Greek (Modern Greek: ελληνικά, elliniká) is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus, Albania and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning at least 3,500 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 script, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic alphabet, Gothic alphabet, and many other writing systems.
The 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 Iliad and 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 Bible was written in Koiné Greek. Together with the Latin language 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, West Asia and many places beyond. It would eventually become the official parlance of the Byzantine Empire and develop into Medieval Greek.
In its Modern Greek, Greek 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, and Turkey and by the Greek diaspora.
Greek roots are often used to coin new words for other languages; Greek and Latin are the predominant sources of international scientific vocabulary.
Greek has been spoken in the Balkans
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 Modern language
. Among the Indo-European languages, its date of earliest written attestation is matched only by the now-extinct Anatolian languages.
The Greek language is conventionally divided into the following periods:
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 Greece. 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 Greece and Classical Greece periods of the Ancient Greece. 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 Empire world and was reintroduced to the rest of Europe with the Fall of Constantinople and Greeks migration to western Europe.
Koine Greek: The fusion of Ionian Greek with Attic Greek, the dialect of Classical 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 and after the Hellenistic colonization of the known world, it was spoken from Egypt to the fringes of India. After the Roman Republic conquest of Greece, an unofficial Multilingualism 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, because the Twelve Apostles used this form of the language to spread Christianity. It is also known as Hellenistic Greek, 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.
Medieval Greek, also known as Byzantine Greek: the continuation of Koine Greek, up to the demise of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century. 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):
[ Ethnologue] 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.
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 was a polarization between two competing varieties of Modern Greek
: Demotic Greek
, 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 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 Greek
than 12-century Middle English
is to Modern English
(Greek has seen fewer changes in 2700 years than English has in 900 years).
Greek is spoken by at least 13 million people, mainly in Greece
, but also worldwide by the large Greek diaspora
. Historically, there were traditional Greek-speaking settlements and regions in the neighbouring countries of Albania
, and Turkey
, as well as in several countries in the Black Sea
area, such as Ukraine
, Georgia, Armenia
, and Azerbaijan
, and around the Mediterranean Sea, Southern Italy
and ancient coastal towns along the Levant
. Particularly in Albania due to the immigration wave towards Greece today a significant percentage of the population can speak the Greek language, or at least has some basic knowledge of it. 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
, South Africa
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 language
[ states that The official languages of the Republic are Greek and Turkish. However, the official status of Turkish is only nominal in the Greek-dominated Republic of Cyprus; in practice, outside Turkish-dominated Northern Cyprus, Turkish is little used; see A. Arvaniti (2006): Erasure as a Means of Maintaining Diglossia in Cyprus, San Diego Linguistics Papers 2: pp. 25–38 27.]
Because of the membership of Greece and 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 Dropull
) and as a minority language all over Albania
as well as in Armenia
, and Ukraine
as a regional or minority language in the framework of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
Greeks are also a recognised ethnic minority in Hungary
, morphology, syntax
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 periods, Ancient Greek has enjoyed high prestige, and the literate borrowed heavily from it.
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 and : loss of vowel length distinction, monophthongisation of most diphthongs and several steps in a chain shift of vowels towards (iotacism).
development of the voicelessness aspirated stop consonant and to the voiceless fricatives and , respectively; the similar development of to may have taken place later (the phonological changes are not reflected in the orthography, and both earlier and later phonemes are written with φ, Theta, and χ).
development of the voiced plosives , , and to their voiced fricative counterparts (later ), , and .
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 grammatical 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:
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 language. 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 Linear B
; they include a large number of Greek
. The form and meaning of many words have evolved.
(words of foreign origin) have entered the language, mainly from Latin language
, Venetian, and Turkish language
. 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 language
and English language
, are typically not inflected; other modern borrowings are derived from South Slavic (Macedonian/Bulgarian) and Eastern Romance languages (Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian).
Greek loanwords in other languages
Greek words have been widely borrowed into other languages, including English: mathematics
, athletics, theatre, rhetoric
, etc. Moreover, Greek words and morpheme
continue to be productive as a basis for coinages: anthropology
, etc. and form, with Scientific Latin
, the foundation of international scientific and technical vocabulary like all words ending with –logy
("discourse"). There are many English words of Greek origin.
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.
, 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 and most likely encodes a non-Greek language).
The language of the Linear B texts, Mycenaean Greek, is the earliest known form of Greek.
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 sequences. The 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 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
. The variant of the alphabet in use today is essentially the late Ionic Greek
variant, introduced for writing classical Attic Greek
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
The Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters, each with an uppercase (capital letter) and lowercase (lower case) form. The letter sigma has an additional lowercase form (ς) used in the final position:
In addition to the letters, the Greek alphabet features a number of diacritic
: three different accent marks (acute accent
, grave accent
, and circumflex
), originally denoting different shapes of pitch accent
on the stressed vowel; the so-called breathing marks (rough breathing
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 penmanship
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 Greek diacritics (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 ( ó,ti
, "whatever") from ( óti
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.
Boustrophedon, or bi-directional text, was also used in Ancient Greek.
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 the Latin script is used to write Greek in the cultural ambit of Catholicism (because Frankos / Φράγκος is an older Greek term for West-European dating to when most of (Roman Catholic Christian) West Europe was under the control of the Frankish Empire
). Frankochiotika / Φραγκοχιώτικα (meaning "Catholic Chiot") alludes to the significant presence of Catholic missionaries based on the island of Chios
. Additionally the term Greeklish
is often used when the Greek language is written in a Latin script in online communications.
The Latin script is nowadays used by the Griko dialect communities of Southern Italy.
Colin Renfrew (1973
, Gerald Duckworth and Company Limited. ISBN 9780715605806
- General background
- Language learning
: Fusional Languages
, Greek Alphabet
, Languages Of Albania
, Languages Of Apulia
, Languages Of Armenia
, Languages Of Calabria
, Languages Of Cyprus
, Languages Of Georgia
, Languages Of Greece
, Languages Of Hungary
, Languages Of Romania
, Languages Of Sicily
, Languages Of Turkey
, Languages Of Ukraine
, Subject–verb–object Languages