Modern vs Ancient Greek

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hairetikon
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Modern vs Ancient Greek

Post by hairetikon » Sun Dec 01, 2019 8:56 am

This is an old question. And I don't know if this video has been shared already, but I found its premise somewhat exaggerated (the idea that the Greeks understand ancient Greek not even a little bit). I have met many Greek people (including two professors--not classics professors--with whom I was close) who claim otherwise. Of course, things depend on the text and on the level of education of the person in question, but as far as I understand it, most Greeks understand most Koine to a good extent and classical Greek to some extent (Homeric Greek, I guess, would cause the most difficulty). I always run into academics, which is why my sample may not be representative, so I wonder what you think. Here is the video of the interviewer talking to Greek people about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2fRTS8DZ8U

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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Modern vs Ancient Greek

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Sun Dec 01, 2019 1:10 pm

Yes, this comes up more often than you think, particularly in circles which want to teach ancient Greek as though it were a modern living language.

1) When I was an undergrad way back in the 20th century, we would get modern Greek speakers in "easier" classes, such as NT or Xenophon. Those who had some instruction in ancient Greek did quite well, those who had not has such formal instruction struggled quite a bit (and most of those dropped out rather quickly).

2) Almost as far back I had some discussion with this with Maria Pantelia (now at University of Connecticut) who affirmed that there was no doubt that modern Greek could give a head start in terms of learning ancient Greek, but that ancient Greek still had to be learned. The similarity between Katharevousa and Koine provides even more support, and the fact that the liturgy of the Orthodox church is that of Chyrsostom means that many modern Greek speakers have been exposed to earlier iterations of the language without formally studying it. When taken outside of the range of familiarity, however, things become much more difficult.

Of course, this is all anecdotal...
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Hylander
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Re: Modern vs Ancient Greek

Post by Hylander » Sun Dec 01, 2019 1:27 pm

If I'm not mistaken, until relatively recently Greek students were required to take one or more courses in ancient Greek in high school or even earlier. Many found it useless, and the required courses instilled in them a strong dislike for the ancient language. Optional courses may still be offered, for all I know. But many Greeks who have gone through the Greek educational system have been exposed to ancient Greek enough to have some inkling of it and of how it relates to modern Greek.

And, also until relatively recently, a version of modern Greek that was closer to ancient Greek (katherevousa) than everyday modern Greek was required to be used in formal settings. The Greeks refer to this as "diglossia" -- in effect, they were required to master two languages, and I believe many resented this, until finally the official rules were changed and a form of modern Greek closer to actual speech was allowed. This was a big political issue throughout much of the last century.

Barry makes a good point about the Orthodox liturgy, but of course the fact that the liturgy is in the ancient language doesn't necessarily mean that people understand it. After all, until relatively recently the Roman Catholic liturgy was in Latin, which most people couldn't understand. And many if not most practicing Jews outside Israel probably don't understand very much of the Hebrew liturgy.

I'm not sure whether those who haven't been exposed to ancient Greek in the course of their education can make much sense of it, beyond recognizing a few words and forms that are unchanged. Among other changes, modern Greek doesn't have the infinitive, which played such a large role in ancient Greek. And the vocabulary has undergone extensive changes over time, though many ancient words are still recognizable.

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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Modern vs Ancient Greek

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Sun Dec 01, 2019 2:05 pm

Just a quick note, diglossia is the technical term in English as well as Greek...
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Aetos
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Re: Modern vs Ancient Greek

Post by Aetos » Sun Dec 01, 2019 7:44 pm

Instruction in Ancient Greek begins in the first year of the gymnasium (equivalent of American junior high school). During the three years of Gymnasium, students are taught basic grammar and syntax and of course vocabulary accompanied with selections from mostly Attic authors. The Iliad is taught in translation during the second year. Arrian's Anabasis of Alexander (with a parallel translation) may be given as supplemental reading in the third year. Beginning with the first year of the Lyceum, students are given readings from the historians Xenophon and Thucycides. Second year, Sophocles' Antigone and Thucycides' Funeral Oration for Pericles is available as well as readings from the rhetoricians, Lysias, Demosthenes, and Isocrates. Also, there is an anthology of the lyric poets available for study. Third year, at the student's option he/she may continue with the philosophers- Plato (Protagoras, The Republic) and Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics and Politics).
This is what was available in 2016-17. I should emphasize available, as these are the official textbooks for that school year; whether it was available and taught in all Greek schools I don't know.

As Hylander points out, three years of nothing but grammar and syntax with little snippets of the language given between the ages of 12 to 14 doesn't exactly encourage further study. My friends tell me that at the end of every school year, they would take their schoolbooks out and burn them! (Of course the books were provided free of charge by the State and printed on cheap paper, so it wasn't much of a loss.)

As for the liturgies, there are two pieces just about every Greek Orthodox Christian can recite from memory: the Lord's Prayer (in koine) and the Apostle's Creed (in Byzantine Greek). There are many elements of the liturgies that are repetitive and so lend themselves to being understood over time. (Κύριε ἐλέησον, Δόξα σοι ὁ θεός ἡμῶν, Εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ Πατρός καὶ τοῦ Ὑιοῦ καὶ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος, Ἀμήν., Ἅγιος ὁ θεός, Ἅγιος Ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος Ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.)

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Re: Modern vs Ancient Greek

Post by Andriko » Tue Dec 03, 2019 4:05 pm

From my own observations, the Greek Cypriots in London would have no idea what's going on with an ancient text (despite claims that Kypriaka is 'ancient').

