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June 10th, 2008
02:20 am
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Date:June 11th, 2008 04:05 am (UTC)
Even though ancient Greek was not originally written with the polytonic accents (being written entirely in capitals without accents), polytonic accents were added to copies of manuscripts starting in the early centuries CE. The extra diacritics give additional information about pronounciation that is otherwise lost. Modern Greek uses a stress-based accent system, but ancient Greek was polytonic; the accents represented changes in pitch.

So to a native speaker of ancient Greek, the extra diacritics would technically be superfluous (as would lowercase letters), but all modern renditions of ancient Greek that I've seen (in four years of classes in college and additional dabbling outside of class) include the polytonic marks, with all uppercase (and no additional diacritics) reserved for titles and other such roles.

I hope that's helpful. Sorry about some of the vagueness; it's been a year or two since I last was reading up on the exact details of ancient Greek pronunciation that tell more about the accents than "memorize how these accents work" that shows up in textbooks.
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Date:June 11th, 2008 04:24 am (UTC)
Thank you! All the stuff I have seen on the subject is of the "memorize how these work" and poorly motivates the monotonic transition; my minimal linguistics training rebels against the idea of legislating pronunciation change, so it must have already happened at the time of the legislation.
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Date:June 11th, 2008 04:48 am (UTC)
It looks like there's some further information on accents (and the development of them) here.

I only really found additional details while trying to read up on pronunciation. Beginning texts generally teach students to use stress-based accents and ignore the language's polytonic nature entirely. This becomes notable when students move on to poetry ... which has its own stresses based on the meter, which mean you suddenly ignore accent entirely in your pronunciation, and everyone tends to have this sort of monotonic (and monotonous) chanting quality when they read.
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