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Greek (Greek Ελληνικά, IPA [e̞ˌliniˈka] — "Hellenic") is an Indo-European language with a documented history of 3,500 years. Today, it is spoken by 15 million people in Greece, Cyprus, the former Yugoslavia, particularly the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania and Turkey. There are also many Greek emigrant communities around the world, such as those in Melbourne, Australia which has the third largest urban Greek population of any city in the world, after Athens and Thessaloniki.

Greek has been written in the Greek alphabet, the first true alphabet, since the 9th century B.C. and before that, in Linear B and the Cypriot syllabaries.

Greek literature has a long and rich tradition.


Main article: History of the Greek language

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 dating from 1500 BC. The later Greek alphabet (q.v.) is unrelated to Linear B, and was derived from the Phoenician alphabet (abjad); with minor modifications, it is still used today. Greek is conventionally divided into the following periods:

  • 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 gradually turned into one of the world's first international languages. 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 it 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 (if not the literary nor the ecclesiastic) 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).[[Image:Codex alexandrinus.jpg|thumb|150px|left|A section of the Codex Alexandrinus. This section contains Luke 12:54-13:4.

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 Katharévousa (Καθαρεύουσα), an imitation of classical Greek, which was used for literary, juridic, and scientific purposes during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Demotic Greek is now the official language of the modern Greek state, and the most widely spoken by Greeks today.

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 /ciˈni/, 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.


Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European language family. The ancient languages which were probably most closely related to it, Ancient Macedonian language (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 to it.

Geographic distribution

Modern Greek is spoken by about 15 million people mainly in Greece and Cyprus. There are also Greek-speaking populations in Georgia, Ukraine, Egypt, Turkey, Albania, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Southern Italy. The language is spoken also in many other countries where Greeks have settled, including Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Official status

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. Due to the membership of Greece and Cyprus in the European Union, Greek is one of the 20 official languages of the European Union.


This section generally describes the post-Classic phonology of the Greek language.

All phonetic transcriptions in this section use the International Phonetic Alphabet

Vowel sounds

Greek has 5 vowel sounds, all phonemic:

<tr> <th width="20%"> </th> <th width="20%">Front</th> <th width="20%">Back</th> </tr> <tr> <th align="left">Close</th> <td>i</td> <td align="right">u</td> </tr> <tr> <th align="left">Mid</th> <td align="center"></td> <td align="right"></td> </tr> <tr> <th align="left">Open</th> <td align="right">a</td> <td align="left"> </td> </tr>

Close vowels, when found in unstressed final syllables, tend to be voiceless, particularly if they are between voiceless consonants [e.g.: φάσης /ˈfasis//ˈfasi̥s/ (→ /fasː/) = "of phase" (genitive case)].


Greek has a repertoire of 29 consonant sounds. The number of phonemes depends on the analysis, but may be as few as 15, assuming for example that the sound [b] is represented in the underlying form as /mp/, which is also its standard orthographic representation. (cf. Newton)

Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Plosives p b t d c ɟ k g
Nasals m ɱ n ɲ ŋ
Trill r
Fricatives f v θ ð s z ç ʝ x ɣ
Affricates ʦ ʣ
Approximants j
Lateral approximants l ʎ

Greek /p/, /t/ and /k/ are not aspirated as they are in English. They tend to be voiced to /b/, /d/ and /g/ in Cretan and Cypriot dialects. The letter <ρ> is generally pronounced /r/, but tends to be pronounced /ɾ/ in intervocalic position.

Standard Modern Greek does not have double consonants within words, although some dialects (notably Cypriot) do.

Sandhi rules

Greek has certain sandhi rules, some represented in the orthography, some not.

/n/ before bilabials and velars becomes /m/ and /ŋ/ respectively, and is written <μ> (συμπάθεια, "sympathy") and <γ> (συγκρητισμός, "syncretism"). Before the labiodental fricatives <φ> and <β>, it is also written <μ>, but pronounced /ɱ/ (συμφωνία, "symphony").

The combination <μπ> is pronounced /mb/ after vowels (but often reduced to /b/), else /b/. In some words, especially in Northern dialects, could also be pronounced /mp/.

The combinations <γγ> and <γκ> are pronounced /ŋg/ or /ŋɟ/ after vowels, else /g/ or /ɟ/. An exception to this rule is the word <συγγνώμη> (freely translated "I'm sorry") in which /n/ is phonetically dropped and the word is pronounced /siˈŋgnomi/ (this is actually an older form of the word, the current orthography is <συγνώμη>, pronounced /siˈγnomi/, in which /n/ is dropped both phonetically and literally).

