Monday, January 16, 2006

Historical Greek Pronunciation

Quite a while ago, I decided to learn the ‘historical Greek’ pronunciation of New Testament Greek. At university I had learnt the usual Erasmus vocalisation, and was happy to continue doing so, whether in private devotions, or in the seminar room.

Happy, that is, until I heard this. As useful as these audio recordings may be, the American accent (sorry, no offence meant against any of my readers) on the Erasmus pronunciation made my gums recede half an inch up my teeth. And so I immediately started looking for alternatives.

Of course, Chrys Caragounis is the man to read on this, and you can pick up his book, The Development of Greek and the New Testament, from Mohr Siebeck for a mere (!) 129 euro here. Rather more accessible on the price-front is his online article on this subject, which outlines further reasons for abandoning the Erasmus pronunciation – and on more substantial grounds than merely ‘personal taste’. Nevertheless, after listening to those American Erasmus recordings, ‘personal taste’ was quite sufficient reason for me!

He also has a rather helpful CD Rom ‘An Easy and Quick Course in How to Pronounce Greek as a Greek’ available for purchase – though I believe you’ll have to contact him personally for details.

As a sample, here is a comparison for you to hear, between the American Erasmus, and ‘Historical Greek’ pronunciations of that most beautiful of texts, Ephesians 1:3-4 (Euvloghto.j o` qeo.j kai. path.r tou/ kuri,ou h`mw/n VIhsou/ Cristou/( o` euvlogh,saj h`ma/j evn pa,sh euvlogi,a pneumatikh/ evn toi/j evpourani,oij evn Cristw/ (for copyright reasons I’m ending the ‘Historical Greek’ sample here) kaqw.j evxele,xato h`ma/j evn auvtw/ pro. katabolh/j ko,smou ei=nai h`ma/j a`gi,ouj kai. avmw,mouj katenw,pion auvtou/ evn avga,ph).

Obviously, the bottom line is that however you sound when you speak NT Greek, it doesn’t matter. What counts is that you adopt a known system, and use it consistently. Just, whatever you do, please don’t sound like the woman in the audio page linked to above. That’s just wrong. Morally.


At 1/16/2006 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh thank you thank you, Chrys and Chris. I just commented on another blog which was discussing - yet again - 'adelphoi' - why no one seems to ask Greek Greek scholars anything about their language.

At 1/16/2006 2:34 PM, Anonymous Alan Bandy said...

Thanks Chris this is very helpful. Unfortunately, I don't think I will ever be able to rid myself of this troublesome American accent.

At 1/16/2006 3:01 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thank you Anon.
I do recommend you read Chrys' online article I linked to, and I'd be intereseted to hear your thoughts on it.

At 1/16/2006 3:03 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Alan,
I would recommend a course in fasting, repentance and prayer. That ought to, by grace, shift that pesky accent ...


At 1/28/2006 5:55 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

(first time visitor) Ok, your profile made my wife and I laugh out loud. :-)

I appreciate the article link (I'll read it soon) ... I've been interested in this for a while. Maybe, though, you could be a bit less disparaging of Marilyn Phemister's work -- I'm under the impression that she did this because she was losing her sight and wanted to continue to study the GNT. Though I don't know why she didn't use existing recordings (I've heard there's one by Spiros Zodhiates).

At 1/28/2006 7:00 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Welcome to my blog, Mike. I'm glad you and your wife could laugh at my profile, which brings me to ...

Maybe, though, you could be a bit less disparaging of Marilyn Phemister's work

I'm sorry if that caused offence, but it was just my humour again.

Honestly, I think Marilyn sounds like a very nice lady - and her Greek is more fluent than mine. I don't really think that her accent is morally wrong (well, not entirely).


At 10/03/2006 4:19 AM, Anonymous Johnny said...

Thank you, Chris, for noting that Caragounis did a course on CD for those who want to learn the historical Greek pronunciation. I emailed him and asked if it is still available.

