As S. Teodorsson argues in his work on the phonemic system of the Attic dialect, there is evidence that already in the IV century BC, 'popular' Athenian speech underwent changes such as the merger of ι, η, υ in [i]. Even more conservative reconstructions (such as by W.S. Allen) place at least the disappearance of the subscript iota and the monophthongization of οι into [ø:] before 350.

Yet the grammar textbooks by e.g. Dionysius of Halicarnassus often prescribe e.g. the pronunciation of subscript iota as "correct" hundreds of years after its disappearance.

Was that "correct" conservative pronunciation actually used? Did the politicians use different pronunciations in public and in private? Was there perhaps an equivalent of the Transatlantic accent (having artificial archaizing features such as wh = [ʍ]), taught to students of public speaking?

If so, how could e.g. Demosthenes know to pronounce οι as [oi] in speeches and not [ø:] as everyone around him? The Greeks didn't have our methods of linguistic reconstruction, so slowing down natural phonological change seems almost impossible -- and also useless, needlessly alienating the audience of politicians etc.

  • 1
    Spelling pronunciation seems like an obvious answer to the last question. – TKR Feb 8 '19 at 22:37
  • 1
    I'm not familiar with the work in question, but a merger of ι, η, υ sounds way too early for the IV century BC. – varro Feb 9 '19 at 0:19
  • As an aside, I pronounce "wh" as [ʍ], and do not regard it as either archaic or artificial. – varro Feb 9 '19 at 1:15
  • @leaving υ aside for the moment, why do you think the merger of ι and η sounds way too early for the forth century BCE? – Alex B. Feb 9 '19 at 20:53
  • 1
    On spot @AlexB., this quote is basically the reason I was asking myself this question. What Teodorsson suggests here runs contrary to how I believe language works. In particular, 'spelling pronunciation' never introduces new sounds into a language. E.g. imagine someone 'spell-pronounce' the word "meet" with a [ɛ:] sound: no one native in English would ever do this, because English does not even have this sound. Similarly, [oi] was an extinct sound in Greek by Demosthenes's time, and contemporary Greeks perhaps still thought of οι as of a diphthong when it had been [ø:] for ages. – Simon Korneev Feb 11 '19 at 22:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.