- Note: This article contains special characters.
|Spoken in:||Greece, Cyprus, as well as in communities in the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Turkey, Albania, Georgia, Italy,France, Spain, Egypt and the rest of the Greek diaspora.|
|Total speakers:||12 - 15 million|
|Language family:|| Indo-European|
|Writing system:||Greek alphabet|
|Official language of:||Greece, Cyprus and the European Union; recognised as minority language in parts of Italy and Albania.|
|Regulated by:||no official regulation|
|ISO 639-2:||gre (B)||ell (T)|
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. See IPA chart for English for an English-
based pronunciation key.
Greek (Ελληνικά, IPA: [eliniˈka] — "Hellenic") has a documented history of 3,500 years, the longest of any single language within the Indo-European family. It is also one of the earliest attested Indo-European languages, with fragmentary records in Mycenaean dating back to the 15th or 14th century BC, matched only by the Anatolian languages and Vedic Sanskrit. Today, it is spoken by approximately 17 million people in Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Italy, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania, Egypt and emigrant communities around the world.
Greek has been written in the Greek alphabet (the first to introduce vowels) since the 9th century BC in Greece (before that in Linear B), and the 4th century BC in Cyprus (before that in Cypriot syllabary). Greek literature has a continuous history of nearly three thousand years.
| History of the|
(see also: Greek alphabet)
| Proto-Greek (c. 2000 BC)
| Mycenaean (c. 1600–1100 BC)
| Ancient Greek (c. 800–300 BC) |
Aeolic, Arcadocypriot, Attic-Ionic,
Doric, Pamphylian; Homeric Greek.
Possible dialect: Macedonian.
| Koine Greek (from c. 300 BC)
| Medieval Greek (c. 330–1453)
| Modern Greek (from 1453) |
Demotic, Griko, Katharevousa,
Pontic, Tsakonian, Yevanic
| Albanian · Anatolian · Armenian|
Baltic · Celtic · Dacian · Germanic
Greek · Indo-Iranian · Italic · Phrygian
Slavic · Thracian · Tocharian
| Albanians · Anatolians · Armenians|
Balts · Celts · Germanic peoples
Greeks · Indo-Aryans · Indo-Iranians
Iranians · Italic peoples · Slavs
Thracians · Tocharians
| Language · Religion · Society|
| Adamic · Anatolian · Armenian|
Indian · Kurgan · Paleolithic
This article does not cover the reconstructed history of Greek prior to the use of writing. For more information, see main article on Proto-Greek language.
Greek has been spoken in the Balkan Peninsula since the 2nd millennium BC. The earliest evidence of this is found in the Linear B tablets in the "Room of the Chariot Tablets", a LMII-context (c. 1500 BC) region of Knossos, in Crete. The later Greek alphabet is unrelated to Linear B, and is derived from the Phoenician alphabet (abjad); with minor modifications, it is still used today. Greek is conventionally divided into the following periods:
- Mycenaean Greek: the language of the Mycenaean civilization. It is recorded in the Linear B script on tablets dating from the15th or 14th century BC onwards.
- Classical Greek (also known as Ancient Greek): In its various dialects was the language of the Archaic and Classical periods of Greek civilization. It was widely known throughout the Roman empire. Classical Greek fell into disuse in western Europe in the Middle Ages, but remained officially in use in the Byzantine world, and was reintroduced to the rest of Europe with the Fall of Constantinople and Greek migration to Italy.
- Hellenistic Greek (also known as Koine Greek): The fusion of various ancient Greek dialects with Attic (the dialect of Athens) resulted in the creation of the first common Greek dialect, which became a lingua franca across the Mediterranean region. Koine Greek can be initially traced within the armies and conquered territories of Alexander the Great, but after the Hellenistic colonisation of the known world, it was spoken from Egypt to the fringes of India. After the Roman conquest of Greece, an unofficial diglossy of Greek and Latin was established in the city of Rome and Koine Greek became a first or second language in the Roman Empire. Through Koine Greek is also traced the origin of Christianity, as the Apostles used it to preach in Greece and the Greek-speaking world. It is also known as the Alexandrian dialect, Post-Classical Greek or even New Testament Greek (after its most famous work of literature).
