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Teaching Ablaut in Elementary Ancient Greek

Rex Wallace

University of Massachussets Amherst

Students of elementary ancient Greek may recognize formal and semantic relationships between words such as ἀείδω ‘sing’ and ἀοιδός ‘singer’, λέγω ‘speak’ and λόγος ‘speech’, and φέρω ‘bear’ and φόρος ‘tribute’, but they may not be aware that these relationships are not arbitrary, but are regulated by a system of changes involving the quantity and quality of vowels in roots and suffixes known as ablaut. Ablaut changes such as those exemplified by λέγω ‘speak’ and λόγος ‘speech’ are associated with particular verb and noun formations. Second declension agent nouns and abstract nouns provide a good example. These nouns are built from verb roots whose vowel regularly appears as ο (underlined in the following examples): (i) agent nouns ἀοιδός ‘singer’, σκοπός ‘watcher’, φονός ‘murderer’, etc., with suffix accent; and (ii) action nouns φόνος ‘murder’, τόνος ‘act of stretching’, λόγος ‘speech’, τόμος ‘a cutting, a slice’, etc., with

root accent.


I begin the paper with a description of the system of ablaut in ancient Greek. I then discuss approaches to and reasons for teaching this topic in the elementary Greek classroom. I conclude by making a pitch for increasing the amount of linguistics that is introduced in elementary classical language courses.

Session/Panel Title

The Future of Teaching Ancient Greek

Session/Paper Number


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