I am teaching myself Greek, after having completed a systematic distance learning course based on the first 15 Lessons of Gresham Machen's "New Testament Greek: A Brief Introduction". I am somewhat confident in what I am doing, and yet, almost since I started studying, the problems related to pronounciation are almost as fresh now as they used to be at the beginning.
A good teacher of Greek told me some time ago that there are serious divisions among scholars in this respect and, supposing I could ever be present at an international conference on Ancient Greek, I would here people pronouncing Greek the "French" style, or "American", "Romanian"; "modern Greek", etc. Considering then the various theories of pronounciation (Erasmian, Reuchlinian, modern, etc), the whole picture is not so much of the nature to generate enthusiasm.
It would be convenient indeed to pronounce as the Greeks do today, but how to swallow the obvious fact that, for instance, ποιεῖς in Mark 11:28 is not the same thing as ποιῇς in the same verse (This might be difficult even for native English speakers, because I noticed they tend to pronounce a long "e" like "ei"). And there are plenty of examples in this respect. I have read somewhere that a poet in the classical period described the sound sheep produce using the wording βῆ, βῆ. If we were to recite that poem somewhere on a stage, by the modern standard, there could never be found an audience in the world to accept that the sheep's typical sound is something like "vih, vih". Sheep in general, worldwide, "say" something like "beh, beh" (even lambs...)
Greek pronounciation has evoluated - I understand this - but so has grammar; the development of any language is an integrated process and so, if we were to apply modern Greek pronounciation to the old texts, we should also revise the old texts and adapt them in all aspects to what modern Greek is today.
I suppose a good way would be to establish the set of sounds to be used in such a way as to be useful in distinguishing between gramatical forms which are distinct from one another by the letters they contain (for instance, η, ει, οι, ι, etc. should not be pronounced alike) and, at the same time, maintain the sounds of modern Greek if they do not generate any confusion (for instance, it is no need to pronounce the φ as comprising a distinctive "p" and a distinctive "h", but simply like "f". Etc.
Please give me some feedback on this matter; I would very much like to continue my studies with full confidence that I am doing it rightly.
This discussion of theories of pronouncing ancient Greek offers details on the subject, which you may find interesting. On my part, I'll try to make things as clear as can be, because, as you say, it is indeed important to have full confidence that you are studying rightly.
1 : There is not an ancient Greek pronunciation, even the ancients pronounced differently in various locations, times and forms of speech (everyday speech, performance speech, etc).
2 : Even if there was a single Greek pronunciation, we wouldn't know it today, but only approximately and with guesses and doubts (a fact that can not inspire "full confidence", as you realise).
3 : How to study Greek is to a great extent a matter of decision, and to decide, you need criteria.
4 : The first and crucial question would be, if you want to study a language that you decided it is a dead language - or, if you want to study the language of a people, which is alive today. If you want to study Greek as a living language, the only way is to use modern Greek pronunciation.
5 : If you will study Greek as if it were a dead language, then you have to decide by yourself how to do it; don't waste your time in searching for objective ways that do not and can not exist.
Thank you George for your insight. I have read your message as well as the related ones on the subject. Indeed, it is a matter of personal decision and, perhaps, this is one reason why it is not an easy matter for a beginning student to handle.
I would like to add some thoughts related to trends, development, modernisation of languages. To me, Ancient Greek is not a dead language, even if it were completely different from Modern Greek, or even though it is not used anywhere in the world for common everyday life communication. As long as there are people interested in it, it is not dead. I should also add that a so called "dead language" could not be made alive by simply adapting its pronounciation to the day. That there were changes in this respect in time, I think everyone agrees: even the argumentation of those who are strongly in favour of modern pronounciation contain statements in this respect. Yes, there were people who tried to resist changes (such as Plato, if I am not wrong) without success, but the fact stands that CHANGES DID OCCUR, which means that something different was there. To me, modernisation is not always a winning factor. Am I wrong when I say that, generally, languages have suffered simplification (or, maybe, am I allowed to invent a new word such as "simplistification" in order to better express my thought) in the process of modernisation?
A classic Romanian scholar described the Romanian language as being in fact the Latin language spoken in these territories since the Roman occupation. And yet, Romanians today need to study "another Latin" if they were to really understand the writings of the Latin classics. Romanian language has not suffered much modernisation in time: I can read, for instance, the Romanian Bible of 1688 quite easily, without any previous specific instruction. This language has maintained (perhaps much more that all other languages of Latin origins) the flexionary system of declention/conjugation, and this seems to be a sign of its archaicity. But I can understand by comparison how easier it is to understand Ancient Greek using the instruments of my language, than the instrument offered by other languages which have undergone more drastic modern evolution.
If I were to choose between trying μὲν to understand the ancient through the glasses of the modern man and adapting δὲ my mind to the pattern of the ancient, I would definitely opt for the latter. My "secret" plan is to learn Ancient Greek, starting, as I have, from New Testament Greek. By expanding my efforts then towards the Classics, then Homer, then to Modern Greek, I would be able - if I live long enough - to have some good knowledge of something which may be labelled "complete Greek".
P.S. My strongest concern is related to the so many gramatical forms in Ancient Greek which are distinct from one another by the different letters they contain. Has, for instance, Modent Greek maintained a similar gramatical structure as the Ancient? If this is the case, much of my reluctance to adopt modern pronounciation would disappear.
In ancient Greek λύω and in modern λύνω, a word encompasses subject (I solve), the action (of solving) and time (present). In modern Greek the ‘difference in letters’, as you describe it, tends to become difference in words. E.g. λύοις becomes ἂς λύνεις. In present perfect the ancients added a syllable in the start of the word to indicate the tense, while we add a word (λέ-λυκα , ἔχω λύσει). In other cases we add a syllable at the end of a word instead of the beginning (e.g. ancient: ἐ-λύθη, modern: λύθη-κε).
The grammatical structure is almost the same (with the crucial difference that the ancients didn’t have future of duration, a tense that exists in modern Greek), the words are almost the same, and the difficulty in learning the language is the same, especially when in modern Greek there are incorporated forms of all periods and a word can have various forms (e.g. it is equally correct to say γεννήσεως or γέννησης) and one selects what fits to his feeling of rhythm in the current sentence or text.
Yet, what I tried to say, is that, whether this or that difference exists or not, or we ‘like’ it or not, this is how language decided to go on, and to isolate a period would be equal to petrifying language.