Nesace, from Poe's "Al Aaraaf"

Discussion in 'Ελληνικά (Greek)' started by quorumangelorum, Jan 30, 2008.

  1. quorumangelorum Member

    US, english
    Hello all,

    The name of the main character in my very favorite poem is "Nesace", which I am told is from the Greek for "little island".

    I am wondering how to pronounce it. If it's "NES-uh-see", as some have suggested to me, then I don't understand why one S sound is transliterated as "s", and one as "c".

    Can someone tell me for sure how it is pronounced, and possibly explain the C/S thing to me?

    Thanks a lot; it's a burning question.
  2. Vagabond

    Vagabond Senior Member

    Νησάκι in Greek; pronounced as nee-sah-kee, stress on the second syllable. Not sure why they went for "c" (-ce), in Greek the sound is a "k". Perhaps they thought a C looks better..? Often "k" Greek sounds are transliterated as "C", but usually when the C would still sound like a K in English (for example my name, Calliope :D)
  3. quorumangelorum Member

    US, english
    Wow, Calliope!...I have always loved that name! To me, it's sort of the happy opposite of a juggernaut. (in the musical sense.)

    So, the transliteration of Greek and other alphabets or phonemes is not necessarily regular? I didn't expect that.

    I can see how the stress on the second syllable fits the meter.

    ("Though the beings whom Thy Nesace, Thy ambassador hath known
    have dreamed for Thy infinity a model of their own

    Thank you very much!
  4. Kevman Senior Member

    Phoenix, Arizona
    USA English
    What an intriguing example of how traditional Greek-to-English transliteration conventions can result in an almost unrecognizable pronunciation nowadays. Most of these conventions are strategies for transliterating Classical Greek words into English and have become somewhat fossilized, and so don't reflect the Modern Greek pronunciations at all. I'll bet that to Poe, island in Greek was the Classical νῆσος, and the diminutive suffix was the ος-declension version: -άκη(ς). So the original Greek word he was transliterating probably would have been νησάκη.

    The Greek kappa may also be transliterated as 'c' even when it's followed by an 'i' or 'e,' and then English pronunciation rules tend to take over, even though in Greek it's still a [k] sound. For example: English words based on the Greek word for brain (εγκέφαλος), like "encephalogram." (EDIT- Actually maybe kind of a bad example on the Greek side, since various prefixation and phonological rules affect the sound of the kappa in εγκέφαλος, but my point is that it turns into a 'c' in English.)

    The Greek letter eta (η) tends to be represented with 'e' in English words, since originally it was a sort of double epsilon and may have sounded a little like Fonzie's "Aaaayy." :) Poe might have been imagining this sound for eta (and hence, maybe even a hard [k] for the 'c'/kappa). In Modern Greek, however, it represents an 'ee' sound, like in "bee."
  5. quorumangelorum Member

    US, english

    I am utterly fascinated with what you are saying, but I don't read any Greek---(alas) The thing that originally confused me about this name is that I can't think of another name which follows this spelling form -- except "Versace" (I know, Italian), and I've never heard it spoken aloud either.

    I looked up transliteration on Wiki and found a chart that said the classical use indeed was at one time "c" for a "K" sound. But surely the goddess Nike was well known in Poe's time - did they spell it "Nice"? Perhaps they used the "k" when a "c" was inconvenient.

    In any case, Kevman, you like so many others aboard here seem to be very erudite indeed. What is your best guess as to the way Poe would have pronounced it?
  6. balgior Senior Member

    Hello all!

    Is that for sure, quorumangelorum? I mean, maybe Poe might have been inspired by "νησάκι" to come up with this name (if your information is correct), but I don't think he would want "Nesace" to be pronounced as "nee-sah-kee". If this was the case I think he would have written it somehow differently...
  7. wonderment Senior Member

    Oh hellooo, balgior and world! :D I agree, I don't think Poe would've pronounced it in the modern Greek way (but I could be wrong). I'd pronounce it the way Kevman suggested, with the ancient reconstructed pronunciation. 'Nesace' (with a hard 'c'), nay-sah-kay. And the stress would still be on the second syllable.

