Getting Started

Pronunciation Overview

Athenaze Introductory Material

Pronunciation Overview

Ever since Erasmus recommended reconstructing a historical method of pronouncing classical Greek there has been an ever-increasing variety of ancient Greek pronunciation methods. In the past century, there seems to have been a dramatic increase in the number of academic pronunciation schemes. Most of these have drifted from Erasmus’ principal of historical reconstruction to a principal of pedagogical pragmatics. The result is that most Academic pronunciation methods (and they are numerous, all existing under the label, Erasmian Pronunciation) have never existed at any point of Greek language history.

Athenaze’s pronunciation system is one of the most historically oriented systems available (for the classical Greek period of time). The most questionable sound is the one it proscribes for omega. Since the goal of this site is to equip people to read biblical Greek all of the recordings and audio files will on this site use a reconstructed Biblical Greek pronunciation system rather than a reconstructed Classical Greek pronunciation system. Therefore the material contained in this section will be different than the pronunciation material in Athenaze.

One of the side benefits of using a historical biblical system of pronunciation is that it is similar enough to Erasmian conventions that it is intelligible within academic circles and is close enough to the modern Greek system that you only have to remember to change one vowel sound to be intelligible in modern Greece as well as use modern Greek resources.

Randall Buth who offer’s immersion courses in Greek and Hebrew in Israel, wrote a fine research paper developing and supporting this method of Historical Biblical Greek pronunciation. It is well worth reading.

Here is the link to his Notes on the Pronunciation System of Koine Greek, Imperial Koine Pronunciation.

Athenaze Introductory Material

(part II in the text)

Video explanation presenting the Greek the alphabet

Before you can start reading Greek and working through the first lesson of the curriculum, you have to learn the Greek alphabet.  This video presents the alphabet and correlated to the information in part 2 of the introduction in Athenaze (except that it uses a historical biblical Greek pronunciation system).

Alphabet Lesson

Greek Alphabet Pronunciation Chart

Again, this chart differs from the one in Athenaze opting for a historical biblical Greek pronunciation system. Please refer to the pronunciation overview and Randall Buth’s paper for explanations.

Alphabet

Letter Name Transliteration Pronunciation
Α α ἄλφα
a
\ä\ as in
Ἄτλας (Atlas)
Β β βῆτα
b
\v\ (not the hard stop \b\) as in
Βάκχος (Bacchos)
Γ γ γάμμα
g
Gamma has three possible sounds (English also has three sounds for “g”, which you can hear in the English derivatives of these examples.)
γλῶσσα (glossa) a gurgle sound before consonants and back vowel sounds (\u\, \o\, \ä\)
γένεσις (genesis) a \y\ sound before front vowel sounds (\‡‡‡ē\, \e\, \ü\)
φθόγγος (phthongos) the \ŋ\ (“ng” sound) before another guttural γ, κ, ξ, χ )
Δ δ δέλτα
d
voiced “ŒŒth” (not the hard stop \d\)
Δημήτηρ (Dēmētēr)
Ε ε ἒ ψῑλόν
e
\e\
Ἑρμῆς (Hermēs)
Ζ ζ ζῆτα
z
\z\
Ζεύς (Zeus)
Η η ἧτα
ē
\ā\ (as the “a” in “chaotic“)
Ἥρᾱ (Hēra)
Θ θ θῆτα
th
unvoiced “th” (in contrast to δ)
θάνατος (thanatos)
Ι ι ἰῶτα
i
\ē\ as in ski (unaccented forms may be pronounced \i\ as in “pit” which is the first part of an \ē\ sound.)
Ἶρις (Iris) (N.B. In classical Greek this pronunciation option was related to natural vowel length rather than stress.)
Κ κ κάππα
k
\k\
Καλλιόπη (Calliopē)
Λ λ λάμβδα
l
\l\
λόγος (logos)
Μ μ μῦ
m
\m\
μίδας (Midas)
Ν ν νῦ
n
\n\
νίκη (nikē)
Ξ ξ ξῖ
x
\x\ (ks)
ξένος (xenos)
Ο ο ὂ μῑκρόν
o
\o\ without the final “u” sound of the American “o”
ὀρθός (orthos)
Π π πῖ
p
\p\
Ποσειδῶν (Poseidōn)
Ρ ρ ῥῶ
rh
trilled or flipped \r\
ῥητορική (rhetoricē)
Σ σ/ς σίγμα
s
\s\ (but z before vocalized consonants β, γ, δ, μ)(written ς when the last letter of a word)
σοφία (sophia)
Τ τ ταῦ
t
\t\
τόπος (topos)
Υ υ ὖ ψῑλόν
y
\ü\ (as in French tü)
ὕπέρ (hyper)
Φ φ φῖ
ph
\f\
φοβία (phobia)
Χ χ χῖ
ch
Like Gamma, Chi changes its sound when it flowed by front or back sounds.
χρόνος (Chronos) \cgh\ as is the Scottish loch before consonants and back vowel sounds (\u\, \o\, \ä\)
χείρ (cheir) has an \h\ sound before front vowel sounds (\‡‡‡ē\, \e\, \ü\)
Ψ ψ ψῖ
ps
\ps\
ψυχή (psychē)
Ω ω ὦ μέγα
ō
\o\ without the final “u” sound of the American “o”
Ὠρίων (Ōriōn)

