Monday, August 18, 2008

Reconstructed Koine Greek Pronunciation

As I mentioned earlier, I am planning to use Randall Buth's "Reconstructed Koine" Greek pronunciation in my Introductory Greek class this year. I have prepared a handout and a few recordings for my students which I am happy to make available here:
  • The handout attempts to present Buth's system clearly using English examples. (Buth tends to cite Arabic, German and Spanish examples, which are beyond the linguistic competence I can expect from my students.) The handout is intended to replace charts on pp. 8-10 of Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). See below for a summary of the differences between Erasmian and Reconstructed Koine.
  • Randall includes a few audio samples on his website, but no recording of the alphabet, so I made my own. The alphabet and the first diphthong recording follow the order on the handout. The second diphthong recording spells the dipthongs before pronouncing them.
  • Update: Don't miss the Reconstructed Koine Greek Alphabet Song (courtesy of Luke Johnson).
  • Suggestions for improvement (and feedback in general) are welcome!
My rationale for changing pronunciation systems is simple: Languages are best learned in a living environment that involves hearing, speaking, and writing as well as reading. If one is going to the effort to speak ancient Greek, one might as well learn a reasonably accurate pronunciation. It is well known that the standard Erasmian system doesn't cut it. Side benefits include insight into textual variations caused by errors of hearing, and an easier transition into Modern Greek.

Buth defends his pronunciation choices here. His system is apparently close to the conclusions reached by Geoffrey Horrocks and Francis Gignac; it is also close to Modern Greek pronunciation.

Summary of the Differences between Erasmian and Reconstructed Koine

There are only three major differences in the pronunciation of letters:
  • β is pronounced as ‘v’ instead of ‘b’
  • δ is pronounced as ‘dh’ instead of ‘d’
  • ο is pronounced as a long ‘o’ like ω
Most of the diphthongs have changed:
  • αι is prounounced like ε (met) instead of as ‘eye’
  • ει is pronounced like ι (‘ee’) instead of ‘eh?’
  • οι is pronounced like υ instead of ‘oy’
  • αυ, ευ, ηυ are pronounced ‘av’, ‘ev’ and ‘ehv’ or ‘af’, ‘ef’ and ‘ehf’ instead of ‘ow!’ and ‘ew!’
Other minor changes:
  • ι is always a long ‘ee’ sound
  • γ is pronounced ‘gh’ instead of ‘g’
  • π, τ, κ are unaspirated which makes them sound close to b, d, and g.
  • ζ is pronounced ‘z’ instead of ‘dz’


Stephen C. Carlson said...

Fairly close to modern Greek, with the biggest differences being that eta (η) and upsilon (υ) and omicron-iota (οι) haven't itacized.

RogueMonk said...

There is always somebody who wants to reinvent the wheel (or at least try and make it rounder).

Who speaks koine greek anyway? I'd spend my energy ensuring my students are equiped with the basics to go onto better exegesis of the TEXT.

Be careful not to transfer your fasination (occupation?) with a
"reconstructed Koine Greek pronunciation" onto entry level studenst who simply need a good teacher to teach them well some basics. You're not teaching Ph.D. students.

Blessings, RogueMonk

Hill Tribe Linguist said...

I am so pleased to hear that you are going the living language route with your students this year. I took 7 semesters of Greek at Briercrest within 3 years (6 of which were in my first year-thanks to summer greek, and seminary modular and my internship with translation), and was a teaching assistant for summer Greek. And even after ALL that time and hard work, the language was still not 'inside of me", as much as just several months of studying a living foreign language. After studying Chinese for a year, I was more comfortable with the Chinese Bible than with the Greek Text. I find this very sad. However, it makes me very happy to see you applying Randell Buth's method. I have become aware of his method a while back and I am working on solidifying my Hebrew via his method and LOVING it! I hope to one day go back and truly learn Koine Greek this way as well.

