Is Erasmian Pronunciation Ugly?

I recently wrote an essay in partial defense of Erasmian pronunciation that will be published in a book (no title yet) which offers essays in defense of different phonological systems for Koine Greek. All the papers were originally read at the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference held in San Francisco in November 2011. In my paper I laid out four basic arguments: historical, pragmatic, philological, and aesthetic. Yes, aesthetic. But rather than offer an argument at SBL, I played a tune which I am making available here. More on that in a moment.

I noted in my presentation that whenever I travel to Greece (which I do every year to photograph New Testament manuscripts with CSNTM) I leave Erasmus behind. I drop him like a bad habit once I board the plane and don’t renew my acquaintance with the Dutch humanist until I return to the States.

Regarding the aesthetic argument, Erasmian pronunciation is often considered cumbersome, unnatural, stilted, and ugly. The implication sometimes is that it must not have been the way Greek ever sounded; it is too harsh on the ears for that. Perhaps images of Jim Caviezel torturing our auditory senses with unnatural Aramaic in The Passion of the Christ come to mind. Or any scholar’s attempt to read Coptic gracefully! This argument fails to recognize that even though, to some degree, beauty may be in the ear of the listener, some languages actually do sound harsh. In order to maintain political correctness, I will not mention any, and simply let your own unbridled imagination run where it wishes. I do not think, however, that Erasmian Greek is among them. To be sure, our execution of the language may falter, but that does not mean that the sound of the language is ugly.

Along these lines, Friedrich Blass long ago offered this insightful comment:

“I am perfectly convinced, that, if an ancient Athenian were to rise from his grave and hear one of us speak Greek, on the basis of the best scientific enquiry and with the most delicate and practiced organs, he would think the pronunciation horribly barbarous.”

Blass went on to say, “But if he heard a modern Greek, he would not indeed be so loud in his censure, simply because he [would have] failed to observe that this is supposed to be his own language.”

Blass’s modesty aside, not everyone who enunciates Erasmian Greek butchers the language. For a demonstration of this, consider the Chalcedonian Creed sung with Erasmian pronunciation. The music and lyrics were produced by one of my first-year Greek students, Kit Bogan, who sang all four parts a capella. One of the students in the class, Trace Bailey, who had spent years as a disc jockey, exclaimed, “This may be the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard!”

It takes a few minutes to hear the whole thing. So, grab a cup of joe, plug in your 200-watt speakers to the computer, and enjoy the sound of pure worship.

Symbolon ten Chalkedonas, lyrics, music, and song by Kit Bogan.

Update: This is now on Youtube!


79 thoughts on “Is Erasmian Pronunciation Ugly?

  1. Ugly? Yes, it sounds ‘ugly’ & artificial IF you have been introduced to alternative pronunciation.

    I started with Erasmian pronunciation, but switched to “Modern Greek’ pronunciation after I bought Spiros Zhodiates’ Koine Greek New Testament on audio cassette. Many years later, when I listen to Marilyn Phemister’s narration of Greek NT that I downloaded or watch some NT Greek lessons taught by some American teachers on YouTube I do find the pronunciation ‘ugly.’ I’ve never been to Greece, but I heard that native Greek speakers would laugh at you if you use Erasmian pronunciation. Is that the reason why you leave Erasmus behind?

    According to A.T. Robertson,

    Erasmus is indirectly responsible for the current pronunciation of ancient Greek, for the Byzantine scholars pronounced ancient and modern alike. Jannaris quotes the story of Voss, a Dutch scholar (1577-1649), as to how Erasmus heard some learned Greeks pronounced Greek in a very different way from the Byzantine custom. Erasmus published a discussion between a lion and a bear entitled De Recta Latini Graecique semonis pronuntiatione, which made such an impression that those who accepted the ideas advanced in this book were called Erasmians and the rest Reuchlinians. As a matter of fact, however Engel has shown that Erasmus merely wrote a literary squib to “take off” the new non-Byzantine pronunciation, though he was taken seriously by many.

    Regarding Reuchlin, Robertson wrote:

    Roger Bacon, as Reuchlin two centuries later, adopted the Byzantine pronunciation. Reuchlin, who introduced Greek to the further West, studied in Italy and passed on the Byzantine pronunciation.

    One of the main causes of error in the transmission of the text of the New Testament is itacism. So in my opinion, ‘Modern Greek’ pronunciation is the pronunciation used by the ancient scribes, & the one should be taught today. Would itacism be abound in NT manuscripts if the scribes used Erasmian pronunciation?


  2. Wesley A Kring

    “Blass’s modesty aside, not everyone who enunciates Erasmian Greek butchers the language. For a demonstration of this, consider the Chalcedonian Creed sung with Erasmian pronunciation. The music and lyrics were produced by one of my first-year Greek students, Kit Bogan, who sang all four parts a capella.”

    Beautiful, indeed. The aesthetic argument, supported. Butchering is not a necessary consequence of Erasmus.

    However, perhaps the Chalcedonian Creed sung with pronunciation A, or pronunciation B, or X, Y, or Z would sound as beautiful? Or even more beautiful.

    And so, is the [beautiful] tune produced by Mr Bogan really a component of a [partial] defense of Erasmian pronunciation? (Granted, your fuller argument is the actual defense, this tune being a mere footnote the intent of which was not to vindicate the aesthetic argument.)

    Come to think of it, would he be willing and able to produce this tune based on other pronunciation systems? For the enjoyment of his listeners, as well as for comparison’s sake?


    1. Wesley, good to hear from you! I have no doubt that had Kit sung Chalcedon with a different pronunciation he could make it sound beautiful. But whether it would sound more beautiful is a different matter. Gleason Archer, professor of OT at TEDS for many years, and as multi-lingual as just about anyone on the planet, was once asked whether Erasmian or modern pronunciation sounded better. Instead of giving a discourse on the matter, he simply recited a passage out of Homer, using both pronunciations. Then he asked, “Which sounds better to you?” The answer was Erasmian.

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      1. Spyridon Ninos

        this is an old comment, but still I’d like to point out that your last argument left me wondering. If the same professor made the same test in front of a Greek audience, the answer would be the modern pronunciation. It is only natural, isn’t it? It depends on the sounds that the audience is used to listen to.


      2. Epicurios

        The erasmian pronounciation has been used twice for a racistic attack against the Greek nation. The first was during the Greek revolution in 1821, when some europeans refused to support the Greeks claiming that they are not genuine Greeks since they do not pronounce the Greek language like the ancient ones. The second is recent, just the last two years some antihellenic circles try to persuade people using both the erasmian pronounciation and the newest reconstruction theory, that we are not Greeks, and that we are Turks, and that the Modern Greek language is turkish. Erasmian pronounciation has been used twice to prove that we are not Greeks. I’m sorry but this is not science, but pure and vicious racism!!! Behind erasmian and reconstructed theory are political purposes and not scientific!


  3. Daniel, there are a lot more issues than you’ve touched on as to how to pronounce ancient Greek. The paper I delivered at SBL addresses these issues. Don’t rush to judgment before you’ve examined the data, rather than just quoting one or two secondary sources.

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  4. Marvis Camat

    Dan (if you would permit me to call you Dan), I am quite struggling on this topic since I am studying Greek language with a high loyalty on the Erasmian pronunciation. But on the back of my mind I am thinking that children “usually” adopt the pronunciation, especially of dipthongs, from their parents. One generation of Greek would not drop altogether the Erasmian (if in case that was the old Greek), I don’t know at what epoch of history did one Greek generation switched to what is called modern Greek way of pronunciation.

    I do find the Erasmian more ‘edible’ in basic study of Greek so I can imagine in my mind how to spell a word, while at the same time reprogramming my memory with a new set of writing Greek letters (which, add to even more stuggles, I have to familiarize myself with the Alexandrian text without spaces in between words). I have read some comments made by Greeks themselves that it is not good to pronounce Greek dipthongs differently, like we don’t say the word “brought” in English as “bro-ut”.

    My heart still goes to Erasmian though. I wish to hear your thoughts on what I thought about the switch of pronunciations between one generation to the next. Thanks.


