Greek (ελληνική γλώσσα IPA: [eliniˈci ˈɣlosa] or simply ελληνικά IPA: [eliniˈka] — "Hellenic") has a documented history of 3,500 years, the longest of any single language in the Indo-European language 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 extinct Anatolian languages and Vedic Sanskrit, and making it the earliest-attested language that still survives. Today, it is spoken by approximately 15–25 million people in Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Italy, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and emigrant communities around the world, including Australia, United States, Canada, Germany and elsewhere.
Greek was 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.
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, making Greek one of the very few living languages (together with the Chinese and West Semitic languages) directly descended from a language recorded in the Bronze Age. 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 the 15th 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: 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, meaning "purified"), 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.
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 dual number 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. Four cases, nominative, accusative, genitive and vocative, remain. 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 — in Ancient, indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and optative; in Modern, only the imperative is inflectional; modal functions are expressed synthetically
- number — singular, plural (archaic Greek also had a dual)
- voice — in Ancient, active, middle, and passive; in Modern, active and medio-passive
- tense — in Ancient, present, past, future; in Modern, past and non-past
- person — first, second, third
- aspect — in Ancient, aoristic (aorist), perfective (perfect), and imperfective (present); in Modern, perfective and imperfective
A great syntactical reformation took place during Hellenistic times, with the result that late Koine is already much like 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 participial clauses permits 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 has tended to be more periphrastic, but much of the syntactical and expressive power of the language has been 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 Proto-Greeks. Words of non-Indo-European origin can be traced into Greek from as early as Mycenaean times; they 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 older periods of the Greek language, loan words into Greek acquired Greek inflections, leaving thus only a foreign root word. Modern borrowings (from the 20th century on), especially from French and English, are typically not inflected.
Yet the most 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 new, yet perfectly understandable compounds that express in one word what other languages would express in an entire clause, or even an entire sentence. This linguistic mobility is largely absent from Latin and its offspring languages. In the Homeric language, Thetis — the mother of Achilles, is described as "δυσαριστοτόκεια", dysaristotokeia, meaning "she, who to her own bad fortune, gave birth to the best", in pure Modern Greek — "πικρολεβεντομάνα", pikroleventomana. Some languages are able to express such a complex meaning naturally in one word, others have different mechanisms (but see polysynthetic languages for extreme examples). Compound constructional capability, as is found in Greek, is frequently imitated by modern languages such as French and English in order to produce monolectic compounds; this is often done by actually using Greek roots (e.g. biology < biologie < bios + logos, Micromégas < mikros + megas ) or by applying imported Greek rules to foreign words (e.g. Anglo-Saxons < Angles + Saxons). For that reason Greek-derived words predominate in the language of sciences, particularly of the natural sciences, e.g. physics, chemistry, biology, geography, medicine etc. It has been speculated by scholars that due to this specific flexibility, Greek and German have been the languages of philosophy, and that Plato's ideas had pre-existed in Greek, in the same way that Meister Eckhart's thoughts had in German.
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). The only way to analyse the evolution of Greek until modern times, is to view the language as a whole. This is done by examining all its four periods, whose chronological boundaries are symbolic.
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, monophthongization 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 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 word-endings and noun cases that has for instance made Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian separate languages from Latin.
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 most likely was a dialect of Greek) and Phrygian, are not well enough documented to permit detailed comparison. Among living languages Greek seems to be most closely related to Armenian (see also Graeco-Armenian) and the Indo-Iranian languages.
Greek has been written in the Greek alphabet since approximately the 9th century BC. In classical Greek, as in classical Latin, only upper-case letters existed. The lower-case Greek letters were developed much later by medieval scribes to permit a faster, more convenient cursive writing style with the use of ink and quill. The variant of the alphabet in use today is essentially the late Ionic variant, introduced for writing classical Attic in 403 BC.
In addition to the letters, the Greek alphabet also features a number of diacritical signs: three different accent marks (acute, grave and circumflex), originally denoting different shapes of pitch accent on the stressed vowel; the so-called breathing marks (spiritus asper and spiritus lenis), originally used to signal presence or absence of word-initial /h/; and the diaeresis, used to mark full syllabic value of a vowel that would otherwise be read as part of a diphthong. These marks were introduced during the course of the Hellenistic period. Actual usage of the grave in handwriting had seen a rapid decline in favor of uniform usage of the acute during the late 20th century, and it had only been retained in typography.
In the writing reform of 1982, the use of most of them was abolished from official use in Greece. Since then, Modern Greek has been written mostly in the simplified monotonic orthography, which employs only the acute accent and the diaeresis. The traditional system, now called the polytonic orthography, is still in use for Modern Greek in book printing and in the usage of some writers in general, and it is used internationally for the writing of Ancient Greek.
All variant forms of Greek letters are listed below:
Modern Greek is spoken by about 15-25 million people, mainly in Greece, the USA and Cyprus. There are also Greek-speaking populations in Australia, Armenia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Russian Federation, the Ukraine, Albania and other countries.
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 Turkey, Italy and Albania.
- Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar, Harvard University Press, 1956 (revised edition), ISBN 0-674-36250-0. The standard grammar of classical Greek. Focuses primarily on the Attic dialect, with comparatively weak treatment of the other dialects and the Homeric Kunstsprache.
