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Ancient Greek Pronounciation

On the very first contact with Ancient Greek, every student should probably feel the need to follow a rigorous system of pronounciation. With the first attempts of practicing conjugations, when trying to remember, writing from memory without consulting the textbook, such sequence as anthropos - anthropou - anthropo etc., he will probably ask himself, "How to write anthropon? Should I use omega or omicron? There must be both of them, but which one is first? Hmmm... if I knew how to pronounce the two letters so that they be distinct from each other phonetically, I would remember more easily how to employ them correctly...”

Various pronounciation systems are available

The German scholar J. Reuchlin (1445-1522) advocated the use of the pronounciation system of the Greek language of his time. The characteristics of this pronounciation system are mainly as follows.

η, ι, υ, οι, υι, ει, ῃ

are all pronounced alike:

i

αυ, ευ

are pronounced:

av, ev,

or

af, ef,

β

is pronounced:

v

The rough spirit is completely neglected.

This system could only prove itself legitimate for periods much later than the classical period. It contains inexplicable discrepancies between writing and pronounciation.

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) brought forward arguments against such a pronounciation system, advocating a pronounciation system ad litteram, assigning each alphabet sign a distinct sound. Erasmus was against the modern Greek pronounciation system as applied to ancient Greek, based on the following principles:

- it is illogical to have several signs for the same sound without reasonable etimological motivation;

- texts engraved in stone by common people in ancient times rarely show mistakes that could be attributed to confusions related to pronounciation.

- there are grammar forms that are different from each other by signs which would be pronounced, according to the reuchlinian system, exactly the same way; the vocalic alternance with morphological role would have no sense if, for instance, ει/οι/ι would be pronounced identically, i.e., 'i'. Example: ἔλειπον = I was leaving; ἔλιπον = I left.

- the way some Greek words were transliterated into Latin is also supporting an ad litteram pronounciation system. (Ex: phoenix < φοίνιξ = red; aether < αἰθήρ = air).

- Greek grammarians showed that η compared with ε is as ω compared to ο, i.e., η = ε + ε; ω = ο + ο.

Other systems have been proposed in the meantime; see for example http://www.biblicalgreek.org/links/pronunciation.php and http://www.letsreadgreek.com/Resources/greekntaudio.htm

What do I choose?

The pronounciation system that I propose here is based on the following simple principles:

1. The phonetic system of modern Greek is employed to the extent that this does not cause important difficulties or confusions.

2. The main 'witness' to appeal when judging the extent of applying the modern Greek phonetics is the accentuation system of ancient Greek.

The way letters and combinations of letters are to be pronounced is described below. In order to understand why some features of modern Greek phonetics are maintained and some other are not, a parallel is made between the two generations of this language – ancient vs. modern.

α

ἄλφα (ancient Greek); άλφα (modern Greek)

Examples: ἀνατομή, ἄτομος, ἁμαρτία (ancient Greek); ανατομία, άτομο (modern Greek)

Diphtongs: αι, αυ, ᾳ ( not found in modern Greek).

Examples: φαίνω, αἱρετικός, αὐγή, αὔριον, παύω, αὐτός, ναυπηγεῖον, αὐστηρός, ῥᾴδιος (ancient Greek); φαινόμενο, αιρετικός, αυγή, αύριο, παύω, αυτός, ναυπηγείο, αυστηρός (modern Greek)

β

βῆτα (ancient Greek); βήτα (modern Greek)

Examples: βιολόγος, βάζω (ancient Greek); βιολογία, βάζο (modern Greek)

γ

γάμμα (ancient Greek); γάμα (modern Greek)

Examples: γραμματίζω, γεοῦχος (ancient Greek); γραμματική, γεολογία (modern Greek)

Combinažii: γγ, γκ, γχ, γξ

Examples: ἄγγελος, ἄγκιστρον, τυγχάνω, φάραγξ (ancient Greek); αγγλικά, ιδιοσυγκρασία (modern Greek: only two of the four combinations are found and they are pronounced alike)

δ

δέλτα (ancient Greek & modern Greek)

Examples: δελφίς, δράκων (ancient Greek); δελφίνι, δράκος (modern Greek)

ε

ἒ ψιλόν (ancient Greek); έψιλον (modern Greek)

Examples: ἔμβρεος, ἐγώ, ἕτερος (ancient Greek); έμβρυο, εγωιστής (modern Greek)

Diphtongs: ει, ευ

Examples: ζευγίον, νεῦρον, εὖρος, νευρολάλος, πνευμονία, εὐτυχής, εὐθεῖα, εὔκολος, εὐθανασία, θεραπευτικός (ancient Greek); ζεύγος, νεύρο, εύρος, νευρολογία, πνευμονία, ευτυχώς, ευθεία, εύκολος, ευθανασία, θεραπευτικός (modern Greek)

ζ

ζῆτα (ancient Greek); ζήτα (modern Greek)