    1. You’ll have to read my essay when it is published. But when you consider that we’re dealing with 2000 years of history between Koine and modern Greek, it’s not difficult to envision changes slowly taking place, from generation to generation. In fact, in Greece today things happen much more rapidly. Since 1981, the rough breathing and polytonic accenting went away. If that can happen virtually overnight–and it’s a couple of major changes–surely the several changes in phonetics over the centuries is not unimaginable.

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      1. Marvis Camat

        Thank you, that is comfort. I forgot that even similar languages, like English or Spanish, have different accents and might have had effect on their adaptation of the Greek language, and thus when it reached Desiderius Erasmus the Greek language had undergone many changes, only that in schools the original Koine was still thought, I guess. I shall wait on your essay, I don’t usually stick to my wild guesses, but only something to ponder about.

        “What is the geniune way of pronouncing the word ‘geniune’, is it ‘jen-win’ or ‘jin-wyn’? – as I speedily thought about it, I used to pronounce it the former way but then switched to the latter, I’m not sure what is archaic or how Brits and Americans pronounce it. I’ll look it up later. 🙂

        I do find studying Greek using the Erasmian method much easier, and if that’s how it was in the earliest centuries, then it brings me closer to the atmosphere of the ancient manuscripts. Regarding someone rising from the dead, I think the ancient Greek had already adapted the modern Greek, being updated with the recent Greek elects who had gone to heaven (just a humor). Thanks and many thanks!


      2. Spyridon Ninos

        Hi Daniel,
        of course changes take place in a language – but mentioning the 1981 language reformation is not an argument I would accept so easily. The ministry of education decided that – this does not mean that it is either correct or that it is adopted by all the greeks. Changing the polytonic to monotonic was done for politics, it is now easier for foreigners to learn the language – but there are a lot of Greeks that still use the polytonic (including me) whenever they can. Also, there is an amazing amount of greeks that in the afternoons go in private schools and are taught how to write and read using polytonic and breathing. So, clearly, polytonic has not gone away.

        Anyway, I would not put in the same level the slow changes that take place in a language due to e.g. occupation from the Turks for ~400 years, and the decision taken from a ministry for reasons that are subject to interpretation. Pronunciation cannot be changed so easily as we may want to believe.

        On the other hand, I do find rational the fact that many people use the Erasmian pronunciation to learn the ancient greek. It is more close to the pronunciation of their own language – keep in mind that since the greeks don’t use the latin alphabet, nor they pronounce the language anyway near the Erasmian pronunciation, they consider normal that the natural pronunciation is the modern one.


      3. Epicurios

        I’m sorry but you are totaly wrong about Greek polytonic. That fact that the government decided in one night to sent away the polytonic from Greek language, doesn’t prove that the same thing happened with the pronounciation. Also, I would like to inform you that in my country Greece, we are a lot of Greek people, who still write in polytonic, books are published with polytonic, and there is a citizens’ movement that tries to push the government to bring the polytonic back to schools. So your suggestion is not scientific or logic. The fact that we were forsed to abandone the polytonic in a very anti democratic way, doesn’t scientifically prove the quick switch of pronounciations between one generation to the next. One last comment, is that two years now the erasmian pronounciation and the newest theory of reconstruction of ancient greek pronounciation, is being used by some antihellenic cirlces in order to persuade people that Modern Greek language has nothing to do with the anicent one, and that is turkish. Also They claim that we are not Greeks at all, since our pronounciation has nothing to do with the ancient one. That proves that Erasmian or reconstructed theory is not a scientific matter but a racistic matter. After all is based on an hypothesis and misinterpretation of some ancient texts, and not in serious proofs. When a theory is used for a racistic attack to a nation, is not scientific and not serious.


  5. Paul Collander

    Dr. Wallace,

    I’m attempting a self-study of Biblical Greek and I can see how the Erasmian pronunciation aids learning. However, I am concerned that once I get that pronunciation stuck in my head, I won’t be able to switch to a modern Greek pronunciation if I want to later on. I’d be willing to sweat out the more difficult approach of learning Modern Greek pronunciation now if it will save me more headaches later on.

    In general, do your students find it easier to start Modern and go Erasmian or vice versa?


    1. My students only learn Erasmian because that is what is spoken in the academy. But when I learned modern, I found it took very little time to convert. However, I have now had two students who learned modern Greek first and they had a very hard time learning Erasmian.

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  8. ds

    Two direct admissions by classical Greeks that they did not speak erasmian:

    1)Λοιμός (disease) + Λιμός (hunger). There was an old saying that Athens is going to suffer from Limos. However the citizens of Athens did not know if the prophecy spoke about Λοιμός/disease or Λιμός/hunger because “οι” and “ι” sounded exactly the same. Λιμός + Λοιμός are modern Greek words too. They sound exactly the same. (Thoukididis Β, 54).

    2)Καινά (news) + κενά (empty or lack) . There was an old saying (like the previous one, was not written) speaking about kena of war. But the people did not know if the prophecy spoke about Καινά (new developments concerning the war) or κενά (lack of preparations). Why is that? Because “ε” + “αι” sounded alike.

    Erasmian pronunciation is a huge fallacy. I have read Erasmus, Allen and all the erasmian shit. No evidence at all. They constantly speak about Latin, indo European language etc etc, ignoring passages like the two above that do not fit with their theory.

    There are countless other arguments against erasmian pronunciation. Like the spelling mistakes of the classical Greeks. The less educated for instance, confused ι , ει, η and οι, as they all sounded alike (the name Aristides have been found written Αριστείδης, Αριστίδης, Αριστήδης on banishing shells).


    1. Thucydides never said that there was confusion due to the pronunciation but rather they were just not sure what word the oracle said. Did you not ever play the game where you say a sentence in the ear of one person and then see how it changes by the time it gets to the tenth person?

      Also ει η ι did not sound the same during the Classical age and before. How do we know? See for yourself:

      Or do you have an explanation as to why in the early Classical period you see spelling of words such as ΗΙΠΠΟΚΡΑΤΟΣ instead of ΙΠΠΟΚΡΑΤΟΣ? Eta was originally a consonant instead of a vowel and was replaced by the rough breathing accent. Also, even today the historic pronunciation of eta is seen in Pontic Greek where they have replaced eta entirely by epsilon so ΜΗΤΗΡ is ΜΕΤΕΡ indicating that eta was not pronounced as “i”

      What you think is authentic pronunciation of Greek is actually heavily influenced by the Romans after the Hellenistic Age. For example, they confused υ with the Latin v which where ev and av developed from au and eu.

      I suggest you buy a book on the history of the Greek language, you do this great language a disservice by not realizing it’s diversity in pronunciation over time. For example have you ever heard of Old Attic Greek spoken in the late Ottoman era and early days of the Kingdom of Greece? In this dialect, OI was pronounced as ou!


    2. Limos and loimos sounded rather alike (though not wholly) in rapid speech because shortened unaccented oi (classically pronounced as the diphthong ÖI) tends towards some kind of lax monophthong ü and unaccented shortened i before m also naturally tends towards the same kind of lax ü because of the closure of the lips induced by next m. Both Latin and Greek made that confusion when it came to short i or u before m’s, to the point that emperor Claudius got the idea to introduce in his own language a supplementary letter (the slashed i) for the middle sound of short i before m and shortened latin u (or full pointed French-like upsilon, which Claudius would retain only for the long upsilon imported from Greek). Moreover the Delphic oracle was known to speak in a very obfuscating way, mingling as many shades of sound and meaning as possible so as for never to be taken wrong. In ancient Greek, only the accented syllable was pronounced with full vowel distinctions in normal prose (like what happens in Russian) : only poetry pronounced all unaccented syllables fully, as if they were all bearing a grave accent. In other syllables long vowels and diphthongs ending with i were reduced to the nearest short vowel : oi was reduced to short lax upsilon and both eta and ei to short lax iota.

      Kaina in classical times didn’t rhyme with China but rather Cana : the “ai” with short alpha wasn’t a full diphthong as with a long alpha but a mere glide on the e sound, that rule about two vowel combinations is very well described among others by Dinoysius of Halicarnassus : when the first vowel is a short one, one starts pronouncing it not with the full first one but with a mixture of both (krasis) ending with the last. Therefore here not a-ï but e-ï, and it was also customary for the final ï of most diphthongs in ï to be dropped for more elegance.

