This article is from the Greece FAQ, by Nikolaos (Nick) C. Fotis, firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
From: email@example.com (Edward Wiener)
The languages of Western Europe absorbed many Greek words
and place names through Latin translations. Remember that
in Latin, Cicero is pronounced "Kikero," Caesar as "Kaisar,"
and so forth. When these Latinised names were transmuted
into English, French, and the other languages of Western
Europe, the spelling for the most part remained the same,
but the difference in pronounciation was not taken into
account. Circe, if I am not mistaken, is indeed pronounced
"kir'kee" in Greek. Interestingly, Russian and other Slavic
languages preserved the ancient pronounciation of Greek
names better than Western Europe. Cyprus, in Russian,
is Kipr, Plato is "Platon," Thucydides is "Fukidid," etc.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (mike.siemon)
> There is a wide debate about the pronunciation of ancient greek.
>It is obvious that we have no sound record of the era and we can only
>reconstruct sounds from their evolution to modern greek (actually there
That is part, but only part, of the data. There are, additionally, the
transcriptions of Greek words into other languages (Latin, Persian,
Coptic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and on into the later movements of peoples of
various languages), all variously well known -- plus of course borrowing
in the other direction INTO Greek, at various times. There are also the
comments on pronunciation BY ancient Greek grammarians (not as good at
this as the Sanskrit school leading to Panini, but still quite valuable).
All of this can be used to cross-check and validate/falsify hypotheses
about ancient Greek pronunciations, and the hypotheses themselves and
the standards for reasoning about them derive from a very considerable
modern development of phonology and theoretical linguistics.
None of this makes the results "certain" -- but a lot more is securely
known than in the first fumbling days of the rediscovery of Greek by
the Western Europeans. It is also a somewhat distinct issue from that
of a TEACHING pronunciation of Greek -- there are enough unresolved
(and probably unresolvable) problems like just how to produce the pitch
accents (simply importing Asian models begs the question) that teachers
generally follow and establish local practive even knowing that it is
not a good "reproduction" of the ancient sound.
From: email@example.com (Michael Polymenakos)
>Maybe someone from s.c.g can comment on some of the differences
>between Ancient Greek pronunciations and modern Greek pronunciations?
The big differences:
The differences between H, I, Y, EI, OI and YI (did I forget one?)
have become extinct. Actually, the popular Greek singer Savvopoulos and
some computer-armed speech scientists came forward a few years ago,
proving that a difference still exists, although it is nowhere as
pronounced as it used to be.
Ditto for O and W (omega), ditto for E and AI.
The 'h' sound before some words (represented by ` on the first letter)
has dissapeared. Example Hellas -> Ellas. Ditto for the differences in
pronounciation marked by psili vs daseia vs perispomeni. For that
reason, (and to ease the transition to automation), all these
punctuation points were merged to one, a few years ago.
But what do I know? I am a programmer, not a linguist. J.T.Pring writes
in his preface of the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Greek:
<<After the hellenistic period, the distinguishing power of word-accent
lay in its position rather than its pitch, and the former distinctions
in vowel length were lost. Certain words now show a stronger tendency to
keep the primary stress in their inflected forms. A E I O have remained
more or less unchanged in quality; OY was already U before the end of
the classical period; and W merged with O as a mid back vowel after the
first century AD, and the second element of AY HY had developed into a
labial fricative. H and EI had both become I by early Byzantine times. Y
and OI were being confused as `u' [thats two dots over the u] in
Hellenistic Greek, and both became i by the tenth century.
Double consonants have been reduced to single, except in a few
dialects. The aspirated voiceless stops Theta, Phi, Chi had changed to
fricatives by the fourth century AD, and initial h (marked by the "rough
breathing") had dissapeared. By the same date, the voiced stops
represented by Beta, Delta, Gamma had become replaced by fricatives. but
in certain modern forms the labial and dental stops are still
preserved after M N, being now written as P T, eg GAMPROS < GAMBROS,
DENTRO < DENDRON. The original voiceless P T K following a nasal have
changed to voiced (which can also occur without the nasal environment,
especially in the initial position). Among other phonological changes
are (i) loss of many initial and medial unaccented vowels, including the
verbal augment. (ii) Loss of nasals finally and before a continuant
consonant. (iii) Dissimilation of voiceless consonant groups, eg FTERO <
PTERON, OXTW < OKTW, SKOLIO < SXOLEION, EKACA < EKAYSA [C = Psi].>>
[things in brackets are Michael's comments]