The accent marks in modern editions of Ancient Greek texts primarily reflect the accentual system of an educated register of the Koine of the early 2nd c. BCE. In this system, phonological, morphological, and lexical factors conspire to associate a pitch accent with one syllable of each lexical word. The phonology of the language permits limited contrasts in accentual position (λιθοβόλος vs. λιθόβολος = lithobólos vs. lithóbolos) and type (ἰσθμοί vs. ἰσθμοῖ = isthmói ̯ vs. isthmôi)̯; in the latter case, the syllable marked with an acute accent hosts a High tone, and that marked with a circumflex hosts a High-Low falling contour tone. In any given form, the maximum number of phonologically licit accentual contrasts is three. Within the bounds set by the phonology, morphological, and lexical factors, e.g. the inherent accentual properties of particular suffixes, further determine the accentuation of a word. Comparison with related Indo-European languages, especially Vedic, shows that the Greek system developed from an earlier system that likely lacked a contrast in accent type but permitted more positional contrasts; Greek accentuation is more dependent on the rhythmic structure of the language.
© 2014, Brill. This book chapter first appeared in Encylcopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics, edited by Georgios K. Giannakis, 7-12, Leiden: Brill, 2014.
The definitive version is available at: Brill.
Gunkel, Dieter. "Accentuation." In Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics Vol. 1: A-F, edited by Georgios K. Giannakis, 7-12. Leiden: Brill, 2014.
Gunkel, Dieter, "Accentuation" (2014). Classical Studies Faculty Publications. 24.