Lhynard (lhynard) wrote in koine,

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Greek Textbook Help

This week, I began writing a Koine Greek textbook as a learning exercise and for the purposes of teaching a friend of mine the language. I was wondering if anyone had the time to check it over for me and offer criticism.

In order to read this document, you will need to download and install the Koine font.

In converting to HTML, this document of course became rather messy, so please ignore the formating.

The Alphabet, Sounds, Accent, and Punctuation

  1. The Alphabet

    The Greek alphabet is as follows:

    CapitalLowercaseNamePronunciationTraditional Transliteration
    Aaalpha"a" as in "father""a"
    Bbbeta"b" as in "tab""b"
    Gggamma"g" as in "tag"
    before palatals, "ng" as in "tang"
    before palatals, "n"
    Dddelta"d" as in "pad""d"
    ("bare e")
    "e" as in "bet""e"
    F vau
    (or digamma)
    "w" as in "wet""v"
    Zzzeta"ds" as in "tads""z"
    Hheta"a" as in "bate""e"
    Qqtheta"th" as in "thigh""th"
    Iiiota"i" as in "bit"
    "ee" as in "beet"
    before vowels, "y" as in "yes"
    before a vowel, "j"
    Kkkappa"k" as in "tack""c"
    Lllambda"l" as in "late""l"
    Mmmu"m" as in "tam""m"
    Nnnu"n" as in "tan""n"
    Xxxi"x" as in "axe""x"
    ("little o")
    "ou" as in "bought""o"
    Pppi"p" as in "tap""p"
    RrJ (initial)
    r (usual)
    rho"r" as in "rate"
    as initial consonant "hr"
    as initial consonant, "rh"
    Ss (usual)
    " (terminal)
    sigma"s" as in "sip""s"
    Tttau"t" as in "pat""t"
    ("bare u")
    "u" as in "put"
    "oo" as in "boot"
    before vowels, "w" as in "wet"
    before a vowel, "v"
    Ffphi"f" as in "leaf""ph"
    Ccchi"ch" as in Scottish loch"ch"
    Yypsi"ps" as in "ipso""ps"
    (big o)
    "o" as in "oh""o"

    Note the similarity between many of the Greek letters and the English letters. These similarities make the learning of the Greek alphabet easier than learning the alphabets of many other languages. However, take care not to confuse Greek H with English H, nor Greek R with English P, nor Greek C with English X. Also, be sure to recognize the difference between n and u and to distinguish between them in writing.

    For now, only the lowercase letters need be memorized. The capital letters are only used rarely, and most can be learned as they come.

    The traditional transliterations are shown for your benefit. Knowledge of the them is helpful in recognizing cognates or derivatives in English. For example, even though Greek yuchv is pronounced "psook-HEY", it is commonly transliterated "psyche". (It means "breath" or "soul".) Greek eujaggelivzw is pronounced "ew-ang-ge-LID-zoh", yet it is transliterated "evangelizo", from which it is clear we get our word "evangelize". Greek jIhsou'" is pronounced "yay-SOOSE", but in English, we write "Jesus."

    The Greek letter vau is shaded out of the table above, because it was no longer used in the Koine period. However, seeing where it used to fall in the Greek alphabet and its pronunciation may similarly be helpful in understanding cognates and derived words. (Also, it was still maintained as a numeral:Ï = 6.) There are a few other older letters in Greek, but they are not as useful for determining cognates as vau.

    • Exercise

        Write out the alphabet in order at least 5 times.

  2. Phonetics

    1. Consonants

      Phonetically, it is possible to group consonants and vowels into classes based on where the sounds are produced.

      Consonants can be either voiced or unvoiced. A voiced sound causes the vocal cords to vibrate, whereas an unvoiced, or voiceless, sound does not. (If you feel your voice box while saying s and z, you can tell that the former is voiceless and the latter is voiced.) Consonants can also be stops or fricatives (also called spirants). The sound of a stop cannot be continued, whereas, a fricative can be pronounced indefinitely. For example, "t" is a stop, while "th" is a fricative. Finally, there are also nasal consonants, those pronounced using the nose. In English, "m" and "n" are nasal consonants.

      The following table can then be made for the Greek consonants (English equivalents are also shown).

      Labiallipsb (b)p (p)f (f)m (m)
      y (ps)
      Dentalteethd (d)t (t)q (th)n (n)
      z (dz)s (s)
      Palatalpalateg (g)k (k)cg (ng)
      x (x)

      It is important to understand the above categorization of Greek consonants, because it affects spelling.

      The two Greek consonants not given in the above table are the liquids l (l)and r (r). They do not fit into the same categories as the other consonants. r, when it begins a word, is always aspirated. Aspiration is the addition of a rough breathing (an "h" sound) to a sound. Both consonants and vowels can be aspirated. As will be seen shortly, there is a breathing symbol ( J) that is marked over aspirated vowels and over aspirated r at the beginning of a word. Besides r, all of the fricatives (f, q, c) are considered aspirated, though they never have the breathing mark.

