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Hellenish Oddities: the point (finally)

From:Oskar Gudlaugsson <hr_oskar@...>
Date:Thursday, November 23, 2000, 17:32
In retrospect, my original posting with this subject was a total mistake. I
still feel some people overreacted, but I admit that the general tone of the
text came out very negative. The reason was that I got so lost in ranting
that I never actually got to the point. So it was really just half a

It was only when I returned to my Greek books today that I remembered the
point I was missing. It was that all languages, no matter how "unnatural"
they would seem to the frustrated student, are still very much natural. If
some prosodic or phonetic feature sounds totally impossible, it's bound to
be much simpler in fact. We all have the same vocal equipment, which is my
old rationale for never conceding to seemingly impossible prosodics. I had
to do, for example, a lot of mental work when I was faced with learning
Cantonese; the more explanations one got of "tones" in Cantonese, the more
impossible-to-pronounce they'd seem. I watched my fellow students give up,
with the excuse that "only Chinese can pronounce this", as if Chinese have a
different set of vocal chords. My way to deal with it was to ignore all
further explanations, just listen to how the language was spoken, and make
my own analyses of the phenomenon. That worked out well enough, at least for
day-to-day purposes.
  Faced with similar "strangeness" in Ancient Greek, especially the
prosodics (the clusters really don't bother me that much), I would try the
same thing. Of course, this time I can't hear the language. The books'
explanations of how each phoneme is pronounced and that the accent is
pitched, not stressed, doesn't bring me the whole picture. I'm missing "the
rhythm", as Yoon Ha Lee called it. I guess no-one really knows, but my
original intention with writing on this subject, was to ask if any
Greek-specialists here, through prolonged study of the language, felt any
closer to the rhythm/psyche of the language, and could share their
perception with me.

So, the case is not that I dislike Greek; I'm just frustrated with not
having any feel for it. Frustrated that it feels unnatural to me, when I
know it shouldn't, because all languages are natural. I have a much
stronger feel for Latin, comparatively. Not that I need any "feel" to pass
my tests, it's just for my linguist self.

Thanks in advance for any help or knowledge you may have for me,