      Nevertheless, despite the remarks I make, you are quite right though not 100% : Greek prononciation has changed since antiquity but not so much, it could still be understandable nowadays and even found most elegant by modern Greeks. The main sound that has disappeared to merge into iota is the upsilon, which was not exactly German ü or French u but a slenderer similarly-sounding compressed vowel tantamount to a iota pronounced with closer lips and nothing more, to the point modern Greeks would first fail to notice its presence. The eta in Athens was pronounced like a hard Russian i (or two short lax iotas as in “will” joined one after another rather than a long tight one as in machine), a sound non-Slavic people don’t bother to distinguish from an ordinary i. Epsilon was a short open e before syllable-ending consonants, and ai was a long open e with an optional slight iota glide as most english ay’s are pronounced. Theta was practically the same as now, except that is was uttered with a little more force. Delta was exactly like now in modern Greek. Phi was a little different as it was pronounced as some Spaniards pronounce their f, with both lips rather than lip and upper teeth. Beta was likewise a v but with both lips as most regularly in Spanish.


  9. Greek Student

    I really enjoy listening to recordings of the Greek NT made with the modern pronunciation.

    As soon as I abandoned the Erasmian pronunciation and switch to modern Greek pronunciation, I started to internalize the language and develop an innate sense of the language. In other words, I was learning the language as I would any other spoken language. Years later, I am now to the point where I just “feel” what the meaning of the text is, without even having to parse the forms.

    I attribute this improvement to abandoning the Erasmian language, which I consider stilted and artificial. I still do not understand why students of Greek would learn a pronunciation which we know for a fact was never used.


      1. Greek Student

        The Erasmian pronunciation, as we learn it today, cannot have been used by ancient Greeks by virtue of the fact that how we pronounce it is so heavily dependent on our own native tongues (in my case, American English). Ancient Greeks did not have a Western Germanic language as their native tongue like we do and as Erasmus had.

        The problem is that, within a fixed pronunciation system like Erasmian, there are multiple versions of the ‘truth’. My first Greek text book was the excellent “Elements of new Testament Greek” by H.P.V. Nunn (later improved by J. Wenham and J. Duff). In the pronunciation key in the first pages, we learn that omicron is to be pronounced as “o” as in “not.” The question is, whose version of “not”? We know that Nunn pronounced “not” differently in England in 1914 than we do today in America. My American seminary friends all pronounce “o logos” like “hah lahgahs.” Can that really be right? British English students will probably pronounce it with a short “o” sound, which sounds marginally better. Modern Greeks pronounce omicron and omega the same.

        Ancient Greek pronunciation differed from city to city just as it still does today. In my mind, there’s no question that the way Greek was read in Antioch was pronounced differently than the same letter recited by a native Corinthian. As a brief aside– where I live, in rural Swabia in Germany, the way people pronounce the mostly unwritten Swabian language varies distinctly from village to village. Where my wife comes from, they say “I hau” for high German “Ich habe” (I have). Literally just five kilometers away, people say “I han” for the same thing. Many of my Swabian friends can identify the village where others come from by the way they pronounce certain words.

        I am thus very suspicious when people maintain that certain pronunciations are correct, and should be used. Was Koine eta (η) pronounced like “ee” or “ay”? Probably both, depending on where and when one lived! Was “oi” pronounced “oy”, or “ü” or “ee”? Probably all three ways.

        My desire is to use a use a “plausible” pronunciation. I feel that the Erasmian pronunciation constitutes little more than an educated guess by someone far removed from Greece, and cannot be considered a plausible candidate for the way ancient Greeks spoke. I happily exchanged it for something that at least has the backing and usage of millions of modern Greek speakers, and I hope others do too.

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      2. Benjo Gallardo

        In my opinion (I cannot back this up with evidence), modern Greek is close to ancient Greek, in the way Tyndale retranslated the English of Wycliffe for his era, though much in spelling but not in pronunciation.  If the Greeks, or non-Greeks who learned the Greek scriptures, made the attempt to transfer the Greek scriptures to non-Greek speaking communities, then in order for them (the nons) to comprehend what was being said in Greek, they had to pronounce it in ‘Erasmian’ way (Erasmus would yet be born later).  And I think that after learning the Greek alphabet as well as the grammar and become proficient to both, the students were had been then encouraged to shift to the real Greek pronunciation, which is a tedious transition but that’s how they were going to say things when going to a greek market to buy something.  Erasmus taught Greek somewhere in Europe and produced the ‘received text’, but I think he never said to his students that the ‘erasmian’ pronunciation was the pronunciation of his predecessors.  I wish to add too, that what information was being passed on to us is that the byzantine greek style of writing is not the original but those of the Alexandrian text type, but in pronunciation, modern or old may just be the same, for all the greek speaking people scattered throughout the world in one epoch of history could not had come to agreement that ‘from now on let us pronounce oi not as oy but as ii.’  I’m not sure if my imaginations are correct or close to reality, but that is not absolutely the case, just a probability.  Personally, I still adhere to erasmian pronunciation, I just don’t know why, but I seem to like it than modern greek pronunciation, but at the back of my mind I think it’s plausible that modern greek is the same as old, but then maybe, perhaps a little bit, ‘…the old is better’.


      3. Benjo Gallardo

        Hi, Dan!  I wish to comment on a video of you on youtube which is The Basics of New Testament Criticism regarding the supposed omission of ‘Jesus’ in Barabbas’ name.  My take on Origen’s comment is that the older copies of his time did not contain the name Jesus in Barabbas.  It seems like he augmented it with the idea that it was not even proper for the one who did insert the name Jesus with Barabbas who seemed to suppose that Pilate wanted to distinguish between the two Jesuses which to be released.  My personal opinions are that : 1.  Pilate could not call Jesus as Christ but as ‘the one called Christ’ because calling him Christ was conclusive, 2.  Jesus was under trial on the grounds of blasphemy and proclaiming to be Messiah, 3.  That PIlate was a little bit convinced that Jesus was on the side of truth and that he I think appealed to the people to reconsider Jesus who might just be the Messiah and not push his crucifixion, and this I think is supported with Pilate placing a label on the cross with Jesus being the king of the Jews.  I wish that in terms of ‘internal evidence’ in textual criticism these ideas might be considered.  Would you please enlighten me on this?  Thank you and more blessings!


  10. I think calling Erasmian pronunciation little more than an educated guess is damning it with faint praise. I too thought the way you do until I looked at the various criteria one can use to determine how the ancient language was pronounced. Erasmus did an enormous amount of work on this, standing on the shoulders of previous giants.

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    1. Epicurios

      The erasmian pronounciation has been used twice for a racistic attack against the Greek nation. The first was during the Greek revolution in 1821, when some europeans refused to support the Greeks claiming that they are not genuine Greeks since they do not pronounce the Greek language like the ancient ones. The second is recent, just the last two years some antihellenic circles try to persuade people using both the erasmian pronounciation and the newest reconstruction theory, that we are not Greeks, and that we are Turks, and that the Modern Greek language is turkish. Erasmian pronounciation has been used twice to prove that we are not Greeks. I’m sorry but this is not science, but pure and vicious racism!!! Behind erasmian and reconstructed theory are political purposes and not scientific!


    2. Iotacist

      Hello Dr. Wallace,

      Although I am a supporter of reconstructed systems, I did do some thinking back to the usual arguments for academic Erasmian that there is no concrete way to know how ancient languages were pronounced; I remember my first (and so far only formal) Greek teacher and some of my classmates defending Erasmian for this reason.

