Pronunciation Ancient-Modern

Some people support that the today pronunciation of the Greeks was dramatically different from the ancient. Let's see from where originates this theory and why this theory is not correct.

The Illogic Theory of Erasmos

The problem of the true pronunciation of the letters of the Hellenic language started in Europe some centuries ago. The first to come up with this theory was Erasmos (1520 A.C.) who decided to send away the usual pronunciation used until then in Hellas, and he added instead, a new one which was never heard before. Erasmos was a Dutch, meaning that he didn’t have as mother language the Hellenic, gave a new pronunciation to his followers for the Greek and he presented his pronunciation as the only true and valid.

This new pronunciation was created in 1500 A.C. and today, people abroad (not in Hellas/Greece) are taught to read and pronounce our language, the Hellenic language, according to this created pronuncation of 1500 A.C. The pronunciation that we Hellenes/Greeks use and speak they consider it as fake, not valid, a mixed, wrong and not authentic pronunciation. The Erasmians consider us, the Greeks, as useless vessels conveying a wrong pronunciation of our own language which we inherited from our ancestors. Despite that, we live in the same place where the countless and innumerable pieces and fragments from the ancient temples and the excellent statues were found and despite the fact that the Erasmians still come to this country to find these temples and statues, we still don’t know how to speak our language - according to their theory. The question that arises is the following: how a pronunciation created in 1500 A.C. from a non-Greek speaker, is considered more authentic and valid than this pronunciation that still speak the Greeks from the day they were born receiving the language from their also Greek-speaker ancestors?

The erasmian pronunciation from the first glance seems bizarre. For example, no one else ever tried to change or correct the pronunciation of the Hebrew or Arabic language. They can, of course, recognize different time periods of each language but there is a respect to the pronunciation and today they all speak and dictate the words as they are spoken today by their people, something that does not happen with Greek. Only in the Greek language, they found all its elements corrupted, twisted and wrong at the same time that the language is still spoken by living Greek people. The Erasmians should consider the fact that we cannot speak like that and that the erasmian pronunciation never passed or influenced in any way the real Hellenic language for four centuries. This means that our language is alive and as every living being, it has developed tactics of defense against foreign invasion and attacks. It is like the living body, once you insert something alien inside it, it will reject it. The Greek language defenses and rejects the new pronunciation because it was never part of it. It was never made the slightest effort so that the new pronunciation may even attempt to be inserted to the living Hellenes because none of us can speak something so corrupted, wrong, distorted, unbalanced and alien to the true Hellenic vocal harmony and beauty. The Greek state is totally opposite with this idea since it never existed as a problem within Greece. According to the Greek school, the pronunciation never changed. Ιt changed only in some parts concerning only the duration - something that has nothing to do with the basic elements of the sound of each letter. This theory was invented outside of Greece from non-Greek speakers, without asking the Greek speakers first and today it is still developed by non-Greek speakers. How logic is for a foreigner to go to the native and tell him how to speak his language?

The Erasmians support that the today living Greeks lost their true pronunciation, but if the Greeks themselves lost their pronunciation how the non-Greek speakers found it? The today Greeks speak their language of their fathers and their grandfathers from the day they are born and on the other hand the non-Greek speakers who are taught the language from the today Greeks are able to reform the language – according to their theory. But how and from whom do they have help with that if the Greek-speakers can’t help? Because when we learn a new language we have teachers who speak the language and even if we live the biggest part of our lives in another country we may never achieve to pronounce the language exactly how the native speakers do. If the Greek pronunciation is dead as they support then no person alive can tell us what the truth is. And if the Greeks cannot tell, then no one else can. And if we suppose that a Greek-speaker would learn the Gotthic language and he privileged himself to go and teach the today Germans about the true and original German pronunciation, what the reaction of the Germans would be? Wouldn’t it be, “you are wrong, stop teaching. It is us who inherited to investigate the German language and its past and its future and its present because we inherited the natural privilege and right for our pronunciation”. Because people like the Erasmians learn the language from the silent books denying to receive help from the alive Greek speakers. They end up learning the pronunciation from books that cannot make a sound and the only sound that exists comes from the influences of their mother language which manifest in their Greek pronunciation. Without having the language taught by mother and father they must develop and train their vocals and mouth to speak in a particular way and if the silent books teach instead of the living people, then the pronunciation will be nothing more than "silence" to the natives that hear them speaking.

Because it is these people with that kind of lack of knowledge who reformed the nature of the living elements of the Greek language and they destroyed the complex diphthongs, the etymology, they send away the tonic and grammatical marks and they changed and reformed the prosody according to their taste. It is true that there were some changes over the years but slight and small in some kinds of the forming of the voice as in any other language, but that kind of huge change is impossible to have happened and only in the Greek language. Apart from that, it is impossible that only the non-Greek speakers can perceive these huge differences and the Greek-speakers still can’t understand it, otherwise, we would have changed the pronunciation by ourselves.