My father, who is an intelligent man without formal education since he was 12 (though in his village they were already teaching them ancient Greek at that point), struggles mightily with some of the Attic I have shown him - but only superficially. If he had the concentration and thought about it, and when I point a few things out to him, some synapses start to connect.

Personally, in the last year of teaching my self ancient Greek, I suddenly find I can understand modern Greek better than I ever have done (despite a year living in Cyprus, though we run into the 'Kypriaka' issue again) - and could fairly easily read the subtitles above - most of which was using vocab we would all know from ancient Greek. Beyond that, the more I learn about both languages, the more I am coming to the conclusion that they are not all that different, and the bridge from Attic to Demotiki (or backwards) is probably a much shorter one than people realise - for example, the verb system remains almost entirely in place. It's also why I am tending more and more to the view that Ancient Greek should be taught with the modern pronunciation at least in mind, and it would be beneficial for ancient Greek students to learn modern Greek*.

*For example, those things we struggle with - contract verbs, ellision, crasis and so on, all still happen extensively in modern Greek.

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Re: Modern vs Ancient Greek

Post by Aetos » Tue Dec 03, 2019 7:47 pm

Andriko wrote:
Tue Dec 03, 2019 4:05 pm
It's also why I am tending more and more to the view that Ancient Greek should be taught with the modern pronunciation at least in mind, and it would be beneficial for ancient Greek students to learn modern Greek*.
I am one of those who came from modern Greek to ancient and can say that there are definitely pros and cons. One of the pros is that learning modern Greek first (and early - I was ten) allowed me to master pronunciation and not have it affected by the Erasmian pronunciation of ancient Greek. The other side of that coin is that it made it very difficult to acquire the Restored Pronunciation. I've given up on φ,θ,χ and β,δ,γ and just pronounce them as fricatives, rather than plosives. I have made an effort, though, to learn the classical pronunciation of the vowels and diphthongs, so as to make spelling and memorization easier, as well as scansion. I learned to spell in modern Greek by looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary and knowing the morphology could avoid misspelling inflections. (My wife and I sometimes challenge each other to spelling matches! She's pretty good, so we usually manage a draw. Back before Greece went to the monotonic system, I used to be able to beat her on breathing marks and accents, though!)

Another potential difficulty is that the meanings of words tend to change over time and I'm sure you've noticed this too in your studies. Simple example: in modern Greek, we say ωραίος, ωραία and normally think beautiful, i.e. something in an aesthetic sense. In ancient Greek, it has more a sense of "timely", something whose time has come, whether it be the harvest or a young lady ready for marriage (a young lady who "has come of age"). The result is that it hasn't reduced the amount of research I have to do when learning vocabulary, for even though I recognise a word from the modern language, it may not necessarily mean the same thing in the ancient. Bear in mind, though, that I'm still working up to Attic. I've started with Homeric Greek and have proceeded to the New Ionic dialect (Herodotus). After Herodotus, I will begin reading Xenophon and make a proper start of Attic.

The one thing that modern Greek did do for me though (aside from making friends and finding my bride!)was to fuel a never ending enthusiasm for the language and its literature as a whole, viewed from its beginnings to the modern day.

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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Modern vs Ancient Greek

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:11 pm

I haven't spoken to any modern Greek speakers in a long time (although I did have conversations with a Korean gentlemen who served for 14 years in the Greek merchant marine, whose Greek was better than his English!), but I was told at the time (late 1970's) that one could opt out of Gymnasium instruction if one wanted to do math and hard sciences, and that meant we were seeing more Greeks who had no exposure to ancient Greek outside of the liturgy. I also understand that there is a movement to eliminate the study of Latin in Greece?
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Aetos
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Re: Modern vs Ancient Greek

Post by Aetos » Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:59 pm

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:11 pm
I also understand that there is a movement to eliminate the study of Latin in Greece?
According to the Minister of Education, Kosta Gavroglou, Latin will be offered as an "elective" in the final year of the Lycaeum (equivalent to the senior year of U.S. high school.)They will not be tested on it in the college entrance examinations, but they must pass it (if they take it)in order to get their diploma.
Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on the Greek Educational System (it appears to be current up to 2016):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Greece

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Re: Modern vs Ancient Greek

Post by Andriko » Wed Dec 04, 2019 9:53 am

Aetos wrote:
Tue Dec 03, 2019 7:47 pm

I am one of those who came from modern Greek to ancient and can say that there are definitely pros and cons. One of the pros is that learning modern Greek first (and early - I was ten) allowed me to master pronunciation and not have it affected by the Erasmian pronunciation of ancient Greek. The other side of that coin is that it made it very difficult to acquire the Restored Pronunciation. I've given up on φ,θ,χ and β,δ,γ and just pronounce them as fricatives, rather than plosives. I have made an effort, though, to learn the classical pronunciation of the vowels and diphthongs, so as to make spelling and memorization easier, as well as scansion.
Interestingly, you can hear φ,θ,χ as I assume they were pronounced in ancient times in some Cypriot words (when spelt 'ππ, ττ, κκ'), and the modern pronunciation of π, τ, κ I suspect is fairly close to the ancient also (though to my mostly English ears they have always sounded like 'b', 'd' and 'g', if I listen very closely, espeically to people from Greece, it is clear they are different).

That said, like you, I am quite happy to use modern consonants and ancient vowels with Ancient Greek, it feels more natural.

As for the changing vocabulary - this has caught me out on a few occasions. One definatley has to be careful when talking about marriage!

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