Breathings

Strike the first paragraph under the heading “Breathings.” The breath mark will be considered part of the correct spelling so the rough and smooth breathing marks are something to be learned along with the spelling of all words that begin with a vowel and the letter rho (an initial υ or ρ will always have a rough breathing mark.) However, there is no distinction in pronunciation between them (similar to the English homonyms, hour and our.)

Diphthongs

By biblical times nearly all vowel combinations (vowel digraphs) had all become monophthongs which are be covered together in the long vowel digraph section. The only Greek diphthongs in biblical times are

υι and the monograph,
η. It starts with an \ĕ\ sound and finishes with and \ē\ sound.

Long Vowel Digraphs

Vowel Digraphs can be separated into two groups. Those that have some vowel prior to “ι” or prior to “υ”. Notice that this can greatly reduce the possibilities of whether two consecutive vowels are a digraph or not.

Digraph Example Words Pronunciation
αι
αἰγίς
= e as in get
ει
εἴκοσι
\ē\ as in receive
οι
οἰκονομίᾱ
\ü\ as in French tü
αυ
αὐτοκρατής,
αὐτουργός
\av\ as in “Ave Maria” prior to voiced letters, but \af\ as in “off” prior to unvoiced letters
ευ
εὐγενής,
εὐχαριστῶ
\ev\ as in “ever” prior to voiced letters, but \ef\ as in the British way of saying “lieutenant” prior to unvoiced letters
ηυ
ηὕρηκα,
ηὐτομᾰτισμένως
\ev\ as in “ever” prior to voiced letters, but \ef\ as in the British way of saying “lieutenant” prior to unvoiced letters
ου
οὔτις
\u\ as in soup

Paired Consonants

The only thing to add to this section is a pragmatic way of creating voiced stops. In the classical period β, δ, and γ were all voiced stops like the English b, d, and g. But over time these sounds were held out for longer durations. We call these types of sound fricatives. For example, the English b is a voiced stop, but the English v is the same sound just the fricative version. We also have fricative versions of voiceless letters. For example, the English p is a voiceless stop (BTW the only difference between “b” and “p” is the presence or absence of voice.). The fricative version of “p” is “f”.

Once β, δ, and γ became fricatives this left a void for voiced stops. Since the only difference between unvoiced and voiced stops is the presence or absence of voice. Sometimes a really voicey letter like the nasals μ and ν would bleed into a following unvoiced stop and thereby give it some voice to produce the missing sound. So μπ would sound like b (the classical β), ντ would sound like d (the classical δ), νκ would sound like k (the classical γ). This would even hold true between words so τὸν κύριον would sound like “tōn güriōn”.

Consonant Sounds

Stops are sounds where the air carrying the sound travels directly over the center of the tongue. We can modify the sound with the back of our mouths (these types of sounds are called gutturals or velars), our teeth (dentals), or our lips (labials). We can also choose to add our voice to any of these sounds while dragging them out over time (fricative) or chopping them rather short (stop). The matrix of these combinations looks like this and if often called the square of stops.

Voiced Stop
Voiced Fricative
Voiceless Stop
Voiceless Fricative
double consonant with σ
Labials
μπ
β
π
φ
ψ (replaces labial followed by σ)
Dentals
ντ
δ
τ
θ
ζ (all dentals including ζ will drop out when followed by σ)
Gutterals
νκ
γ
κ
χ
ξ (replaces guttural followed by σ)

It is crucial to memorize this chart since principals of euphony applied to this chart will explain most spelling changes.

Accents

It should be noted that learning the accenting system is really about as complicated as learning the scenarios that can force a double play in baseball. Not only will such knowledge aid composition and conversation, it can also tip you off to some of the more difficult tense forms.

Here are the general rules for accenting that Rouse provides on Page 3 of his grammar.

The acute accent must fall on one of the last three syllables. If the last have a long vowel, on one of the last two. On final syllables, except last in a sentence, then the acute accent is written as grave.

The circumflex must fall on one of the last two syllables, and it cannot stand before a long vowel or diphthong. It can only stand on a long vowel or diphthong, as it implies contraction.

Learn these general rules for now and then we will refine them in Chapter 1. If you would like to learn everything about accents and how to compose Greek using them please refer to the following videos:

#1 General Accent Principles

#2 Accenting Non-Verbs

#3 Accenting Verbs

#4 Accenting with Enclitics and Proclitics