- Medieval Greek: The continuation of Hellenistic Greek during medieval Greek history as the official and vernacular language of the Byzantine Empire, and continued to be used until, and after the fall of that Empire in the 15th century. Also known as Byzantine Greek.
- Modern Greek or Romeika: Stemming independently from Koine Greek, Modern Greek usages can be traced in the late Byzantine period (as early as 11th century).
Two main forms of the language have been in use since the end of the medieval Greek period: Dhimotikí (Δημοτική), the Demotic (vernacular) language, and Katharévusa (Καθαρεύουσα), an imitation of classical Greek, which was used for literary, juridic, administrative and scientific purposes during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This diglossia problem was brought to an end in 1976 (act (νόμος) 306/1976), when Dhimotikí was declared the official language of Greece.
In the meantime, both forms of Greek had naturally converged and Standard Modern Greek (Κοινή Νεοελληνική — Common Modern Greek), the form of Greek used for all official purposes and in education in Greece today, emerged.
It has been claimed that an "educated" speaker of the modern language can understand an ancient text, but this is surely as much a function of education as of the similarity of the languages. Still, Koinē, the version of Greek used to write the New Testament and the Septuagint, is relatively easy to understand for modern speakers.
Greek words have been widely borrowed into the European languages: astronomy, democracy, philosophy, thespian, etc. Moreover, Greek words and word elements continue to be productive as a basis for coinages: anthropology, photography, isomer, biomechanics etc. and form, with Latin words, the foundation of international scientific and technical vocabulary. See English words of Greek origin, and List of Greek words with English derivatives.
Evolution from Ancient to Modern Greek
Due to the long history of the Greek language, it is hard to point out specific linguistic differences between distant periods, such as "ancient", and "modern", Greek. For example the pronunciation of Beta, Gamma and Delta is commonly regarded as an important phonetic difference between Ancient and Modern periods; however evidence suggests a fricative pronunciation of Gamma as early as the 4th century BC in Boeotian, Elean, Pamphylian, and possibly even vulgar Attic, and modern pronunciation may be derived from this (this point is debated among scholars).
One way to analyse the evolution of Greek from ancient till modern times, is to view the language as a whole and examine all its four loosely defined periods simultaneously. Other scholars, however, prefer to isolate an individual, clearly (and often arbitrarily) defined period, and perhaps even a limited geographical area, then compare their results with results from other clearly defined periods in that same area.
The main phonological changes occurred during the Hellenistic and Roman period (see Koine Greek Phonology for details), and included:
- replacement of the pitch accent with a stress accent
- simplification of the system of vowels and diphthongs (loss of vowel length distinction, monophtongalization of most diphthongs, and some significant steps of iotacism)
- development of the voiceless aspirated stop consonants phi and theta to voiceless fricatives (the similar development of chi may have taken place later)
- possibly development of the voiced stop consonants — delta, beta and gamma — to voiced fricatives (the date is discussed among scholars)
The phonological changes were often not reflected in the orthography.
The morphological changes affected both nouns and verbs. Some of the changes to the verbs are parallel to those that affected the Romance languages as they developed from Vulgar Latin — for instance the loss of certain historic tense forms and their replacement by new constructions — but the changes to the nouns have been less far-reaching. Greek has never experienced the wholesale loss of the nominal declension experienced by the Romance languages as they diverged from Latin. However, the phonological differences between Ancient and Modern Greek (vowel length, stress, pitch, pronunciation, etc.) do somewhat parallel those between Latin and Spanish, Portuguese, French or Italian.