      So I designed my own revised version of Erasmian for general learners, who only want to read Greek and don’t have any interest in (or will be confused by) the linguistic field. Students would be told that this is an artificial learner’s pronunciation, and that if they choose to they may use reconstructions or the Modern Greek system. My practical learner’s “keep-it-simple” pronunciation preserves the consonantal system of Erasmian. π, τ, κ are /p(ʰ), t(ʰ), k(ʰ)/ and φ, θ, χ as /f, θ, x/ (if the last sound is too hard for English speakers, they can also pronounce it as /h/ or /k(ʰ)/); I reckon that since in English we aspirate “p”, “t”, “k” it’ll be too difficult for most Anglophones to distinguish unaspirated /p, t, k/ from aspirated /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/. Also, keeping plosive values for β, δ, γ allows students to recognize the Greek roots in English words like “Bible” (which mayn’t be as obvious if βίβλoς were pronounced [‘vivlos].) Z may be prounounced /dz/, /zd/ or /z/. As for the vowels, I would do away with the common pronunciation of o as /ɑ/ “aw” (which I neither understand nor find pleasing to the ear) and just merge it with ω, both pronouncing /o/ as in “note”; students opting for this system may be told that in Classical Greek they pronounced with different quantities. I would do away with vowel length distinctions and the Classical pitch accent since 1) they are probably difficult for English speakers and 2) there is no sense using them for reading Koine Greek, i.e. the NT, since even linguistics believes these were lost by that time. However, for reading Classical Greek, I might compromise with Allen’s and others’ reconstructions by swapping the vowel heights of ε and η from Erasmian from /ε, e/ to /e, ε/ (“late”, “let”). How does this seem?


  11. Ioanna

    As a native Greek I can’t help but feel a bit offended that Modern Greek pronunciation is deemed ‘less than’ by the majority of the academic community. Doubtless, it is removed from the way Ancient Greek would sound like in 500 BC, yet it is the natural descendant of the ancient language, I dare say it is the same language, that has just evolved naturally with the times. I don’t understand why we need a constructed (or re-constructed) pronunciation in the first place. No matter how much effort goes into this and how much one wishes for it to be as correct as possible it will never be. We will never know how the Ancient Greeks spoke the language unless we manage to achieve time travel. And even then i dare say a Modern Greek would have a fair chance being understood or at least understand an hypothetical Ancient Greek fisherman selling his produce in the market.

    Why do we need a re-constructed Ancient Greek pronunciation, when Shakespeare sounds perfectly fine to us, in Modern English, and even American English. I doubt Shakespeare sounded anything like a Texan cowboy but there you have it.

    Have a look at other attempts to re-construct the correct pronunciation of a language such as Finnish and you’ll see it is extremelly difficult to get this right even when we’re talking about modern languages.

    I appreciate a number of scholars have put a lot of effort into ‘perfecting’ the Ancient Greek pronunciation as they see fit, drawing from ancient sources and inscriptions and it is usually a commendable work. But it is also as far removed from reality as anything.

    I could go on but this will turn into an essay. I hope you realise this is not just another ‘hurt’ Greek speaking here, but somebody who’s deeply interested in the Ancient Greek language and culture.



    1. Ioanna, no one is deeming modern Greek as less than…..that academic world is simply trying to preserve the voice of our ancient ancestors. If we give up trying to piece together how they pronounced Greek and just use modern Greek then we loose a big part of their spirit. I use to be a staunch opponent of ancient Greek pronunciation until I looked at the evidence for myself such as seeing pottery with ΗΙΠΠΟΚΡΑΤΟΣ instead of ΙΠΠΟΚΡΑΤΟΣ or how Pontic Greek replaces H with E (eg METER instead of MHTHP) or how Tsakonian Greek uses ξούλο instead of ξύλο preserving the ou sound of upsilon and many more examples in modern dialects today! There is also a dialect spoken during the Ottoman Empire called old Attic that pronounced OI as OU!

      So rather than being offended, we as native Greeks should embrace the great diversity of the Greek language because that is exactly what our ancestor would have.


      1. marvis camat

        I noticed in the Codex Sinaiticus that a ‘spellchecker’ corrected some words that ended in epsilon with AI, which I think sounded the same as in modern greek, and that the writer was writing upon dictation and writing with little comprehension, because a word may end in epsilon if its a verb and in AI as nouns in plural form. If this is called ‘internal evidence’ then this leads me to think that modern greek sounded like the early century greek at the time of codex sinaiticus writing.


      2. @marvis camat the Σιναϊτικός Κώδικας or Codex Sinaiticus was written aroun 330 – 360 ACE which is not early first century. Koine Greek came into existence around 300 BCE and lasted up to around 300 ACE so what you’re talking about during an era when ancient dialects are no longer used and the beginnings of Byzantine Greek which is basically modern Greek in terms of pronunciation. Keep in mind that the Byzantine scholars never forgot ancient pronunciation which is how it was introduced into Western Europe after the fall of Constantinople.


      3. marvis camat

        Let me show an illustration of the incompetency of the scribe of codex sinaiticus: 1. The verse is Matthew 23:29 – The scribe wrote ‘dikEwn’ instead of ‘dikAIwn’ – here is where E and AI sounded the same, much like in modern greek and not as erasmian where AI is pronounced ‘ay’. 2. The next verse, v30, where this time he wrote ‘legetai’ instead of ‘legete’, which both sound the same in modern greek. ‘legetai’ is incorrect, and is not even in perfect middle indicative either singular nor plural. My point is that this alexandrian scribe confused his spellings with epsilon and AI. Both sounded the same to him. If he had known the erasmian way of reading, he would not had confused writing ‘e’ or ‘ai’ because the ‘e’ sounded like ‘egg’ and the other ‘ai’ as ‘ay’ as in eye.

        The vaticanus scribe got the spellings correct in mat 23:29-30. codex ephraimi also got it the same with ‘dikaiwn’ and ‘legete’. codex washingtonianus got ‘legetai’ instead of ‘legete’. So even the scribe of washingtonianus was confused with the sound of ‘e’ and ‘ai’. Now consider the age gap between sinaiticus and washingtonianus, seems like both scribes wrote under dictation and were not having much comprehension of the spellings of what they wrote, they must simply had known how to write greek with not that much knowledge on grammar. In english, if someone is writing ‘brought’ or ‘broth’ you can only tell he heard it wrong through the grammar of his writing. And I believe that ‘erasmian’ is simply the way to teach how to distinguish one word from another by differentiating the sounds of those letters and diphthongs that sound the same.


    2. themaelstromscup

      Shakespeare, indeed, does sound “fine” to us in modern English (American or British), but it’s far from accurate. Many of his words both gain and lose syllables, altering the meter, and many of the rhymes no longer work. Think “love(d)” rhymed with “prove(d)” in multiple sonnets. We also miss out on a number of puns, such as in As You Like It when Jacques talks about going from “hour to hour”. At the time “hour” was pronounced the same as “whore.”

      I wasn’t offended when I was taught how to pronounce Chaucer’s English. I don’t understand why modern Greek speakers are emotionally invested in this issue.


      1. Epicurios

        The Greeks are emotionally invested in this issue because of the following: The erasmian pronounciation has been used twice for a racistic attack against the Greek nation. The first was during the Greek revolution in 1821, when some europeans refused to support the Greeks claiming that they are not genuine Greeks since they do not pronounce the Greek language like the ancient ones. The second is recent, just the last two years some antihellenic circles try to persuade people using both the erasmian pronounciation and the newest reconstruction theory, that we are not Greeks, and that we are Turks, and that the Modern Greek language is turkish. Erasmian pronounciation has been used twice to prove that we are not Greeks. I’m sorry but this is not science, but pure and vicious racism!!! Behind erasmian and reconstructed theory are political purposes and not scientific!

        If someone would use a theory of your language in order to prove that you are not English but e.g. German, and that Germany has the right to occupy your country, how would you react? would you take the linguistic theory as something scientific or as something racistic and political vicious attack against your nation and country?


  12. 1. We all know the codex has lots of errors, just look at the Lord’s Prayer (basilia vs basileia) AND we know it’s because of the change of pronunciation.

    2. Erasmian is not simply a way to distinguish between spellings when in fact Byzantine scholars were said to have used it to teach Attic Greek and brought the knowledge with them to Western Europe after the Fall of Constantinople. As far as I am aware of, the errors in the Codex are not seen very often in ancient manuscripts indicating that during the Classical Age and before, Greek was pronounced differently. We do know that Mycenaean Greek which used iconographs instead of an alphabet pronounced Greek differently with sounds that don’t exist anymore such as the digamma.


    1. marvis camat

      I think I once asked Daniel Wallace as to which epoch in history did the Greeks changed their pronunciations from ‘erasmian’ into modern? Thank you for mentioning the Mycenaean Greek which I think was represented by the epoch of Alexander the Great which were centuries before Christ. But based on the evidence I presented, it seems to me that the apostolic church were already using the modern greek pronunciation. AI and E sounded the same but not in ‘erasmian’. I’ll try to research again the book that contains the 3rd census, the one that followed the 2nd census recorded in Luke, the 3rd happened 14 years later after the 2nd, to see any occurence where verb forms ended in AI instead of E in the Present Active Indicative. The chief argument of all these, was whether the apostolic church pronounced their scriptures using the ‘erasmian’ or modern greek way of pronunciation. thank you.


