Thursday, August 12, 2004

Two weeks of intensive Greek tuition here at the University of Wales, Lampeter, and I've learnt a good deal about the language. The funny alphabet it uses is actually much easier to master than I expected and I can read it without any trouble now. However, holding words in mind to look them up in the dictionary is not always easy, especially if they are long. Greek is a language that is spelt almost exactly as it is spoken so you don't have to worry about odd pronunciation rules. This might sound like making things easier but it doesn't. It makes things very hard indeed.

In English, we basically all spell the same way regardless of how we speak. Regional variations in accents hardly figure in standard written English. Similarly you can read Chaucer off the page without too much trouble, but if someone reads it out loud with fourteenth century pronunciation, it initially sounds like utter gibberish. Greek is not like this. It also has loads of local dialects and the way it was spoken evolved over hundreds of years. But while in English we left the spelling well alone, Greek is always written as it is spoken, so each dialect (be it Ionic, Attic, Doric or whatever) is spelt to reflect the differences in speech. This is understandable, but it gets even worse. Over the centuries syllables and even words can get slurred into each other. Written Greek accurately reflects this too, so verb forms that would be completely regular change because they result in two vowels next to each other. Rather than just accept that the spelling will deviate from the spoken word, the written verb forms are contracted to fit the spoken word. Likewise, if one word ends in a vowel and the next word begins with one they are merged together which makes looking anything up in the dictionary an absolute nightmare.

I am assured that once you have mastered all this and have thoroughly assimilated the rhythm of the language, Greek is actually easier than classical Latin. But I have a very long way to go before I get to that stage. Another saving grace is that the Koine Greek of the New Testament, which is what I am really interested in, is a whole lot easier than the classical Greek that I'm learning now. Whatever happens, there will be a lot more hard work before I'm picking up Plato to read on the beach!

1 comment:

laBiscuitnapper said...

Ha! My Classics teachers all say that Latin is harder, so there's no need to worry.

As for Plato, he's confusing enough with an almighty lexicon at one's side...