Don’t forget to breathe (Learning a little Greek part 5)

David Blaine not breathing for ages

I am learning a little Greek. It’s rather slow going at the moment not least of all due to the technical difficulties of writing it out on a computer but I’m getting there. Now to look at the little comma over the Alpha at the start of ἀπόστολοσ. It’s one of two breathing marks, the other being a backwards comma, as in ἁ. The first is a smooth breathing that can also look like a closed bracket. It means you say the vowel as normal. The second breathing mark, signifies rough breathing where you sort of make a “h” sound before the vowel.

εν “en”

ἐν “en”

ἑν “hen”

The breathing mark is typically placed over the first letter of a word if the

letter is a vowel. If a diphthong has a breathing mark it is always  placed over the second vowel.

Just a few more bits and bobs I have discovered in “The Elements of New Testament Greek”. They may not be important but I will note them down:

1) A Gamma before another Gamma is pronounced like “n”. So ἀγγελος is “angelos”. It is also pronounced “n” before κ, χ and ξ although I am assured that these are much rarer. It’s not quite “i before e except after c” but close. There better not be too much more of this sort of malarkey.

2) Zeta (ζ) is pronouced more like “dz” eg σωζω “I save” but when it is the initial letter it is just plain old “z”.

3) Iota is pronounced more like “y” at the start of proper nouns. I think thats what they are saying. ie Ἰησους for Jesus sounds like “yaysoos”.

4) The letter χ is pronounced “chi” as in “Kite”. When sounded in a word is quite guttural as in “loch”.

5)  They say the name Tau is pronounced as in the first part of “taught”, so “tor” not “taw” as in “tower”.  I will check with Jeff. He seems to miss it out or else I can’t find it. This guy says “t a w” as in tower.

Hey found another free set of NT Greek Lessons by D. Eric Williams. He says alpha is like “ar”. He concurs with my Wenham book about the Zeta “dz” thing. He also mentions the long sounding Iota.  He says κια as in “and” is sometimes just used as a full stop. I love all the “ands” in the Greek Text. It reminds me of a child breathlessly rolling out one sentence after another without a pause “and then we went to the shops and got some sweets and Jake was there and he didn’t have any money and his mom…” He says “pee” for Pi. And, there it is, he says Tau like “taw” so I think I will forget the “taught” thing. Oh, he says “fee” for Phi and “kee” for Chi.

He talks about vowel combinations, or diphthongs in Here are his definitions by way of a recap.

i) αι sounds like “I” in “Isle”.

ii) ει sounds like “ay” in”feight”.

iii) οι sounds like “oil”.

iv) αυ has the “ow” sound like “cow” or “out” .

v) ευ as in “feud”.

vi) ου, he says, sounds as in “route”, so much like the Upsilon by itself.

vii) υι sounds as in “queen”.

viii) He then mentions an ιη diphthong which is new to me and is pronounced “yay” as in “yale”. That’s why Jesus’ name Ἰησους has a “y” sound at the start because it’s got this diphthong at the front. Not really sure what point 3 above means now.

He mentions a “movable nu” (Nu is ν) rule which means nothing to me right now. In the middle of the video he gives the pronunciation for the first three verses of John’s gospel which is quite helpful.

While looking back at Jeff’s video I noticed someone ask why lots of words with Epsilon at the end have it pronounced was a long “ee”. The teacher didn’t know but said that yes that was sometimes the case.

And that’s it I think. I feel the waters are a bit muddied now in terms of reading and pronouncing but at least in theory I can now read New Testament Greek, even if I can’t understand it. I need to go back and learn the capital letters at some point but I want to get a few words under my belt first. I will take a few deep breathes and then learn my first verb.


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