      Certain consonants cannot be pronounced next to each other. For example, we do not see words in English such as "imsert". When the combination of a word or prefix with another word or suffix forces these consonants to be pronounced next to each other, they change each other. This is usually seen in a change in spelling. The same thing occurs in English, for example, we never see words like "inportant", even though the prefix is "in-" not "im-". In Greek, these changes tend to follow a few simple "rules", and some of these rules exactly match what is found in English.

      1. A nasal is converted to the same class as the consonant following it. For example, n-p (n-p) becomes mp (mp); n-c becomes gc.
      2. A stop before a s (s) is converted to the corresponding s sound. That is, p-s (p-s) becomes y, k-s (k-s) becomes x (x).
      3. A stop before an aspirated consonant or vowel becomes the corresponding fricative. For example, p-q (pth) becomes fq (fth).

        Other examples of similar changes will be raised as they occur.

        Note that g (g) changes pronunciation (from "g" to "ng") but does not change into a different letter when it precedes another palatal consonant.

    2. Vowels

      A vowel sound can be short or long. A long sound is basically the short sound pronounced for a longer period of time. (For example, hold the sound of English "i" as in "bit" and observe how similar it is to English "e" as in "beet".)

      In Greek, unlike English, some of the vowels have separate letters for their long forms. These are w (long o) and h (long e). The other vowels still have long forms, even though they are not separate letters. Just as in English, these long vowels must be learned from practice and observation.

      A vowel can be open or closed. This terminology refers to whether the mouth is mostly open or mostly closed when the vowel is pronounced.

      We can therefore make a table of Greek vowels.


      The closed vowels i (i) and u (u), when preceding another vowel, take on partial consonantal quality. In this form, they are referred to as glides, and they take on the sounds of English "y" and "w", respectively. (Consider how English "y" behaves sometimes like a vowel and sometimes more like a consonant.)

      Two vowels pronounced together to form a new sound are referred to as a diphthong. In a diphthong, the second vowel will always be a closed vowel. In a diphthong, the vowels are almost always short (hu and wu are the exceptions, but they are rarely ever seen.), but the diphthong as a whole is considered long (except for oi (oi) and ai (ai), if they fall at the very end of a word with no letter following).

      ai"ai" as in "aisle"
      ei"ei" as in "weigh"
      oi"oi" as in "oink"
      au"ow" as in "wow"
      eu"ew" as in "dew"
      ou"ou" as in "you"

      If the always-long vowel h or w or long a precede i, instead of forming a diphthong, it "swallows" the sound of the i entirely. When this occurs, we write a tiny i underneath the other vowel to give h/, w/, and a/. When you see h/, w/, and a/, you can ignore the i as far as pronunciation is concerned. This tiny i is called the iota subscript.

      There are some other changes that occur when two vowels appear next to each other, but these will be covered as they occur.

    3. Breathing Marks

      In the alphabet above, you may have noticed the absence of a letter for the sound "h". At one time, the letter H was used both as the vowel eta and as the breathing sound "h", but eventually, the special breathing mark J was written over an initial vowel instead to indicate an h sound. This is the same mark written over initial r to indicate a rough breathing. Thus, rJw' is pronounced "hroh", and aJmartiva is pronounced "ha-mar-TEE-ya". If there is a diphthong, the mark appears above the second vowel in the diphthong — thus, uiJov" ("hwee-OS"). There is a second mark to indicate a smooth breathing, that is, the absence of an h sound. This is j. So then, eJx is pronounced "hex", while ejx is pronounced "ex". In fact, every initial vowel sound must bear either the rough or the smooth breathing mark. (Note that with capital letters, the mark precedes the letter, whereas with lowercase letters, the mark is above the letter — thus, jIhsou'".)

      • Exercises

          Write the following animal sounds using Greek letters and breathing marks:

          1. baa
          2. caw
          3. oink
          4. hee haw
          5. moo
          6. tweet
          7. neigh
  3. Accent

  4. Greek has three accent marks, the acute ( v ), the circumflex ( ' ), and the grave ( ; ). These marks appear over vowels or over the final vowel of a diphthong, just like the breathing marks, except that an accent mark can appear in any syllable, not just initial ones. If a vowel requires both marks, the acute and grave follow the breathing mark (for example, { and ' ). The circumflex is written over the breathing mark (for example, \ ).

    Originally, these accents marks indicated tone or musical pitch. However, no one today understands exactly how this worked. The best we can do is treat the marks as indications of stress or accent, and we must treat them as identical in terms of pronunciation. Still, it is important to treat the accent marks as unique from each other, because they will on occasion give grammatical information.

    In dividing a word into syllables, we use the term "ultima" to refer to the final syllable, "penult" to refer to the second-to-last syllable, and "antepenult" the third-to-last. A syllable with a long vowel or diphthong is long; one with a short vowel is short.