The combination <ντ> is pronounced /nd/ after vowels (but often reduced to /d/), else /d/. In some words, especially in Northern dialects, could also be pronounced /nt/.

The sounds /k/ and /g/, before the front vowels // and /i/, are palatalized, becoming /c/ and /ɟ/. In some dialects, notably in Crete, they become [ʨ] and [ʥ].

The word Template:Polytonic (estí, IPA /e̞sˈti/), which means "is" in Ancient Greek (q.v. Modern Greek είναι), gains a "euphonic" n. in Modern Greek, the negative adverb δεν and the accusative articles τον and την lose the final /n/, depending on the beginning letter of the next word (if it's a consonant, /n/ is usually dropped). In the phrase δεν πειράζει, which means "it doesn't matter", instead of being dropped, n is assimilated into the second word and, following the example above, np is pronounced /mp/ in Northern Greece and /mb/ in Southern Greece, thus producing the sound /ðempirázi/ or /ðembirázi/.

Some of these rules are optional, and reflect the formality of speech. While everyday spoken Greek sounds artificial if the sandhi rules are not used, a formal or official speech may sound equally awkward if sandhi rules are used.


The Greek vowel letters with their pronunciation are: <α> /a/, <ε> /e̞/, <η> /i/, <ι> /i/, <ο> /o̞/, <υ> /i/, <ω> /o̞/. There are also vowel digraphs, called "double-digit vowels" which are phonetically monophthongal: <αι> /e̞/, <ει> /i/, <οι> /i/, <ου> /u/, <υι> /i/. The three digraphs <αυ>, <ευ> and <ηυ> are pronounced /av/, /e̞v/ and /iv/ except when followed by unvoiced consonants, in which case they are pronounced /af/, /e̞f/ and /if/.

Modern Greek has also four diphthongs: <αη> (or <άη>) /aj/, <αϊ> (or <άι>) /aj/, <οη> (or <όη>) /o̞j/ and <οϊ> (or <όι>) /o̞j/ (diphthongs can better be transcribed using the IPA non-syllabic diacritic under /i/ instead of the approximant /j/).

The Greek letters <β> and <δ> are pronounced /v/ and /ð/ respectively. The letter <γ> is generally pronounced /ɣ/, but before the mid or close front vowels, it is pronounced /ʝ/.

The letters <θ>, <φ> and <χ> are pronounced /θ/, /f/ and /x/. The letter <χ>, before mid or close front vowels, is pronounced /ç/. The letter <ξ> stands for /k͡s/ and <ψ> stands for /p͡s/ (the tie bar is used to indicate that, in Modern Greek, <ξ> and <ψ> should be considered sibilant affricates). The digraphs <γγ> and <γκ> are generally pronounced /g/, but are pronounced /ɟ/ before mid or close front vowels. When these digraphs are preceded by a vowel, they are pronounced /ŋg/ (/ŋɟ/ before mid or close front vowels). The digraph <γγ> may be pronounced /ŋɣ/ in some words (/ŋʝ/) before mid or close front vowels). It is better to use a tie bar above /ŋg/, /ŋɟ/, /ŋɣ/ and /ŋʝ/, when used for Greek words, to indicate the simultaneous articulation.

Historical sound changes

See: History of the Greek language, Ancient Greek pronunciation


Modern Greek is still largely a synthetic language. It is one of the few Indo-European languages that has retained a synthetic passive. Noticeable changes in its grammar (compared to Classical Greek) include the loss of the dative, the optative mood, the infinitive the dual number, and the participles (except the past participle); the adoption of the gerund; the reduction in the number of noun declensions, and the number of distinct forms in each declension; the adoption of the modal particle θα (a corruption of Template:Polytonic > θέλω να > θε' να > θα) to denote future and conditional tenses; the introduction of auxiliary verb forms for certain tenses; the extension to the future tense of the aspectual distinction between present/imperfect and aorist; the loss of the third person imperative, and the simplification of the system of grammatical prefixes, such as augmentation and reduplication. Some of these features are shared with other languages spoken in the Balkan peninsula (see Balkan linguistic union).

Archaic forms are still used in formal writing and in a few expressions like εντάξει (entáxei /ɛnˈdaˌksi/), which means "OK" (literally: "in order") or ζήτω! ('long live!');

Writing system

Template:Table Greekletters Template:Sectstub Modern Greek is written in the late Ionic variant of the Greek alphabet, the oldest discovered inscriptions of which date to the 8th or 9th Century BC, assumed its final form in 403 BC, and displaced other regional variants due to its use for the Attic Koine dialect during the Hellenistic era.

The Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters, each with a capital and lowercase (small) form: Α α, Β β, Γ γ, Δ δ, Ε ε, Ζ ζ, Η η, Θ θ, Ι ι, Κ κ, Λ λ, Μ μ, Ν ν, Ξ ξ, Ο ο, Π π, Ρ ρ, Σ σ ς (word-final form), Τ τ, Υ υ, Φ φ, Χ χ, Ψ ψ, Ω ω.

In addition to the letters of the alphabet, Greek has a number of diacritical signs, most of which were eliminated from official use in Greece in 1982 as no longer corresponding to the modern pronunciation of the language. See Monotonic orthography for the simplified modern set, and Polytonic orthography for the traditional set.


Some common words and phrases

  • Greek (man): Έλληνας, IPA /ˈe̞liˌnas/
  • Greek (woman): Ελληνίδα /ˌe̞liˈniða/
  • Greek (language): Ελληνικά /e̞ˌliniˈka/
  • hello: γεια /ʝa/ (informal, literally "health"), you say this only to people that you know well. When you address a stranger you should use the more formal "good morning": καλημέρα /ˌkaliˈmɛɾa/
  • good-bye: αντίο /aˈdiˌo̞/ (formal), γεια /ʝa/ (informal)
  • please: παρακαλώ /paˌɾakaˈlo̞/
  • I would like ____ please: θα ήθελα ____ παρακαλώ /θa ˈiθe̞ˌla ____ paˌɾakaˈlo̞/
  • sorry: συγγνώμη /ˌsiˈɣno̞mi/
  • thank you: ευχαριστώ /e̞ˌfxaɾiˈsto̞/
  • that/this: αυτό /ˌaˈfto̞/
  • how much?: πόσο; /ˈpo̞ˌso̞/
  • how much does it cost?: πόσο κοστίζει; /ˈpo̞ˌso̞ ˌko̞ˈstizi/
  • yes: ναι /ne̞/
  • no: όχι /ˈo̞ˌçi/
  • I don't understand: δεν καταλαβαίνω /ðe̞ŋ gaˌtalaˈve̞no̞/ (sandhi - see above) or /ðe̞ŋ kaˌtalaˈve̞no̞/
  • I don't know: δεν ξέρω /ðe̞ŋ ˈgze̞ˌɾo̞/ (sandhi - see above) or /ðe̞ŋ ˈkse̞ˌɾo̞/
  • where's the bathroom?: πού είναι η τουαλέτα; /pu ˈiˌne̞ i ˌtuaˈlɛta/
  • generic toast: εις υγείαν! /is iˈʝiˌan/
  • juice: χυμός /ˌçiˈmo̞s/
  • water: νερό /ˌne̞ˈɾo̞/
  • wine: κρασί /ˌkɾaˈsi/
  • beer: μπύρα /ˈbiˌɾa/
  • milk: γάλα /ˈɣaˌla/
  • Do you speak English?: Μιλάτε Αγγλικά; /miˈlaˌte̞ ˌaŋgliˈka/
  • I love you: σ’ αγαπώ /ˌsaɣaˈpo̞/
  • Help!: Βοήθεια! /vo̞ˈiθiˌa/


  • Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar, Harvard University Press, 1956 (revised edition), ISBN 0674362500. The standard grammar of classical Greek.
  • W. Sidney Allen, Vox Graeca - a guide to the pronunciation of classical Greek. Cambridge University Press, 1968-74. ISBN 052120626X
  • Geoffrey Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers (Longman Linguistics Library). Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN 0582307090. From Mycenean to modern.
  • Robert Browning, Medieval and Modern Greek, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition 1983, ISBN: 0521299780.
  • Brian Newton, The Generative Interpretation of Dialect: A Study of Modern Greek Phonology, Cambridge University Press, 1972, ISBN 0521084970.
  • Crosby and Schaeffer, An Introduction to Greek, Allyn and Bacon, Inc. 1928. A school grammar of anchient Greek
  • David Holton et al., Greek: A Comprehensive Grammar of the Modern Language, Routledge, 1997, ISBN: 041510002X. A reference grammar of modern Greek.
  • Dionysius of Thrace, "Art of Grammar", "Τέχνη γραμματική", c.100 BC

See also

External links

General background

Template:InterWiki Template:Wikibookspar

  • Modern Greek, Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Brian Joseph
  • Ancient Greek, Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Brian Joseph
  • 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.

Language learning




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