Greek language

Greek (Ελληνικά</i>)
Spoken in: Greece, Cyprus, south Albania, Southern Italy, south Former Yugloslav Republic of Macedonia, central and south Bulgaria, Turkey and surrounding countries
Region: The Balkans
Total speakers: 15 million
Ranking: 74
Genetic classification: Indo-European

   Modern Greek

Official status
Official language of: Greece, Cyprus (and the European Union)
Regulated by: --
Language codes
ISO 639-1el
ISO 639-2gre (B) / ell (T)
See also: LanguageList of languages

The Greek language (Greek Ελληνικά, IPA – "Hellenic") is an Indo-European language with a documented history of some 3,000 years. It is symbolically divided in four historical periods:

  • Ancient Greek: In its various forms was the language both of Archaic and Classical periods of Greek civilisation. It has been studied in schools and universities in many countries from the Renaissance onwards.
  • 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 the world's first international language. 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-Classic Greek or even New Testament Greek (after its most famous word of literature).
  • Modern Greek: Steaming directly from Koine Greek, Modern Greek can be traced in the late Byzantine period (as early as 11th century). Today in its common form, it is spoken by approximately 15 million speakers worldwide, most of whom live in Greece.

Greek is traditionally written in the Greek alphabet.

The historical stages of the Greek language that are placed prior to the creation of the Greek alphabet are not listed in this article. For more information, see main articles on Proto-Greek language and Mycenaean language.



Main article: History of the 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 alphabet normally used, was probably created by modifying the Phoenician alphabet in c. 1000 BC and, with minor modifications, is still used today.

Two main forms of the language have been in use since the end of the medieval Greek period: [[Dhimotiki|Dhimotik흝 (Δημοτική), the Demotic (vernacular) language, and Kathar鶵sa (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 the official language of the modern Greek state, and the most widely spoken by Greeks today.

Modern Greek is similar to the ancient Greek language, more so than Italian is to Latin, for example. It is claimed that an "educated" speaker of the modern language can read ancient texts, but this is surely as much a function of education as of the similarity of the languages. Still, Koinē , 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, 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 its own independent branch of the Indo-European language family. The ancient languages which were probably most closely related to it, Ancient Macedonian language (perhaps even 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

Greek is spoken by about 12 million people mainly in Greece and Cyprus but also in many other countries where Greeks have settled, including Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Egypt, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the USA.

Official status

Greek is the official language of the Hellenic Republic (Greece) where it is spoken by about 98.5% of the population. It is also, alongside Turkish, the official language of the Republic of Cyprus.

Ancient Greek is compulsory in Italian Liceo Classico a sort of grammary school


The pronunciation of Modern Greek has changed considerably from Ancient Greek, although the orthography still reflects features of the older language. The examples below are intended to represent Attic Greek in the 5th century BC. Although ancient pronunciation can never be reconstructed with certainty, Greek in particular is very well documented from this period, and there is little disagreement among scholars as to the general nature of the sounds that the letters represented. See W. Sidney Allen, Vox Graeca – a guide to the pronunciation of Classical Greek. Cambridge University Press, 1974. ISBN 0-521-20626-X.


In the International Phonetic Alphabet:

Ancient Greek – short

The short e (ε in Greek orthography) is shown in the table as mid close vowel but it may have been nearer to .

  Front Back
Close unrounded [[Close front unrounded vowel|]]  
Close rounded [[Close front rounded vowel|]]  
Close-mid [[Close-mid front unrounded vowel|]] [[Close-mid back rounded vowel|]]
Open [[Open front unrounded vowel|]]  

Ancient Greek – long

The [] (ου in Greek orthography) may still have been [] in the fifth century.

  Front Back
Close unrounded [[Close front unrounded vowel|]]  
Close rounded [[Close front rounded vowel|]] [[Close back rounded vowel|]]
Close-mid [[Close-mid front rounded vowel|]]  
Open-mid [[Open-mid front unrounded vowel|]] [[Open back rounded vowel|]]
Open [[Open front unrounded vowel|]]  

Modern Greek

The systematic distinction between long and short vowels has been lost in Hellenistic Greek.

  Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid               o
Open a  


In the International Phonetic Alphabet:

Ancient Greek

Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p b t d k g
Aspirated Plosive
Nasal m n
Fricative s z h
Lateral approximant l

Note: [z] was an allophone of [s], used before voiced consonants, and in particular in the combination [zd] written as zeta ( ζ ). The [] (voiceless r) written as rho with a rough breathing ( Template:Polytonic ) was probably an allophone of [r].

