Ancient Greek pronunciation

Arca Defectionis

Civis Illustris
This point may not matter really, since Ancient Greek is no longer spoken for any serious purpose, but I'm still curious. How do you guys pronounce Ancient Greek? There are, of course, a plethora of different ways that the letters are pronounced, even more so than in Latin. Here's how I pronounce them (and I realize this is not likely a faithful reconstruction of the classical pronunciation, which is even more doubtful than the Latin):

α /a/
β /b/
γ /g/
δ /d/
ε /ε/
ζ /dz/
η /e:/
θ /θ/ (think)
ι /ɪ/ (big)
κ /k/
λ /l/
μ /m/
ν /n/
ξ /ks/
ο /ɔ/ (caught)
π /p/
ρ /ɾ/ (Sp. ayer)
σ /s/
τ /t/
υ /y/ (Ger. über, Fr. tu)
φ /φ/ (as in Japanese )
χ /ç/ after ε, η, ι (Ger, ich); /χ/ after α, ο, υ, ω (Ger. machen)
ψ /ps/
ω /o:/

αυ /au/ (Ger. aus)
αι /aɪ/ (high)
ει /eɪ/ (day)
ευ /əʊ/ (Brit. Eng. hole)
οι /ɔɪ/ (toy)
ου /u:/
υι /ɥi/ (Fr. huit)

γγ /ŋg/
γκ /ŋk/
γχ /ŋx/ (/x/ as in ugh or Ger. ach)

I pronounce rough breathing as /h/ (as in English), but I pronounce ῥ exactly like ρ. I don't pronounce iota subscripts. I stress the syllable with an accent mark on it, and pronounce all accents the same (I don't change the pitch, which philology suggests may have actually been the purpose of the Greek accent).

I have heard, for instance, that one really ought to pronounce the aspirated consonants merely as their non-aspirated equivalents with a puff of air afterwards (thus /pʰ/ for φ) and that η and ω should differ only in length from ε and ο, respectively, but not in quality. At my school, ει and η are pronounced identically, as are υ and ου. I distinguish them. I've also heard Ancient Greek pronounced using Modern Greek phonology (so that, for example, breathing is ignored, ι, η, and υ are all pronounced /i/, and υ in diphthongs is pronounced /f/).

Given this gamut of pronunciation systems, I wonder how you all pronounce Ancient Greek. What systems do you use?
 

Lyceum

Member
Which school is this friend?

As for the phonology, I don't quite get what you mean in terms of a gamut of schemes. Basically historical and comparative philology is pretty damn sure what the values were (I really, really, can't stand it when some idiot who can't even spell laryngeal comes around and says "we" don't know it's "just a guess" so I'll post before s/he inevitably turns up). Of course what values you ascribe to depend on what you're doing with Greek. I mean if you're working in dialectology or epigraphy you need a great grasp of local variants for example. Most will use Classical Athenian, however.

I try to vary my accent based on what period etc I'm reading but the base I use is definitely modern Greek modified. Look, here's the thing, letters and spelling are arbitrary, its meaningless when you say α = a. Which a? in English the a sound is more often a mid frontal vowel whereas in Ancient Greek (as in modern) the short a is an open front rounded vowel to try and be as colloquial as possible. A lot of people don't get that and just apply their native language values to these letters which is wrong. You have to respect a language's phonotactic environment too.

Well you don't have to. I see a lot of people sweat this stuff online or, even worse, try to correct others when their own is bloody horrible. If you're the kind of person who is very good with languages, give it a go. If not, don't swear it, just get as close to the ancient scheme you can get in order to be able to read and comment on poetry. I spent a good few years obsessively practising the right types of sounds, running minimal pair drills and so on but then I always intended to teach this stuff and I do that with all languages (apart from German).

I'm sorry, you probably wanted corrections but I figure you'll have a dozen guys coming along so I'd rather tell you just not to worry.

Good luck!
 
Goose at Greek that I am, I would probably do better to stay out of this:rolleyes: but when I was reading New Testament Greek at University I used a pronunciation very much like what Arca set out above. My aim was to use a pronunciation system that would help me learn the words by keeping as near as possible a one-to-one match between phonemes and graphemes. That meant rejecting the already iotacised Koine pronunciation in favour of something more Classical. I did not, for the most part, try to reproduce the tonal accent, but generally put stress accent on the tonos whether acute or grave. I did, however actually intone any circumflex vowel as a flexus, and tended to render circumflex vowels with iota subscripta as rising and falling intonations of 'a:-ai', 'e:-ei', and 'o:-oi'.
 

Arca Defectionis

Civis Illustris
Which school is this friend?
A private American high school, which uses the "system most commonly used in the United States" (out of Hansen & Quinn, which also notes the existence of a "pronunciation reconstructed by modern philology," though it does not use it in its pronunciation guide).

