Pronunciation of Ancient Greek in Teaching - England

England

In 1540, John Cheke and Thomas Smith became Regius Professors at Cambridge. They proposed a reconstructed pronunciation of both Greek and Latin, which was similar to Erasmus’ scheme, although derived independently, and this became adopted in schools.

Soon after the Cheke and Smith reforms, English underwent the Great Vowel Shift which changed the phonetic values assigned to the English "long vowels" in particular; the same changes affected the English pronunciation of Greek, which thus became further removed from the Ancient Greek original and also from Greek as pronounced in other western countries.

A further peculiarity of the English pronunciation of Ancient Greek occurred as a result of the work of Isaac Vossius who maintained in an anonymously published treatise that the written accents of Greek did not reflect the original pronunciation. Moreover, Henninus (Heinrich Christian Henning) published Dissertatio Paradoxa which claimed that accentuation in Ancient Greek must follow the same principles in Latin. This view is now universally considered to be erroneous (it is generally accepted that the accented syllable in Ancient Greek (as in Modern Greek) is the one carrying the written accent, although most authorities consider that this was a pitch accent as opposed to the Modern Greek stress accent). However, the Henninian theory has affected the pronunciation taught in schools in the UK and the Netherlands, although it has been resisted in the United States and other countries.

Thus by the mid-19th century the pronunciation of Ancient Greek in British schools was quite different not only from Modern Greek, but also from the reconstructed pronunciation of Ancient Greek (which by this time had been fairly well agreed amongst scholars), and from the pronunciation used in other countries. The Classical Association therefore promulgated a new pronunciation, based on the reconstructed ancient pronunciation, which is now generally in use in British schools.

The reforms in the pronunciation of Ancient Greek in schools have not affected the pronunciation of individual Greek-derived words in English itself, while there is now considerable variation in the English pronunciation (and indeed spelling) of the names of Ancient Greek historical or mythological personages or places; see: English words of Greek origin.

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