Modern Greek

Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Plosive p b t d c k g
Nasal m n
Fricative f v x
Affricate ts dz
Approximant j
Lateral approximant l


The greek language contains certain sandhi rules, some written, some not. n (ν) before bilabials and velars becomes /m/ and /ŋ/ respectively, and is written μ (συμπάθεια, "sympathy") and γ (συγχρονίζω, "synchronize"). One should note that, when n (ν) becomes m (μ) in a word it is also pronounced as /m/ (/m/+/p/ equals /b/ so in Northern Greece it is pronounced /sympathia/, whereas in Southern Greece it is pronounced /sybathia/) as in english "sympathy", while when it changes to /ŋ/ (γ) it is STILL pronounced /n/, just like the english derivative "synchronize". A notable exception to this rule is the word συγγνώμη (freely translated "I'm sorry") in which /n/ is phoneticaly dropped and the word is pronounced "si/ŋ/nomi" (this is actually an older form of the word, the current orthography is συγνώμη in which /n/ is dropped both phoneticaly and literally). The word Template:Polytonic (est�IPA //), which means "is" in Ancient Greek (q.v. Modern Greek είναι) gains n, and the accusative articles τόν and τήν in Modern Greek lose it, depending on the beginning letter of the next word (if it's a consonant,n is usually dropped). In the phrase "t󮠰at鲡" (τον πατέρα), which means "the father" (accusative case), instead of being dropped, n is assimilated into the second word (creating "to npatera") and, following the example above, np is pronounced /mp/ or, more accurately, /b/, thus producing the sound /to batera/. It should be noted that the latter example is analogous to the English use of "gimme" instead of the correct "give me", and it certainly is not an obligatory phonological rule of the Greek language. Indeed, 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.

Historical sound changes

The main phonetic changes between Classic and post-Classic (Hellenistic) Greek are a simplification in the vowel system and a change of some consonants to fricative values. Ancient Greek had five short vowels, seven long vowels, and numerous diphthongs. This has been reduced to a simple five-vowel system. Most noticeably, the vowels i, ē, y, ei, oi (ι, η, υ, ει, οι) have all become i. The consonants b, d, g (β, δ, γ) became v, dh, gh (dh is /剆nd gh is //). The aspirated consonants , , (φ, θ, χ) became f, th, kh (where the new pronunciation of th is // and the new pronunciation of kh is /x/). There is scant evidence however that the Dorian pronunciation of θ might have always been /th/.


Greek, like all of the older Indo-European languages, is highly inflected. For example nouns (including proper nouns) have five cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and vocative), three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), and three numbers (singular, dual and plural). Verbs have four moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive and optative), three voices (active, middle and passive), as well as three persons (first, second and third) and various other forms. Modern Greek is one of the few Indo-European languages that has retained a synthetic passive.

Dhimotik�has lost the dative, except for in a few expressions like εν τάξει (en tḥi //), which means "OK" (literally: "in order").
Other noticeable changes in its grammar include the loss of the infinitive and the dual number (except for the word dyo, two, which has survived as a non-inflected form used in all cases); the adoption of auxiliary verb forms for certain tenses; and the simplification of the system of grammatical prefixes, such as augment and reduplication.

Writing system

Modern Greek is written in the late Attic variant of the Greek alphabet, which originated in the 8th or 9th Century BCE, assumed its final form in 403 BCE, and displaced other regional variants due to its use for the Koine dialect during the Hellenistic era.

The Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters, each with a capital and 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.


Some common words and phrases

  • Greek (man): Έλληνας, IPA //
  • Greek (woman): Ελληνίδα //
  • hello: γειά // (informal, literally "health"), you only say this to people that you know well. When you address a stranger you use the more formal "good morning": καλημέρα //
  • good-bye: αντίο // (formal) (see above), γειά // (informal)
  • please: παρακαλώ //
  • I would like ____ please: θα ήθελα ____ παρακαλώ //
  • sorry: συγνώμη //
  • thank you: ευχαριστώ //
  • that/this: αυτό //
  • how much?: πόσο; //
  • how much does it cost?: πόσο κοστίζει; //
  • yes: ναι //
  • no: όχι //
  • I don't know: δεν ξέρω //
  • where's the bathroom?: πού είναι η τουαλέτα; //
  • generic toast: εις υγείαν! //
  • juice: χυμός //
  • water: νερό //
  • wine: κρασί //
  • beer: μπύρα //
  • milk: γάλα //
  • Do you speak English?: Μιλάτε Αγγλικά; //
  • I love you: σ’ αγαπώ //
  • Help!: Βοήθεια! //

The Lord's Prayer in Greek (Matt. 6:9-13)



Pater hēmōn, ho en tois ouranois hagiasthētō to onoma sou;
elthetō hē basileia sou; genethetō to thelēma sou, hōs en ouranōi, kai epi tēs gēs;
ton arton hēmōn ton epiousion dos hēmin sēmeron;
kai aphes hēmin ta opheilēmata hēmōn, hōs kai hēmeis aphiemen tois opheiletais hēmōn;
kai mē eisenenkēis hēmas eis peirasmon, alla rhusai hēmas apo tou ponērou.
Hoti sou estin hē basileia, kai hē d򮡭is, kai hē doxa eis tous aiōnas;

The Nicene Creed in Greek



W. Sidney Allen, Vox Graeca - a guide to the pronunciation of classical Greek. Cambridge University Press, 1968-74. ISBN 0-521-20626-X

Geoffrey Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers (Longman Linguistics Library). Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN 0582307090

Crosby and Schaeffer, An Introduction to Greek, Allyn and Bacon, Inc. 1928.

See also

External links

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