Advanced Greek (01)

25 03 2009
learngreekin25years1This year at Moore College, for the first time in our 153-year existence, we have offered a fourth year elective on Advanced Greek. It’s called ‘Advanced Topics in Biblical Greek and Exegesis’. While I was expecting a small enrollment, I have been delighted to have a decent-sized class, comparable to several other fourth year electives.

I thought I’d share some of what we’ve been doing in a little series of posts.

1. Pronunciation

First, we have adopted a Modern Greek pronunciation. There’s no question in my mind that this much more closely resembles how the language was pronounced in the Hellenistic period. Moreover, a Modern pronunciation (or variations of it) is unquestionably the preference of ‘the cool kids’ in Greek scholarly circles right now. I hope that we will see an abandonment of the Erasmian pronunciation, the adoption of which was one of the (several) colossal blunders in the history of Greek studies.

Posted by Con Campbell




9 responses

25 03 2009
dan cole

Having recently made the switch from Erasmian to Modern (at least partly), I’ve been thinking a bit about this topic…and can see both positive and negative sides to the switch:

Positively, it does have a certain symbolism in removing the vestiges of wrong thinking about Greek from years past, in line with many other recent developments/explorations in the world of Greek linguistics (like verbal aspect, deponency, etc.). Also, there is of course value in being as historically accurate as possible.

However, my biggest concern about Modern pronunciation is for those who have a predominantly auditory memory. It seems to me that while it might not be historically accurate, the big advantage of Erasmian is that each letter and dipthong has a discrete sound. This makes spelling and recognising words much easier for auditory learners. Modern, however, lumps ι ει οι υ η and υι into one sound (for example). That can be a nightmare if you remember words by how they sound (or at least how you’ve been taught that they sound).

I don’t have a way forward from this, but just thought it was worth raising that this removal of a colossal blunder may make it considerably harder for some people to learn Greek. Is historical accuracy worth that much? I don’t know…

25 03 2009
Mike Aubrey

Con (Is it okay to call you that? I feel like should be calling you Dr. Campbell…) I’ll definitely look forward to this series.

Dan cole: Historically, the dipthongs were no longer dipthongs by the Koine Period. As to whether its worth it, I’d say (as I did yesterday actually) that using known erronous pronunciation because its easier is equivocal to deciding to call whales fish because its easier to remember that way.

26 03 2009
dan cole

Hey Mike (and just ‘dan’ is fine 🙂 ) – I don’t doubt the historicity of the pronunciation of Koine being closer to Modern Greek. As for the analogy of whales and fish, a couple of things could be said:

– On one level, it does show the need to use language in a way which is meaningful, clear and commonly understood. However, it’s also a perfect analogy to show the arbitrary nature of denotation: language is used by communities in ways which aid communication (and memory) amongst those communities. Thus, if a group of people decide to redonate a whale as a fish, is that wrong simply because it wasn’t always this way? Or perhaps better, if a group decided to call a whale a ‘phlabart’ and that was commonly understood to have the same reference as ‘whale’, would that be wrong just because it’s not what used to happen?

– Also, on another level, there seems to be a huge disjunction between whales/fish and Erasmian/Modern analogy. The former has huge ramifications for verbal and written communication because it will inevitably lead to misunderstandings. That is, the aim of the speech-act remains unfulfilled. I find it difficult to see how this maps to pronouncing an extinct language, especially when the aim of understanding that language (for the vast majority of people who learn it) is not to communicate in that language, but to gain greater insight into the written words of others in order to better teach it in a language which isn’t Koine (i.e. read better, preach better…). Even those who do use Koine more frequently, such as commentators, do so in a predominantly written context, where pronunciation is marginalized. However, this is not to say that are some contexts where spoken Koine pronounced properly is important for communication.

I hope that this makes sense. Honestly, I can see advantages of moving to a Modern pronunciation. I think it is a good idea, if for nothing else that it lends historical credibility to our pursuit of better understanding the written word of God (well, the last 27 books anyway). But I do question whether this move comes at a very high price for some of our brothers and sisters, given that the final goal is handling the word of God rightly. I’m not sure that using a system of pronunciation which is far easier for auditory learners compromises this goal.

As you can read, I’m still working through all of this, and I’d be interested to hear your, Con’s or anyone else’s thoughts…


26 03 2009
Mike Aubrey

Dan: My example was intentionally hyperbolic. And you’re right. We’re more interested in studying texts than we are in communicating (though I would argue we should be interested in both, but that’s another issue).

In terms of that goal though, the texts, either a modern or historical pronunciation pays back dividends particularly in textual criticism, where many errors were phonological: e.g. ημων, υμων.

26 03 2009
dan cole

thanks Mike, that’s a good point – I hadn’t thought about the relevance of correct pronunciation for textual criticism, though it is perfectly obvious…thanks for clearing that blind spot.

Also, sorry I didn’t pick up on the direction of the analogy. (Ironic that in a post considering communication, it failed to communicate, huh?) Even knowing that its hyperbolic though, I don’t think I’m sold on it as an analogy or parallel for Erasmian/Modern. It could be my blind spots again, but I can’t see how it even approaches equivocal (in fact to be honest, I can’t see it to be that helpful as an argument for ditching Erasmian)…

Again, I moved to a modern pronunciation a couple of months ago – I’m one of the ‘believers’. But I don’t think that arguments like ‘the cool kids are doin it’ are strong enough here. I realize that Erasmian was never used by native Greek speakers, but that’s not how it’s used now either. It’s a learning tool for remembering a now non-spoken language – i.e. it’s something which doesn’t affect (in the vast majority of instances) any understanding of the texts or one’s ability to communicate their message meaningfully to others. It seems like an insistence on ‘correct’ pronunciation (often coupled with a ‘suck it up’ attitude) may both fail to represent the current use of Erasmian fairly and also be an insistence of truth without consideration of the edification of others. Neither of these need be the case, but I’m just noting that they often are.

(as a postscript – I have found this conversation very helpful, and will be reading your blog posts with interest…)

26 03 2009

In American seminaries Professors who never had any formal classical training teach students that barbarian pronunciation of Greek. It always makes me laugh when I hear someone pronounce logos in Erasmian. Every classical program I have ever seen, and the one i was apart of, used either Modern Greek or reconstructed. What do you think about Randal Buth’s reconstruction?

26 03 2009

redpooba: I’ve been taught by classicists, including American ones, using Erasmian. So I don’t think you can put it down to a general barbarianism of ecclesiastical academics. Erasmian pronunciation has a wide currency in Classics circles too.

1 04 2009

G’day Con, I discovered a tool a week ago that I’ve found really helpful and convenient in my studies of greek (at Sydney Uni): getting LSJ and Middle Liddel on your phone.

I’ve blogged it here.

1 04 2009
Con Campbell

Thanks hayesy, that’s a great idea.

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