As for the phonology, I don't quite get what you mean in terms of a gamut of schemes. Basically historical and comparative philology is pretty damn sure what the values were (I really, really, can't stand it when some idiot who can't even spell laryngeal comes around and says "we" don't know it's "just a guess" so I'll post before s/he inevitably turns up). Of course what values you ascribe to depend on what you're doing with Greek. I mean if you're working in dialectology or epigraphy you need a great grasp of local variants for example. Most will use Classical Athenian, however.
While I do doubt that comparative philology can be sure about how Greek was pronounced in any given text, with the likely exceptions of Platonic Attic Greek and New Testament Greek (for example, about the exact effect of the various accents on the pronunciation), that wasn't really what I meant by a "gamut of schemes"; I was more referring to something similar to the variation in Latin schemes, and to what you touched upon - should I try to reproduce Homeric phonology when reading Homer, or read Greek texts the same way regardless of the time period in which they were written? I have found it very common, for example, for people to read the New Testament the same way they were taught to read 5th century BC Attic, which, as you have said, seems to be the most prevalent system among the reconstructed versions (understandable, considering the confusing number of vowels read /i/). Though the accents are allegedly tonal markers and not stress markers, I have found it exceedingly rare for anyone actually to attempt a change in pitch in reading Greek, and I have heard a few classicists disregard them in pronunciation altogether and instead stress the word where the English word would be stressed (apparently, Erasmus followed Latin stress rules in Greek and disregarded the accent marks). I have generally heard the aspirates pronounced as fricatives as well, though that runs contrary to the philological reconstruction. I have only heard two real Greek people attempt to read Homeric Greek; both of them pronounced the words as if they were Modern Greek. At my school's declamation contest, the guest judges (classics professors at Boston University) awarded high marks for pronunciation to those who followed the Hansen & Quinn scheme (somewhat adapted to suit English speakers, with υ read /u/ instead of /i/ or /y/). This may very well be a rather old-fashioned approach on the part of classics in the US, so I'm curious whether this lax pronunciation is practiced worldwide (though I have definitely heard the German system, which is heavily adapted to suit German phonology).

I wouldn't be hard on people for being unable to spell laryngeal any more than I would expect someone to remember the difference between phoneme and phenome. ;)

I try to vary my accent based on what period etc I'm reading but the base I use is definitely modern Greek modified. Look, here's the thing, letters and spelling are arbitrary, its meaningless when you say α = a. Which a? in English the a sound is more often a mid frontal vowel whereas in Ancient Greek (as in modern) the short a is an open front rounded vowel to try and be as colloquial as possible. A lot of people don't get that and just apply their native language values to these letters which is wrong. You have to respect a language's phonotactic environment too.
That's useful to know that you start with Modern Greek, and that you vary your accent depending on the period you're working with. As for /a/, I meant the IPA value, essentially the "a" employed in most Western European languages besides English. As for applying one's own language values being "wrong," this is sort of what I was touching upon when I referenced a "gamut of systems" - there are certainly many systems out there whose goal is not to reconstruct the author's pronunciation as accurately as possible - for instance, the anachronistic application of Attic letter values to the New Testament for clarity in distinguishing η, ι, υ. I think it's sort of how Catholic scholars would use ecclesiastical pronunciation even while reading Virgil, or how we don't generally attempt to read Shakespeare as Shakespeare would have read it (and how in the US we don't read Shakespeare in British accents). But of course, many would argue (not without merit) that one shouldn't read Attic Greek with an English "r" or glided vowels (or that a German shouldn't read ευ as /ɔʏ̯/ (the German "eu"), as I have certainly heard) - and so I was curious how much people who use Ancient Greek aim for historical accuracy vs. clarity and consistency. As I presume you are fluent in Modern Greek, your perspective is particularly interesting and appreciated.

Well you don't have to. I see a lot of people sweat this stuff online or, even worse, try to correct others when their own is bloody horrible. If you're the kind of person who is very good with languages, give it a go. If not, don't swear it, just get as close to the ancient scheme you can get in order to be able to read and comment on poetry. I spent a good few years obsessively practising the right types of sounds, running minimal pair drills and so on but then I always intended to teach this stuff and I do that with all languages (apart from German).

I'm sorry, you probably wanted corrections but I figure you'll have a dozen guys coming along so I'd rather tell you just not to worry.

Good luck!

I certainly agree with you on the first point. Thanks for the advice.

Goose at Greek that I am, I would probably do better to stay out of this:rolleyes: but when I was reading New Testament Greek at University I used a pronunciation very much like what Arca set out above. My aim was to use a pronunciation system that would help me learn the words by keeping as near as possible a one-to-one match between phonemes and graphemes. That meant rejecting the already iotacised Koine pronunciation in favour of something more Classical. I did not, for the most part, try to reproduce the tonal accent, but generally put stress accent on the tonos whether acute or grave. I did, however actually intone any circumflex vowel as a flexus, and tended to render circumflex vowels with iota subscripta as rising and falling intonations of 'a:-ai', 'e:-ei', and 'o:-oi'.