      1. marvis camat

        i am now content to know that apostolic church must have pronounced their ellinika the modern way. without much comprehension or spelling accuracy, the scribes of sinaiticus and washingtonianus mispelled some of those that end with AI with E and vice versa. Some scholars believe that reading the manuscripts the ‘erasmian’ way give them the ambience of reading the way people read from the early church. It is almost the same case with the tetragrammaton, which some believe is pronounced as yahweh while others believe it is to be pronounced as jehovah as is written in the masoretic text such as the aleppo codex. The scribes translated into written form how they pronounced it, though I’m not confirming that they pronounced the name right, but it’s the relation of transference from vocal to writing that is to be looked at here. Some records say that jehovah was an invention sometime in 1400s but the discovery of the aleppo codex tells otherwise.


  13. I’m planning to start a “Greek club” or “1st year Greek class” at my church this fall, and all of these comments have been helpful to me. Thanks to Dr. Wallace and everyone who has commented, because now I feel comfortable in saying to the students that NO ONE knows how the early Christians pronounced their language, and that we are going to pronounce it MY way! : )

    I studied under the late Glen Riddle, whose koine Greek had a pronounced (!) Texan accent. Nevertheless, the beauty of the language and the text came through loud and clear in every class he taught. It would pay us to remember that Greek was, for many early Christians, a second language, as it was for Glen. It was almost certainly pronounced in a variety of ways, as some have commented above. What’s important for us is (1) the message, and (2) encouraging modern students to learn the language by giving them consistently pronounced words in teaching.

    Again, thanks.


  14. palaeophiliac amateur

    The reason Erasmian can seem ugly is that it is usually spoken very imperfectly with a heavy foreign accent by people who don’t really care about the pronunciation at all. Personally, I think Classical Attic as well ‘ideal’ Erasmian (basically Attic, but with Koine-like spirantisation) is a thousand times more aesthetically appealing and melodious than Modern Greek – the plenitude of diphthongs and long vowels, the rounded front ypsilon, the musical pitch accent all make it sound mellifluent, poetic, soft and fragrant, somewhat like Tolkien’s Elvish. In comparison, I find the staccato sound of modern Greek more harsh, pragmatic, simple and earthy, a bit like Spanish and like my own native tongue. The only thing I find more beautiful in modern Greek than in Classical is the spirantisation of the voiceless aspirated ph, th, ch.

    The reason Erasmian has been dominant is that traditionally, the priority was Classical Attic and not 1st century Koine; Aristotle and Pericles, not Jesus and Paul. For humanist scholars, Greek was above all the language of 5th and 4th century Athens and its contemporaries, just like the classical form of Greek culture was that of Athenian democracy, with its philosophy. It was the same for the Greeks themselves – apart from the venerable but highly deviant Iliad, the culture of the Athenian golden age and its immediate aftermath was the golden standard and all those coming afterwards were epigones; so it was natural that the ancient Greeks themselves chose to preserve incredibly faithfully the written form that corresponded to that time in terms of pronunciation as well as, mostly, of other features, even though their actual pronunciation was rapidly changing. In every respect Greek spelling retained the classical distinctions that were being lost – distinct vowel phonemes, length, pitch accent, aspiration. The ancient Greeks themselves didn’t choose to treat late Koine as a language and standard of its own, so it is hardly imperative that one should bother to pronounce it differently from the Greek of Aristophanes and Plato. On the other hand, students who, due to their interest in religion, are interested above all in ‘the language of Jesus/Paul’, not to mention the language of the Greek Orthodox tradition, have completely different priorities. Ultimately, the question is – do we treat the language of the New Testament as some kind of a standard of its own or just as a late form of the language of Homer and Socrates, the way its own users mostly did? I am not surprised that many New Testament scholars and devout Christians choose the former.

    From a practical point of view, of course, a reason to stick to 5th century Attic is that, as with Hebrew, a huge amount of sound alternations make phonetic sense only with the Classical pronunciation and are completely arbitrary with modern Greek one, or late Koine one, where they are preserved in a ‘frozen’, opaque form. It is natural that when we add the augment e- to akoúō and /e/ and /a/ merge, the result should be ḗkousa with a lengthened /e:/; it is just weird that it should be /i/ (/ikusa/). The fact that the combination of pi and spiritus asper in ep(i)- and -hēmérā produces ephēméros makes sense only if we pronounce spiritus asper as a /h/ and the resulting phi as an aspirated plosive /ph/; it’s just a random oddity if we don’t pronounce the spiritus asper at all and pronounce phi as a /f/, giving efimeros. The fact that different spellings correspond to different pronunciations, as they originally did, has already been mentioned frequently. And so on, and so on.


    1. I disagree with you in that Nea Ellinika (Modern Greek) sounds more softer than Erasmian and flows better. For example, “v” is much more pleasant than “b” for beta, so is “f” instead of “p -h” and “th” instead of “t-h” or “z” instead of “dz” etc. Take for example the epitaph of Seikilos (I know it was in Koine), the modern “Oson zis faenou..” sounds much more musical and pleasant than compared to the cacophony of Erasmaian “Hoson dzeis p-hainou….”.


      1. rexorum

        Well by the time of Saul or Paul, it was most likely pronounced as Pavlos since the vowels had for the most part evolved to what is now considered modern pronunciation. However, if we went back a few centuries to the Hellenistic Era it would still be pronounced as a true diphthong like Paulos. Apparently there are still Greeks in Greece who still pronounce AY as a diphthong.


  15. maximus

    “Apparently there are still Greeks in Greece who still pronounce AY as a diphthong.”

    In the world of science, the word “apparently” is the twin brother of “It suits my case, so I mention it just to make an argument”. Although, science nowadays is the heavily protected child of politics, we should still try to find out the truth, not to construct one.

    Erasmus did something admirable: he asked himself why there are so many letter combinations that sound the same? Could this mean that in the ancient times they were pronounced differently? A great question indeed.

    But, a scientific approach to solving such a difficult problem should be dogmatic just because we were taught so in our schools. It needs multi-disciplinary knowledge and talent – it’s not that you can read a book about what others say and there you go, you’ve solved the problem! I had musicians understand better the ancient greek language than linguists with PhDs, exactly because the “PhD”d could not understand how things can be explained in ways that they have not been taught at the university. I also find a lot of scholars supporting the Erasmian pronunciation because it fits perfectly with the allegation that today’s greeks have nothing to do with the ancient greeks; so why would the language, the pronunciation or anything at all be the same? But I digress.

    I still haven’t figured out why the hell the greek language has so many letter combinations that sound the same, and what hurts me the most is that probably I will never find out why. But that does not mean that I will simply accept Erasmus’ explanation just because there is no better alternative! Erasmus theory has many gaps and, as scientists, we should NOT be dogmatic about it’s validity.

    One thing that scholars and others tend to forget, is that the greek language was prosodic (it sounded like a melody, sort of). This is a very important detail that renders many of Erasmus’ suggestions invalid.

    Lest I become more boring than I already am, let’s see how this Paulos (πά-ουλος) pronunciation would sound when you partially conjugate the word:

    πα-ου-λ-ό-ου (paulou – παύλου) (the tone goes to the penultimate according to the rules of the language).

    This breaks the rhythm. And as you may know, the greek language at some point in the past did not have spaces among the different words because a space *would break the rhythm* of the language.

    So just take some lines from Homer’s works and see how the rhythm is kept, using the modern pronunciation. Now transform it to an Erasmian pronunciation, and see how the rhythm is broken. Each line becomes an asymmetric/different group of sounds that cannot keep the rhythm steady.

    Of course, this by no means is a proof that Erasmian pronunciation is wrong, but it gives you a good heads up about it’s validity.

    Still, Erasmus did something marvellous; he questioned something that for centuries people took for granted. If not everything else, he applied what most “scientists” today don’t:

    “νάμφε και μέμνασω απιστείν” (stay sober and remember to question).

