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Attic Pronunciation Guide

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Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby Gregorius » Wed Feb 29, 2012 8:55 pm

I aspire as always to have my song adaptations recorded by talented performers, and those include the lyrics I adapt into ancient/classical tongues. Given that the demographic overlap between classicists and singers is probably so tiny as to create a needle-in-a-haystack situation, I will most likely have to forget about classical interest as a criterion, just enlist singers based solely on talent, and simply teach them the pronunciation.

To that end, I decided to create a user-friendly pronunciation guide for classical Attic Greek that I could use and re-use in any future recording projects. One of the challenges I faced was that there doesn't appear to be a single standard reconstruction. There are instead a prestigious few that tend to disagree mildly among themselves, particularly on the vowels (even if it's clear that you're dealing just with Attic rather than Homeric or Koine).

The model I ended up with (http://www.hsmespanol.com/Archaia_Hellenike_Phone.jpg) is based mostly on Allen's Vox Graeca as cited on Wikipedia, but I made a few tweaks based on other sources (such as H&Q's text, Batts and Henry's Teach Yourself Complete Ancient Greek, or my own intuitive experience with how long/short vowel pairs tend to work). In combining traits from multiple pronunciation systems, the goal was to approximate a sort of neutral, balanced compromise while still maintaining reasonably high accuracy as well.

I was wondering if anyone might have any thoughts on what I've come up with, so I'd like to share it in case anyone's interested. Constructive critique is welcome, both for the accuracy and balance of the information and the clarity of presentation. Thanks in advance!
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Re: Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby annis » Wed Feb 29, 2012 10:55 pm

Well, I would be more careful with some of the vowels. Where did you get schwa-like pronunciation for short α, for example? I would also be more tidy about ευ, ηυ and ει, ῃ.

The biggest change I'd suggest, however, has to do with the pitch accent system. The acute was not an across-the-board rising accent. In most of the world's pitch accent system, the pitch accent is not identified by being at a higher pitch than previous syllables, but because the following syllable is at a lower pitch. So, using 1-9 as a rough pitch guide,

ἄνθρωπός τις 545 4 (possibly 3 for 4)

Only on a long vowel or diphthong would the acute represent what sounds like a rising pitch. And the circumflex was very probably just a falling pitch, not a rise then fall. The grave was merely the absence of a pitch accent — definitely not a falling contour in any interpretation of the evidence.
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Re: Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby Gregorius » Thu Mar 01, 2012 12:32 am

Thanks for your feedback!

annis wrote:Well, I would be more careful with some of the vowels. Where did you get schwa-like pronunciation for short α, for example? I would also be more tidy about ευ, ηυ and ει, ῃ.


Most sources seem to equate the Latin short 'a' and the Greek short 'α' to the unstressed 'a' that comes at the ends of words like "drama" or "idea," which to my ear at least, sounds virtually indistinguishable from the mid-central vowel in words like "cut" or "mutt" despite being represented in writing as an 'a.' If you're a native English speaker, say a word like "drama" and then a word like "cut." Forget the spelling and just pay attention to the final vowel of the first word and the middle (and only) vowel in the second. Try to isolate them. Can you really tell them apart?

What exactly do you mean "tidy" with regards to those diphthongs? Are the sounds I gave too ambiguous or just plain inaccurate in your view?

annis wrote:The biggest change I'd suggest, however, has to do with the pitch accent system. The acute was not an across-the-board rising accent. In most of the world's pitch accent system, the pitch accent is not identified by being at a higher pitch than previous syllables, but because the following syllable is at a lower pitch. So, using 1-9 as a rough pitch guide,

ἄνθρωπός τις 545 4 (possibly 3 for 4)

Only on a long vowel or diphthong would the acute represent what sounds like a rising pitch. And the circumflex was very probably just a falling pitch, not a rise then fall. The grave was merely the absence of a pitch accent — definitely not a falling contour in any interpretation of the evidence.


So basically, the pitches acquire their distinctiveness not so much intrinsically but by comparison with the surrounding tones? This is new to me. Where did you come by that info?
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Re: Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby spiphany » Thu Mar 01, 2012 8:18 am

Any chance you read German at all? There are a couple of Austrian scholars (Georg Danek and Stefan Hagel) who have done work specifically on realizing the pitch accent in a musical setting. (Homer-Singen)

The standard work on the subject of pitch accents and similar issues (i.e., pronunciation above the level of the individual phonemes) is The Prosody of Greek Speech by Devine and Stephens. It's fairly technical, but depending on how serious you are about the subject you"ll may want to tackle it sooner or later. There are a couple of other articles online which are written more for the layman, look at the section under "Articles and tutorials" here if you're interested.