Examples: ζέμα, ζωγράφος (ancient Greek); ζέβρα, ζωλογία (modern Greek)

η

ἦτα (ancient Greek); ήτα (modern Greek)

Examples: ἤρεμος, ἔρημος, ἡδονή (ancient Greek); ηχώ, ήρωας (modern Greek)

Diphtongs: ηυ, ῃ (in ancient Greek only)

Examples: ηὐεργέτησα, ηὐλαβήθην, ηὐξημένως, τατῃ, παραβολῇ

θ

θῆτα (ancient Greek); θήτα (modern Greek)

Examples: θέατρον, θεραπεῖα (ancient Greek); θέμα, θεραπεία (modern Greek)

ι

ἰῶτα (ancient Greek); γιώτα (modern Greek)

Examples: ἰδιολογία, ἴσος, ἱστορία (ancient Greek); ιδέα, ιστορία (modern Greek)

κ

κάππα (ancient Greek); κάπα (modern Greek)

Examples: κάθοδος, κενός (ancient Greek); καθολικός, κέντρο (modern Greek)

λ

λάμβδα (ancient Greek); λάμδα (modern Greek)

Examples: λαμπάς, λύκος (ancient Greek); λάμπα, λιώνω (modern Greek)

μ

μῦ (ancient Greek); μι (modern Greek)

Examples: μάρσιππος, μαγεία (ancient Greek); Μάρτιος, μαγεία (modern Greek)

The combination μπ is pronounced 'mp' – in modern Greek is pronounced 'b'.

Examples: ἄμπελος, ἐμπορία, ἐμπάθεια (ancient Greek); αμπέλι, εμπορία, εμπειρικός, μπανάνα, μπίρα (modern Greek)

ν

νῦ (ancient Greek); νι (modern Greek)

Examples: ναῦς, ἐννέα (ancient Greek); νάρκισσος, εννιά (modern Greek)

The combination ντ is pronounced 'nt' – in modern Greek is pronounced 'nd'.

Examples: ἀντωνυμία, φαντασία (ancient Greek); αντώνυμο, φαντασία (modern Greek)

ξ

ξῖ (ancient Greek); ξι (modern Greek)

Examples: ξύλον, ξυλοτομία (ancient Greek); ξένος, ξενοφοβία (modern Greek)

ο

ὂ μικρόν (ancient Greek); όμικρον (modern Greek)

Examples: ὀρθογράφος, ὄρος, ὅπλον (ancient Greek); ορθόδοξος, ορχήστρα (modern Greek)

Diphtongs: οι, ου

Examples: οἰκομαχία, οἰκονομία, ἐνθουσιασμός, ἀκουστικός (ancient Greek); οικολογία, οικονομία, ενθουσιασμός, ακουστικός (modern Greek)

π

πῖ (ancient Greek); πι (modern Greek)

Examples: παιδία, παιδαγωγία (ancient Greek); παιδίατρος, παιδαγωγός (modern Greek)

ρ

ῥῶ (ancient Greek); ρο (modern Greek)

Examples: ἄριστος, ῥήτωρ, ῥᾴδιος (ancient Greek); ρήτορας, ράδιο (modern Greek)

The combination ῤῥ is pronounced ‘rhr’ – not found in modern Greek.

Examples: παῤῥησία, ἀῤῥαγής

σ, ς

σῖγμα (ancient Greek); σίγμα (modern Greek)

Examples: σοφιστής, σωτηρία (ancient Greek); σοφία, Σεπτέμβριος (modern Greek)

τ

ταῦ (ancient Greek); ταυ (modern Greek)

Examples: τύραννος, τραῦμα (ancient Greek); τύραννος, τραύμα (modern Greek)

υ

ὗ ψιλόν (ancient Greek); ύψιλον (modern Greek)

Examples: ὕμνος, ὑγίεια, ἄστυ (ancient Greek); ύμνος, υγιεινή (modern Greek)

Diphtong υι is pronounced 'üi' – in modern Greek is pronounced like ι.

Examples: ὄργυια, υἱός (ancient Greek)

φ

φῖ (ancient Greek); φι (modern Greek)

Examples: φιλοσοφία, φιλολογία (ancient Greek & modern Greek)

χ

χῖ (ancient Greek); χι (modern Greek)

Examples: χάος, χεῖρ, ἡσυχῇ (ancient Greek); χάος, χέρι (modern Greek)

ψ

ψῖ (ancient Greek); ψι (modern Greek)

Examples: ψυχή, ψυχρός, ἀψευδής (ancient Greek); ψυχίατρος, ψυχολογία (modern Greek)

ω

ὦ μέγα (ancient Greek); ωμέγα (modern Greek)

Examples: Ὠκεανός, ὡροσκοπεῖον (ancient Greek); ωκεανός, ωροσκόπιο (modern Greek)

Diphtong is pronounced like ω  – not found in modern Greek.

Examples: συνῳδία, ᾠδή, αὐτῷ

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