Trivium Pursuit

Greek Pronunciation Question

Just saw your article on pronunciation. I was happy to see Horrock’s listed but disappointed not to see it digested, though your article was dated 2006 and you took the time to list many redundant books basically quoting each other. It’s pretty clear how Greek was pronounced in the first century, if one looks at documents or summaries in places like Gignac 76 or Horrocks. Not that I expect someone to just drop Erasmus, but there are more than two options.

My purpose was simply to give a somewhat representative cross section of Greek grammars in order to demonstrate the common redundancies as well as the common areas of idiosyncrasy. I am sorry I didn’t make this point more clear.

It’s pretty clear how Greek was pronounced in the first century

Did Paul of Tarsus pronounce Greek the same as John of Galilee, or did John pronounce Greek the same in AD 30 and in AD 90, and did they all pronounce Greek the same as a centurion from Rome, or from Gaul, or from Britannia? Or for that matter, did Paul pronounce Greek the same in ordinary settings and in formal settings? I can understand Aussies and Britishers and South Africans, though I confess I sometimes have difficulty with Kiwis and Bostonians and south Texans. I always wondered how the Beatles could speak like they were from Liverpool, but sing like they were from Omaha. Yet I can usually tell when a Britisher is trying to imitate in ordinary speech a Midwestern American accent. I know a few puns based on the Australian pronunciation of the long A. I’m originally from eastern Iowa, and you can ask anyone from around there and they’ll tell you we pronounce English in its purest form. ;>) Yet Texans and Bostonians use the same phonics books that we do. So how would you say that English is pronounced?

Not that I expect someone to just drop Erasmus, but there are more than two options.

My original purpose in putting together a Greek pronunciation system was to have something which consistently reflected the orthography and which was reasonably learnable to an English trained ear. Since the first century orthography, generally speaking (NPI), reflected more ancient and original pronunciations — not necessarily first century pronunciations, at least not in ordinary settings — it worked out that most of my selections for pronunciation moved toward what was more ancient and original — or at least what seemed the best guess in that direction. Someone else for different purposes with different motives and with different goals may choose or develop a very different pronunciation system, and that’s fine with me. I understand how the relationship between English orthography and phonology is rather complex and not altogether consistent, but we learn it anyway, don’t we, so we certainly could do the same with Greek. But I see advantages to a rather simple and consistent relationship between orthography and phonology, I don’t see any ordinary advantage to learning inconsistencies, and I don’t see any ordinary reason why we would need to introduce complexity and inconsistency, so I guess I’m neither a purist nor an obscurantist but more of a utilitarian on this issue.


Comments are closed.