(In spite of having a keen interest in the subject, I'm fairly phonetically challenged so I don't consider myself qualified to give you concrete feedback on your interpretation.)
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: Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby Cheiromancer » Thu Mar 01, 2012 3:02 pm

I am following this thread with great interest. I would like to be able to pronounce Attic Greek more accurately, and at the same time distinguish between different sounds. I hope the two goals are not incompatible!

I have a special difficulty in that the first vowel in "father" sounds to me exactly like the vowel in "caught". At least when I say it. I suppose that the latter is supposed to be farther back-I can get a different vowel if I open my mouth wide, tilt my head back and say "caw" - like what a crow says. But this sound, I thought, was omega.

As for pitch, etc., I leave that to the experts. I do have the impression that tone accent is one thing, stress accent another, and meter (with heavy and light syllables) is yet another. Good luck on getting it all sorted out!
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Re: Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby Gregorius » Fri Mar 02, 2012 6:39 pm

Cheiromancer wrote:I have a special difficulty in that the first vowel in "father" sounds to me exactly like the vowel in "caught". At least when I say it. I suppose that the latter is supposed to be farther back-I can get a different vowel if I open my mouth wide, tilt my head back and say "caw" - like what a crow says. But this sound, I thought, was omega.


Would I be correct in assuming you're an American like me, then? This particular issue has a name: the cot-caught merger. It's one of the distinguishing characteristics of North American English, right up there with the voicing of 't' between vowels (making "latter" and "ladder" homophones) and rhoticism (the tendency to give an 'r' at the end of a word or syllable its full enunciation). I think something very similar is currently happening within American English itself, with "dawn" and "don" becoming homophones in certain regions of the U.S. A crow's caw is actually a pretty good approximation of the vowel in British "caught" (and thus the Greek omicron) as distinct from the 'a' in "father" (and thus the Greek long 'α').

Omega is just a slightly more open version of the 'o' in English "bone." Hence, one might tabulate these three vowels like this:

ο = 'aw' as in 'law' (assuming a dialect of Am. Eng. where the don-dawn merger hasn't taken root)
ᾱ = 'a' as in "father"
ω = 'o' as in "bone"

In an effort to simplify things, I've tentatively committed to a single sound for those letters or diphthongs to which I'd previously assigned two alternatives. Hence:

ει = /e:/
ηι = /ei/
ευ = /eu/
ηυ = /e:u/

I'm still not sure what to do with long vs. short alpha. My own ears would swear it's this way:

α = /ʌ/
ᾱ = /a/

But the standard pedagogy seems to say something more like this:

α= /a/
ᾱ = /a:/

Then again, the apparent /ʌ/ sound of unstressed /a/ might be phonetic rather than phonemic (i.e. /ʌ/ may just be an allophone of what is essentially /a/). That is to say, they may be considered the same sound within the language in question even though how the sound actually comes out varies according to stress and context.

EDIT: I may have found the solution to the long/short alpha issue:

α = /a/
ᾱ = /ɑ/

Also, I found a very useful resource for those of you who are interested but don't know what some of the more unusual phonetic symbols mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPA_vowels_chart_with_audio
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Re: Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby annis » Fri Mar 02, 2012 9:32 pm

Gregorius wrote:Omega is just a slightly more open version of the 'o' in English "bone." Hence, one might tabulate these three vowels like this:

ο = 'aw' as in 'law' (assuming a dialect of Am. Eng. where the don-dawn merger hasn't taken root)
ᾱ = 'a' as in "father"
ω = 'o' as in "bone"


This inverts the usual understanding of the o-sounds.

