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||Lesson 1 - Historical Background, Alphabet, Breathing Marks, Diphthongs, Syllables, Accent, Punctuation, Word Pronunciation
Alexander's world conquest resulted in a
Hellenization of the ancient world. But as Greek
culture and language changed the world, the world
changed Greek language. Not only did the various
dialects meld, but the resulting language that became
common to diverse nationalities underwent various
changes, some typical of what happens to language
over time, and some the result of the
internationalization of the language. Hellenistic
Greek is this Greek that was common (κοινή = koine) to the various
peoples of the ancient world from about 300 B.C. to
about A.D. 300.1
Prior to the twentieth century, scholars were well
aware of Hellenistic Greek as exemplified in literary
writing. However, what they saw in New Testament
manuscripts (and in the Septuagint) was different and
unparalleled. Some supposed that the unique nature of
Biblical Greek was due to particular influence from
Hebrew and Aramaic. Others speculated that the
Biblical Greek must have been a special form of the
language used by the Holy Spirit.
Early in the twentieth century, Adolf Deismann's
pioneering work demonstrated that Biblical Greek was
actually not unique at all. It was that form of
Hellenistic Greek spoken every day by the masses, as
opposed to the more formal style used in literary
works by the upper classes.2 This became
clear when documents not meant as literature for
posterity came to light, such things as legal
documents, receipts, letters, diaries, etc. In these
was found evidence of the vernacular that we see in
the New Testament.
We can use the terms Hellenistic Greek and Koine
interchangeably to refer to that language which was
common to men throughout the world. Subcategories are
literary Koine and non-literary Koine. The New
Testament belongs in the latter category, although
there is a range of styles even within the New
Testament, some parts exhibiting a more literary
style than others.
1The terminus a quo
is the conquest of Alexander (d. 323 B.C.). The terminus
ad quem is Constantine's removal from Rome to
Byzantium (A.D. 326). Some would extend Hellenistic
Greek forward to about A.D. 500.
2 However, debate
continues concerning the degree to which the New
Testament is characterized by Semitisms, Greek
expressions directly derived from expressions in the
Semitic languages of Hebrew and Aramaic.
Orthography and Pronunciation
Pages 22-23 in your text book (pages 1-3 in the 1986 edition) will introduce the
alphabet and explain how the sound of each letter
is pronounced. It will also explain the
transliteration of each letter, that is, what
English letter corresponds to each Greek letter.
(The text book
New Testament Greek, A Beginning and Intermediate Grammar
Allen Hewett, revised and expanded by C. Michael Robbins & Steven R.
Johnson, published by Hendrickson Publishers, 2009. Through the
remainder of 2009, when pages in the text book are referenced,
corresponding pages in the 1986 edition will also be given. For
more information, see the
New Text Book
There are three letters that may especially
confuse you, η,
ν, and ρ.
- Note well that η
does not correspond to n
- Rather, ν
corresponds to n.
- Also note that ρ
is not a p
When writing the letters, you don't need to
perfectly emulate the printed font in the text
book. Compare the machine produced characters
with the hand written characters below:
Click here for
Memorize the Alphabet
You need to memorize the alphabet, saying it aloud, "alpha,
beta, gamma..." (How
else can you find a word in a lexicon?) See your text book for
the names of the letters.
Relating the Greek alphabet to the
English alphabet will make memorization easier for you. Notice the following:
corresponds to a
e, except for the third
- The next three letters, ζ η θ, can be
remembered if you suppose Zeta
(Zay-ta) is a woman's name and she "ate
a theta". What a theta
might taste like, I don't know, but
remember that Zeta ate a theta and
you won't have any trouble getting
through this part of the alphabet.
corresponds to i
through u with these exceptions:
- Nothing corresponds to j.
- ξ for x is
squeezed in between ν and
- Nothing corresponds to q.
- The order of the next three letters, φ χ ψ, can be
remembered by thinking of a town in New
York: Poughkeepsie. Yes, it's a
stretch, but try it. It will work. Just
don't go to New York asking for
directions to Phichipsi.
