Erasmian Pronunciation

People say that they use and teach with the Erasmian pronunciation because its easier for students for learning vocabulary, spelling, and what not.

What if Biology professors decided to start teaching their students that whales were fish because it would be easier for students to remember?

Why does Greek succumb to such cop outs for the sake of their students when no other discipline or field of study would accept such a thing?

I’m serious.

Its completely unacceptable.

23 thoughts on “Erasmian Pronunciation

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    1. That’s not surprising. Erasmian pronunciation is simply the application of English sounds onto the Greek alphabet. Spanish would definitely be much closer to how Greek would sound.

      English has 11 vowel sounds whereas Koine Greek had 5/6 depending on what scholar you ask. And those sounds parallel Spanish’s 5 vowels very closely.

  1. You may have covered this previously, but which pronounciation system do you consider most appopriate? (I’m halfway through an intro Koine Greek course atm, so it’s suddenly less of a theoretical issue!)

  2. A strange matter, this; I learned and taught the Erasmian pronunciation for decades, until I finally came to understand that it doesn’t represent the sounds of Greek ever spoken in any era whatsoever. I shifted over to the system of Sydney Allen set forth in his Vox Graeca, warning students that even this was an approximation to the pronunciation of classical Attic and that we need to be aware that pronunciation changed over the centuries — quite a bit. I still try to sound out Homer and Plato and Aeschylus that way, but since I’ve been working with Koine since I retired in 2001, I’ve become fully convinced that the pronunciation which Randall Buth teaches is what is correct and decidedly is what OUGHT to be taught to students of NT Greek. But it won’t happen, I rather think. It’s curious how sluggish ancient Greek pedagogy is to adopt what’s been learned. I really don’t understand it.

    1. Carl, I’ve been wondering for some time what I should do in non-Koine texts. Its hard enough to learn a new pronunciation, I don’t know if I could go back and forth shifting between multiple ones depending on the date of the text I’m reading.

      1. Well, it would certainly be easiest to use Randall’s system for Homer and Classical Attic — but I try to use the reconstructed (Sydney Allen) system, which also involves long-vowel diphthongs in Iota, i.e., “iota postscript” (since Iota subscript is nothing but a subnote to show what the pronunciation once was but no longer is).

  3. I’m now half-half between Restored Classical and a Buth-Koine reconstruction. I try and differentiate based on the text I’m reading, but sometimes it’s slippery. Diphthongs are what trick me up the most.

      1. Oh, I don’t differ from Buth on any particular point. I simply mean that the difficulties of shifting from a fairly engrained pronunciation system often mean I am halfway between the two. Not ideal, but I’m convinced of the mostly historical accuracy of both for their time period and so am now trying to disentangle the two in their mind.

        I suspect it’s a lot easier to change pronunciations earlier on in one’s Greek-reading career.

  4. What are the differences between Buth’s method and modern Greek? Why not just use a modern pronunciation, as many use a modern Hebrew vocalization for biblical Hebrew?

    1. Buth’s system has six vowels, while Modern only has five. Specifically, the ETA is pronounced between ι & ε and οι & υ have are close central rather front or back.

      1. Actually Buth’s system is a bit more complicated yet: Upsilon and the Omicron-Iota diphthong are both pronunced like a German umlauted U or a French U. This explains in part why the Romans adopted the Greek Upsilon not as equivalent to the Roman U but as a distinct new glyph at the end of their alphabet. It might not hurt to go ahead and pronounced Upsilon and the Omicron-Iota diphthong like Iota and Epsilon-Iota, but I think Randall is right in insisting that there’s a difference that is shown pretty clearly in the Egyptian papyri.

        1. Carl, that’s what I said. I just used linguistic gobbligook to say it:

          iota is close front, υ & οι are close central and ου is close back.

  5. For what it’s worth, I now use a Modern Greek pronunciation, as laid out by John Lee, and teach it to my Advanced Greek students.

    I hope our institution will eventually adopt it throughout our Greek teaching.

    However, in my current opinion, I think it’s useful to be able to use either pronunciation, since the Erasmian can prove helpful when talking about Greek with those who don’t ‘understand’ the Modern pronunciation. (That’s not a justification for keeping the Erasmian, by the way, but simply a pragmatic point with respect to being able to communicate with ‘old-school’ Greek students/teachers).

  6. I know that you’re not really looking for an answer because this is a pet peeve of yours, but it is done in other fields; in fact it’s done all the time, your biology example notwithstanding. An example I’ve used before is physics, where classical physics is learned before relativity and quantum theory (though in this case it’s useful for different reasons).

    1. I think classical physics has a much better historical basis than Erasmian pronunciation. That is, with Classical physics, physicist actually practiced classical physics, but Greeks have never used Erasmian pronunciation.

  7. Classical physics isn’t taught because people actually practiced it. This incorrect or, better put, less accurate mathematical paradigm is useful.

      1. No, I’m saying it isn’t necessarily taught for that reason, simply for knowing the history of science, but because newtonian physics is useful. My point is the historical basis is irrelivant, at least for the matter at hand. There are sound practical and pedagogical reasons for teaching it despite its inaccuracy (compared to the modern understanding of physics).

  8. My theory is that it’s because many Greek lecturers are actually New Testament lecturers who teach Greek because it’s a gateway to the New Testament, not because they want o teach Greek.

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