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About Greek Language

Greek (ελληνικά, IPA: [eliniˈka] or ελληνική γλώσσα, IPA: [eliniˈci ˈɣlosa]), an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, is the language of the Greeks. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records.[9] In its ancient form, it is the language of classical ancient Greek literature and the New Testament of the Christian Bible. In its modern form, it is the official language of Greece and Cyprus and one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. Spoken by approximately 13 million people, including minority and emigrant communities in numerous parts of the world, its written form uses the Greek alphabet.


Greek has been spoken in the Balkan Peninsula since around the late 3rd millennium BC. The earliest written evidence is found in the Linear B clay tablets in the "Room of the Chariot Tablets", an LMIII A-context (c. 1400 BC) region of Knossos, in Crete, making Greek one of the world's oldest recorded living languages. Among the Indo-European languages, its date of earliest attestation is matched only by the Anatolian languages.

The later Greek alphabet (unrelated to Linear B) is derived from the Phoenician alphabet (Abjad); with minor modifications, it is still used today. The Greek language is conventionally divided into the following periods:

  • Proto-Greek: the assumed last ancestor of all known varieties of Greek which is not recorded. Proto-Greek speakers possibly entered the Greek peninsula in the early 2nd millennium BC. Since then, Greek has been spoken uninterruptedly in Greece.
  • 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.
  • Ancient Greek: in its various dialects was the language of the Archaic and Classical periods of the ancient Greek civilization. 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 the Fall of Constantinople and Greek migration to the areas of Italy.
  • 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 Eastern Mediterranean and Near East. Koine Greek can be initially traced within the armies and conquered territories of Alexander the Great, but after the Hellenistic colonization 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. The origin of Christianity can also be traced through Koine Greek, 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, as it was the original language the New Testament was written in.
  • Medieval Greek, also known as Byzantine Greek: the continuation of Koine Greek during Byzantine Greece, up to the demise of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century. Medieval Greek is a cover term 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: Stemming from Medieval Greek, Modern Greek usages can be traced in the Byzantine period, as early as 11th century. It is the language used by modern Greeks and apart from Standard Modern Greek, there are several dialects of it.

The tradition of diglossia, the simultaneous existence of vernacular and archaizing written forms of Greek, was renewed in the modern era in the form of a polarization between two competing varieties: Dimotiki, the vernacular form of Modern Greek proper, and Katharevousa, meaning 'purified', an imitation of classical Greek, which was developed in the early 19th century and used for literary, juridic, administrative and scientific purposes in the newly formed modern Greek state. The diglossia problem was brought to an end in 1976 (Law 306/1976), when Dimotikí was declared the official language of Greece and it is still in use for all official purposes and in education, having incorporated features of Katharevousa and giving birth to Standard Greek.

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, there has been no time in its history since classical antiquity where its cultural, literary, and orthographic tradition was interrupted to such an extent that one can easily 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 estimated 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 twelfth-century Middle English is to modern spoken English." Ancient Greek texts, especially from Biblical Koine onwards, are thus relatively easy to understand for educated modern speakers. The perception of historical unity is also strengthened by the fact that Greek has not split up into a group of separate national daughter languages, as happened with Latin.

Greek words have been widely borrowed into other languages, including English: mathematics, astronomy, democracy, philosophy, thespian, athletics, theater, rhetoric etc. Moreover, Greek words and word elements continue to be productive as a basis for coinages: anthropology, photography, isomer, biomechanics, cinema, physics etc. and form, with Latin words, the foundation of international scientific and technical vocabulary, e.g. all words ending with "-logy" ("discourse"). An estimated 12% of the English vocabulary has Greek origin, while numerous Greek words have English derivatives.

Geographic distribution

Greek is spoken by about 13.1 million people, mainly in Greece and Cyprus, but also worldwide by the large Greek diaspora. There are traditional Greek-speaking settlements in the neighbouring countries of Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, 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, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon 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, in Canada and the United States, Australia, as well as in Argentina, Brazil and others.

Official status

Greek is the official language of Greece, where it is spoken by almost the entire population. It is also, nominally alongside Turkish, the official language of Cyprus, though Turkish has seen limited official use by the Republic of Cyprus since the Turkish invasion of 1974. Because of the membership of Greece and Cyprus in the European Union, Greek is one of the organization's 23 official languages. Furthermore, Greek is officially recognized as a minority language in parts of Italy and Albania, as well as in Armenia and Ukraine.


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 some linguistic scholars suggest is a dialect of Greek itself) 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) or the Indo-Iranian languages (see Graeco-Aryan).

Writing system

Linear B was the first script used to write Mycenaean Greek, the earliest form of Greek attested. It is basically a syllabary, that was finally deciphered by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick. Another similar system used to write the Greek language was the Cypriot syllabary.

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.

The modern Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters, each with a capital (majuscule) and lowercase (minuscule) form. The letter sigma has an additional lowercase form (ς) used in final position.

  • Majuscule form - Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο Π Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω
  • Minuscule form - α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο π ρ σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω

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 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[citation needed]. Since then, Modern 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.

Greek has occasionally been written in the Latin alphabet in the past, especially in areas under Venetian rule or by Greek Catholics (and called Fragolevantinika or Fragochiotika)[citation needed], and more recently is often written in the Latin alphabet in online communications (called Greeklish).


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