You'll learn Ancient Greek faster by learning modern Greek first. True?

By tim05000, in 'Ancient Greek', Dec 19, 2018.

  1. tim05000 Member

    This is what what said in a Youtube video by a person who speaks several languages fluently by starting from scratch. He said you'll learn ancient Greek faster by learning modern Greek first as it's easier to master, and then shifting those skills and knowledge to learning ancient. Perhaps because modern Greek is more accessible you can practice and live it beyond books, making it faster to acquire.

    If so, how easy is it for modern Greeks to master ancient Greek? How many Greeks actually do that? Very few English-speakers would bother trying to learn Chaucerian English or even Elizabethan English to greater appreciate Shakespeare.

    My Latin has improved by learning how all the verbs work first and only then moving onto nouns. I haven't found any kind of timeline for ancient Greek verbs yet, and wanting to try the same approach.
  2. Iáson Cívis Illústris

    • Civis Illustris
    I can't say I've tried this myself, but I don't think so. Learning any language requires a great deal of effort and time. If you want to learn ancient Greek, the quickest way is to focus on that language first.

    Modern and ancient Greek are no longer mutually comprehensible. The phonetics, vocabulary, grammar and syntax are all different. A speaker of modern Greek cannot understand an ancient author automatically: it requires teaching at school or university. And you can take it from me that, no matter how well you know your Homer, if you go and try to ask questions in ancient Greek in the streets of modern Athens, nobody will understand you. For a fluent speaker of modern Greek, it is indeed easier to learn ancient Greek than it is for, say, an English speaker, just as it is easier for an English speaker to learn Anglo-Saxon than it is for a speaker of modern Greek. However, just as learning modern English first would be a highly inefficient way to approach learning Anglo-Saxon, learning modern Greek is by no means a more efficient way of learning ancient Greek.

    This is just my impression, of course, and you would get a better idea from a native speaker of modern Greek. But I can't help thinking that this sort of attitude doesn't really do justice to the complexity of languages, be they modern or ancient Greek. Neither is going to be easy or quick to reach fluency in.
  3. I've just recently discovered this forum, a surprise pro bono, so hello everyone! I studied German for most of high school, both for the sake of conversational capability and literary study, as well as Latin, and only recently have begun to delve into Greek. I do say that although German is unrelated in terms of phonetics and such, it has helped me immensely over the years. The easiest means for myself was to first learn the alphabet, then the conjugations, declensions, tenses, and then vocabulary. After a time, then to begin to read short excerpts. If you're desirous to learn Greek, I think listening to Byzantine Chant (religious, I mean) is a viable resource. Hearing a particular language spoken, or in this case sung, will not only lead you to appreciate it artistically, but also aid your comprehension and enunciation. Just my thoughts, so take it for what you will!
  4. Aetos New Member

    I'm afraid I don't visit here as often as I should, but I noticed the topic and since I happen to have first hand experience with this approach, thought I'd post a reply. I started learning modern Greek from the age of 10 and have spoken it the rest of my life (going on 68). I started learning ancient Greek (Homeric) at college. I cannot say that knowing modern Greek made the task any easier. Although modern Greek is still an inflected language, its morphology is much less complex, as many of the verb forms have been replaced with prepositional phrases. Another potential problem is that you may see a modern Greek word that appears similar to an ancient Greek word but has quite a different meaning. Here's an example: in modern Greek, the word ωραίος usually means "beautiful, pretty, good"; in ancient Greek, it meant "produced at the right season, seasonable, timely". So seeing "ὡραῖος", you'd think you know what it means, but you're scratching your head wondering why it doesn't fit the context of the sentence. Another problem is the pronunciation of modern Greek is somewhat different than that of the ancient dialects. Having spoken modern Greek for 8 years before I started ancient Greek, I found it very difficult to alter my pronunciation and to this day still stumble when reading ancient Greek aloud. In fact, in Greece they don't even try to teach the ancient pronunciation. They just acknowledge that the language was pronounced differently. Having said that, I would highly recommend that you make an effort to learn the ancient pronunciation, as it will make the task of memorising forms and reading poetry (like the Iliad and the Odyssey) much easier.
    What will be of more use to you in future will be acquiring a working knowledge of French and German and possibly Italian, if you wish to study the Classics. You've already started on Latin and this will help you immensely in understanding grammatical constructions present in both languages. As far as modern Greek is concerned, save it for when you make that first visit to Greece and want to order some kalamari with your ouzo while listening to some rembetika!
  5. Etaoin Shrdlu Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Has this changed recently, or do you mix with a better class of Greek? The overwhelming majority of those I've met have a sure and certain faith that it's correct to pronounce ancient Greek as though it were the modern language; what makes it exquisitely annoying is the condescending smile with which they explain that they know they're right because they're Greek, you see, although foreigners have been inexplicably led astray by some Dutchman called Erasmus.
  6. Aetos New Member

    I think it is a fairly recent change. I certainly was surprised to see it mentioned in a Greek textbook. Back when I was learning the language, the Erasmian pronunciation was certainly rejected as well as argued against, even by educated Greeks. I've included snapshots of the relevant sections from Αρχαία Ελληνική Γλώσσα, Α' Γυμνασίου. :
    (Sorry, I've just posted the links to the snapshots. I wasn't sure the image icons would be linkable.)
    I can translate any words you might not recognise, but I think you'll be able to follow it well enough.

    For a good description of the evolution of Greek pronunciation, see Vox Graeca, Third Edition, Cambridge, 1987,W.S. Allen.
    Appendix A,"Pronunciation of Greek in England" is fascinating.
    Last edited by Aetos, Jan 15, 2019

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