So basically your first concern was clarity, it seems. As I noted in my response to Lyceum above, in my experience the norm with Biblical Greek has been not to attempt to reproduce the Koine pronunciation, which intrigued me, to say the least (especially due to the pains Arabs take when reading the Koran to pronounce it in the classical tradition instead of their native dialects). The system I have been using is somewhat of a messy mix between a halfhearted attempt at approximating the historical pronunciation and a concern for clarity and consistency (i.e., not changing pronunciation to match the period, generally speaking).
 
I attempt to reproduce the consonants as they would most likely have sounded just after the aspirated stops became continuants, but take the vowel qualities from a somewhat earlier time just before iotacisation began to confound the distinctions between them, and in all cases observe the breathings as written. Thus, as Arca observes, I would indeed choose clarity at the calculated cost of considerable anachronism.
 

Lyceum

Member
I've had very limited time since its Christmas and all that, I hope this is still relevant to you. Regardless, I'll keep my answer short.

Essentially there is almost always going to be a dichotomy between what we know and understand the language to have sounded like at any stage and what we use when reciting. So basically, yes, if you're going to be a Classicist and trained properly you do absolutely need to understand how Homer would have been pronounced in 7th century Ionia - with elements of psilosis or how scwha affected Aeschylus' Greek. These are important aspects of context. But these are also often passive skills. I recite the Iliad, quite frequently, with very little variation from the standard Classical Athenian even as my ear tells me its possibly wrong in aspects. There's a different between working with something and reading it. To take your Koine problem. Firstly I'd take nothing Biblical scholars do indicative of philological practice. Secondly, it varies. In the beginning Koine would be quite close to Attic, though there would be regional differences, time would bring it closer to modern Greek. Frankly I'd just read it as Modern Greek but then I don't work with this stuff.

To examine your examples, well I was brought up with Shakespeare in what we call OP (original pronunciation) because its vital for metre and the constant god damn puns. I wanted to pass my exams. I suspect this kind of stuff is one of the differences between the US and Europe.

So, yes, I'd stress the differences between what people practice and what they preach. In my experience it does seem to be localised with very few people, especially in continental Europe, making an effort. I've seen a very famous Italian professor pronounce Greek just as if it were Italian. When queried he cheerfully told me that he's not getting marked so it doesn't matter.
 
I think having at leaſt a broad ſenſe of Homeric pronunciation is important for making logical ſenſe of the Greek alphabet, and underſtanding the logic of the original diphthongs.
 

Iordanus

Active Member
I think I've read this from the textbook Athenaze, which says that φ is pronounced as an aspirated p, and θ as an aspirated t... (not that I pronounce that way but yeah) :shifty:
 

LVXORD

Civis Illustris
Well it isn't at all hard for a native English speaker to pronounce an aspirated p and t for that is the normal mode of pronunciation of a p and t for the average native English speaker. The hard part is the pronunciation of the unaspirated sounds; τ and π (which are naturally used in languages like Italian and Spanish).
 

Heosphorus

New Member
Whenever I read something classical, I approximate my pronunciation to the Allen convention, with modifications that is: I read the iota subscript and I pronounce the digamma (whenever I remember it is there, of course). As for Biblical, I tend to avoid it. But if I have to, I'll read it in modern Greek for three reasons: 1) they were are quite close in pronunciation, 2) it reads quickly, which brings us to 3) I want to get rid of it as fast as I can.

Of course, if I'm bored, I'll go all modern and read everything as a good Greek high school student would.
 

UnusZnex

Member
I tend to do something along the lines of this:

α /a/
β /b/
γ /g/
δ /d/
ε /e/
ζ /zd/
η /ε:/
θ /tʰ/ (take)
ι /i/ (piece)
κ /k/ (back)
λ /l/
μ /m/
ν /n/
ξ /ks/
ο /o/
π /p/ (cap)
ρ /ɾ/, /r/ (Sp. ayer)
σ /s/
τ /t/ (at)
υ /y/ (Ger. über, Fr. tu)
φ /pʰ/ (pick)
χ /kʰ/ (kick)
ψ /ps/
ω /ɔ:/

αυ /au/ (Ger. aus)
αι /ai/ (high)
ει /e:/ (Ger. beten)
ευ //
ηι /ε:i/
ηυ /ε:ʊ/
οι /oɪ/ (toy)
ου /o:/
υι /yi/ (Fr. huit)

γγ /ŋg/
γκ /ŋk/
γχ /ŋkʰ/
γN /ŋN/ (N = nasal)
 
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