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Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Greek

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Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Greek

Postby TonyLoco23 » Wed Mar 16, 2011 4:34 pm

Are there any major differences between the pronunciation of ancient and modern Greek?

If not, then for self study, the google language tools (designed for modern Greek) would be a good way to determine the pronunciation of Ancient Greek words aswell. I.e.

http://translate.google.com/translate_t ... E%BD%CE%B7

Press the button that says "Listen" and it will say the word.

I have noticed from videos on youtube that many people when they recite the Bible in Koine they pronounce the Greek 'οι' like an English 'oi' rather than 'ei', which is how modern Greeks pronounce it. Is this correct or do they do this simply because they have never studied spoken Greek so they assume that 'οι' is pronounced like in English?
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby calvinist » Wed Mar 16, 2011 7:18 pm

I don't know Modern Greek, but I do know that the pronunciation has changed. The rich vowel system of Ancient Greek has collapsed and simplified. οι is pronounced like English "boy" in Koine/Ancient Greek, but Modern Greek has collapsed all the old diphthongs into simple vowels. If you really think about it, why would the Greeks create a writing system with multiple ways of representing the same vowel sound? They didn't... no one does. As with English, the phonology of the language changed while the orthography and spelling remained the same. οι, ει, αι, ου, ευ, αυ represented vowel sounds distinct from both each other and the simple vowels α, ε, ι, ο, υ, η, ω. Even in Koine the vowels were starting to simplify, but this process has progressed significantly since Koine.

In Modern Greek ειρηνη is pronounced like ιρινι because of vowel simplification. In Ancient Greek this word has two vowel sounds (ει, η) which are distinct from ι. In Modern Greek ει, η, και ι represent one sound. ει was a diphthong pronounced like English "day". η was similar to ει but was a simple vowel and not a diphthong. It was pronounced like the long e of Latin or like the e in Spanish de which is not a diphthong (it's not pronounced like English "day"). English doesn't have an example of this sound as far as I know (English has a strong tendency toward diphthongs).

If you want to learn the more accurate pronunciation, don't use a tool designed for Modern Greek.
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby IreneY » Fri Mar 18, 2011 1:58 am

Calvinist is right of course :) Just don't go for one designed for other periods of Ancient Greek either! They're actually further away from Koine pronunciation than Modern Greek. Check here for a nice comparison chart.
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby calvinist » Fri Mar 18, 2011 5:48 pm

Thanks for the link Irene. I guess I pronounce Koine with more of an Attic pronunciation. I was aware that Koine was pronounced differently from Attic, but I never looked into it that much, as I'm not that much of a purist, but now I might tweak my pronunciation to be more accurate.
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby IreneY » Mon Mar 21, 2011 6:50 am

I hope that didn't come out wrong! I'm not a purist myself, not in the least. All I meant was that Koine's reconstructed pronunciation is different from, let's say, Classical Attic; good thing to know but not something one should necessarily use.
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby jaihare » Tue Mar 22, 2011 7:59 am

Just a question as an aside.... How can one retrain the mind to pronounce Greek differently? I learned the Erasmian pronunciation very early on (learned to read Greek comfortably at the age of 17 and it's been 14 years now that I've used this pronunciation). I look at texts and try to slowly read them with the reconstructed Attic pronunciation, but my brain has not come even close to processing it so that it sticks. If I think about it hard, I can use the pronunciation consistently maybe for about 10 minutes before I get a headache and want to go back to Erasmian (which is just clearer and easier for me). I can read with some speed and fluency in the Erasmian system, and I don't see what sounds so bad and unnatural about it. But I want to change anyway. I just feel like I'm standing on the ledge and trying not to fall into the unknown.

Any advice?
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ὁ μὲν Παῦλος τοὺς ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις μαθητὰς τὴν χωρὶς νόμου δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἐδίδασκεν, οἱ δ᾿ ἄλλοι ἀπόστολοι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἐδίδασκον τηρεῖν τὸν θεῖον νόμον τὸν χειρὶ Μωϋσέως δοθέντα.
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby Scribo » Tue Mar 22, 2011 10:32 am

No idea, I have serious trouble stopping myself from using Modern Greek pronunciation when reading aloud at speed.
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby Markos » Wed Mar 23, 2011 12:02 am

Jason wrote
But I want to change anyway.


