On the Pronunciation of Greek

I’ve ranted about frustrations before, but one thing I really can’t stand are descriptions of Greek pronunciation that have very little value until you actually hear the sound!

A good example of this is Caragounis’ description of the pronunciation of Koine, complete with a chart. Before I begin to criticize him, though, let me say two things:

1) He’s right about the pronunciation. There is no valid reason in my opinion to continue using the Erasmian pronunciation of the language and as my wife studies Greek for her Greek class each day, I only become more frustrated by the fact that they’re making her speak (yes, the class is emphasizing auditory learning as well) Greek using those atrocious sounds! Let the language have its dignity! Please!

2) He’s also right about the historical necessity of knowing Koine as part the stream of history that is the Greek language. While some would question this. They’re wrong. If they want to continue in this opinion, then they can just forget about using the great grammars like those of Moulton and Robertson, because those two great scholars reference classical, koine, medieval, and modern Greek regularly throughout their grammars. Greek is Greek is Greek.

Okay, now about pronunciation descriptions:

Its particularly frustrating when I read people trying to describe with a voiced velar fricative (IPA: [ɣ]) sounds like. I thought this when I was reading Caragounis:

Capitol: Γ, Small: γ, Historical Greek Pronunciation: y, gh (w), as in yet (when followed by e and i-sounds). Before all other positions: Try pronouncing as “go,” but deeper from the throat: “gho”. The result should be similar to ‘w’ in “woe”, but harder and more guttural (The Development of Greek and the New Testament, 352).

I can tell you a couple things. First, no student is going to know what a gutteral is. Secondly, the gamma is not gutteral. Its velar. You put your tongue on the front of that soft patch on the roof of your mouth. Third what in the world does “but harder” mean???

My suggestion? (Greek teacher listen) Take a week. Breeze through the necessary sections of the international phonetic alphabet. Then after that, tell your students that gamma is a voiced velar fricative.

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