Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Sounds of Greek Part One

How Greek Was and Is Pronounced

This is part One!

As the Greek ABC has 24 letters I will be posting this article as a series of 4 blogs over one week.

A Note to Classical scholars planning to visit Greek. Learn the Demotic pronunciation!
Modern Greeks may study some Homer and Classical writers in Secondary School or University but using katherousa even accidentally may be offensive or more importantly just not understood!

I have tried to explain this in a way that will make sense to people who havn't studied linguistics in College or University. If you do want a more formal explanation check out the excellent Wikipedia sites on Greek Phonology and language.

A α Alpha The vowel in Archon or cAlm or cUp or Italian Amare.

B β Beta The B in Biology or Bed.
However in Modern Greek this is a V as in Voice! English V would be written as οβερ.
Classical Greek wrote W and V sounds when citing Latin or other non Greek names like Valerius using ου.

The b sound in Modern Greek is written as μπ but note that this is “mb” in the middle of a word. A bizarre example of this is a recent news shot of graffiti insulting the mpatso or cops!

The Greek Diphthongs αυ ευ are pronounced av and ev or af and ef depending on the following consonant.So Αυγά is avga in Demotic and αυτός is aftos.

Γ γ Gamma The G in Graph or Gang or Got. It's a HARD G in Classical Greek!
Modern Greek has a j / y or a sound like the G in German sagen or jager or the g in Spanish fuego or English Yield or Gem or suGar. The G sound in English Get is written as γκ.
A double gamma is used to represent the “ng” sound in Angle and Angel in Classical Greek hence the New Testament and Classical aggelos.
It's Angelus in Latin and Angel in English.
Gamma before κ χ and γ is nk or ng.

Δ δ Delta D in Democracy or Deed or Dot
Modern Greek Delta has become “dh” the soft sound in English This or breadTH or faTHer.
D as a sound is now written as ντ which also represents “nd” in the middle of a Greek word.

Dachshunds are Dogs becomes something like νταχσουντ αρ ντογξ!

Ε ε Epsilon E in Epigram or the vowel in pEt or French é

Ζ ζ Zeta was a zd or sometimes dz sound as in Zeus or English aDZe, glaZeD or wiSDom
Modern Greek Zeta is Z as in English laZy!
Τζ in Modern Greek is a ts dz type sound.

Other letters used to represent double consonants also known as digraphs are
Ξ ξ and Ψ ψ. This is a sensible innovation as Greek verbs add s to their stems in the Future and Aorist.