    (I’m tempted to say “όπερ έδει δείξε” but I’ll just become a trol then 🙂 ).



    1. rexorum

      πα-ου-λ-ό-ου (paulou – παύλου) (the tone goes to the penultimate according to the rules of the language).

      Actually you’re wrong, with AY as a diphthong the accent would not move in the genitive bc it is a diphthong, two sounds combined as one. You would only move the accent in the genitive if there was a diaeresis to separate the diphthongs. You can go on and on about the definition of ‘apparently’ but doesn’t change the fact that there are Greeks who still pronounce AY as diphthong. Also it’s not that hard to figure out why there are so many vowels, archaic and classical Greek had a richness and diversity of vowels.


      1. maximus

        Maybe there is a communication gap here. The term diphthong applied to AY means it should be pronounced as AV or AF, not AU. E.g.:

        egg: αυγό, pronounced avgo, not augo (α-ου-γό)
        he: αυτός, pronounced aftos, not autos (α-ου-τός)
        trauma: τραύμα, pronounced travma, not trauma (τρά-ου-μα/τρα-ού-μα)
        Pausanias: Παυσανίας, pronounced pafssanias, not paussanias (πα-ου-σανίας)
        pause: παύση, pronounced pafssee, not paussee (πά-ου-ση/πα-ού-ση)
        responsible: υπεύθυνος, pronounced hypeftheenos, not upeuthunos (ου-πε-ου-θ-ου-νος, I have trouble putting the tone here)
        eureka: εύρηκα, pronounced evreeka, not eureka (ε-ου-ρηκα)

        and so on.

        I see that you mentioned the term “true diphthong” in a previous comment. You cannot base this conversation using rules and theories stemmed from Erasmus or the hindo-european theory (which form the basis of contemporary linguistics). Because those are just theories and their validity is what we doubt now. It is like saying that “Erasmus is right because he verifies the theory of Erasmus”.

        If I interpret your sentence: “two sounds combined in one” to refer to a sound equivalent to the french “eux”, then we disagree on the terminology and our discussion cannot lead us anywhere.

        If not, then A-U is not a diphthong, but two phthongs, which of course follow the rule of the tone movement to the penultimate. So, my hypothesis stands.

        As for the definition of “apparently”, you may reject my rant but this does not mean that I am wrong. “the fact that there are Greeks who still pronounce AY as diphthong”, is valid under circumstances: if you suggest that AY is pronounced as a AV or AF then yes, this is the pronunciation used by all the greeks. If you suggest that AY is pronounced like A-U then you are wrong because this pronunciation is not used in the greek language. So until you clarify which greeks you refer to, your argument is only your personal opinion and does not stand.

        AY in modern pronunciation is prosodic and sounds like AV or AF depending on the letter that follows. All about making the sound more melodic. Which is not explained by Erasmus’ theory.

        And a last comment: “Also it’s not that hard to figure out why there are so many vowels, archaic and classical Greek had a richness and diversity of vowels.”. True, it is not so hard to figure this out for the written form. But can you explain to me why different combinations of letters are pronounced the same? Oh, I forgot, according to supporters of the Erasmus dogma, they don’t.



    2. rexorum

      Yes there is a communication gap bc I am talking about ancient pronunciation not modern Greek so no it’s not av and ev but eu and au. Come on use a little logic…how does a vowel like Y become a consonant like V/F? Why is OY not therefore pronounced as ov/of like eu/au? Here’s a little reality check for you. After the conquests of Alexander, you all of the sudden have many cultures and nationalities all the way to India speaking Greek as their second language and it is these different cultures who influenced the evolution of Greek in terms of pronunciation. In other words, the pronunciation we use in modern Greek today (yes I am Hellenas) was foreign influenced and the ancient pronunciation you despise so much was pure or kathara Hellenika! The Byzantines even knew this and it was they who spread knowledge of the ancient pronunciation to Western Europe after the fall of Constantinople…this wasn’t even Erasmus original idea! But by all means, live by the delusion that Greek is the only language in the universe that hasn’t changed in terms of pronunciation.


    3. Epicurios

      Please let me explain you two things. First if you read Plato’s Cratylus you will find our that Greek letterσ are both icons of a sound and symbols of a meaning. That means that letters do not only represent a sound but an image as well that gives to the reader a certain message. Second not all the vowels sound the same. I sounds like “i” but also sounds like “j” . Y sounds like “i”, but when is combined with other letters sounds like “f” or “v”.
      Another point I want to make is that erasmian pronounciation has been used twice for racistic attack to the Greek nation. Especially the last two years some circles in Greece use this theory in order to persuade people that we are not Greeks since we do not pronounce the Greek language like our ancestors and that the Modern language is turkish. This happened again at 1821, when the Greeks started the revolution against the Turks. Some European circles didn’t want to support this revolution claiming that we were not Greeks since we did not speak Greek like the ancient Greeks. The facts that twice the Erasmian theory has been used for ratcistic attack proves that racism is behind it and not science. Something is wrong with all this.


  16. What MSS have Δαυδειδ in them? I don’t recall ever seeing that spelling. Also, Δαβιδ is a later spelling, not found in the earliest MSS. There is some evidence that beta morphed in its pronunciation since the first century from a hard stop to a fricative.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rexorum

      Umm again you’re giving examples that are from post Classical times. You forget that David was transcribed by Jewish Rabbis in Koine Greek (not Attic) during the Hellenistic Era (not Classical) when pronunciation had already evolved. You keep proving my point exactly, by providing examples of foreign influences on Greek pronunciation eg Silvanus (Roman) and David (Hebrew)…you look to these foreign influences for pronunciation of Greek yet others like me are interested in pure Greek pronunciation before the Romans and Hebrews. Also, I’m still waiting for an example of “v” in Mycenaean Greek lol


    2. Iotacist

      Neither have I. If such spelling does exist, it is probably a mere spelling error not reflecting phonology. Some of the earliest evidence for the fricativization of beta include transcriptions of Latin words/names with u/v (which by this time probably had similarly turned from /w/>/β/ like the Greek αυ/ευ diphthongs), c.f. Φλαβ– for flauius. Also are the very first confusions of αβ/εβ with αυ/ευ, though not necessarily standarized yet, c.f. Πvευτύvις for Πvεβτύvι.


  17. rexorum

    Oh dear not only are you the same person as Maximus but the examples you give like Silvanus, David and etc are all from the early Christian Period when the evolution of vowel sounds were practically complete. Hmm I dare you seem to forget that in this same era OI was actually pronounced as [y] and this persisted even during the Ottoman Empire by some speakers of the Old Attic dialect look it up. Also look up Mycenaean Greek (the oldest recorded dialect), you won’t find a single “v” sound.


  18. Daemonium

    I really doubt anyone would even bother reading past your first sentence but by all means keep writing large pieces of nothing if that makes you feel intelligent. I for one would rather read a reference on the history of the language and learn some history and facts than the ramblings of a deluded Arvanite who thinks he is Hellenic in ancestry.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. maximus

      hey rexorum, I hope that you treat linguistics with less disrespect than you treat me. I’m not pavlakis99 – I don’t need to assume another identity to confront your dogmatism.

      Please, skip personal attacks and stick to the point – me being greek or not, does not make any difference in the arguments you and I make. You seem to have accepted some “common knowledge” as the ultimate truth and you defend it with religious fanatism. This is a Bad Thing ™ for science.

      I’ll neglect the fact that in my last comment (the maximus one, not pavlakis99’s as you with so much confidence assumed is me) I’ve made several arguments which you did not care to counter and I’ll say only this:

      “Also look up Mycenaean Greek (the oldest recorded dialect), you won’t find a single “v” sound”
      “Also, I’m still waiting for an example of “v” in Mycenaean Greek lol”
      “it is these different cultures who influenced the evolution of Greek in terms of pronunciation”

      and so on, are nothing but assumptions.

      All these take for granted that the modern pronunciation is different than the ancient one. If you take for granted that this is true, then the sentences above can be used as examples to support the theory, even if we don’t have any *proof* that those sentences stand valid or not.

      But, here’s the question: do you have any idea about how the mycenaean greek was pronounced? If so, how come you know this and don’t know how the pronounciation goes during other periods of time?

