Can a modern Greek speaker read Ancient Greek?

The Real John Milton

Well-known member
This topic has come up before, and receives various answers. The post linked below at on the textkit.com forum is by a native Greek speaker who is also fluent in English:


I find it interesting that he needs a modern Greek translation to make sense of the ancient version.
I wouldn’t say he is fluent English — needs to work on his prepositions, for starters. But in any case, it is indeed interesting that he needs a translation to make sense of the “ancient.” Is he talking about “Koine” Greek when he says that ? More power to those who know Biblical Koine I guess, if that be the case.
 

Gryllus Maior

Active member
Well, native speaker fluency certainly not, but he clearly communicated what he intended and we understood, and I suspect he can read English texts at quite a high register as well. Koine Greek of course is Ancient Greek, and once a native speaker gets outside of familiar NT texts, with self-professed Koine writers such as Epictetus, then it gets quite hairy indeed.
 

Steven Avery

Well-known member
Is he talking about “Koine” Greek when he says that ?

There is no indication that this is a discussion of Bible Greek. That discussion was held on the New Testament Greek Study group on Facebook in September 2020 and it showed clearly that those who are fluent speakers of modern Greek, even with no Bible background, read and understand the Koine Greek of the New Testament easily.

There is a video that shows young secular Greek-speakers in Cyprus taking the New Testament in hand and reading easily and smoothly, with comprehension.
 
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Gryllus Maior

Active member
There is no indication that this is a discussion of Bible Greek. That discussion was held on the New Testament Greek Study group on Facebook in September 2020 and it showed clearly that those who are fluent speakers of modern Greek, even with no Bible background, read and understand the Koine Greek of the New Testament easily.

There is a video that shows young secular Greek-speakers in Cyprus taking the New Testament in hand and reading easily and smoothly, with comprehension.
The question is a bit more complicated than you suggest. if the modern Greek speakers are familiar with the GNT in general, particularly the Katharevousa version, yes, they can read and understand some Koine Greek from the NT. Many of these also have some instruction in Ancient Greek. If not, then it becomes much more dicey, and I guarantee that if we give them passages from a Koine writer such as Epictetus, it becomes even dicier. People only familiar with Demotike (very common now since they removed Katharevousa as an official dialect and introduced education tracks which do not include Ancient Greek as a language) have an even rougher go of it. Ages ago in graduate school I had this discussion with Maria Pantelia, a native Greek who is now Professor of Classics at UC Irvine, who agreed that speakers of MG needed to learn it as a second language, though she felt that they had a head start which somewhat leveled out at the advanced levels. This native Greek speaker who teaches Greek:


When I was an undergraduate, we several times had Greek international students sign up for our reading courses in the NT or an "easy" Greek author such as Xenophon. Nearly everyone of them dropped out after a few weeks. We had one young lady (an excellent student) who used these courses for her electives, and informed us of essentially the same thing. Lacking the classical track of their education, they simply couldn't deal with it.
 

1Thess521

Well-known member

Can a modern Greek speaker read Ancient Greek?​

as an example:
I cannot read the Lord's Prayer in old English from the 11th century

Fæder ure şu şe eart on heofonum,
si şin nama gehalgod.
to becume şin rice,
gewurşe ğin willa,
on eorğan swa swa on heofonum.
urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg,
and forgyf us ure gyltas,
swa swa we forgyfağ urum gyltendum.
and ne gelæd şu us on costnunge,
ac alys us of yfele soşlice.


or middle English 15th century

Oure fadir şat art in heuenes
halwid be şi name;
şi reume or kyngdom come to be.
Be şi wille don
in herşe as it is dounin heuene.
yeue to us today oure eche dayes bred.
And foryeue to us oure dettis şat is oure synnys
as we foryeuen to oure dettouris şat is to men şat han synned in us.
And lede us not into temptacion
but delyuere us from euyl.
 

Steven Avery

Well-known member
The question is a bit more complicated than you suggest. if the modern Greek speakers are familiar with the GNT in general, pa

In the video, the young people in Cyprus reading the Stephanus Greek text (from memory) were not familiar with the GNT. They were secular young native Greek-speakers.

In counterpoint, on the forum I mentioned above, an argument was made that Cyprus was very different than Greece, based on some scholarship, and that was quickly shot down as nonsense.

One gentleman involved in the video was posting on the thread.

Knowing that the scholarship can be of that nature, in left field, I will wait for those who disagree to show their own videos, preferably in Cyprus or Greece, of young people stumbling awkwardly on the New Testament text.
 

Gryllus Maior

Active member
In the video, the young people in Cyprus reading the Stephanus Greek text (from memory) were not familiar with the GNT. They were secular young native Greek-speakers.

In counterpoint, on the forum I mentioned above, an argument was made that Cyprus was very different than Greece, based on some scholarship, and that was quickly shot down as nonsense.

One gentleman involved in the video was posting on the thread.

Knowing that the scholarship can be of that nature, in left field, I will wait for those who disagree to show their own videos, preferably in Cyprus or Greece, of young people stumbling awkwardly on the New Testament text.
I've seen that in real life. I don't need a video.
 

Gryllus Maior

Active member
In Greece or in Cyprus?
In Maryland, watching native Greek speakers flounder while trying to read Luke. Of the four or five who signed up for the class, all but one dropped, and she was an excellent student who had a tradition classical track education, including 4 years of Ancient Greek not in translation.
 

