• Greek language

    The Greek language (Ελληνικά /Elini'k{/) is an Indo-European language which has existed from around the 14th century BC in the Cretan inscriptions called Linear B. Mycenaean Greek of this period is distinguished from later Classical or Ancient Greek of the 8th century BC and after, when texts came to be written in the Greek alphabet.

    NOTE. Greek is written in a non-Latin script. Most examples below are in the Greek alphabet, with transcriptions in SAMPA.

    Greek (Ελληνικά)
    Spoken in: Greece, Cyprus, Albania, surrounded areas and other countries
    Total speakers: 16 million
    Ranking: 74

       Modern Greek

    Official status
    Official language of: Greece, Cyprus
    Regulated by: ?
    Language codes
    ISO 639-1 el
    ISO 639-2(B) gre
    ISO 639-2(T) ell

    Modern Greek is a living tongue and one of the richest surviving languages today, with more than 600,000 words. Some scholars have overly stressed similarity to millennia-old Greek languages. Its interintelligibility with ancient Greek is a matter of debate. It is claimed that a "reasonably well educated" speaker of the modern tongue can read the ancient dialects, but it is not made plain how much of that education consists of exposure to vocabulary and grammar obsolete in normal communication. Greek from the Hellenistic and Byzantine times is markedly closer to Modern Greek. From 1834 to 1976 there was an attempt to impose Καθαρεύουσα
    /k{T{'rEvus{/ (purified language, an attempt to correct centuries of natural linguistic changes) as the only acceptable form of Greek in Greece. After 1976, Δημοτική /Dimoti'ci/ (speech of the people) was finally accepted by the Greek government as both the de facto and de jure forms of the language. A large number of words and expressions have remained unchanged through the centuries, and have found their way into a number of other languages, including Latin, Italian, German, French, and English. Typical examples of such words include mostly terminology names, like astronomy, democracy, philosophy, thespian, anthropology etc. (For a more complete list, see List of English words of Greek origin)


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    There are many theories about the origins of the Greek language. One theory suggests that it originated with a migration of proto-Greek speakers into Greece, which is dated to any period between 3200 BC to 1900 BC. Another theory maintains that Greek evolved in Greece itself out of an early Indo-European language.

    Linear B

    The first known script for writing Greek was the Linear B syllabary, used for the archaic Mycenaean dialect. Linear B was not deciphered until 1953. After the fall of the Mycenaean civilization, there was a period of about five hundred years when writing was either not used, or nothing has survived to the present day. Since early classical times, Greek has been written in the Greek alphabet, said to be derived from Phoenician. This happened about the time of Homer, and there is one obscure, fleeting reference in Homer's poetry suggesting that he might have been aware of writing.

    Ancient Greek dialects

    In the archaic and classical periods, there were three main dialects of the Greek language, Aeolic, Ionic, and Doric, corresponding to the three main tribes of the Greeks, the Aeolians (chiefly living in the islands of the Aegean), the Ionians (mostly settled in modern day Turkey), and the Dorians (primarily the Greeks of the Pelopennesus, such as the Spartans). Homer's Illiad and Odyssey were written in a kind of literary Ionic with some loan words from the other dialects. Ionic, therefore, became the primary literary language of ancient Greece until the ascendency of Athens in the late fifth century. Doric was standard for Greek lyric poetry, such as Pindar and the choral odes of the Greek tragedians.

    Attic Greek

    Attic Greek, a subdialect of Ionic, was for centuries the language of Athens. Most surviving classical Greek literature appears in Attic Greek, including the extant texts of Plato and Aristotle, which were passed down in written form from classical times.

    Koine Greek

    As Greeks colonized from Asia Minor to Egypt to the Middle East, the Greek language began to evolve into multiple dialects. Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC) was instrumental in combining these dialects to form Κοινή /ci'ni/. (The Greek word for "common," Κοινή is often transliterated into English as koine. Koine Greek is also called "New Testament Greek" after its most famous work of literature).

    Imposing a common Greek dialect allowed Alexander's combined army to communicate with itself. The language was also taught to the inhabitants of the regions that Alexander conquered, turning Greek into a world language.

    The Hellenistic through the Ottoman periods

    The Greek language continued to thrive after Alexander, during the Hellenistic period (323 BC to 281 BC). During this period the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, appeared.

    For many centuries Greek was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire. It was during Roman times that the Greek New Testament appeared. After the empire's fall in 476, the Greek language continued to be widely-spoken. Greek was the official language of the Eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantine Empire), until Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453.

    The decline of reading and writing among Greek speakers during the Ottoman Empire's domination much of the Mediterranean caused the language to change considerably during their rule. Ottoman rule lasted many places until the end of World War I in 1919.

    Modern Greek

    From these roots evolved the Modern Greek of today. Modern Greek has a somewhat artificial, conservative form called Καθαρεύουσα /k{T{'revus{/, which includes numerous Ancient Greek words pronounced in a modern way, and the spoken form Δημοτική /Dimoti'ci/, which since 1976 is the official language of Greece, instead of Καθαρεύουσα.


    Greek, like all of the older Indo-European languages, is highly inflected, for example, nouns (including proper nouns) have five cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and vocative), three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), and three numbers (singular, dual and plural). Verbs have four moods, three voices, as well as three persons and three numbers and various other forms. Modern Greek is one of the few Indo-European languages that has retained a synthetic passive. Δημοτική has lost the dative (except in a few expressions like εν τάξει /En 'd{xi/, which means OK). Other noticeable changes in the its grammar include the loss of the infinitive, the dual number and the simplification of the system of grammatical prefixes, like augment and reduplication.


    Greek has sandhi rules, some written, some not. ν before bilabials and velars is pronounced "m" and "ng" respectively, and is written μ (συμπάθεια) and γ (συγχρονίζω) when this happens within a word. The word ἐστὶ /Es'ti/, which means "is" in Greek gains ν, and the accusative articles τον and την in Modern Greek lose it, depending on the start of the next word; this is called "movable nu". In τον πατέρα "the father" the first word is pronounced "tom", and in Modern Greek (but not Ancient Greek, which had an independent "b" sound) the second word is pronounced "batera" because "mp" is pronounced as "mb".

    Historical sound changes

    The main phonetic changes between Ancient and Modern Greek are a simplification in the vowel system and a change of some consonants to fricative values. Ancient Greek had five short vowels, seven long vowels, and numerous diphthongs. This has been reduced to a simple five-vowel system. Most noticeably, the sounds i, ē, y, ei, oi have all become i. The consonants b, d, g became v, dh, gh (dh is /D/ and gh is /G/). The aspirated consonants ph, th, kh became f, th, kh (where the new pronunciation of th is /T/ and the new pronunciation of kh is /x/).

    Writing system

    Greek is written in the Greek alphabet which dates from the 8th century BC. The Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters which are:
    Α, Β, Γ, Δ, Ε, Ζ, Η, Θ, Ι, Κ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ξ, Ο, Π, Ρ, Σ, Τ, Υ, Φ, Χ, Ψ, Ω.






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