Education: August 2012 Archives

The U. S. Census Bureau has just released 2010 Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data: attendance, revenue, and expenditure data from each public school district in the country. You can download the data in Excel along with a key to each field. Revenue is broken down by federal, state, and local source and by subcategories for each source. Spending is broken down by instructional and administrative costs, among many other categories.

Languages evolve over the centuries, and so it's not surprising that there are differences of opinion as to how Attic Greek, the language of ancient Athens during the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, should be pronounced.

In prepping for the first session of the Ancient Greek class I'm teaching at Augustine Christian Academy, I discovered that the pronunciation guide textbook differed in several important respects from the method I'd learned in college. For example, the new book by Prof. Cynthia Shelmerdine says that eta should be pronounced as "a" in man; I'd learned it as the "a" in late. Shelmerdine says omega should be like the o in long; I'd learned it as the "o" in lone. She calls for pronouncing phi and theta as breathy p and t rather than as ph in phone and th in thin.

In addition to the formal Attic Greek courses I took in college, I took a course in New Testament Greek during MIT's Independent Activities Period (IAP), a kind of minimester in between New Year's and the start of spring classes in February. The teacher, an electrical engineering graduate student, had us use modern Greek pronunciation, which I found confusing. Part of the problem is that modern Greek uses the same sound -- "ee" -- for a wide range of vowels and diphthongs, while the traditional academic approach to pronunciation assigned different sounds to each.

The consonants changed, too. Beta was now pronounced by buzzing air between closed lips -- halfway between English v and b. I remember being puzzled that countries like Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, and Botswana weren't to be found near the front of the line for the parade of nations at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens The mystery was solved a while later, when they all showed up toward the end of the Ms. Apparently the combination m-p is as close as modern Greek gets to an English b, giving us Μπαχάμες, Μπαγκλαντές, Μπαρμπάντος, Μπελίζ, Μπενίν, and Μποτσουάνα, respectively. And since delta has turned into the th in then, the closest Greek equivalent to the English d is n-t ντ.

What I knew as the traditional academic pronunciation traces its roots back to Erasmus, the 16th century Dutch scholar who also published the first printed Greek New Testament, assembling the best available manuscripts available in northern Europe at the time and drawing on the expertise of the Greek diaspora, displaced by the Ottoman Turkish conquest of the Byzantine Empire in the mid 15th century.

From what I read (see links to a selection of articles below), Erasmus's approach is probably pretty close to the sound of the language in classical Athens; later textbook variations deviated from accuracy to achieve the pedagogical goal of a one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds.

But among the various Greek city-states different pronunciations and spelling conventions prevailed. By the end of the classical period, as Alexander unified Greece and conquered the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, he spread a simpler language, the "common tongue," much closer in pronunciation to modern Greek.

So how should Ancient Greek be pronounced in schools? I've opted for the traditional approach, so that sight and sound work together to aid memorization.


acalogo.jpgIt's back-to-school time for the Bates family. In years past, that applied to our three kids and Mom, who homeschools the youngest two. This year it applies to Dad, too.

This morning I taught my first session of Ancient Greek I at Augustine Christian Academy (ACA) as part-time teacher. There was a need, and with clearance from my employer, I offered to teach the class.

We began today with the basics: The alphabet, accents, breathings, consonant categories, vowels and diphthongs, punctuation and capitalization. Homework included some worksheets for practicing Greek handwriting.

There's room for a few more in the class, and this is an opportunity for homeschooled students who want to learn ancient Greek. ACA allows homeschooled students in grades 6-12 to sign up for individual classes.

Becoming a part-time student at ACA also opens the door for optional participation in other aspects of school life: chapel and Bible studies, membership in one of the school's four houses, school musicals, school trips, the school's annual formal banquet, and more. To learn more about ACA's options for homeschool families, contact the school office at 918-832-4600.

The Greek I course I teach is offered two days a week at the beginning of the school day, a great way to get your homeschooler off to a good start. ACA also offers Latin and Hebrew, art, music, theater, logic, philosophy, economics, Biblical exegesis, history, literature, and the full range of math and science. Here's the full list of ACA classes for 2012-2013.

ParthenonThe Parthenon by Konstantinos Dafalias on Flickr, Creative Commons attribution license.

A bit about my background in this subject: I studied Greek at MIT, part of my self-designed dual major in classics and computer science. During my time there, MIT offered a few modern languages (French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Japanese), but Greek was the only ancient language offered. (For Latin, you had to cross-register up the street at Harvard.)The Greek courses were taught by MIT's only classics professor, Harald Anton Thrap Olsen Reiche. Prof. Reiche served on the MIT faculty from 1955 until his retirement in 1991. In addition to formal courses, I was in a small group -- myself, one other student, and a literature professor -- reading through Plato's Apology in Greek, and I took an IAP course in New Testament Greek taught by an engineering grad student who insisted on using modern Greek pronunciation, very different from the classical pronunciation I'd learned.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Education category from August 2012.

Education: January 2012 is the previous archive.

Education: January 2013 is the next archive.

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