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Not happy about the iota subscript

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Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby pster » Tue May 10, 2011 3:38 pm

Sooo, here is what Mastronarde says about the alpha, eta and omega with iota subscript:

"generally pronounced by present-day students exactly like a plain long [alpha, eta or omega]; a so-called "long diphthong." The practice of writing a small iota under the vowel ("iota subscript") was developed in the Middle Ages and has been followed in most printed texts, although you will also eventually meet texts with the iota written after the long vowel ("iota adscript"), which was the classical practice.....The term "long diphthong" is slightly misleading; all diphthongs are normally long vowels, but the three "long diphthongs".. are formed from the combination of a long vowel and iota. In classical times these were true diphthongs...but between the fourth and second centuries B.C.E the iota weakened to a mere glide...and then was not pronounced at all. Hence the modern pronouciation".

So what the heck is going on? The Athenians wrote αι, ηι, ωι and pronounced them as diphthongs. I don't mind that that the pronunciation has bounced around. But I am not happy with writing the subscripts. For example, learning Attic contractions would be simpler if we avoided this whole subscript business. And the language itself would be easier on the eyes. Aren't there enough "doodads" on the letters already??

Or am I missing something? As far as I can tell, this subscript business tracks nothing of classical practice and just makes learning Attic harder.

I'm really not happy about this.
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby NateD26 » Tue May 10, 2011 11:50 pm

I don't know about you, but in our university class we've always pronounced the iota subscript.
Since we learned the Attic dialect, and concentrated on Plato's Apology, we were right to pronounce it,
at least insofar as the evidence tells us that, at that time, it was still being pronounced.

The medieval practice of changing the iota adscript to subscript in texts that were written
in periods where it was still being pronounced is quite baffling then. :?
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby Lex » Wed May 11, 2011 1:33 am

NateD26 wrote:The medieval practice of changing the iota adscript to subscript in texts that were written in periods where it was still being pronounced is quite baffling then. :?


Maybe the medievalists, not having the benefit of modern scholarship, didn't know that the iota was still pronounced in certain periods?

Or maybe it was something as mundane as the fact that the subscript saved on parchment vs. the adscript?
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby spiphany » Wed May 11, 2011 4:15 am

Well, one of the pleasant side effects of using iota subscripts is that there's no danger of confusing the dative singular with the nominative plural (among other things...).

I don't know exactly what the justification is for using the subscript in contemporary editions of texts; it's possible that there are other linguistic or historical reasons for doing so besides just the pronunciation, but none that I'm aware of right off hand.

There are a couple of publishers which use the adscript instead of the subscript, so I've used both and it generally did not cause too much difficulty (except the occasional non-recognition of a familiar form such as ζῳον when written as ζωιον). The subscript does make it easier to tell at a glance where the syllable boundaries are.

LSJ alphabetizes without the iota subscript & transliteration of Greek words generally ignores it as well, so it's good to know when one would be used.
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: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby cb » Wed May 11, 2011 9:59 am

hi pster, i agree with you, but orthography is something that people don't agree on. between will annis and i, I prefer lunate sigma and he doesn't; he thinks the word "tomato" should be spelt with -ough at the end whereas I think this is a mistake (that should provoke a reaction :) ). one positive that comes out of this is that if you make an effort to learn to read grk using all the different types of orthography, you'll find it easier to begin reading inscriptions, papyri, manuscripts, texts printed in the renaissance and later using lots of ligatures, etc. cheers, chad :)
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby refe » Wed May 11, 2011 4:22 pm

Greek seems to be subject to this kind of meddling more than most languages, perhaps because of the sheer number of accents, subscripts, morphological changes, etc. I am always a bit skeptical when I read introductory grammars, for instance, because they often present things like the iota subscript with no explanation of the history behind the practice. Is there a resource that discusses these types of changes in detail? I would also be curious about the consonantal iota and other letters that dropped out of use, especially because my Greek background is primarily in Koine where these features where long gone.

