Greek (Modern Greek: ελληνικά [eliniˈka], elliniká, "Greek",
ελληνική γλώσσα [eliniˈci
ˈɣlosa] ( listen), ellinikí glóssa, "Greek language") is
an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native
Greece and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean. It has the
longest documented history of any living Indo-European language,
spanning 34 centuries (3,400 years) of written records. Its writing
system has been the
Greek alphabet for the major part of its history;
other systems, such as
Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used
previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was
in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic and
many other writing systems.
Greek language holds an important place in the history of the
Western world and Christianity; the canon of ancient Greek literature
includes works in the Western canon such as the epic poems
Odyssey. Greek is also the language in which many of the foundational
texts in science, especially astronomy, mathematics and logic, and
Western philosophy, such as the Platonic dialogues and the works of
Aristotle, are composed; the
New Testament of the Christian
written in Koiné Greek. Together with the
Latin texts and traditions
of the Roman world, the study of the Greek texts and society of
antiquity constitutes the discipline of Classics.
During antiquity, Greek was a widely spoken lingua franca in the
Mediterranean world and many places beyond. It would eventually become
the official parlance of the
Byzantine Empire and develop into
Medieval Greek. In its modern form, the
Greek language is the
official language in two countries,
Greece and Cyprus, a recognised
minority language in seven other countries, and is one of the 24
official languages of the European Union. The language is spoken by at
least 13.2 million people today in Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Albania,
Turkey, and the Greek diaspora.
Greek roots are often used to coin new words for other languages;
Latin are the predominant sources of international
Idealised portrayal of Homer
1.3 Historical unity
2 Geographic distribution
2.1 Official status
3.2.1 Nouns and adjectives
3.5 Greek loanwords in other languages
5 Writing system
5.1 Linear B
5.2 Cypriot syllabary
5.3 Greek alphabet
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
9.1 General background
9.2 Language learning
Main article: History of Greek
Greek has been spoken in the Balkan peninsula since around the 3rd
millennium BC, or possibly earlier. The earliest written
evidence is a
Linear B clay tablet found in
Messenia that dates to
between 1450 and 1350 BC, making Greek the world's oldest recorded
living language. Among the Indo-European languages, its date of
earliest written attestation is matched only by the now extinct
Proto-Greek-speaking area according to linguist Vladimir I. Georgiev
Greek language is conventionally divided into the following
Proto-Greek: the unrecorded but assumed last ancestor of all known
varieties of Greek. The unity of Proto-Greek would have ended as
Hellenic migrants entered the Greek peninsula sometime in the
Neolithic era or the Bronze Age.
Mycenaean Greek: the language of the Mycenaean civilisation. It is
recorded in the
Linear B script on tablets dating from the 15th
century BC onwards.
Ancient Greek: in its various dialects, the language of the Archaic
and Classical periods of the ancient Greek civilisation. It was widely
known throughout the Roman Empire.
Ancient 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
Fall of Constantinople
Fall of Constantinople and Greek migration to western Europe.
Koine Greek: The fusion of Ionian with Attic, the dialect of Athens,
began the process that resulted in the creation of the first common
Greek dialect, which became a lingua franca across the Eastern
Mediterranean and Near East.
Koine Greek can be initially traced
within the armies and conquered territories of
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great and
after the Hellenistic colonisation of the known world, it was spoken
Egypt to the fringes of India. After the Roman conquest of
Greece, an unofficial bilingualism of Greek and
Latin was established
in the city of
Koine Greek became a first or second language
in the Roman Empire. The origin of
Christianity can also be traced
through Koine Greek, because the Apostles used this form of the
language to spread Christianity. It is also known as Hellenistic
New Testament Greek, and sometimes Biblical Greek because it
was the original language of the
New Testament and the Old Testament
was translated into the same language via the Septuagint.
Distribution of varieties of Greek in Anatolia, 1910. Demotic in
yellow. Pontic in orange.
Cappadocian Greek in green, with green dots
Cappadocian Greek villages.
Medieval Greek, also known as Byzantine Greek: the continuation of
Koine Greek, up to the demise of the
Byzantine Empire in the 15th
Medieval Greek is a cover phrase for a whole continuum of
different speech and writing styles, ranging from vernacular
continuations of spoken Koine that were already approaching Modern
Greek in many respects, to highly learned forms imitating classical
Attic. Much of the written Greek that was used as the official
language of the
Byzantine Empire was an eclectic middle-ground variety
based on the tradition of written Koine.
Modern Greek (Neo-Hellenic): Stemming from Medieval Greek, Modern
Greek usages can be traced in the Byzantine period, as early as the
11th century. It is the language used by the modern Greeks, and, apart
from Standard Modern Greek, there are several dialects of it.