The Real John Milton

Well-known member
as an example:
I cannot read the Lord's Prayer in old English from the 11th century

Fæder ure şu şe eart on heofonum,
si şin nama gehalgod.
to becume şin rice,
gewurşe ğin willa,
on eorğan swa swa on heofonum.
urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg,
and forgyf us ure gyltas,
swa swa we forgyfağ urum gyltendum.
and ne gelæd şu us on costnunge,
ac alys us of yfele soşlice.


or middle English 15th century

Oure fadir şat art in heuenes
halwid be şi name;
şi reume or kyngdom come to be.
Be şi wille don
in herşe as it is dounin heuene.
yeue to us today oure eche dayes bred.
And foryeue to us oure dettis şat is oure synnys
as we foryeuen to oure dettouris şat is to men şat han synned in us.
And lede us not into temptacion
but delyuere us from euyl.
Not the same. You cannot pronounce properly nor fully understand the above English. But a Modern Greek speaker could pronounce the GNT Greek quite well, they just would not understand it well.
 

Gryllus Maior

Active member
Not the same. You cannot pronounce properly nor fully understand the above English. But a Modern Greek speaker could pronounce the GNT Greek quite well, they just would not understand it well.
Pronunciation has little to do with it (and Koine at about the time of the NT still had a number of distinctives pronunciation wise from Modern Greek). It has a lot more to do with changes in semantics, grammar and syntax. BTW, it's not hard to learn how to pronounce Old English:


For the OE, no matter how you pronounce it, modern English speakers are going to have trouble with word like heofonum and gehalgod.
 

1Thess521

Well-known member
Not the same. You cannot pronounce properly nor fully understand the above English. But a Modern Greek speaker could pronounce the GNT Greek quite well, they just would not understand it well.
It was just an example from 6 - 7 hundred years ago:
I would think 2000 years ago would be more extreme.
 

Steven Avery

Well-known member
Can you post a link?
Sure.
You were involved in the earlier discussion:

Facebook - New Testament Greek Study
How different is the Greek spoken today from that spoken in first century?
https://www.facebook.com/groups/354690344628879/permalink/3050202511744302/

"Going Back to the Greek"

At 32:15 a short reference to Koine Greek.
I think from about 10 to 20 minutes there is a lot of outdoor time at the mall, cafes, etc.
I was not involved, just appreciated the video, which goes well with what my Cypriot Greek friends say.
 

Gryllus Maior

Active member
Sure.
You were involved in the earlier discussion:

Facebook - New Testament Greek Study
How different is the Greek spoken today from that spoken in first century?
https://www.facebook.com/groups/354690344628879/permalink/3050202511744302/

"Going Back to the Greek"

At 32:15 a short reference to Koine Greek.
I think from about 10 to 20 minutes there is a lot of outdoor time at the mall, cafes, etc.
I was not involved, just appreciated the video, which goes well with what my Cypriot Greek friends say.
Thanks. I did see the video a while ago, but need to see it again. I doubt I'll see anything new, but you never know.
 

Gryllus Maior

Active member
Thanks. I did see the video a while ago, but need to see it again. I doubt I'll see anything new, but you never know.
There is apparently another video out there that I was confusing this with. As an evangelical Christian (not Baptist!) I can relate to this on a number of levels, but on the language issue I offer the following caveats in terms of the ability of these Cypriot Greeks to understand the Koine of the GNT:

1) Cypriot Greek has a number of archaisms in it (compared to the Demotiki spoken on the mainland) that makes some vocabulary connections easier.

2) They picked "easy" Greek sections with familiar vocabulary connections to their dialect. They also were able to contextualize what they were reading in English and Modern Greek. I liked it when he finally shared the gospel totally in Greek -- it reminded me of doing the same in Italian when I was involved in a similar project in my college days in Italy. At any rate, I would like to see if they have the same facility in understanding reading Acts or Hebrews, which are in a higher register of Koine. For that matter let them cut their teeth on Epictetus....

Good points include the statement that it is really one language which morphs over a period of time, and definitely a Modern Greek speaker has a good head start when learning ancient varieties of his language. But we still have plenty of evidence that Ancient Greek, including Koine, gives many Modern Greek speakers fits... :)
 

Theophilos

Active member
This topic has come up before, and receives various answers. The post linked below at on the textkit.com forum is by a native Greek speaker who is also fluent in English:


I find it interesting that he needs a modern Greek translation to make sense of the ancient version.
Mutual intelligibility between languages depends on many factors. Here is numerical comparison in terms of similarity of basic vocabulary:

Modern Greek to Ancient Greek 8.6
English to ancient Greek 66.6
English to Old English 18.5
English to Scots 10.2
English to Dutch 27.2
Latin to Italian 20.5
Spanish to Italian 16.1

The ancient Greek is based on the language from 300 BC.

Shakespeare, which is technically modern English, frequently requires footnotes that are of similar length to the text to understand all the details. The difference is between modern Greek and New Testament Greek appears to be significantly greater than that; it is probably more like understanding Chaucer or Scots.

While a knowledge of modern Greek gives a large advantage in learning Ancient Greek, it is unreasonable to expect a speaker of Modern Greek to understand the details of a text in Ancient Greek without significant study.

For details see:

 
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