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.

  • 2
    Spelling pronunciation seems like an obvious answer to the last question.
    – TKR
    Feb 8, 2019 at 22:37
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    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, 2019 at 0:19
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    As an aside, I pronounce "wh" as [ʍ], and do not regard it as either archaic or artificial.
    – varro
    Feb 9, 2019 at 1:15
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    And another quote from him (Teodorsson 2013): “Presumably it was demanded from reciters of epics as well as from actors in the theater to observe the traditional rules of pronunciation. A changed pronunciation according to an adjusted orthography, based on the everyday pronunciation, would have been detrimental to the performance. It is reasonable to assume that even in the cases where poetry or prose was read aloud − which was customary − the reader observed the ‘correct’ pronunciation as indicated by the orthography.”
    – Alex B.
    Feb 10, 2019 at 15:02
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    A very important note so far. As Teodorsson himself writes, his focus was “the pronunciation of the broad mass of (illiterate) people, including the women.”
    – Alex B.
    Feb 10, 2019 at 15:04


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