I do not consider the traditional method of learning Greek a waste of time, but it sure NEEDS to have integrated into it a system (such as Buth's) which really enables a student to pick up the text and read it comfortably and maybe even discuss exegesis using the source text language (as is the case with Randell Buth and some of his students).

A applaud what you are doing and wish I could in your class while you explore this amazing way to learn greek.

In the fellowship of His service,

Class of 2006

Hill Tribe Linguist said...

Oh, and I think that when a student truly is comfortable reading the text in the original language, and is able to read a lot of the New Testament and early father's in Greek, their Exegesis will definately become deeper and better. Not to mention that if they can truly read the text with fluidly, then they will keep up their engagement with Greek well after graduation and not revert to Greek only as a way to sound mark in the pulpit or at dinner parties


Again, Kudos

Bill Erlenbach said...

I've come back to this post a few times. On the one hand I agree with Joshua (its been a while since we sat in Greek together). On the other hand I have to agree with roguemonk.

The challenge is that while I would like to be more fluent in Greek, I have to seriously question the ongoing time investment from a ministry perspective. While in seminary I had the luxury--a delightful luxury--of studying for academic and personal benefits. Now I am dealing with people walking through the death of loved ones, as well as the less traumatic joys and sorrows of life.

While my years of Greek have helped me understand the text, hopefully to the end of better exegesis and thus sermons, I have some concern. Would more correct pronunciation really help in the pulpit? Will it help me as a theologian? Will it help me as a shepherd?

That said, I did print out the sheet you provided David. My curiosity got the better of me.

I suppose the proof of benefit is in the results. I look forward to hearing how this goes this next year. Keep us, your readers informed on this one David.


d. miller said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

I imagine that the Reconstructed Koine pronunciation will be a little harder to learn than Erasmian. Some of the Koine sounds are more difficult for English-speakers to produce, some of the Erasmian letter sounds are known through their use in the sciences, β looks like English ‘b’ not ‘v’, etc. There are also homophones in Koine whereas Erasmian assigns every letter (but not every diphthong) a separate sound. I expect a few more spelling mistakes than normal. But the spelling and pronunciation of the Koine Greek alphabet is still way easier than its Hebrew or, for that matter, its English counterparts. It won’t take long to learn. So let’s not blow the differences between Erasmian and Koine out of proportion.

My real goal is to teach Greek more like one would hope to teach a living language. And the whole point of doing this is to help students learn Greek more deeply and more efficiently. Joshua commented on his experience learning Chinese. In my case, studying Modern Hebrew as a living language made a huge differenece in my ability to read Biblical Hebrew.

The ability to do exegesis in the original language is, of course, a major payoff of learning Greek. One can lose the language and still use the tools, I suppose, but it is a lot harder to do exegesis well that way, and a lot easier to make mistakes. I was going to say that exegesis is the whole point, but there are other practical benefits to reading the NT in Greek beyond strict exegesis.

In sum, if I can pull this off, I expect that at the end of two years my students will be better equipped to do exegesis and to maintain the language with less effort than they would be the way I’ve taught Greek in the past. Still, I’m grateful for the reminder not to get sidetracked by the things that simply fascinate me.

Bookman said...

Is the rho slightly rolled in reconstructed koine Greek, as it is in Modern Greek?

d. miller said...

Hi bookman,

Yes, the rho should be rholled.

Jeremy M said...

Thank you for the help and resources that you link to on your other site. I have just begun my studies of Greek this weekend, and trying to figure out the best way to tackle the language (since I'm teaching myself and don't have the luxury of taking a class).

I'm not sure you check this anymore, but if you do would you mind posting resources to help beginners (either website links or really helpful books)?

d. miller said...

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for your comment. Two websites I'd recommend are and

All the best in your study!

Jeremy M said...

Thank you!

Paul K said...

you may be interested in this

This is a brief look into what’s lost in translation

Anonymous said...

link obsolete


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