ο = /o/
ω = /ɔː/ (the 'law' sound', with long duration)

In an effort to simplify things, I've tentatively committed to a single sound for those letters or diphthongs to which I'd previously assigned two alternatives. Hence:

ει = /e:/
ηι = /ei/
ευ = /eu/
ηυ = /e:u/


This also inverts the standard understanding of ε vs. η:

ε = /e/
η = /ɛː/ (long "eh" sound)
ει = /eː/ (as you have)
ῃ = /ɛːɪ̯/
ευ = /eu̯/
ηυ = /ɛːu̯/
William S. Annis — http://www.aoidoi.org/http://www.scholiastae.org/
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Re: Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby Gregorius » Sat Mar 03, 2012 1:12 am

Yeah, I based my guide largely on Allen since he seems so well respected, but a few of his vowel designations just rub me the wrong way. Diphthongs aside, the most prominent issue I have with Allen's vowels is indeed the sounds of epsilon and eta. With respect to those two letters, I prefer what Hansen and Quinn recommend: pronouncing epsilon like the 'e' in "met" and eta like the 'ai' in "wait."

Unless there were some extenuating circumstances in the history of Greek of which I am unaware (and if there were, please feel free to enlighten me), philology seems to support that assignment as well. As most of us know, the sound of eta (and several diphthongs) fused with that of iota over the course of Greek's post-classical evolution. Epsilon, however, retains its own distinct sound. The three relevant phonemes in order of height/closedness are /i/, /e/ and /ε/. If epsilon represented /e/ and eta represented /ε/, then that would mean that the sound change known as "iotacism" affected the open mid front vowel /ε/ and skipped over the closed mid front vowel /e/ which is actually closer to the final result of /i/. Now, I don't have a doctorate in linguistics (yet), but this seems extremely unlikely to me given the systematic way sound change tends to propagate.
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Re: Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby annis » Sat Mar 03, 2012 1:27 am

Gregorius wrote:Yeah, I based my guide largely on Allen since he seems so well respected, but a few of his vowel designations just rub me the wrong way.


It rubbed me the wrong way at first, too, but the preponderance of evidence nonetheless points very firmly in that direction. You might find the chapters of this book interesting, Greek Dialects. You will find chapters 5 and 6 most relevant.
William S. Annis — http://www.aoidoi.org/http://www.scholiastae.org/
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Re: Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby Scribo » Sat Mar 03, 2012 10:17 am

annis wrote:
Gregorius wrote:Yeah, I based my guide largely on Allen since he seems so well respected, but a few of his vowel designations just rub me the wrong way.


It rubbed me the wrong way at first, too, but the preponderance of evidence nonetheless points very firmly in that direction. You might find the chapters of this book interesting, Greek Dialects. You will find chapters 5 and 6 most relevant.


Beat me to it. I'm not going to offer a detailed critique of what's wrong with the table, that's a pointless exercise since there's just so much good stuff out there (contextualised renderings in Horrocks, Allen's Vox. G., the Fortson VI book and that's just in English...). I will say though, are you bilingual by chance? Basically I've found that most people who are always have a near incurable case of angophonicism, work on that first. Look at how languages like Hindi, Armenian or, even better, modern Greek are pronounced and don't try to give English (or north European in general) equivalents to the sounds because 9/10 you'll sound like a fool.

Context is the key, get the nice wide A sound that can easily lengthen and be swapped for a long E sound down first before worrying about how to make it long etc. I tie my soundings reasonably close to ancestral modern Greek sounds and work backwards via Allen etc. After a while it comes naturally, even the pitch accents.
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Re: Attic Pronunciation Guide

Postby Gregorius » Sat Mar 03, 2012 5:40 pm

Thanks for those links Annis. There's some fascinating stuff in there! The consensus does seem to be piling up against me, I suppose.

Depending on how you count languages, I'm actually a heptaglot. I have a B.A. in Spanish and a solidly intermediate, if not semi-advanced, command of French, Italian, Latin, German, and Ancient Greek. I also have some basic notions of Mandarin and have begun studying modern standard Arabic.

The descriptions I give are deliberately Anglocentric to make things as easy as possible for my target audience, which is primarily composed of Anglophones. The goal is to enable them to approximate authentic pronunciation closely enough that Pericles would find them comprehensible, even if he did notice a mild or even moderate accent. I think my problem may be not so much Anglophonicism as a fallacious tendency to equate vowel length to closedness, since in my experience with other tongues, the so-called "long" version of a given vowel tended to be what linguists would more generally call the more "closed" version. It's just something I'll have to shake off, I guess.

I've already revised the table according to the consensually correct vowel designations, and I'll probably upload it sometime today. I'd still be curious, though, as to how the philological argument in my previous post can be debunked.
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