vague recollections of reading somewhere that Japanese may actually be a better comparison than Chinese for understanding ancient Greek pronunciation, although I can't find the source at the moment.
Anyway, the difference I see between Chinese and ancient Greek is that Chinese doesn't have a pitch accent -- it's a tonal language, meaning that tone is used systematically to distinguish lexical meaning. Greek doesn't do this. So while a Chinese speaker might be more comfortable producing pitch variations at will, they're doing so in a very different context than would have been the case in ancient Greek.

I've been collecting resources here if you want to do more reading (I need to update some of the links, but the articles at the top should all still be fine):
http://spiphanies.blogspot.com/2009/03/ ... greek.html
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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Re: Misconceived Greek Pronunciation?

Postby Montmorency » Fri Mar 22, 2013 8:02 pm

Thanks for the thoughts.

I'm going for the Attic pronunciation, and the pronunciations of individual letters that I elaborated in the other post seem to be generally agreed upon, through Daitz and all the Internet sources. If I happen to find any grammars, or the Allen books you recommended, at the library I'll certainly check them out.

The Chinese vs. Japanese angle is something I might even have opportunity to examine soon.

meaning that tone is used systematically to distinguish lexical meaning.


Doesn't Ancient Greek do this, after a fashion? After all, "to go" vs. "to be", interrogative vs. declarative word-meaning, and so on...

I was under the impression that the difference between tonal languages and pitch-accent languages was primarily that the 'tone-system' (i.e. pitch-systems) in the latter are simpler. Also, the fact that tonal languages often (always?) have a tone on each syllable.

As for the link, that is indeed one of the top hits for my various Google searches; how fitting that you've posted now. I've made good use of it.
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Re: Misconceived Greek Pronunciation?

Postby spiphany » Fri Mar 22, 2013 10:20 pm

Montmorency wrote:
meaning that tone is used systematically to distinguish lexical meaning.


Doesn't Ancient Greek do this, after a fashion? After all, "to go" vs. "to be", interrogative vs. declarative word-meaning, and so on...

Not systematically, no. A lot of time the accent doesn't affect meaning at all (this is part of what makes it so difficult to remember the accents). It's the same way that in English the stress accent can sometimes affect meaning (eg: REcord [noun] and reCORD [verb] ) but most of the time it doesn't.

As I understand it (I'm not an expert), in a tone language, the tones themselves carry meaning that can be used to make semantic or grammatical distinctions -- sort of like phonemes. This means that they're fairly independent (all syllables have a tone, and any tone can occur more or less anywhere [free variation]). Accent is different, it has to do with speech rhythm and is going to be a bit more restricted and mechanical, i.e., it will tend to fall in certain places in a word and it will be fairly rule-based.

It's probably also worth mentioning that intonation usually involves both pitch and stress, so there may actually be more overlap between pitch accent systems and stress accent systems than the terminology implies. I'm not saying the distinction isn't valid -- obviously there are very real differences -- just that it's not necessarily an absolute either/or distinction. The same may be true for tone languages vs. pitch accents.
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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