Hi, Jason.

Unless you want to use the pitch accents, the differences between Erasmian and the so-called reconstructed Attic are very minor aren't they? And aren't all the changes concessions to the Modern Greek? So, why bother?

In my humble opinion, Christophe Rico has ended once and for all the misconception that Erasmian cannot sound just as fluid and "natural" as any other profora.

I've heard you speak Greek on You-Tube and I understand 100% of what you say. How much better than 100% do you want to get?
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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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby calvinist » Wed Mar 23, 2011 2:33 am

I successfully changed my pronunciation of Greek once already. It was very early on however, soon after I graduated from workbooks to reading the NT. At this point it will probably be very difficult for you. The brain is very flexible, but it becomes a cost-benefit analysis.
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby Gregorius » Fri Mar 25, 2011 6:17 pm

Honestly, I have trouble distinguishing η and ει/ηι even in classical Attic Greek. My book says η sounds like the 'ai' in "fairy" and ει/ηι sound like the 'ei' in "rein." The problem is that it's only the subtle effect of the 'r' that keeps the 'ai' in "fairy" from sounding exactly like the 'ei' in "rein." Then again, this is a British text, and I'm American, so maybe it's a regional distinction that was lost when those first Brits crossed the Atlantic.

Come to think of it, I have the same problem in Latin. The preposition "ē" and the singular dative form of "is" or "diēs" all seem to rhyme.
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby calvinist » Sat Mar 26, 2011 8:25 pm

Gregorius wrote:Honestly, I have trouble distinguishing η and ει/ηι even in classical Attic Greek. My book says η sounds like the 'ai' in "fairy" and ει/ηι sound like the 'ei' in "rein."

English doesn't have a real equivalent to Attic η, which was pronounced like Latin long e. In English we always turn the long e sound into a diphthong: "ay". If you are familiar with Spanish you will notice that the Spanish word de does not sound like English day. The tongue does not move forward to give the "y" sound at the end. Instead, the tongue remains in one place and the vowel is kept pure, as if you started saying English "day" and stopped before finishing it. Pay attention to your tongue as you say "day", you will notice that it moves forward and up creating a diphthong. This is the difference between η and ει, η is a pure vowel (as the orthography shows) while ει is a diphthong (as the orthography shows). Hope that helps.
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby Gregorius » Sun Mar 27, 2011 12:55 am

calvinist wrote:If you are familiar with Spanish...


Actually, my B.A. is in Spanish, so that does help! Still, that clears up η vs. ει, but not necessarily ει vs. ηι. As far as I can tell, they're all the same vowel except for length. Epsilon is short, eta is long, and epsilon-iota is super-long. Can you really get any longer than that, as eta-iota would call for?
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby calvinist » Sun Mar 27, 2011 2:22 am

Gregorius wrote:Still, that clears up η vs. ει, but not necessarily ει vs. ηι.

I'm just as stuck as you are with that one. ηι is very rare as far as I know, and I'm assuming the difference would be vowel length, not quality... as you pointed out. Maybe someone else that's more of a Greek expert than I can chime in. Markos? Jason? :D
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Re: Pronunciation differences between Ancient and Modern Gre

Postby jaihare » Sun Mar 27, 2011 1:15 pm

calvinist wrote:
Gregorius wrote:Still, that clears up η vs. ει, but not necessarily ει vs. ηι.

I'm just as stuck as you are with that one. ηι is very rare as far as I know, and I'm assuming the difference would be vowel length, not quality... as you pointed out. Maybe someone else that's more of a Greek expert than I can chime in. Markos? Jason? :D


Both Mark and myself use a non-standard pronunciation. We're not really into all the argument about rediscovery and reconstruction. I don't think such trifles really matter in the end. :shock:
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