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Transliteration of Chinese Names
Posted: 05 January 2013 01:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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I’d quibble with Ancient Greek, as well. The inhabitants of Athens, Sparta, Epirus, Macedon, and Ionia all spoke varieties of ancient Greek (I’m not sure what is implied by spelling “ancient” with a capital “A") but I very much doubt if they all sounded even remotely the same, even if they were all reciting the same passage from, say, the Iliad.

Likewise, I doubt whether any 25th century English speaker would be able to tell very accurately how 20th century English sounded, if he/she were only able to compare the sound of the same words spoken in, say, Little Rock, South Shields, and Sydney respectively.

As for medieval Latin—are we to suppose that it would sound the same in the mouths of a 10th century Swedish, Irish, Venetian or Byzantine cleric? I’m just asking - this isn’t a rhetorical question. Whose medieval Latin do we know perfectly well the sound of? Was Roman or some other pronunciation the world standard?

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Posted: 05 January 2013 03:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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The inhabitants of Athens, Sparta, Epirus, Macedon, and Ionia all spoke varieties of ancient Greek

Oh, come on.  When people say “Ancient Greek,” they mean Attic, just as when people say “Chinese” they mean Mandarin.  We know perfectly well how Attic was pronounced; we know about the other dialects to differing extents depending on how much material we have.

As for medieval Latin—are we to suppose that it would sound the same in the mouths of a 10th century Swedish, Irish, Venetian or Byzantine cleric?

No, of course not.  Our knowledge of how it would sound depends on our knowledge of how the native languages of the speaker sounded (plus a minimal knowledge of the adaptations for Latin); we know perfectly well how it would have sounded in the mouth of a Florentine, pretty well for an Irishman, I don’t know about a Swede.  Byzantine clerics in the 10th century used Greek, not Latin (and we know how that Greek sounded too).  Obviously by “perfectly well” I don’t mean that we could pass for a native speaker if we time-traveled, but that we have as good a knowledge as we could get for a living language from a textbook, without access to a native speaker.  And that can be quite good—I taught myself Russian that way.

My basic point is that we know way more about the pronunciation of ancient Greek and Latin than most people realize, and it irks me considerably when people say things like “Who knows how it sounded?”

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Posted: 05 January 2013 09:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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thanks, lh, you made what you meant very clear, and i think you made your basic point.

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Posted: 06 January 2013 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Thanks, it’s nice to know I can still make a point!

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Posted: 10 January 2013 02:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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languagehat - 05 January 2013 03:24 PM

we have as good a knowledge as we could get for a living language from a textbook, without access to a native speaker.  And that can be quite good—I taught myself Russian that way.

I have a friend who is an excellent language learner - he speaks English, Dutch, German and Czech, at least - who learnt Danish from a textbook, could read it fluently, but got to Copenhagen and realised his pronunciation was utterly nothing like the pronunciation real Danes used. I’m sure LH’s Russian pronunciation is perfect - but a lack of access to native speakers can sometimes be a problem.

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Posted: 10 January 2013 09:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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I’m sure LH’s Russian pronunciation is perfect -

I assure you it’s not!  “Not bad” is the highest I aspire to.

but a lack of access to native speakers can sometimes be a problem.

Oh, it’s definitely a problem.  I wasn’t making excessive claims for the ability to pronounce without access to native speakers, just saying that we’re in no worse a position with respect to Ancient Greek and Latin—not perfect, probably somewhat risible to native speakers (if any were left), but… not bad.

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