I've just finished my first tour of this site. Wow! What a lot of work has gone into this site, and it's real quality.
I notice you discourage new students of Greek from trying to learn any of the reconstructed pronunciation systems. I was required to learn and practise the pronunciation system taught in WS Allen's _Vox Graeca: the Pronunciation of Classical Greek_ for two years. I've also found this system in use in a number of universities in continental Europe to which I've travelled. The notable exception for me is that I've discovered a surprising reticence amongst the British I've met even to attempt such a system. It seems not to be taught in many schools, even as an option.
First, we can agree that no certainty is possible about the ancient system of pronunciation. However, it appears that it has been possible to approximate, sometimes quite reasonably, aspects of pronunciation by examining such things as transliterations between ancient Greek and other languages, and by considering the underlying rules implied in Greek poetry, as well as by looking at the often tantalizing comments found in ancient grammarians. Although none of the resulting systems are anything like perfect, they seem to be respectable approximations.
So here's my question. Shouldn't we consider the advantages of a distinctive albeit only approximately accurate pronunciation system? In a list of such advantages I would include: the possibilities of communication with scholars who might have no other common language except ancient Greek, ease of learning when study is done not only with the eye and hand but with the ear, in a way that distinguishes the language studied, a reduction of confusion between ancient Greek and modern Greek, and an enhanced appreciation for the structure of the music of ancient Greek poetry when read aloud using such a system.
There probably are other advantages I should mention, such as the contribution made by successive approximations to future attempts to discover or refine pronunciation still more, but the four I list have each been true in my own experience, beginning almost from the beginning. I regard the hours spent in the language lab and in class, and on my own, as rewarding although gruelling at the time.
Over against this is the possible disadvantage that if a "real" system is ever uncovered and verified absolutely, a lot of people might need to relearn their pronunciation. But it seems less problematic to leave such an event to the future and deal with it only when it arises. Meanwhile it would be possible to enjoy an approximation now with what I perceive to be its advantages.
Having said all that, this is a topic I've wanted to hear discussed for some time, so I could hear other points of view than my own.
I hope this is not too long, too tedious, too ignorant or too unworthy to be the inaugural post of the community! Again, thank you George, for what promises to be an interesting and informative site.
A great post to be the first on these pages, and a great topic. Anyone who learns Greek should think of what you write. Precisely because a language is not a code but a living being, it is very important how it sounds.
What we can know about how they spoke is not limited only by possible differences such as those between an interpretation by Karajan and another one by Bruno Walter. This kind of differences is what exists between American and British English or between the English of Marlon Brando and the English of Mel Gibson, etc. In the case of Ancient Greek, one has first to compose and then to interpret - we should not expect a final, 'authentic', knowledge of how they actually spoke. But the very concept of searching for this, has a serious disadvantage, which has been also demonstrated in the relatively easier task of approaching the sounding of Baroque music. It is what we could call "museum knowledge". They assure us that this is how Bach played or listened to his music, yet the result is very poor - we don't like it, we don't want to play in a 'piano' like this and we are not sure at all that Bach liked it - even if this is indeed how it sounded then.
If we were talking about Latin, things would be different, because composition in the case of Latin is a necessity. So far as I know, there isn't any linguist who suggests that Modern Greek is different from Ancient Greek, at least to the degree that Latin is different from any living language today. In the case of Greek we have the living transformation of the same language in the course of centuries, so that trying to pronounce it as it sounded then, is trying to return to a stage that the language itself left behind! Without reference to you and understanding your genuine and sincere motives, I must say that the pronunciation problem makes me think of various people today (even some Greeks) who reach the point of worshipping Zeus and Apollo, making of Ancient Greece something like a Lost Paradise in which we should and can return, a Paradise which, however, Greece herself left - including (to what degree we don't know exactly) the Ancient pronunciation too - "the Ancient-before-the-Ancient"!, since this transformation to ways close to how Greek is spoken today, started already in the time of Plato, so that we could say that Modern Greek is not that Modern...
Therefore, we do listen to Greek today, we do know how it sounds - why should we create a laboratory-pronunciation and baptize it 'Authentic'? My suggestion of learning the Modern Greek pronunciation (at Elpenor's first lessson), above all means that Ancient Greek and the works that come from that time, are not to be studied and explored as rooms of an imaginary Museum. Priorities here, in my opinion, is the first thing one has to face and decide: do I want to study Sappho as if Sappho was a room in a museum, or, maybe, I do want to study my life, and studying my life to see also if Sappho has something to say and help me?