    There are a few general rules of accent.

    1. An accent must occur on one of the last three syllables.
      1. An acute ( v ) can occur on any one of the last three syllables.
      2. A circumflex ( ' ) can occur on any one of the last two syllables.
      3. A grave ( ; ) can only occur on the ultima, the final syllable.
    2. A circumflex ( ' ) can only occur on a long syllable. (Remember that all diphthongs except for terminal ai or oi are long.)
    3. If the ultima is long...
      1. ...the antepenult cannot have an accent.
      2. ...the penult can only have an acute ( v ).
      3. ...the ultima can only have an acute ( v ) or circumflex ( ' ) (but see 5. below.)
    4. If the ultima is short and the penult is long and an accent falls on the penult, it must be a circumflex ( ' ).
    5. All acute ( v ) accents that fall on the ultima are converted to grave ( ; ) accents if another word directly follows.
    These rules are not enough to predict accents; they only serve to show which accents cannot exist. They are important if one is writing in Greek, but if one is primarily reading Greek, it is probably enough to simply notice where the accents are and stress the words appropriately.

    Further rules specific to nouns and verbs will be learned as they occur.

  5. Punctuation

    Originally, Greek was written in all capital letters and with no punctuation, markings, or even spaces. However, at later times, these were added, and words were written primarily with lowercase letters. There are four punctuation marks used in Greek: the comma (,), the period (.), the colon (:), and the question mark (). Note that the comma is sometimes more similar to the English semicolon, and the Greek colon shares roles between the English colon and semicolon. Do not confuse the fact that the question mark looks like the English semicolon.

    In Greek the first word of a sentence is not capitalized.

    • Excercises
      1. Write your name in Greek, including valid accent marks.
      2. Read aloud the following short Greek words, which are used in the Greek New Testament more than 500 times. Be sure the stress is on the proper syllables.

        1. oJ
        2. dev
        3. ejk
        4. ejn
        5. mhv
        6. o{"
        7. ouj
        8. suv
        9. wJ"
        10. ajpov
        11. gavr
        12. diav
        1. ejgwv
        2. eij"
        3. ejpiv
        4. e[cw
        5. i{na
        6. kaiv
        7. o{ti
        8. pa'"
        9. tiv"
        10. ti"
        11. eijmiv
        12. qeov"
        1. katav
        2. levgw
        3. prov"
        4. aujtov"
        5. ei\pon
        6. ou|to"
        7. poievw
        8. jIhsou'"
        9. kuvrio"
        10. givnomai
        11. e[rcomai
        12. a[nqrwpo"

      1. Read aloud the following passage from John 1:1: ejn ajrch'/ h\n oJ lovgo", kai; oJ lovgo" h\n pro;" to;n qeovn, kai; qeo;" h\n oJ lovgo".
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It reads similar to both my old professor's introductory book and the basics found in my Oxford Greek dictionary. Can't see much to criticize. If an introductory textbook is what you're aiming at, it's pretty much on par with most texts I've seen.

Pax Tecum,


It is the chapters after this one where I plan to diverge the most from the textbooks I've seen.
In 3.1, you say, "Certain consonants cannot be pronounced next to each other." It might be worthwhile mentioning that the Greeks had a broader range of familiar groups than modern English speakers do: we do not start words with pt or tm, etc.

In 3.2, you use 'dew' and 'you' as identifiers for different diphthongs, but these words have the same vowel sound in some (American) accents.

I noticed nothing else as being potentially problematic, but would just like to add something that may already be obvious if you have prior teaching experience: different people learn in different ways. Data and methods of data assimilation which seem obvious to you may be utterly opaque to your friend, and the role of a teacher is merely to find the methods which work best for the student.

Good luck with the project.
Thanks for the input.

3.1: good suggestion

3.2: Yes, they certainly do have the same sound in most American accents. Honestly, I've never seen a textbook that describes these sounds with words I do pronounce differently. Do you pronounce Greek eu and ou differently? I never have, but I may be flat out wrong.

I am fully aware that there are many different teaching and learning styles. Once I get to the chapters, I plan to integrate a variety of methods in hopes of making the book more universally useful.
I do pronounce ευ and ου differently, mostly because the pronunciation guides which I have seen have always presented them as different, the representation in English sounds essentially being along the lines which you have presented here, namely that ου is the long, unrounded 'o' vowel of "you" or "moot", /u:/ in the IPA, whereas ευ is more of a genuine diphthong, the transition from the long 'e' (which disappears) to the same 'o' of "new" or (for obvious reasons) "pneumatic", /ju:/ in the IPA.



May 15 2010, 20:18:33 UTC 6 years ago

You may be interested in this fairly recent scholarly research concerning the pronunciation of Koiné Greek.


Here's a sample reading, as well. 1 John 1

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