    Edit add: It just dawned on me that the Romans are partly to be blamed for the transliteration of Greek 'k' to 'c'. They used the letter 'c' to transliterate the 'k' in Greek names because they didn't have a 'k' in their alphabet, and their 'c' was always a hard 'c'. That's why we have Socrates and not Sokrates.
  8. Kevman Senior Member

    Phoenix, Arizona
    USA English
    I'm torn, I'm afraid. :(

    I want to go with the reconstructed pronunciation of νησάκη, i.e., something like nay-sah-kay, but balgior's got a point that's it's just awfully darn weird to spell those sounds that way in English. And after seeing what can happen to the kappa sound when it appears as a 'c' in "encephalogram," I'm not sure what to think. I mean, how true would he have remained to the theoretically accurate Greek pronunciation? At what point do the pronunciation rules of English take over, especially when the word is printed on the page for others to read? O why couldn't he have used it at the end of a line, where it would rhyme with something?! :D

    I suppose it's up to you as the reader to consider all this information and make up your own mind.

    EDIT-- Oh, apparently it does appear at the end of a line, and it rhymes with "Infinity." :eek: That seems to suggest a somewhat more Modern-Greek pronunciation for the vowels (at least the final vowel, anyway). I still don't know what to think about that 'c,' though. :confused:
  9. quorumangelorum Member

    US, english
    And again I say, what a well-informed and thoughtful bunch you are.

    You know, I never thought about it, that a well-known and oft-read poet might write a piece using a classical (well, sort of) name and considerably less than 200 years later we would be unable to be sure how it was pronounced. Curious.

    To answer balgior's question, I gleaned this information from a scholarly site entirely concerned with shall we say the finer points of Poe & his oeuvre. Let me see if I can find it...

    Oh, okay, the "little island" part I got from somebody at Wikipedia. So I can't say that I know for sure that's what it means.

    Incidentally, the reason it matters to me is that I love Nesace's speech to God, the part that starts, "'Spirit! That dwellest where?'" I love the fact that she addresses deity directly and unabashed. (Though she does in fact get abashed when she's finished speaking.;)) I love the whole speech and I feel the same way, I think, myself. I like to quote it when the opportunity arises, and I want to say it right.

    However, with warm appreciation for your efforts here, it appears we may never know. But I have a much better idea now. I'd say you've made a pretty good case for the hard "c". Thanks to all!
  10. wonderment Senior Member

    A name should not be this complicated to figure out, but it is when the original is Greek and it gets modernized, Latinized, anglicized, and who knows what else. (I have my ancient bias of course :D) But I tried to think of Greek names that have been transliterated to English to see if I could detect a pattern. With Selene, Semele, Antigone, Andromache, Antiope, Arachne, Ariadne, the final 'e' is pronounced like the 'ee' in 'bee'. But not all the e's are the same in Selene and Semele (at least not the way we pronounce them in English, more like Selini and Semeli, but isn't that the modern Greek pronunciation of these names?) So perhaps nee-sah-kee is just right for Nesace?
  11. lentulax

    lentulax Senior Member

    Cumbria , England
    UK English
    In British English , the 'c' in 'encephalogram' may be either hard or soft (see OED) - which of course only confirms the uncertainty :)

  12. lentulax

    lentulax Senior Member

    Cumbria , England
    UK English
    In these lines the stress could be on the first or second syllable of 'Nesace' ; but the occurrences of the name in the rest of the poem make it clear that Poe placed the stress on the first syllable .

  13. anthodocheio

    anthodocheio Senior Member

    I don't know if that adds any new information but for me it was a really big surprise when I learnt how encyclopedia/encyclopaedia was pronounced in English...
    The writing seems SO much like the Greek one and yet sounds SO differently...

    Εγκυκλοπαίδεια is the Greek writing, sounds /en-ki-klo-pe-thi-a/ (stress on “pe”, “th” as in “
    this”, “e” as in “egg”, “i” as in “this”).
  14. wonderment Senior Member

    I think we may be confusing different processes here...

    ‘Encyclopedia’ is not a transliteration of εγκυκλοπαίδεια. It’s an English word with Greek roots, but actually came into English via New Latin (not Greek); see here for an interesting history of the word. ‘Encephalograph’ likewise is an English word, a scientific neologism with Greek roots. Standard English rules of pronunciation apply to English words (with regional variations of course)—not Greek or Latin.

