Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dispatches from Koine Greek Land - Part 1

Reconstructed Koine pronunciation is more difficult for English-speaking students to learn than Erasmian. That difficulty was compounded by my requiring students to learn the alphabet along with the standard English transliteration system, which is based on Erasmian. That said, students seemed to be having the most trouble with traditional problems: ν looks like an English 'v', but is prounounced like an English 'n'; ρ looks like an English 'p', but is pronounced like an English 'r', and so on.

On Saturday afternoon, at the end of our 9 hours of "language camp," one of my students described how her Spanish teacher in South America spent a lot of time just talking to them in Spanish. In retrospect, I wish I had done a lot more talking or reading in Greek, and a bit less time up front trying to get them to talk.

So while I can hear the question, "is it really worth it?", I am more convinced than ever of the importance of extended exposure to the sound of the language. I'm pretty sure that confidence pronouncing the language fluidly, if not fluently, goes a long way toward easing the challenge of facing and translating unfamiliar texts.


Mark said...

I agree with you on the importance of speaking the language and having a feel for it as a living language. I have always emphasized reading aloud. I would quibble on a couple of points:

1. We should drop the pejorative label "Erasmian" and start calling the reconstructed classical Greek pronunciation Allonian or something like that; since Sidney Allen has presented the evidence in Vox Graeca--and I, for one, find it pretty convincing--for the way Greek was pronounced in 5th century Athens. I am, however, convinced that the pronunciation had changed enough by the 1st c AD that the pronunciation of NT Greek was much closer Modern Greek than it was to reconstructed classical.

2. "Reconstructed Koine" is still an artificial language, and it is close enough to modern Greek that we should go all the way and just adopt the current Greek pronunciation. It would give the added benefit of enabling us to converse with people like Caragounis, should we ever meet them at an international conference. At least there would be someone who would appreciate our pronunciation.

I teach a second-year Greek class; my students are introduced by someone else using Mounce. I'm not sure what to do. I have been playing Greek/Latin/Audio.com files in class to get the students used to the difference. It sounds a little strange to them, but it is beginning to sound like a real language.

d. miller said...

Thanks for your detailed and helpful comment, Mark.

I was under the impression that Allen's pronunciation differed in some important ways from Erasmian. Is that incorrect?

Buth observes that Reconstructed Koine is close enough to Μodern Greek that the latter can be picked up easily enough. I, for one, am glad for a pronunciation system that still distinguishes between η, οι and ι.

Flint Cowboy said...

It's been a while since I read Allen. He does treat phi, theta, and chi (I believe) as aspirates, not fricatives. In English we normally aspirate /p/ in most positions; so the trick is to learn to unaspirate pi and treat phi like the English p. It is true that most current English texts for NT Greek don't teach this. There may be some other differences.

I think some classical texts teach this; and also the pronunciation of upsilon as ü; and epsilon = upsilon as "e-ooh". /Ev/ is much easier.

One of the benefits of students learning modern Greek, or reconstructed Koine, is learning itacism; i.e. that several vowels, such as eta and upsilon took on the sound of /i/.

That helps explain the confusion in the manuscripts; especially the common confusion between umeis and emeis, etc.