      The truth is that you don’t know how the dialect was pronounced so you don’t know if the “v” existed or not. You *assume* that there is no “v” in that dialect, you *assume* that different tribes from all over the asia influenced the core greek spoken in the “mother”-land, and you *assume* that most of the linguistic transformations used to explain linguistic phenomena are valid end-to-end.

      The problem with linguistics is that generally it depends on empiricism, which means that we observe phenomena and we try to explain them by designing rules.

      Yes, there are rules that explain several things, but fail to explain several other things. Let me give you an example:

      One of the first things I wrote about why Erasmus may have gone wrong is that his suggestions cannot explain the prosodic form of ancient texts. I assume that you know that Homer’s Odyssey is written in a form called hexameter. This metre is designed to use six “fingers” (δακτύλους) each of which is consisted of one long and two short syllabes, with the possibility to exchange the two short syllabes with one long syllabe (and other trivia).

      If you apply Erasmus’ pronunciation, can you please explain to me how one can retain this rhythm? Are you so sure that by using the modern pronounciation you cannot reproduce this rhythm? If you can, what can this say about the relationship between the modern and the ancient pronounciations?

      So Erasmus can potentially explain the sound of ΟΥ but he probably failed to explain the sound of ΑΥ.

      I could also explain why I disagree with all your other assumptions, but my comment is already very long.

      So, the question is not if the Erasmian pronounciation is ugly – that depends. The question is, should we use the Erasmian pronounciation to teach the greek language?

      My belief is that, yes, we surely should. When you start to learn a language you have two problems: learning the meaning and learning the pronunciation. Erasmus gave a very good tool to people using the Chalkidean (latin) alphabet to pronounce the language closely to their own sounding system.

      That is a positive thing. As long as we remember that Erasmus was not necessarily correct in his theory.


      1. 1. you are the one who called me a troll thus started the personal attack
        2. you are one and the same as pavlakis…same writing style lol
        2. not assumptions but from actual Greek reference texts which clearly state there was no av/ev until the early Christian period. And yes there is evidence bc when Greek was transcribed into Latin during Classical times AY and EY were always transcribed as au and eu in Latin.
        I am not interested in your beliefs, I only seek evidence from actual academic text books. Cheers.


  19. maximus


    1. nope. I am not pavlakis. I did not call you a troll, although I now start to believe that you are something much worse than that.

    2. I see pure scientific evidence backing your conclusions (two persons having similar arguments are the same person because it *can’t be* that more than one person can have this heretic opinion!!). Well done. What’s next? Inquisition?

    3. “not assumptions but from actual Greek reference texts” which references? where do those references base their allegations on? Can you please reproduce the passages that “clearly state there was no av/ev until the early Christian period”? Did you ever investigate where those passages took their material from?

    4. “only seek evidence from actual academic text books”. Am I wrong to assume you’re another drop out PhD candidate in linguistics? (irony intented) “πίστευε και μη ερεύνα”. Nice.

    I am really disappointed by the fact that for every single line of your allegations you only refer to texts that offer the ultimate truth or to greeks that use a pronounciation that supports your arguments but yet you have not given one single example about those refereces. E.g. “people pronounce αυ as au in e.g. Athens” (they don’t). Or, “that the mycenaean greek did not have the “v” sound can be proved by “.

    Anyway, it seems that this thread will end here. It is apparent to me that your intention is not to produce some valid outcome by having a friendly argumentative sparring, but just to disorient readers and convince them that you’re right using emotional distractions rather that scientifically sound arguments.

    Accepted – this is one way to live your life. I just disagree with you.



    1. Inquisition? lol get over yourself. “Greek, A History of the Language and it’s People” by Horrocks is an excellent reference which I get my facts from not my beliefs. It clearly states (along with every other academic reference eg Vox Graeca) that vowel changes occurred during the Roman Empire and early Christian period whereas consonant changes were not completed until the Byzantine Period. Prove that av/ev did not exist in Mycenaean Greek? Easy, look up the Mycenaean sounds and symbols and NONE of them have av/ev

      Wrong again, the Greek language is a hobby of mine I’m not a drop out phd but please keeanp feeding your delusions Pavlakis lol Also, I am really disappointed in you too because as a Greek myself (surprise!) I find it quite stupid that you should believe that the Roman,Hebrew and Coptic pronunciation influences that survive in modern Greek is originally Greek whereas I seek the pure Greek sounds of the ancients.


      1. maximus

        Horrocks, a very knowledgeable professor and a classic work, the book you mention! I see where you draw confidence from, then. But “facts”? We surely have different sense of what a fact is. Fact is something that can be proven to be correct, no matter what approach you take to prove it.

        So, in science we have positive proofs (you prove that a hypothesis stands) and negative proofs (you prove that a hypothesis does not stand). Positive proofs come in two flavours: a strong one, with which you can prove that a fact is valid beyond any doubt (and this becomes an axiom) or a weak one, with which you prove that a fact is valid for all known cases (but you don’t expect it to be true for all known and unknown cases, e.g. cases that may come along in the future that invalidate your proof).

        Example of a strong positive proof: Einstein’s relativity theory. He assumed that nothing can travel faster than light and he derived his formulas etc. He also said: “a thousand experiments cannot prove that my theory is correct, but a single experiment can prove that my theory is incorrect”. And until now, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

        Do you see how this differs from your sense of proof and facts?

        On linguistics – you can have positive proofs about the evolution of the language using any manuscripts that you can find. Using a comparative approach you can derive associations and evolutionary rules that can explain some of the phenomena. This is acceptable. This is a weak form of a positive proof, because we don’t have any single rule that can explain all similar transformations. Which is normal because the same language used in different areas have different factors that influence its evolution.

        But still, this part of linguistics is based on manuscripts. You don’t have of course all manuscripts written in ancient times, so you can only have a partial knowledge of what happened then, but still this is way better than nothing.

        Phonetics and phonology though, are different. There were no voice recorders back then, so you actually don’t know for sure. You can only assume.

        History cannot show every aspect of people’s languages. Who influences whom? Who knows? Is it the conquerors or the conquered ones that prevailed? No idea. Just speculations that are valid for one case and invalid for another.

        Also history has a peculiar way to indicate things. Especially when politics play it’s role (may I remind you the theory from Fallmerayer about the origins of “modern” greeks?).

        Horrocks or not, you cannot speak for facts when you refer to things that cannot be proven. We have brilliant people working on the subject for centuries. Horrocks, Chomsky, MacDonald, just pick a period and a language and you’ll find tens of people that have done a respectable work. But if it would be so easy to explain the language, then we wouldn’t have so many theories and disagreements.

        So, I am not impressed by your reference. It does not prove anything. Only that you opened a well respected work from a brilliant professor, and that’s it. I don’t have handy a book from a greek archaeologist that wrote a book recently (I think circa 2010) that presents a different aspect of the history of the greek language. I haven’t finished it yet, but it looks heretically interesting.

        Anyway. I digress again.



    2. ok wow a long babble just to say you don’t like my reference when you have not offered any evidence other than ones from the post classical age? And do you think I honestly you care if you’re impressed? wow wrong again. I have read his book and the references he used and I am quite content with what I learned. I too was once a Byzantine pronunciation die hard fan, not to the extent as you but unlike you I don’t base my knowledge on personal beliefs.

      So have you found a Mycenaean symbol that depicts av and ev? lol


      1. maximus

        rexorum, I never said that I don’t like your reference. It is *the* bible of linguistics for the greek language. I said that I am not impressed because Horrocks bases his research on references that take for granted the Erasmian pronunciation and the validity of the hindo-european theory (which have been questioned numerous times).

        Still, here’s *your* reality check:

        “Greek, A History of the Language and it’s People”, Geoffrey Horrocks (first edition), chapter 6, section 6.2 (pre-last paragraph): he mentions that αυ, ευ and ηυ started sounding like av/f, ef/v, if/v circa mid-5th century BC. For the people with lower education this change is claimed to have taken place earlier (the conclusion for the period comes from the previous paragraph and is explained better in the next section).

        5th century B.C. is 500 – 401 B.C. Around the time that Athens went through Pericles’ golden age. Same period that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle lived and produced their works (well, not Socrates, but you get the point).The Byzantines appeared circa 4th century A.D. That’s more than 800 years later. This means that, according to Horrocks, the “modern” pronunciation appeared around 2500 years ago.