    A name like ‘Selene’ is a transliteration of ancient Greek Σεληνη(se-LAY-nay, in the reconstructed pronunciation). In English the name is pronounced se-LEE-nee (which is more like modern Greek). Calliope is a Latinized transliteration of Καλλιοπη; its anglicized pronunciation (ka-LIE-o-pee) is neither exactly like Latin nor Greek (ancient or modern), but closer to modern Greek. So the pronunciation of transcribed Greek names is a bit tricky. But there are standard English pronunciations of well-known Greek names, especially from history and mythology. ‘Nesace’ just isn’t one of them, alas.
  15. Gnosi New Member

    Cyprus Greek
    This is a very interesting topic. I guess what you are saying applies to names but there are so many other words written with a c or an e. For example scene = σκηνή. All "e" are used instead of "η" and "c" instead of "κ" and again the pronounciation is completely different.
  16. quorumangelorum Member

    US, english
    Well, the only real alternative to this kind of confusion is a world where standardization was rigidly enforced with the threat of fearsome punishment.

    Although it would be much easier to obtain car parts and purchase clothing by mail order, ultimately it would not be a world we much liked, I think.;)
  17. wonderment Senior Member

    If only it were possible to come up with a standard that could be enforced! :D

    ‘Scene’ is not a transliteration of σκηνη; it’s an English word derived directly from Latin scena which came from Greek σκηνη. In adopting the Greek word, the Romans adapted its spelling to fit their noun declension. The pronunciation of ‘scene’, like all English words, abides by English (not Latin or Greek) rules of pronunciation; also ‘scene’ does not mean the same thing as σκηνη (tent, stage).

    Transliteration of Greek names, I think, is a different matter. In most cases, there is some attempt to approximate the sound of the original, whatever that is. With Greek it gets complicated because of the difference between Ancient and Modern Greek phonology. And add to that what happens when a Greek name gets anglicized, e.g. ‘George’ from Greek Γιώργος (Giorgos).

    And, oh--the transliteration of Greek language into the Roman alphabet (i.e. Greeklish) is an even bigger headache...The same system cannot work for both Ancient and Modern. There’s not even one agreed upon standard for transliterating Modern Greek.
  18. aaraaf Member

    greek modern
    Hi all
    Whereas Al Aaraaf's "Νησάκι" and The Visionary's "Γέλασμα" are indicatory only of the poet's eventual presence in Greece 1823-25, the two-fold use he makes of "Λυγεία"-Ligeia, (both the ancient muse with the shrill voice as well as the "modern" one with the mellow voice singing surrender and submission) IS evidence.
    In the steps of his brother, Edgar indeed visited Greece and witnessed Navarino on board the USS Constitution.

    See "Two works by Poe decoded" on the web.
  19. aaraaf Member

    greek modern
    re how Nesace WAS pronounced back then:

    My guess is like "Versace" today (n instead of v) in italian, ie

    ne sa che, the tone on "sa".
  20. quorumangelorum Member

    US, english
    "To answer balgior's question, I gleaned this information from an scholarly site entirely concerned with shall we say the finer points of Poe & his oeuvre. Let me see if I can find it..."

    In my search for the pronunciation it seemed helpful to find a modern analogue; "Versace" was what I came up with too, but I had never heard that name spoken aloud. So I went to an Italian board where I am a member & posted asking re the pronunciation of Versace. No one answered -- they must have thought I was goofy to have never heard it pronounced. (I live under a rock.) Hmph. Should have posted here!

    So, to clarify your guess, that's neh-SAH-chee, am I correct?

    ---And thanks for your input.
  21. aaraaf Member

    greek modern
    There are still parts of Greece (Crete and Zante for instance) where k is pronounced as ch (like chilly) ie yes you are correct....
  22. ireney

    ireney Modistra

    Greek Greece Mod of Greek, CC and CD
    Moderator's note: Please keep the conversation focused on the question asked. For personal questions members can always use the Personal Messaging feature. Thank you.
  23. aaraaf Member

    greek modern
    Reading the thread hrough, I must correct members who "want" νησάκι to be classical greek:

    νησίον or νησίς but NOT "Nesace"....

Share This Page