Like most Indo-European languages, Greek is highly inflected. Greek grammar has come down through the ages fairly intact, though with some simplifications. For example Modern Greek features two numbers: singular and plural. The useless but sublime dual of Ancient times was abandoned at a very early stage. The instrumental case of Mycenaean Greek disappeared in the Archaic period, and the dative-locative of Ancient Greek disappeared in the late Hellenistic. The remaining cases (nominative, accusative, genitive and vocative) remain intact. The three ancient gender noun categories (masculine, feminine and neuter) never fell out of use, while adjectives agree in gender number and case with their respective nouns, as do their articles. Greek verbs are inflected for:
- mood - indicative, subjunctive, imperative - but the ancient optative was lost.
- aspect - perfective, stative, imperfective
- voice - active, mediopassive (reflexive, middle and passive)
- tense - present, past, future
- person - first, second, third, singular and plural (and originally dual).
A great syntactical reformation took place during Hellenistic times, resulting in many similarities between late Koine and Modern Greek. However since Greek syntactical relations are expressed by means of case endings, Greek word order has always been relatively free. In Attic Greek the availability of the definite article and the infinitive and participle clauses permit the construction of very long, complex yet clear sentences. This technique of Attic prose (known as periodic style) is unmatched in other languages. Since Hellenistic times Greek tended to be more periphrastic, but much of the syntactical and expressive power of the language were preserved.
Greek is a language distinguished by an extraordinarily rich vocabulary. In respect to the roots of words, ancient Greek vocabulary was essentially of Indo-European origin, but with a significant number of borrowings from the idioms of the populations that inhabited Greece before the arrival of the Proto-Greeks. Words of non-Indo-European origin can be traced into Greek from as early as Mycenaean times; those include a large number of Greek toponyms. The vast majority of Modern Greek vocabulary is directly inherited from ancient Greek, although in certain cases words have changed meanings. Words of foreign origin have entered the language mainly from Latin, Italian and Ottoman Turkish. During all periods of the Greek language, loan words into Greek acquired Greek inflections, leaving thus only a foreign root word.
Another distinctive characteristic of the Greek language is its powerful compound-constructing ability. The speaker is able to combine basic or derived terms in order to construct compounds that express in one word what other languages would express in an entire sentence. This linguistic mobility is entirely absent from Latin and its offspring languages. In the Homeric language, Thetis - the mother of Achilles, is described as "δυσαριστοτόκεια", meaning "she who to her bad fortune gave birth to the best", in pure Modern Greek - "πικρολεβεντομάνα". Greek's constructing capability is being frequently borrowed by modern languages such as French and English in order to produce monolectic compounds, often by using directly Greek words (e.g. biology < bios + logos; microscope < mikros + skopeein) or by applying imported Greek rules on foreign words. For that reason Greek has always been one of the traditional languages of western science, mainly the natural sciences i.e. physics, chemistry, biology, geography, medicine etc.
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European language family. The ancient languages which were probably most closely related to it, ancient Macedonian (which may have been a dialect of Greek) and Phrygian, are not well enough documented to permit detailed comparison. Among living languages, Armenian seems to be the most closely related language (see Graeco-Armenian).
Modern Greek is spoken by about 17 million people, mainly in Greece and Cyprus. There are also Greek-speaking populations in Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Southern Italy. The language is spoken also in many other countries where Greeks have settled, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.
Greek is the official language of Greece where it is spoken by about 99.5% of the population. It is also, alongside Turkish, the official language of Cyprus. Because of the membership of Greece and Cyprus in the European Union, Greek is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. Greek is officially recognised as a minority language in parts of Italy and Albania.
- List of common phrases in various languages
- List of Greek words with English derivatives
- Greek dialects
- Greek substrate language
- Ancient Greek
- English pronunciation of Greek letters
|Official languages of the European Union|
| Bulgarian | Czech | Danish | Dutch | English | Estonian | Finnish | French|
German | Greek | Hungarian | Irish | Italian | Latvian | Lithuanian | Maltese
Polish | Portuguese | Romanian | Slovak | Slovenian | Spanish | Swedish
|Source: European Union website|