Greek language question
In the modern era, the
Greek language entered a state of diglossia:
the coexistence of vernacular and archaizing written forms of the
language. What came to be known as the
Greek language question
Greek language question was a
polarization between two competing varieties of Modern Greek:
Dimotiki, the vernacular form of
Modern Greek proper, and
Katharevousa, meaning 'purified', a compromise between Dimotiki and
Ancient Greek, which was developed in the early 19th century and was
used for literary and official purposes in the newly formed Greek
state. In 1976, Dimotiki was declared the official language of Greece,
having incorporated features of
Katharevousa and giving birth to
Standard Modern Greek, which is used today for all official purposes
and in education.
The distribution of major modern Greek dialect areas
The historical unity and continuing identity between the various
stages of the
Greek language is often emphasised. Although Greek has
undergone morphological and phonological changes comparable to those
seen in other languages, never since classical antiquity has its
cultural, literary, and orthographic tradition been interrupted to the
extent that one can speak of a new language emerging. Greek speakers
today still tend to regard literary works of ancient Greek as part of
their own rather than a foreign language. It is also often stated
that the historical changes have been relatively slight compared with
some other languages. According to one estimation, "
Homeric Greek is
probably closer to demotic than 12-century Middle English is to modern
Greeks and Greek diaspora
Greek language road sign, A27 Motorway, Greece
Spread of Greek in the United States
Greek is spoken by about 13 million people, mainly in Greece, Albania
and Cyprus, but also worldwide by the large Greek diaspora. There are
traditional Greek-speaking settlements and regions in the neighbouring
countries of Albania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, as well as in several
countries in the
Black Sea area, such as Ukraine, Russia, Romania,
Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and around the Mediterranean Sea,
Southern Italy, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon,
Libya and ancient
coastal towns along the Levant. The language is also spoken by Greek
emigrant communities in many countries in Western Europe, especially
the United Kingdom and Germany, Canada, the United States, Australia,
Argentina, Brazil, Chile,
South Africa and others.
Greek is the official language of Greece, where it is spoken by almost
the entire population. It is also the official language of Cyprus
(nominally alongside Turkish). Because of the membership of Greece
Cyprus in the European Union, Greek is one of the organization's
24 official languages. Furthermore, Greek is officially recognised
as a minority language in parts of
Italy and official in
Himara (Albania) and as a minority language all over Albania, as
well as in Armenia, Romania, and
Ukraine as a regional or minority
language in the framework of the European Charter for Regional or
Greeks are also a recognised ethnic minority in
Ancient Greek grammar,
Koine Greek grammar, and Modern Greek
The phonology, morphology, syntax and vocabulary of the language show
both conservative and innovative tendencies across the entire
attestation of the language from the ancient to the modern period. The
division into conventional periods is, as with all such
periodisations, relatively arbitrary, especially because at all
Ancient Greek has enjoyed high prestige, and the literate
borrowed heavily from it.
Modern Greek phonology
Spoken Modern Greek
Across its history, the syllabic structure of Greek has varied little:
Greek shows a mixed syllable structure, permitting complex syllabic
onsets but very restricted codas. It has only oral vowels and a fairly
stable set of consonantal contrasts. The main phonological changes
occurred during the Hellenistic and Roman period (see Koine Greek
phonology for details):
replacement of the pitch accent with a stress accent.
simplification of the system of vowels and diphthongs: loss of vowel
length distinction, monophthongisation of most diphthongs and several
steps in a chain shift of vowels towards /i/ (iotacism).
development of the voiceless aspirated plosives /pʰ/ and /tʰ/ to the
voiceless fricatives /f/ and /θ/, respectively; the similar
development of /kʰ/ to /x/ may have taken place later (the
phonological changes are not reflected in the orthography, and both
earlier and later phonemes are written with φ, θ, and χ).
development of the voiced plosives /b/, /d/, and /ɡ/ to their voiced
fricative counterparts /β/ (later /v/), /ð/, and /ɣ/.
In all its stages, the morphology of Greek shows an extensive set of
productive derivational affixes, a limited but productive system of
compounding and a rich inflectional system. Although its
morphological categories have been fairly stable over time,
morphological changes are present throughout, particularly in the
nominal and verbal systems. The major change in the nominal morphology
since the classical stage was the disuse of the dative case (its
functions being largely taken over by the genitive). The verbal system
has lost the infinitive, the synthetically-formed future and perfect
tenses and the optative mood. Many have been replaced by periphrastic
Nouns and adjectives
Pronouns show distinctions in person (1st, 2nd, and 3rd), number
(singular, dual, and plural in the ancient language; singular and
plural alone in later stages), and gender (masculine, feminine, and
neuter) and decline for case (from six cases in the earliest forms
attested to four in the modern language). Nouns, articles and
adjectives show all the distinctions except for person. Both
attributive and predicative adjectives agree with the noun.
