Pronunciation of accents

English translation by Bruna Pogliano

It is now worth saying a few words on how accents must have been pronounced by ancient Greeks; this is intended to provide accuracy and completeness of information and, to a lesser extent, to bring up the issue of historical pronunciation in reading Greek.

We must remember that the ancient did not use to mark accents on vowels, except for rare instances where adding an accent proved useful to avoid ambiguities. Evidence has been provided by the study of papyri and epigraphs. The same was true also for breathing marks and punctuation marks as well as for spaces between words. Systematic marking of accents on each word originated from μεταχαρακτηρισμός, i.e. from the transcription of classical texts in Byzantine Era. Such transcription was carried out purposely according to the criterion of establishing what could still be considered certain about the way words were pronounced in the classical age, thus avoiding doubts deriving from the fact that pronunciation had become markedly different over the centuries.

It is no wonder that all Greek words, except enclitics and proclitics, now carry an accent. In fact, also in other languages, each word is pronounced stressing one of the syllables, even though such stress is not marked in writing. In Italian, for example, accents have to be marked only on truncated polysyllabic words (e.g.: città, perché, andò, etc...), but all words are pronounced stressing one of their syllables. It is sufficient to mention the difference between áncora (noun - anchor) and ancóra (adverb - again), whose pronunciation is quite different even if they do not carry any accent mark.

As to the sound of accents when pronounced, several clues make us think that they must have sounded as follows:

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