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Language Information

Greek, the first great language of Western civilization, is considered by many to be the most effective and admirable means of communication ever devised. Its lucidity of structure and concept, together with its seemingly infinite variety of modes of expression, render it equally suitable to the needs of the rigorous thinker and the inspired poet. We can only surmise how classical Greek must have sounded to the ear, but the spoken word was probably no less beautiful than the written. Greek-speaking people moved into the Greek Peninsula and adjacent areas from the Balkan Peninsula in the second millennium B.C. In time four distinct dialects evolved: Aeolic, Ionic, Arcado-Cyprian, and Doric. It was in the Ionic dialect that the epic poems of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, appeared, perhaps in the 9th century B.C. with the rise of Athens in succeeding centuries, a dialect of Ionic known as Attic began to produce the great literature of the classical period. Attic became the dominant form of the language and the basis of the Koine, or common language, whose use passed far beyond the borders of present-day Greece. After the conquests of Alexander the Great it was spoken as far east as India, and later was adopted as a second language by the Roman Empire. The New Testament was written in the Koine and it is used by the Eastern Orthodox Church through the present day.

The Greek alphabet, an adaptation of the Phoenician, dates from about 1000 B.C. It was the first alphabet in which letters stood for vowels as well as for consonants, in contrast to the Semitic alphabets, which had only consonants. Like the Semitic alphabets, it was at first written from right to left, but then shifted to a style in which lines alternated from right-to-left and left-to-right, and then shifted again to the present left-to-right direction. An earlier form of Greek writing, known as Linear B and dating from 1500 B.C., was deciphered in 1952, but this was largely abandoned by 1200 B.C.

Greek was the official language of the Byzantine Empire from the 4th to the 15th century and thereafter continued to be spoken by Greeks under Turkish rule. Modern Greek began to take shape about the 9th century, and became the official language of the kingdom of Greece in the 19th. Today Greek is spoken by about 10 million people, including some 500,000 on the island of Cyprus. In addition to the common speech, known as Demotic, an imitation of classical Greek, known as Pure, has been revived for literary purposes.

The impact of Greek upon the vocabulary of all languages, including English, has been enormous. Such prefixes as poly- (much, many), , micro- (small), anti- (against), auto- (self), hemi- (half), hetero- (different), chrono- (time), tele- (distance), geo- (earth), physio- (nature), photo- (light), hydro- (water), litho- (stone), phono- (sound), anthropo- -(man), psycho- (mind), and philo- (love), each generate dozens of vital words in scientific, technical, and other fields. Equally important Greek suffixes are -meter (measure), -gram (letter), -graph (write), -scope (see), -phone (sound), and -phobia (fear).

Greek (Classical) is spoken/used in Greece

Language Family
Family: Hellenic

Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.

Writing Sample

Writing Sample


My friends, whoever's wise in ways of evil
Knows how, when a flood of evil comes,
Everything we grow to fear; but when
A god our voyage gladdens, we believe
Always that fortune's never-changing wind
Will blow. As my eyes behold all things
As fearful visitations of the gods,
So my ears already ring with cureless songs:
Thus consternation terrifies my sense.

AESCHYLUS, The Persians

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