The inflectional categories of the Greek verb have likewise remained
largely the same over the course of the language's history but with
significant changes in the number of distinctions within each category
and their morphological expression. Greek verbs have synthetic
inflectional forms for:
first, second and third
also second person formal
singular, dual and plural
singular and plural
present, past and future
past and non-past (future is expressed by a periphrastic construction)
imperfective, perfective (traditionally called aorist) and perfect
(sometimes also called perfective; see note about terminology)
imperfective and perfective/aorist (perfect is expressed by a
indicative, subjunctive, imperative and optative
indicative, subjunctive, and imperative (other modal functions are
expressed by periphrastic constructions)
active, middle, and passive
active and medio-passive
Many aspects of the syntax of Greek have remained constant: verbs
agree with their subject only, the use of the surviving cases is
largely intact (nominative for subjects and predicates, accusative for
objects of most verbs and many prepositions, genitive for possessors),
articles precede nouns, adpositions are largely prepositional,
relative clauses follow the noun they modify and relative pronouns are
clause-initial. However, the morphological changes also have their
counterparts in the syntax, and there are also significant differences
between the syntax of the ancient and that of the modern form of the
Ancient Greek made great use of participial constructions
and of constructions involving the infinitive, and the modern variety
lacks the infinitive entirely (instead having a raft of new
periphrastic constructions) and uses participles more restrictively.
The loss of the dative led to a rise of prepositional indirect objects
(and the use of the genitive to directly mark these as well). Ancient
Greek tended to be verb-final, but neutral word order in the modern
language is VSO or SVO.
Modern Greek inherits most of its vocabulary from Ancient Greek, which
in turn is an Indo-European language, but also includes a number of
borrowings from the languages of the populations that inhabited Greece
before the arrival of Proto-Greeks, some documented in Mycenaean
texts; they include a large number of Greek toponyms. The form and
meaning of many words has evolved. Loanwords (words of foreign origin)
have entered the language mainly from Latin, Venetian, and Turkish.
During the older periods of Greek, loanwords into Greek acquired Greek
inflections, thus leaving only a foreign root word. Modern borrowings
(from the 20th century on), especially from French and English, are
typically not inflected.
Greek loanwords in other languages
Further information: Greek and
Latin roots in English
Greek words have been widely borrowed into other languages, including
English: mathematics, physics, astronomy, democracy, philosophy,
athletics, theatre, rhetoric, baptism, evangelist, etc. Moreover,
Greek words and word elements continue to be productive as a basis for
coinages: anthropology, photography, telephony, isomer, biomechanics,
cinematography, etc. and form, with
Latin words, the foundation of
international scientific and technical vocabulary like all words
ending with –logy ("discourse"). There are many English words of
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European language family.
The ancient language most closely related to it may be ancient
Macedonian, which many scholars suggest may have been a dialect of
Greek itself, but it is so poorly attested that it is difficult to
conclude anything about it. Independently of the Macedonian
question, some scholars have grouped Greek into Graeco-Phrygian, as
Greek and the extinct Phrygian share features that are not found in
other Indo-European languages. Among living languages, some
Indo-Europeanists suggest that Greek may be most closely related to
Armenian (see Graeco-Armenian) or the
Indo-Iranian languages (see
Graeco-Aryan), but little definitive evidence has been found for
grouping the living branches of the family. In addition, Albanian
has also been considered somewhat related to Greek and Armenian by
some linguists. If proven and recognised, the three languages would
form a new Balkan sub-branch with other dead European languages.
Archaic local variants
Use in other languages
Use as scientific symbols
See also: Greek Braille
Main article: Linear B
Linear B, attested as early as the late 15th century BC, was the first
script used to write Greek. It is basically a syllabary, which was
finally deciphered by
Michael Ventris and
John Chadwick in the 1950s
(its precursor, Linear A, has not been deciphered to this day).
The language of the
Linear B texts, Mycenaean Greek, is the earliest
known form of Greek.
Main article: Cypriot syllabary
Greek inscription in Cypriot syllabic script
Another similar system used to write the
Greek language was the
Cypriot syllabary (also a descendant of
Linear A via the intermediate
Cypro-Minoan syllabary), which is closely related to
Linear B but uses
somewhat different syllabic conventions to represent phoneme
Cypriot syllabary is attested in
Cyprus from the 11th
century BC until its gradual abandonment in the late Classical period,
in favor of the standard Greek alphabet.
Greek alphabet and Greek orthography
Ancient epichoric variants of the
Greek alphabet from Euboea, Ionia,
Athens, and Corinth comparing to modern Greek
Greek has been written in the
Greek alphabet since approximately the
9th century BC. It was created by modifying the Phoenician alphabet,
with the innovation of adopting certain letters to represent the
vowels. The variant of the alphabet in use today is essentially the
late Ionic variant, introduced for writing classical Attic in 403 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.
Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters, each with an uppercase
(majuscule) and lowercase (minuscule) form. The letter sigma has an
additional lowercase form (ς) used in the final position:
Main article: Greek diacritics
In addition to the letters, the
Greek alphabet 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 (rough and smooth
breathing), 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 saw a rapid decline in favor
of uniform usage of the acute during the late 20th century, and it has
only been retained in typography.
After the writing reform of 1982, most diacritics are no longer used.
Since then, Greek has been written mostly in the simplified monotonic
orthography (or monotonic system), which employs only the acute accent
and the diaeresis. The traditional system, now called the polytonic
orthography (or polytonic system), is still used internationally for
the writing of Ancient Greek.
In Greek, the question mark is written as the English semicolon, while
the functions of the colon and semicolon are performed by a raised
point (•), known as the ano teleia (άνω τελεία). In Greek
the comma also functions as a silent letter in a handful of Greek
words, principally distinguishing ό,τι (ó,ti, "whatever") from
ότι (óti, "that").
Ancient Greek texts often used scriptio continua ('continuous
writing'), which means that ancient authors and scribes would write
word after word with no spaces or punctuation between words to
differentiate or mark boundaries.
Greek has occasionally been written in the
Latin script, especially in
areas under Venetian rule or by Greek Catholics. The term
Frankolevantinika / Φραγκολεβαντίνικα applies when
Latin script is used to write Greek in the cultural ambit of
Catholicism (because Frankos / Φράγκος is an older Greek term
for Roman Catholic). Frankochiotika / Φραγκοχιώτικα
(meaning "Catholic Chiot") alludes to the significant presence of
Catholic missionaries based on the island of Chios. Additionally the
Greeklish is often used when the
Greek language is written in a
Latin script in online communications.
Varieties of Modern Greek
List of Greek and
Latin roots in English
List of medical roots, suffixes and prefixes
^ Greek at
Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Ancient Greek at
Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Cappadocian Greek at
Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Mycenaean Greek at
Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
(Additional references under 'Language codes' in the information box)
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^ A comprehensive overview in J.T. Hooker's Mycenaean
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for a different hypothesis excluding massive migrations and favoring
an autochthonous scenario, see Colin Renfrew's "Problems in the
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Bronze Age Migrations by
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^ Browning 1983.
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used; see A. Arvaniti (2006): Erasure as a Means of Maintaining
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^ The four cases that are found in all stages of Greek are the
nominative, genitive, accusative and vocative. The dative/locative of
Ancient Greek disappeared in the late Hellenistic period, and the
instrumental case of
Mycenaean Greek disappeared in the Archaic
^ There is no particular morphological form that can be identified as
'subjunctive' in the modern language, but the term is sometimes
encountered in descriptions even if the most complete modern grammar
(Holton et al. 1997) does not use it and calls certain
traditionally-'subjunctive' forms 'dependent'. Most Greek linguists
advocate abandoning the traditional terminology (Anna Roussou and
Tasos Tsangalidis 2009, in Meletes gia tin Elliniki Glossa,
Thessaloniki, Anastasia Giannakidou 2009 "Temporal semantics and
polarity: The dependency of the subjunctive revisited", Lingua); see
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^ Beekes 2009.
^ Scheler 1977.
^ Hamp 2013, pp. 8–10, 13.
^ Babiniotis 1992, pp. 29–40; Dosuna 2012, pp. 65–78.
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck
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^ Renfrew 1990; Gamkrelidze & Ivanov 1990, pp. 110–116;
Renfrew 2003, pp. 17–48; Gray & Atkinson 2003,
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Horrocks, Geoffrey (1997). Greek: A History of the Language and Its
Speakers. London and New York: Longman Linguistics Library (Addison
Wesley Longman Limited). ISBN 0-582-30709-0.
Krill, Richard M. (1990). Greek and
Latin in English Today. Wauconda,
IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. ISBN 0-86516-241-7.
Mallory, James P. (1997). "Greek Language". In Mallory, James P.;
Adams, Douglas Q. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Chicago, IL:
Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. pp. 240–246.
Newton, Brian (1972). The Generative Interpretation of Dialect: A
Modern Greek Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press. ISBN 0-521-08497-0.
Sihler, Andrew L. (1995). New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin.
New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508345-8.
Smyth, Herbert Weir; Messing, Gordon (1956) . Greek Grammar.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.
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Greek dictionary, tutorial and hangman program with texteditor, this
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komvos.edu.gr, a website for the support of people who are being
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New Testament Greek Three graduated courses designed to help students
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