Pronunciation of Ancient Greek in Teaching - France


Pronunciation of Ancient Greek in French secondary schools is mostly based on Erasmian pronunciation, but modified to match the phonetic system of French (and even orthographic conventions of French in the case of αυ and ευ).

Vowel length distinction, geminate consonants, and pitch accent are discarded completely, which matches the absence of pitch accent in French and the discarding of geminate consonants and vowel length distinction in standard modern French. This disregard of vowel length is such that the reference Greek-French dictionary, Dictionnaire Grec-Français by A. Bailly and al., does not bother to indicate vowel length in long syllables.

Vowel length notwithstanding, the values for simple vowel are generally correct, though many speakers have problems with the openness distinction between ε and η, ο and ω, matching similar confusion by many speakers of standard modern French. α or ο followed by a nasal and another consonant are often nasalized as or (e.g. for ἄνθρωπος) ; these allophones appear under the influence of the French phonetic system.

The pseudo-diphthong ει is erroneously pronounced or, both before vowel and before consonant, and whether the ει derives from a genuine diphthong or a ε̄. Pseudo-diphthong ου has a value of, which is historically attested in Ancient Greek.

Short-element ι diphthongs αι, οι and υι are pronounced rather accurately as, (though at least some web sites recommend a less accurate pronunciation for υι). Short-element υ diphthongs αυ and ευ are pronounced like similar-looking French pseudo-diphthongs au and eu, i.e. ~ and ~, respectively.

The ι is not pronounced in long-element ι diphthongs. As for long-element υ diphthongs, common French-language Greek methods or grammars appear to ignore such diphthongs in their descriptions of the pronunciation of ancient Greek in France.

The values for consonants are generally correct. However, due to lack of similar sounds in standard modern French, ‘ is not pronounced, θ and χ are pronounced and, whereas φ is pronounced . For similar reasons, ρ and ῥ are both pronounced, whereas γ before velar is generally pronounced . Digraph γμ is pronounced, and ζ is pronounced though both pronunciation are questionable in the light of modern scholarly research. More generally, no attempt is made to reproduce unwritten allophones that are thought to have existed by modern scholarly research.

Here is a piece of French schoolboy humour, in the present context particularly revealing:

Οὐκ ἔλαβον πόλιν, ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἐλπὶς ἔφη κακά

— and which, capping the English schoolboys’ forte dux fel flat in guttur, is said to mean:

‘Où qu’est la bonne Pauline ? à la gare ; elle pisse et fait caca.’

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