- And of course, Jesus is "the
Alpha and the Omega, the first and the
last," so you know the last
letter is ω,
||as in father
||as in father
||as in bed
||as in they
||as in pit
||as in machine
||as in top
||as in tote
||as in deja
||as in deja
Every word that begins with a vowel will have a
breathing mark above the initial vowel (or vowel
sound). For lower case letters, the breathing
mark is placed just above the vowel. For upper case
letters, the breathing mark is placed just before the
If the breathing mark is concave to the right
(like a reverse comma), as in
the mark is called a "rough"
breathing mark and indicates an initial
"h" sound is to be pronounced.
ἡμέρα is pronounced, "hay-ME-ra". Notice
the "h" sound.
If the breathing mark
is concave to the left (like a comma), as in
the mark is called a "smooth"
breathing mark and indicates that there is no
initial "h" sound.
ἀλήθεια is pronounced, "a-LAY-thay-a".
Notice the absence of an "h" sound.
Every word beginning with the letter
will have a rough breathing mark.
are categorized as either "close" or
"open". Pronounce the sound of "a" as in father, and make
note that your throat is wide open. Then pronounce
the sound of the letter "i" as in pit, and make
note that your throat is constricted. Pronounce the
sound of the letter "u" in deja vu and although your lips are
differently formed, notice that your throat again is
α, ε, η, ο,
diphthong is a combination of two vowels, but not
every pair of vowels is a diphthong. The first vowel
of a Greek diphthong will be an open vowel, and the
second vowel will always be a close vowel. Therefore,
οι is a diphthong, but
is not a diphthong.
following are diphthongs: αι,
ει, οι, αυ, ευ, ηυ, ου
addition to these, there are three "improper
diphthongs wherein the second vowel,
ι, is written as
a subscript to the first letter. These are
ᾳ, ῃ, ῳ (named
respectively, "alpha iota subscript,"
"eta iota subscript," "omega
there is one exception to the rule that the first
vowel must be an open vowel. Even though
is a close vowel, υι is a
Although a diphthong is a combination
of two sounds with one sliding into the other, for
purposes of syllabification, a diphthong is
considered to be one vowel sound.
contrast the oi in
Illinois with the io
in Ohio. The i and
o in Ohio
are clearly two distinct sounds. But the oi
in Illinois is a diphthong and makes
one vowel sound. The sounds made by Greek diphthongs
pronounced ai as in
is pronounced ei as
is pronounced oi as
is pronounced ow as
is pronounced eu as
is pronounced the same as eu
is pronounced ou as
is pronounced uee
as in queen
is pronounced the same as α
is pronounced the same as η
is pronounced the same as ω
|1 In the
volume on Accidence & Word-Formation
by J. H. Moulton and W. F. Howard, (Grammar
of New Testament Greek, vol. 2) it is
said that in Hellenistic times,
ει was pronounced i as in machine.
(p. 118) There are a number of instances
where the pronunciation typically taught in
schools today is known to be different than
the pronunciation that existed in Hellenistic
times. And in fact, there is some difference
of opinion as to which of various
pronunciation schemes makes the most sense
for modern students. In recent years, some
have advocated using Modern Greek
pronunciation in New Testament Greek courses.
What is important is that the student learn
to use a given pronunciation scheme
consistently so as to better facilitate
committing the vocabulary to memory.
|2 Edward Hobbs sent me the following
explanation of ευ as an improvement
over the illustrative word "feud" :
textbooks suggest something like "e
as in 'get,' followed by -oo- as in
'food'" or the like. Goetchius
suggests pronouncing my name (Edward)
dropping the "d" between E and
d, or saying "house" as they do
in some parts of Virginia! [my
place of residence, JS] In any
case, it is "eh" followed
quickly by "oo".
are always long, except final
αι and final
in ἄνθρωποι is
final and is short.
