Thursday, February 10, 2005

More on Modern Greek

A couple of days ago, I asked, "Should Biblical scholars learn Modern Greek?" Stephen Carlson rightly breaks down the question into two: Should the pronunciation of Modern Greek be used in Biblical reading? and Should Modern Greek be learned for its own sake? He answers a qualified "no" to both: the "Erasmian" pronunciation is, and will remain, standard within the academy, and there is not enough Biblical scholarship in Modern Greek to make learning the language worthwhile (a point also raised by Chris Brady in his comment on the original post). (Read the whole post.)

I agree; nevertheless, I have found that an active rather than a passive control of a language is a tremendous help in reading. Of necessity, we teach only passive knowledge of dead languages; but as long as there is some significant overlap between a living language and a dead language, I think it pays great dividends to actively know the living one. I have found this to be true with Modern Hebrew. I know that Randy Buth is experimenting in Israel with teaching Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek as spoken languages (Stephen provides a link to one of Randy's essays). If it works, that's the ideal solution. More power to him.

All this is a counsel of perfection. Time is limited. Lingua longa, vita brevis. For myself, I am coming late to an interest in Modern Greek. An awareness of the phonology helps me understand Palestinian Aramaic loanwords like אביינוס "nobleman," derived from Greek εὐγενής, but with the Byzantine-Modern pronunciation [evyenis]. But I wish I'd learned more earlier, when I had more brain cells.


elf said...

There's another issue. Both modern Hebrew and modern Greek have fewer phonemes than earlier forms of the languages. It's easier to be grammatically aware if you can "hear" the distinctions between vowels and consonants in your head.

That said, I essentially agree with both of you (for whatever that's worth).

Anonymous said...

I would answer yes to the first question for a very fundamental reason: Modern Greek pronunciation IS closer to Biblical pronunciation than Erasmian, which in turn is closer to Ancient Greek pronunciation. Should scholars use the Erasmian just because they don't have to use two sets of pronunciations for all words they already know from Ancient Greek? I don't think so. It's easier, but improper.