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A Beginner's Questions

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A Beginner's Questions

Postby Anemone » Wed Mar 31, 2010 11:22 pm

Hi, I'm new both to these forums and to Ancient Greek. I have a couple questions that I need some help with, and since so many people seem so proficient in Ancient Greek I would really appreciate it if you could help me. I'm using White's First Greek Book, but since my questions are pretty general I will post it in this forum.

How do you pronounce Upsilon? The book I'm using says like the French e, but I can't figure out how to say its sound.
What is the difference between Epsilon and Eta? Omicron and Omega? (how are they pronounced differently?)
Do diphthongs count as long or short?
How do you pronounce accents? Do you say them like French accents? How do they change the way a word is pronounced?
What are antepenults, penults, and ultimas?
Oh, and the book I'm using has a list of 30 words that it uses for excercises. Should I wait and memorize these words before going on or should I just go on and learn the actual vocabulary when it tells me it (if it does) or later?

Thanks, I'd really appreciate it if someone helps me out on these. I'll probably have more questions as I go on to Lesson 3, I'll post them in this thread. Thanks!
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Re: A Beginner's Questions

Postby modus.irrealis » Thu Apr 01, 2010 3:12 am

Hi, pronunciation questions aren't as straightforward as you might think. It's a dead language so there are various pronunciations in use, each with various pluses and minuses.

Anemone wrote:How do you pronounce Upsilon? The book I'm using says like the French e, but I can't figure out how to say its sound.

The usual thing to learn it is to round your lips as if you were going to say "oo" but say "ee" instead. There are lot of sites like this one where you can hear vowels -- υ is the [y].

What is the difference between Epsilon and Eta? Omicron and Omega? (how are they pronounced differently?)

The biggest difference is that η and ω are longer, i.e., you say them longer -- being accurate with the length of vowels is very important if you want to get a feel for the metre when you read poetry. (You're probably pronouncing ει as a diphthong but classically it was also a long vowel, and the difference was that η was long [ε], ει long [e], and ε short [e] -- for the symbols you can hear them in the link above -- so there's that difference as well. Similarly ω was long [ɔ], ου was long [o] (or long [u]), and ο was short [o]. But this more accurate pronunciation doesn't seem to be commonly used.)

Do diphthongs count as long or short?

They count as long. The exception is that most final -οι and -αι count as short for the purposes of the accent.

How do you pronounce accents? Do you say them like French accents? How do they change the way a word is pronounced?

Not like French. Originally they represented pitch, so in what seems to be the most common theory, the acute was a high pitch, and the circumflex a falling pitch, but very few people use this pronunciation. You can just treat the accents as telling you where the stress goes, although if you do this with poetry it can disrupt the rhythm of the poetry.

What are antepenults, penults, and ultimas?

ultima = last syllable, penult = second-last syllable, antepenult = third-last syllable

Oh, and the book I'm using has a list of 30 words that it uses for excercises. Should I wait and memorize these words before going on or should I just go on and learn the actual vocabulary when it tells me it (if it does) or later?

I'd say it's up to you. I would find memorizing them at this stage tedious and move on, but I'm not familiar with White's book.
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Re: A Beginner's Questions

Postby Markos » Thu Apr 01, 2010 10:27 am

One can theoretically decide how these vowels are to be pronounced, but as a practical matter, when people actually start speaking Ancient Greek (which some of us really do do) theory gets thrown out the door and reality takes over.

I don't think it is practical to distinguish between omicron and omega by how long you pronounce the sound. The texts say omega is to be sounded twice as long as omicron, but what is twice as long as a fraction of a second? Some people give omega an exagerated AW sound, or even an AWR sound, but this is one of those sounds that, because it sounds kind of un Greek, tends not to hang around. Others try to make omicron like the aw in "law," but what invariably happpens here is that you conflate omicorn and alpha. Many Americans do this and it is not the end of the world. The other common thing is to conflate omicron with omega, which of course the Modern Greeks do and probably was done already in Ancient Times. If I were starting out, this is probably what I would do. Even those who conflate omicron and omega often pronounce omicron like alpha in closed syllables.

Most peolple do epsilon as "pet" and eta as "late." But may Europeans conflate the two (sometimes) in closed syllables. Some Brits always conflate them.

Real Ancient Greek pronounciation is a balancing act between trying to conflate sounds as little possible and speaking Greek in a way that is "natural" to you. The dirty little secret in Greek Pronunciation is that every one winds up doing it slightly, differently, and that is fine.
I am writing in Ancient Greek not because I know Greek well, but because I hope that it will improve my fluency in reading. I got the idea for this from Adrianus over on the Latin forum here at Textkit.
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