Erasmos Admits his Mistake about the “New” Pronunciation

It is true that not many people know that the erasmian pronunciation was created by mistake or better... by a joke made to Erasmos by a friend. Because although everyone knows that Erasmos created a new pronunciation, no one knows how he was lead to that conclusion. Additionally no one knows that he understood that he was wrong to create a new pronunciation and that he admitted that the correct pronunciation is that of the Greeks.

What happened is that Erasmos was simple enough to be convinced easily by others so he was tricked by his friend, Henricus Glareanus. Henricus Glareanus wanted to make a joke to Erasmos and he told Erasmos that one day, some Greeks visited him and he listened that the Greeks were pronouncing different the letters; β as b instead of v etc. and the diphthongs separately. For that reason, Erasmos was so excited that he decided to write a book about the new pronunciation. However later he changed his mind and he never pronounced again the letters as he had imagined and he was also preventing his friends to pronounce the letters wrong (WETSTENII ORAΤ. APOLOGET.PRO LING. GRAEC. PRONUNT. PAG. 119, also VOSSIOS IN ARISTARCH. 1. 28).

In one of his other dialogues with the title Echo, Erasmos advices that someone should learn the Greek language according to the correct and true pronunciation of the Greeks:

Conducendus aliquis, natione Greacus, licet alioquin parvum eruditus, propter nativum illum ac patrium sonum, ut castigate graeca sonari dicantur.

Call a man of Greek origin, who happens to have little education for the native and paternal vocal sound, to learn the pronunciation of Greek with precision.

Erasmos also adds:

Graecum didascalum audire decrevi, plane Greacum, νel potius bis Graecum.

I decided to listen to a Greek teacher, only Greek or better, Greek two times. -(Epistolae Erasmi – Ρ.S. Allen, Oxford, 1906)

From the above excerpts seems that Erasmos was unlucky enough to be the creator of an imaginary pronunciation which was actually developed and further carried by his followers. Erasmos retracted his statement about the “new” pronunciation but his followers continued to spread the joke of Erasmos’ friend as true.


Proofs for the Sound of the Letter Β,β

One of the things that the Erasmians do is to change the sound of some letters. Β,β – Γ,γ – Δ,δ – Ζ,ζ – Θ,θ – Φ,φ – Η,η – Υ,υ

Starting with the letters, the letter B,β which sounds like the English V,v, the Erasmians believe that it sounds like the English B,b. What happened with that letter is that they look very similar and because it is in the same position in the alphabet (it is the second letter), when they copied a Greek word to the Latin writing, instead of converting it acoustically they were converting it optically. That was happening when the writer either didn’t know Greek or he had never heard the word so that the Greek βίος was transferred as bios, instead of vios. However, when we see Greek words how they exist today in foreign languages, we see that they keep the same pronunciation as in greek because the time the word it was transferred to the other language, it was transferred acoustically first. Later it was written. If we search in the Latin language for some Greek words we see:

  • βόρω – voro
  • βάδω – vado
  • βίττος – vitta
  • όροβος – ervum
  • νιβός – nivis
  • βικίον – vicia
  • φάβω – favo

However, in some words, the Latins kept the sound of b instead of v. On the other hand, the Latins for the b didn't translate only the greek β but also the Greek π (which sounds like the Latin P,p). Looking again the Greek words in the Latin language we see:

  • ab = απ
  • sub = υπ (the s appears at the beginning because it is a tonic mark above υ in greek)
  • buxus = πύξος
  • burrus = πυρρός
  • abor = απορ

The Latin also kept the sound of b for the greek φ (which sounds like the F,f).

  • albus= αλφος
  • nebula = νεφελη
  • nubo = νυφω and νυβω
  • rubrus = ρυφρός
  • sibus = συβός

Reversely with the F,f the expressed the greek β (which sounds like the V,v).

  • fremo = βρέμω
  • fodio = βοθύω
  • fascino = βασκαίνω
  • fossa = βύσσα

The Latins expressed with the Latin letter B,b the three Greek letters Π,π - Β,β - Φ,φ (sound like P,p - V,v - F,f). According to the above, the Greeks could pronounce the Φ,φ (which sounds like the F,f) and they also could pronounce the letter Π,π (which sounds like the P,p). So the greeks could pronounce the π and φ but they couldn’t say the β? Because this is what the erasmian theory tells us, that the Greeks could not pronounce the letter B,βas v but only as b. But this interchange of the three letters Π,π - Β,β - Φ,φ (sound like P,p - V,v - F,f) in a word was common in ancient Greece as you could see the letters change from to Filippos to Vilippos (Φίλιππος to Βίλιππος) or the pikro to vikro (πικρό to βικρό). And for the Greeks, this interchange of the letters inside the same word didn’t affect the meaning at all because there were specific letters that were interchanging and not all of them and each phthong either it was accompanied with π or φ remained the same. This interchange of the three letters existed in the Greek language and it passed to the Latin language as you can see in the example above. In all the categories the greek has the letter β, and in the Latin expression, it has p,v,f - or the opposite.

