Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On Pronouncing the Name Ἰησοῦς

It has been the fate of this letter (iota = ι), as writers have remarked, to be the subject of as much controversy as any in the whole alphabet. Erasmus and his followers contended, that the ancients pronounced it like what they called long E in Latin; by which they meant a sound like a in our word fate. The Modern Greeks pronounce it like our ee; which is the sound given to it by the English, and which we have always been accustomed to give it. As far as respects ourselves, therefore, we have no dispute with the Modern Greeks about this letter. But the writers on the continent of Europe have generally considered that pronunciation as erroneous; it will, therefore, be necessary, to notice briefly the grounds, upon which the two modes are defended. That this letter at one period had a sound differing in some respects from that, which it now has in Greece, must be inferred from the description given of it by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, which is different from his description of the sound of Iota; and this latter indisputably had the sound of long e (or ee) in our language. In the Herculanean manuscripts too, the η is sometimes used by the copvist, through mistake, instead of Epsilon. But there is also a great mass of evidence tending to show, that about the commencement of the Christian era or not long afterwards, the η and ι were both pronounced alike; and, if we can ascertain the pronunciation of the language as far back as that period, it will be sufficiently near the classic ages of Greece, to satisfy the most fastidious ear of foreigners, as we are in respect to the language. The arguments on both sides of the question respecting the η, are very minutely stated (from various authors but not without remarks of his own) by Velastus, a Greek monk of the island of Chios, in the Dissertation to which I have before referred, and in which upwards of thirty quarto pages are devoted to this letter alone. [John Pickering On Greek Pronunciation, the North American Review June 1819 p. 106]

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