ἀνθρώποις is not
final (it is followed by ς)
and is long.
When a word begins with a diphthong,
the breathing mark goes
over second letter. For example
syllable must have one and only one vowel sound. A
diphthong is considered one vowel sound. In general,
syllable divisions should be made immediately
following a vowel or diphthong.
υο is not a diphthong,
and therefore the two vowels belong to
σκ is not split. The
syllables are divided after the vowel
αι is a diphthong, and
therefore is not divided. ιο
is not a diphthong, and therefore the two
vowels are divided.
arise when there are two consecutive consonants or
even three consecutive consonants. In these cases, if
the combination of consonants is not one that can
appear at the beginning of a word, they are usually
goes with the preceding vowel because
μϐ cannot begin a word
or a syllable.
goes with the preceding vowel because
νθρ cannot begin a word
or a syllable.
goes with the preceding vowel because
χθρ cannot begin a
word.or a syllable.
course, at this point, you don't know what
combinations of consonants can appear at the
beginning of a word. You could memorize a list of
such combinations, but the value of such is not worth
the effort. If you only know that there is one
vowel sound per syllable, you can identify the number
of syllables and pronounce the word. In time, you
will develop a feel for how to allocate consonants to
The importance of learning
- fixing the sound
in memory is an aid to learning
- accent mark
helps indentify the form in some cases
- ultima, penult,
- acute, grave,
words were not written with accent marks. That
does not mean they were not fixed. In fact, the
various accents were distinct musical pitches.
The following anecdote is related on p. 52 in A
Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. II, "Accidence
and Word-Formation," by J. H. Moulton and W.
recall the well-known story of the actor
Hegelochus, who in declaiming a line of
Euripides ending with
γαλήν' ὁρῶ = ("I see a
calm") pronounced a circumflex instead
of an acute, and sent the audience into roars
of laughter: γαλῆν ὁρῶ = "I see a
As the Greek language became a
world language, spreading to lands where it was
not indigenous, the subtleties of pitch were
being lost. In a retrenching effort, Greek
grammarians encouraged the writing of the accent
mark. But the effort succeeded only in retaining
a stress on the accented syllable. Distinctions
of pitch between the different accents were lost.
||Only the last three
syllables of a word may be accented.
accent may stand on any of the last 3
may stand only on the last 2
may stand only on the last
||The antepenult may be
accented only if the ultima is short.
may stand only on a long syllable.
||An accented penult will have
a circumflex if and only if the
penult is long and the ultima
||An acute on the ultima is
changed to a grave when the word is followed
immediately by another word without
intervening punctuation mark.
For verbs, the accent is
recessive. That is, within the constraints of the
general rules, the accent will stand on the
syllable closest to the beginning of the word.
For example, in the case of
rule #1 prevents the accent from being placed on
any of the first three syllables, but because the
ultima is short, the accent can come all the way
back to the antepenult. Because this is a verb,
the accent must come all the way
back to the antepenult.
- Skip Special
Noun and Adjective Rules for Now!
A period is
represented in Greek by a period.
A question mark is
represented in Greek by a semicolon.
A colon or a semicolon
is represented in Greek by a dot above the
pronounce a word,
- First, count the
number of vowels
- Then, where
there are two or more vowels in succession,
identify pairs of vowels that form diphthongs
- Next, counting each diphthong as one vowel
sound, and every other vowel as a vowel
sound, count the total number of vowel
sounds. This is the number of syllables in
- Pronounce the syllables, syllable by syllable
- Identify the syllable that has an accent mark
indicating that syllable should be stressed.
- Pronounce the whole word, stressing the
|Count the vowels
||5 vowels, ε, α, ε, υ, ω
||1 diphthong, ευ
|Count the vowel sounds
||4 vowel sounds, ε, α, ευ,
ω, and therefore, 4 syllables
|Pronounce each syllable
|Identify the accented syllable
|Pronounce the whole word,
stressing the accented syllable
|| Assignment 1