And the π has a smoother breathe while the φ rougher breathing, while the β (sounds like V,v) was between the rough φ and the smooth π as we find this description in the ancient text of the Greek Grammarian Dionysios Thrax (2nd cent. B.C.) (Dionysios Thrax, Art of Grammar, 6.7) who wrote a book with the title The Art of Grammar. The today grammar school books of the ancient Greek language are based on this book.

A question that arises is why do the Erasmians don’t teach the Germans to pronounce their V,v according to the Latin V,v? And why do the Erasmians don’t go to the French people to teach them their J,j and then to the Spanish people to teach them again their J,j according to the Latin? If the greek β sounds like the latin b then how do the greeks make the v sound? How do they make the soft sound? With what letter? According to this the Greek language is the only one that lacks the soft sound of v, because all the words that are written with β will be pronounced like b so that the Greek language never had the v sound but only the b sound. The Greeks then, never had a rough or a smoother sound. The Erasmians now cannot tell us where the v sound, the smooth sound, in our language is.

However, it seems that the Erasmians thought that the b sound doesn’t exist in our language. The truth is that the b sound does exist but not in the β letter. Before we come to this we have to tell that the sound of the greek Π,π (sounds like P,p) and the Β,β (sounds like V,v) create a similar form in the mouth with the letter Μ,μ ( sounds like M,m) so that the sound b is a compaction of the greek letters B,β (V,v) with Μ,μ (M,m) or the greek letters Π,π (P,p) with Μ,μ (M,m).

  • Μ+π = μπ (mp) (sounds like rough b)
  • Μ+β = μβ (mv) (sounds like soft b)

So that it seems that the b sound from the beginning is a mixed sound which as it softens leads to the v sound. There is not a single word in Greek that starts with b sound (μπ or μβ). We have to add to our arguments that Aristophanes wrote in his work Frogs how the frogs were sound (Aristophanes, Frogs, lns. 209-267); he wrote βρεκκεκέξ which is vrekkekecks. According to Erasmos it would be brekkekecks but the frogs sound like vrekkekecks. Lets not forget Plato (Kratylos 493.e) who says that the letter Β,β is called vita not bita.

If someone wants to search himself the ancient sources that prove the soft sound of the letters he would have to read the following texts:

  • Plato, Kratylos / Πλάτων, Κρατύλος
  • Dionysios Thrax, Art of Grammar / Διονύσιος ο Θραξ, Τέχνη Γραμματική
  • Aristophanes, Frogs / Αριστοφάνης, Βάτραχοι
  • Georgios Choirovoskos, On the canons of Theodosius of Alexandria on declension and conjugation / Γεώργιος Χοιροβοσκός, Περί ονοματικών και ρηματικών κανόνων Θεοδοσίου του Αλεξανδρέους

The ancient pronunciation of the letters with the today pronunciation is one and the same. The today Greeks speak the letters as the Ancient Greeks (I am not talking about duration). One of the reasons that the Erasmians don't understand it, is because they first lack the knowledge of the language as mother language, making it easier to make mistakes as the brain is not programmed according to the Greek language at first hand, to recognize the subtle meanings some of which are conveyed only through experience as mother language and not from a written book. As the brain of the Erasmians is used to their own mother language (English, German, French, etc.) it is easier for them to insert and adjust the sound that is more familiar to their brain according to their own mother language and they insert easier the hard sounds. Additionally, it is essential to note in this part thatsome ancient texts, books and researches about this matter are only written in Greek and they have not been translated into other languages.

The above ancient sources are not the only ones. I would need many days to write in order to deep into full analysis of each letter, etymology, grammatic rules, foreign languages, history, use during the centuries etc. And our arguments are more than enough to prove the unstable and illogic erasmian theory. I could expand to all the other letters and beyond but I am afraid I would need to write a book then.

Note: Some people confuse the pronunciation with the development of the word during the centuries. In Greek even when a word changes acoustically, also change the letters that the word is made of. That is the reason I speak about the sound of the letters and not the sound of the words because the sound of the letters never changes. If you want a word to sound differently you would have to write it differently as well so that the sound of the letters remains always the same.

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