In any case, learning Greek is not a 'practical' thing, it will always involve a lot more difficulties than learning other languages - the long history and experience of the language, the variety of dialects in Ancient and 'more Ancient' Greek, the Hellenistic (New Testament) Greek, the Modern Greek, the immense vocabulary, a complex grammar and syntax (now, almost as then), accentuation, a huge literature - there are so many difficulties anyway, that avoidance of difficulty is what one should not have in mind, trying to think how to learn Greek. Learning Greek and entering to Difficulty are synonymous! If one is going to make such a step, the reason of the step is what matters most, and, in my opinion, this reason should be clear and this reason will also decide the method. 'Scientists' can explore all the ways, and the museums are useful - but useful to what and to whom? These are questions one should not avoid, and I recall Merleau-Ponty's remark, that "a museum makes us feel guilty, like thieves ... We darkly feel that there is some loss and that this reverence-of-a-spinster, this silence of a grave-town, this respect of Pygmies, is not the true environment of the art..." Not to the 'scientist', but to the person that starts to learn or continues to learn Greek for self-knowledge, I would suggest the solid ground of how Greek actually sound today. Am I wrong in these thoughts? This is something I would like to know with your help, because the matter, as we agree, is important.
I'm very glad that I've found Elpenor; the web site is unique and full of important texts, and the forum promises useful discussion. I'd like to ask if you have listened to records with music of Ancient Greece. Can we say that this was their music?
Maybe Paniagua was the first, so far as I know, who published a record with the claim of offering ancient Greek music. Two more recordings are by Chalaris and Tambouris. Paniagua's is an academic way. Chalaris (even by the instruments that he uses) gives a byzantine color, and Tambouris a more modern Greek color. I would recommend none of these. Paniagua is dry, boring and irrelevant, Chalaris lacks taste, Tambouris is almost academic, although in a different way. There is, finally, the interpretation of ancient Greek music by Lyravlos Ensemble. This is, in my opinion, the best compared with the others. You can read more at a blog post on Lyravlos, or at the Lyravlos official web site, where you can also listen to samples of ancient Greek music performed by Lyravlos.
The point is, that even an inspired and exciting interpretation, still it would be an inspired music, not 'ancient'. We can not know how they did exactly sang and played their instruments, the construction of which is itself problematic. According to the relevant research, it is very possible that modern popular music (demotika) echoes strongly ancient rythms. Yet it is still modern Greek: we can listen to it and somehow get an immediate perception of whatever ancient in them, yet, of course, we can not put the label of ancient music to modern demotika, nor extract from them what is ancient. It is demotika themselves what keeps a connection with ancient ways, not the 'filtrations' of demotika. Therefore, if you'd like to try, I would suggest some familiarity with demotika, of which there are fine recordings. My favourite are those by Domna Samiou. Lyravlos also uses demotika to approach ancient Greek music.
Although language has kept identical elements to a great and more certain degree than music, using modern Greek to read the ancient texts, does not mean that we (should think we) use and hear exactly the ancient pronunciation. It means first of all (first, as important) that we speak in a natural manner, the manner of a language living today in Greece and in Greek communities elsewhere, not in laboratories.
I'm in favor of such a solution, because this way students of Greek will be able to have contact with the language as is spoken today, by a people and not only by scholars, which, in my opinion, will let them develop a more warm relationship with the Greek language of any period.
Modern Greek has kept the majority of the ancient words identical, but it has not kept the same duration of the vowels with e.g. homeric epics, it has dropped the sound of daseia (rough spirit), - both of them important developments in pronunciation, together with the unification of diphthongs, and all made before Christ. In the Greek spoken at the time of Plato and before, differences increase, they are differences in dialects, (just as current differences - people in some islands speak differently from people in Athens, etc), and they cause developments to the pronunciation faster than the developments made after Christ, (which, however, are constant: e.g., some elements of modern Greek grammar are closer to Homer than to Plato!) One has the feeling that ancient Greek rushes towards the greatest possible unification, which is not irrelevant, in my opinion, with the start of the Greeks' unification in the war against Troy and the completion of this move under Alexander, when Greek came to be spoken or understood from Spain to India. External expansion may cause even more developments, but they are incorporated in the language and finally (this 'finally' has a long duration) decided by the people who are born in this language. Pronunciation changes as other elements, but is equally authentic in various epochs or places, on the condition that it is the pronunciation of a mother-language. Outside of a people who is being born in a language, a language is dead, even if we know exactly how it was spoken, when it was spoken by a people. We can think of it today, e.g. in English. When a Chinese speaks English we know that something is missing. This 'something' is authenticity and is created in our relationship with our mother and our family in the first years of our life. When an American and an Englishman speak English, we understand that both ways are equally authentic, despite of the fact that they differ or that we like more the one than the other. If we suppose a time when not a single baby listens to its mother speaking the first English words, as words which herself learned by her mother, the English language will be dead, even if the whole world learned English in an exact, perfectly described, pronunciation, - it would have become just a code of global communication. The same is valid in a wider sense. In Japan or Turkey today, scholars may study Homer, yet this is because the West studies Homer and they feel the need to have a close relationship with the West - it is not an internal need. The result is that, no matter how many scholars work on Homer in Turkey, Homer is an essential (living) part of the European culture, but has not become and can not become essential for the culture of Turkey.