Punctuation is another big one that can cause some confusion when studying Greek, and I think it's important to do the work of unraveling that as well, particularly for those interested in translation.

http://www.greekingout.com/2011/05/did- ... nctuation/
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby jswilkmd » Sun May 15, 2011 1:37 pm

WELLIFYOUWANTCLASSICALPRACTICEYOUWILLWANTALLTHETEXTSTOBEWRI
TTENINUPPERCASELETTERSWITHOUTPUNCTUATIONOREVENSPACEBETWEEN
THEWORDSIFORONEPREFERMEDIEVALORTHOGRAPHICPRACTICESWHENIREAD
GREEKTEXTSANDTHEIOTASUBSCRIPTHAPPENSTOBEONEOFTHEM.
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby pster » Sun May 15, 2011 1:46 pm

IWOULDTAKETHATDEALINAHEARTBEATITWOULDBEGREATTOTHROWACCENTSINTOTHEGARBAGEONCE
ANDFORALL
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby antonyclassicallatin » Sun Oct 06, 2013 1:36 am

Best practice is to pronounce it. I always have and always will. I like the comparison TO WRITING IN LARGE CAPITAL LETTERS AND THEN THEYAREPUTTOGETHERSOTHATYOUDONTKNOWONEWORDFROMTHEOTHER. But that is how it was. SO pronounce it, write it. For example: ἐν τῲ δένδρῳ . ΕΝΤΩΙΔΕΝΔΡΩΙ. ΕΝ ΤΩΙ ΔΕΝΔΡΩΙ. NOT: ΕΝ ΤΩ ΔΕΝΔΡΩ. Again, why would they write it that way in 5th century? BECAUSE it was pronounced. The smaller script came later because it was easier for scribes to write, like cursive today. If they had computers, they would have never used subscripts, etc. But I would learn them. It takes years and years of practice, teaching, reading, writing, and speaking.

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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby daivid » Mon Oct 07, 2013 1:18 am

spiphany wrote:Well, one of the pleasant side effects of using iota subscripts is that there's no danger of confusing the dative singular with the nominative plural (among other things...).

Surely distinguishing χώρα and χώρᾳ is not simply a side effect - it is the point.
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby mwh » Wed Oct 23, 2013 3:55 am

In brief: The iota in the so-called "long" or "improper" diphthongs gradually fell out of pronunciation in antiquity and accordingly out of use in ordinary written texts, though it hung on in some manuscripts of literary texts. In the middle ages the subscript came into use (the iota now being a mere grammatical relic, making no difference to the pronunciation), and this was taken over into the age of print and continued in most modern editions until W.S. Barrett's reinstatement of the adscript in his Hippolytus, 1964. Now many or most new editions use the adscript form. (Barrett also championed the lunate sigma, protesting the unhistorical and unjustifiable use of two different forms of the same letter; many now follow him in this too, but not Martin West except for papyri.) An objection to it (spiphany's point) is that it renders the difference between e.g. -ai nom. pl. (short alpha) and -ai dat.sing. (long alpha) invisible. That, experto crede, can lead to serious confusion on the part of readers, and in that respect, to return to pster's original post, it makes learning to read greek harder, not easier. It's merely a matter of graphic convention, but one with ideological implications and practical consequences.

We still await abandonment of the absurd use of the semicolon to represent a question mark.
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Oct 23, 2013 6:33 pm

mwh wrote:We still await abandonment of the absurd use of the semicolon to represent a question mark.

We still await abandonment of the Greek alphabet to represent the Greek language... :)

I'm only half joking here, looks like transliteration into the Latin alphabet happens more and more, even in books that seem to be written mainly for people who know Greek.

Well, I guess orthography is the sort of thing that always creates strong feelings. I like the semicolon, I guess I must accept that somebody doesn't!
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby mwh » Wed Oct 23, 2013 9:23 pm

OK, I admit I'm too lazy to switch fonts. χρόνοϲ φεύγει, ὁ βίοϲ βραχύϲ and all that.

You like the semi-colon. Certain priests liked mumpsimus.

But you certainly have me wishing I'd taken the trouble to type -αι instead of -ai (it bothers you that much?) and hadn't thrown in that last sentence, instead of letting myself in for comments having nothing to do with the substance of my post, which was intended as a helpful summary regarding iota adscript/subscript (about which I have no strong feelings at all).
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Oct 23, 2013 9:40 pm

My comment wasn't about you not typing Greek with a Greek font, this isn't a book going to print... I myself certainly type Greek in Latin letters here from time to time when I'm lazy. I was just surprised you want to change the question mark, because I hadn't heard about that debate before. There's this debate about iota adscript/subscript, the one about sigmas, and the one about accents in general, but that one was new to me... Somehow, your comment brought to my mind a book I've been skimming recently (a commentary on Lysias) which used Latin transcription, although the book looked like it was meant for a Greek-reading audience, and it surprised me. All that ran through my mind and I just tried to be witty...
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby mwh » Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:35 pm

; as question mark -- I'm not about to start a campaign to change it, it is kind of cute, it just came to mind as another medieval hangover that we all unthinkingly accept as proper to Greek when it has no real justification at all.
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby daivid » Sun Oct 27, 2013 8:33 pm

mwh wrote:; as question mark -- I'm not about to start a campaign to change it, it is kind of cute, it just came to mind as another medieval hangover that we all unthinkingly accept as proper to Greek when it has no real justification at all.