- W. Sidney Allen, Vox Graeca - a guide to the pronunciation of classical Greek. Cambridge University Press, 1968-74. ISBN 0-521-20626-X
- Geoffrey Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers (Longman Linguistics Library). Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN 0-582-30709-0. From Mycenean to modern.
- Andrew Sihler, "A New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin", Oxford University Press, 1996. An historical grammar of ancient Greek from its Indo-European origins. Some eccentricities and no bibliography but a useful handbook to the earliest stages of Greek's development.
- Robert Browning, Medieval and Modern Greek, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition 1983, ISBN 0-521-29978-0. An excellent and concise historical account of the development of modern Greek from the ancient language.
- Brian Newton, The Generative Interpretation of Dialect: A Study of Modern Greek Phonology, Cambridge University Press, 1972, ISBN 0-521-08497-0.
- Crosby and Schaeffer, An Introduction to Greek, Allyn and Bacon, Inc. 1928. A school grammar of ancient Greek
- David Holton et al., Greek: A Comprehensive Grammar of the Modern Language, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 0-415-10002-X. A reference grammar of modern Greek.
- Dionysius of Thrace, "Art of Grammar", "Τέχνη γραμματική", c.100 BC
- Ancient Greek
- Ancient Greek dialects
- English pronunciation of Greek letters
- Greek substrate language
- That's Greek to me (expression)
- List of Greek words with English derivatives
- Varieties of Modern Greek
- Greek Language, Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia.
- The Perseus Project has many useful pages for the study of classical languages and literatures, including dictionaries.
- The Greek Language and Linguistics Gateway, useful information on the history of the Greek language, application of modern Linguistics to the study of Greek, and tools for learning Greek.
- The Greek Language Portal, a portal for Greek language and linguistic education.
- Ancient Greek, encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, by Brian Joseph.
- Modern Greek, encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, by Brian Joseph.
- The Greek Alphabet
- Greek dictionary, tutorial and hangman program with texteditor, this shareware program is aimed at learning New Testament Greek.
- Template:El icon komvos.edu.gr, a website for the support of people that are being taught the Greek language.
- A supplement to the Thrasymachus (Ancient Greek), part of the VRoma Project.
- Learn Ancient Greek at Textkit. Free downloadable Ancient Greek grammars and readers.
- Free lessons in ancient Greek, including an introduction the special features of Greek.
- The Greek Language and Linguistics Gateway, provided as a free service to facilitate the study of Ancient Greek and to promote the application of methodologies from the field of Linguistics to the study of Classical and Hellenistic Greek.
- New Testament Greek, three graduated courses in New Testament Greek.
- Ancient Greek Manuscripts, images of Ancient Greek manuscripts and information about those manuscripts.
- The Greek Language Portal
- Greek, Too --supporting the study of Ancient Greek, especially in schools.
- Joint Association of Classical Teachers, Reading Greek, Cambridge University Press, 1978. ISBN 0-521-21977-9 (Grammar, Vocabulary, Exercises), ISBN 0-521-21976-0 (Text), ISBN 0-521-47863-4 (Independent Study Guide (1995)),ISBN 0-521-23913-3 (Speaking Greek (1981))
- Learn Greek Online, free modern Greek course with realaudio files.
- FSI Greek Basic Course, an audio Greek language course.
- Learn Greek, official site of the Greek Institute of language and speech processing.
- Template:Gr icon Online pdf versions of the books used in Greek Elementary School.
- Template:Gr icon Online pdf versions of the books used in Greek High School.
- Greek Dictionary, from Webster's Dictionary.
- Ancient Greek Dictionaries, descriptions of both online dictionaries (with appropriate links) and Greek.
- Translatum - The Greek Translation Vortal, an extended list of searchable and downloadable Greek dictionaries.
- Modern Greek – English, English – Modern Greek dictionary (basic dictionary)
- Ancient Greek Dictionary, the complete Liddell-Scott dictionary, including search within English definitions.
- Greek – English Dictionary, from Webster's Online Dictionary - the Rosetta Edition.
- Woodhouse English-Greek dictionary, scanned images from S.C. Woodhouse's 1910 dictionary.
- Greek Lexical Aids, descriptions of both online lexica (with appropriate links) and Greek Lexica in Print.
- The Greek Language Portal, dictionaries of all forms of Greek (Ancient, Hellenistic, Medieval, Modern).
- Collection of Greek bilingual dictionaries
- Page about modern Greek Literature
- The Treasure of the Greek Language, a large collection of e-books from all stages of Greek language.
- Research lab of modern Greek philosophy, a large e-library of modern Greek texts/books.
- Template:El icon Center for Neo-Hellenic Studies, a non-profit organization set in order to promote Modern Greek Literature and Culture.
- Greek Font Society, a non-profit organization with the aim of contributing to the research of Greek typography (incl. freeware fonts).
- Athena, public domain polytonic Greek font.
- Gentium — a typeface for the nations, a freely available font including polytonic Greek support.
- Generator for Greek typographical filler text.
- 72 polytonic fonts
- Old Standard & Tempora LGC polytonic fonts
- Greek font info @ The Institute for Language and Speech Processing
- Books in Greek, an extended list of searchable bibliographic information.
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