        How’s that for a fact? Straight from your reference.

        Either you have never read the book, or you don’t understand it’s content: Horrocks is actually saying what I’m saying. Which is completely different to what you claim.

        Now I understand why you do not mention your references.



    1. bahahahahaha oh dear are you that much of an idiot to make that easy for me?! lol

      1. When he says the changes mention above he is saying EI and AI

      2. He does NOT say 5th century but FOURTH Century which is the Hellenistic Age not the time of Socrates! Oh dear

      3. Right on top of the page he says the completion of the last shift occurred in the middle Byzantine Period….which is much later than I originally thought (thanks for that!)

      You’re joking right? I guess you don’t understand any part of it….can you read English? lol

      Liked by 1 person

  20. maximus


    I will not copy the whole page as this is borderline acceptable, so I’ll just paste here the relevant sentences that make up the meaning. Of course you, and anyone else reading this, can refer to the original text if you believe I’ve modified the meaning.

    Lets start (please note that some of the symbols I cannot produce with my keyboard):

    1/ Horrocks, page 162: “Already in the classical period /yi/ (υι) had begun to merge wity /y:/, at least in popular registers, and this then fell together with /y/, as noted.”

    2/ Horrocks, page 162: “Eventually /y/ (υ, οι, υι) lost its lip-rounding to merge once again with /i/, though the completion of this last shift belogs to the middle Byzantine period”. Note the “merge *once* again” and the “though”.

    3/ Horrocks, page 163: “[…] In more popular varieties, however, the diphthong /ε:i/ (ηι/η/) seems to have partly fallen together with /e:/ (normally written ει, cf. the spelling of the 2sg middle ending with either -ηι/η or -ει) from the late 5th century BC […]”.

    4/ Horrocks, page 163: “The diphthongs ending in [u], however, namely /au/ (αυ), /eu/ (ευ) and [ε:u/ (ηυ), adopted an ever closer articulation of the final element, a process that eventually led, via the development of [w]/[w] > [φw]/[βw]>[φ][β], to a pronunciation [af/v], [ef/v], [if/v], with voicing triggered by a following voiced segment”

    5/ Horrocks, page 163: “for most of these developments, the crucial issue of chronology still remains to be established. This will be considered first for Athenian Attic […]”.

    6/ Horrocks, page 163: “it is argued that vernacular Attic, […], had in fact already undergone many of the changes listed above by the end of the 4th century BC”

    So, to sum up:

    1/ υι was pronounced as ι from the classical period. This period is 5th and 4th century BC.

    2/ υ, οι, υι went BACK to ι at circa mid Byzantine period (“merge once again”).

    3/ more transformations refering to 5th century BC (not only the ει and αι as you selectively mention).

    4/ you seem to have skipped this part. Do you remember me mentioning this some comments ago? And this is mentioned in the paragraph that mentions transformations taken place during the 5th-4th century BC. To support this, Horrocks mentions point 5, i.e. he used the analysis on the Athenian Attic made by Teodorsson to base his estimations – so based on point 6 those had already taken place by the end of 4th century BC.

    5th century BC: 500-401 BC
    4th century BC: 400-301 BC.
    Classical period: 5th-4th century BC (
    Socrates: 470/469 – 399 BC (
    Plato: 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC (
    Aristotle: 384 – 322 BC (

    I should underline that Socrates lived during the classical period. Hellenistic period starts from 323 BC and goes until 31 BC ( That is ~76 years after the death of Socrates.

    So you don’t have a clue about what Horrocks is talking about, you keep insulting me with no apparent reason (except perhaps that I disagree with you) and you keep having this conversation basing your arguments to assumptions or misinterpretations of classical textbooks. In the end of the day, I feel relieved that we disagree. You are a derogation of whatever you stand for and I am really glad that it is not what I stand for.

    How does it feel to be humiliated by an idiot, I wonder?

    Happy new year.


      1. Iotacist

        Alright you two…I assume that your bickering has ceased by now (1.5 yrs later), but if it helps to cool things down, lets list the chronology of all the sound changes according to Horrocks citing Teodorsson, Threatte, Gignac and others, c.f. Horrocks (2010: 161-167)

        1. Attic-Ionic shift of A>H /a:/>/ε:/ = 9th century BC
        2. monopthongization of ει & oυ /ei, ou/>/e:, o:/ = 8-7th centuries BC
        3. raising of oυ /o:/> /u:/, υ original /u, u:/> /y, y:/ = sometime after, before 6th century BC
        4. raising ει /e:/>/i:/ triggers raising of η /ε:/>/e:/, monopthongization of αι /ai/>/æ:/>/ε:/ = 4th century BC (at least by estimation of Boeotian/conservative & popular Attic)
        -υι monophthongizes as /y(:)/ at least for some (late classical=?)
        -for Teodorsson’s Attic reconstruction, αυ/ευ develop semi-vocalic pronunciations /aw, ew/; this development parallels monophthongization
        5. raising of η /e(:)/ to /i/ begun probably as early as 2nd century BC (Horrocks begins to transcribe this in an intermediate stage as /e̝/), triggers also the raising of αι /ε(:)/>/e/ (mergers with ε –general mid-vowel, not close-mid)
        -monopthongization also affects oι /oi/>/øi/>/ø(:)/>/y/ (merges with υ)
        -vowel length distinction drops/transition to stress accent
        6. completion of raising of η /e̝/>/i/, also closing of αυ/ευ /aw, ew/>/aɸʷ, aβʷ, eɸʷ, eβʷ/>/aɸ, aβ, eɸ, eβ/>/af, av, ef, ev/ = 4th century AD
        -αυ/ευ close to consonants progressively through Roman period; Horrocks already transcribes the New Testament with /aɸ, aβ, eɸ, eβ/. But after reading Gignac, I find this a bit premature and suspect a lip-rounded pronunciation of /aɸʷ, aβʷ, eɸʷ, eβʷ/ in 1st century AD biblical times.

        For consonants (spirantization):
        1. γ /g/>/ɣ/ (palatal allophone before /e, i, y/ of /j/) by 2nd century BC
        2. β /b/>/β/ by 1st century AD (sometime later turns to /v/)
        3. δ /d/>/ð/ by 3rd-4th centuries AD (disagrees with Gignac’s claim that it fricativized first before /i/)
        4. φ, θ and χ /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/>/f, θ, x/ assumed by 4th century AD; Horrocks notes that there is very little evidence for this sound change, but assumes it to have occurred at least outside Egypt. Personally, I would contend that it is unsafe to maintain that they remained stops through to the Middle Ages. By this time we have evidence for other sound changes relating to this one i.e. fricative+fricative/stop+stop>fricative+stop, c.f. Horrocks (2010: 171). Also remember that φ/θ and χ go into the Cyrillic alphabet as fricatives.

        I hope this settles something. Your exchange was quite nasty. Take it easy.


  21. gio

    erasmic is ugly but moreover is wrong
    β,γ,δ,θ were not pronounced as erasmic suggest

    and these are not the only mistakes


  22. Nice to read an article – at last – in which somebody is actually sympathetic to my own views on the subject…

    The New Testament authors were members of an élite (an inchoate, if not yet fully defined, priesthood). Since, at the very least, they were “educated to a high standard”, we should conclude that their oral delivery of any text in a public context would have been rhetorical in manner. To such as Peter and Paul, high “officers” of the Church, formality and linguistic conservatism when expounding doctrine to a congregation would be especially applicable.

    It is for this reason that I choose the Attic/Erasmian pronunciation as my standard when reading koine Greek: every letter carefully pronounced as written, including diphthongs and diacritics (accent and hard breathings).

    Modern Greek shouldn’t even enter into discussion, since no part of our Bible is in any way colloquial or modern in idiom. To the contrary, its language is elevated, literary, conservative, and, more often than not, formal and sacerdotal.

    It would be hard to argue against the epithet Classical as best fitting the lion’s share of its content.


  23. Greek Student

    Thread necromancy here : Erasmian has upsides and downsides, but I am confused. There is virtually universal agreement that by the time the NT was being written, Koine was pronounced with essentially the modern pronunciation. Why would you be using Erasmian, somthing which was trying to reconstruct how the language sounded thousands of years earlier than the bible was written?


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