I must confess my first reaction to this was not far from other people's reaction to suggestions that in English we would be better spelling they as thay like day.

However, next time any of us drop into monastery in Turkey and pick up a dusty tome containing the lost books of Polybios (as one does) won't we find semi colons at the end of questions?
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby mwh » Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:22 pm

No we won't.
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby daivid » Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:43 pm

mwh wrote:No we won't.

No we won't which?
Not find the lost works gathering dust in some out of the way Greek orthodox monastery or
should we find such we won't find any semicolon's acting as question marks.

Did the Byzantine scribes not use semicolons as I have till now assumed?

Of course should we discover a cave of papyrus scrolls in some cave in Egypt then we would not expect to find anything serving as question marks.
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby mwh » Mon Oct 28, 2013 2:11 am

Sorry, I meant No we won't find semi-colon question marks, in answer to your "won't we" question. (I don't need to tell you how likely we are to find the lost books of Polybius - likelier than the lost books of Livy, I suppose, despite some freak papyrus finds.) But I was assuming ancient, like the old manuscripts in St. Catherine's on Mt. Sinai (not Turkey, I know). You won't find semi-colons in the Sinaiticus. (I trust I'm right about that: I haven't checked.) I don't know precisely when or how the ; got started, but ancient Greek knew no question mark.

I didn't mean to be provocative, I was just pointing out the weirdness of continuing to use a convention which is neither ancient nor modern. (At least there's some justification for iota subscript.) I'm waiting for some brave editor to print regular question marks -- or better, to use just one stop for all punctuation -- or better still, to go without punctuation altogether. It's the reader's job to decided whether something is a statement or a question (editors are often at variance, and often get it wrong), and think how much better readers we would be if we were forced to sensitize ourselves to the particles and other cues that do the job of articulating the text by themselves (ἆρα [cf. Spanish initial question mark], δέ, etc etc, quite different from English). Homer for one has no need of punctuation, does he? It's all built in to the text itself, and punctuation is supererogatory.
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby bedwere » Mon Oct 28, 2013 4:02 am

I'll give you my iota subscript and semi-colon when you take them from my cold, dead hands. :D

I am a traditionalist, for change is by itself detrimental (Habet autem ipsa legis mutatio, quantum in se est, detrimentum quoddam communis salutis. Summa theologiae, Iª-IIae q. 97 a. 2 co.). The Greek humanists who fleed Constantinople used both symbols and I humbly follow their example.

The angelic doctor quotes also the Decretals:

ridiculum est et satis abominabile dedecus, ut traditiones quas antiquitus a patribus suscepimus, infringi patiamur.

That settles it for me.
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby mwh » Mon Oct 28, 2013 4:33 am

Ah, but it's precisely the "traditiones quas antiquitus a patribus suscepimus" that I'm upholding. :)
If "change is by itself detrimental" you must really abhor the iota subscript and semi-colon. :)
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby bedwere » Mon Oct 28, 2013 4:56 am

mwh wrote:Ah, but it's precisely the "traditiones quas antiquitus a patribus suscepimus" that I'm upholding. :)
If "change is by itself detrimental" you must really abhor the iota subscript and semi-colon. :)


But secundum quid change can be beneficial, when the benefit that accompanies change is so great that it compensates for the intrinsic detriment of change. :D Of course, I think that the introduction of the iota subscript and semi-colon fits the definition. On the contrary, removing them now would only bring great anguish, grief, and despair! What a loss for humanity! :D
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby mwh » Mon Oct 28, 2013 12:53 pm

You were parodying the monks who wouldn't let go of their "mumpsimus," right?
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby bedwere » Mon Oct 28, 2013 2:19 pm

We Italian monks stick to our busillis. :D
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Re: Not happy about the iota subscript

Postby mwh » Mon Oct 28, 2013 3:54 pm

Mi pare che non siamo ancora arrivati al capo di questo busillis
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