My decision to switch from the Erasmian pronunciation that I had been taught to the historical pronunciation was prompted, in part, by the torture I experienced in an exegesis class at seminary in which I was subjected to, not only one but 15 Marilynesque pronunciations--mine included. I still sound terrible, but at least my pronunciation may sound like something a Greek might actually recognize as Greek--maybe.

At 10/03/2006 1:21 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Johnny, thanks for the comment. Glad you found the Caragounis CD helpful. What is more, if you ever go to Greece on holiday, you'll have a better chance that people will understand you!

At 7/18/2007 9:04 PM, Anonymous santi said...

I don't agree with you when you say that it really doesn't matter how you pronounce GNT. Besides Erasmian pronunciation sounds ridiculous, there are a lot of inscriptions and papyrus proving the HGP. Modern greek pronuntiation also would be used when reading Plato, unless we thinκ, of course, Ancient Greek it's a dead language.
Ευχαριστώ για τις πληροφορίες σου.

At 11/24/2007 1:24 AM, Anonymous bkvasnica said...

Randall Buth has come up with a way of putting a lot of this historical Greek pronunciation into a pracitcal way of learning Koine Greek that sounds about 2/3 like modern Greek. Highly recommended:

At 3/17/2008 10:02 PM, Anonymous Flint Cowboy said...

You can get some very nice (and free) recordings of the NT in modern Greek at (and the nt Vulgate in Latin--I think there are even a few chapters in Hebrew) at Or for a few dollars you can get it on CD and avoid the trouble of downloading.

I reviewed Khrys Karagounis's book and found a lot of wonderful information in it. I think he overstated the case that Greek pronunciation has never changed. The Assyrian Christian refugees from Iraq think they pronounce Aramaic exactly as Jesus did, and Hindu pundits are sure their pronunciation of Sanskrit is Vedic pure.

Sidney Allen's study of the historical evidence for classical Greek, Vox Graeca, is, I think still valid. I am also pretty well convinced that Paul's pronunciation was closer to modern Greek than it is to Plato's.

Marinlyn Phemister is trying to read the accent marks with a rising and falling intonation, like the textbooks say.

Any pronunciation learned from a book is bound to be artificial, and Greek as spoken today is a real language; so I'm thinking of switching over.

At 3/17/2008 10:06 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Greta comment, Flint, and thanks for the link.

At 4/23/2008 6:26 AM, Anonymous nouno said...

as a Canadian who learn demotic Greek at McGill in 1963 and had a hosue in Freece for 20 years, it's clear that the NT Greek can be read aloud using the generally demotic Greek pronunciation. Consult the modern-ized Greek NT and compare it with the "received" NT text...see what the Greeks themselves have done and how THEY pronounce it..and you are away to the races. I remembert my friend the composer, Humphrey Searle, who said he could read and understand perfectly the ancient Greek inscriptons. but when he opened his mouth to speak none of his Greek chums in Athens (or anywhere else) could understand a word.

At 7/26/2008 10:01 AM, Anonymous Alex H said...

I just wanted to say that I don't think the poor pronunciation of Marilyn Phemister's recordings are because of her accent. I am an American, and I came across her recordings several years ago. I was delighted to find them. Until I listened to them. They are horrible. I personally feel they should not exist, instead of being on the Internet for people to find, only to be disappointed by the atrocious readings.

After studying Greek for around 6 years, I finally decided to switch from Erasmian to Modern Greek pronunciation. I've always had a problem with the Erasmian, it just didn't sound right. And when I found out that the New Testament writers sounded far closer to Modern Greek than Erasmian Greek, well, that was it. Switching to Modern Greek.

At 8/06/2008 12:35 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Alex,
I hope the switch to Modern Greek is smooth for you. Never know, it may help you if you holiday in Greece too!

At 12/31/2010 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't understand why we just aren't taught the ancient pronunciation system from the start if that's how the NT was really pronounced. That's just the logical thing to do, isn't it?

I'm not sure I agree that one's choice for which pronunciation system to choose doesn't matter. If the ancient world was largely an oral culture, than I think pronunciation might be quite important actually.

(sorry to bring up an old post, but i'm just finished my 3rd Greek class in Bible College and have plans to master the biblical languages so i just want to learn them properly)


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