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Greek language

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'Ελληνικά Elliniká
Spoken in: Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Turkey, Italy, Armenia, Lebanon, Georgia, Egypt, and the Greek diaspora.
Region: Eastern Mediterranean
Total Speakers: 15-22 Million
Ranking: 52
Language family: Indo-European

   Ancient Greek
    Koine Greek
     Medieval Greek
      Modern Greek

Writing system: Greek alphabet
Official Status
Official language of: Greece
Mount Athos (co-official)
European Union
Recognised as minority language in parts of:
Regulated by: no official regulation
Language Codes
ISO 639-1: el
ISO 639-2: ell
ISO 639-3: ell
Extension of Greek

Greek (Ελληνικά, Ellīniká or Ελληνική γλώσσα, Ellīnikī́ glóssa), an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, is the language of Greek people. It was the language spoken in Ancient Greece and currently in the modern republic of Greece.

Ancient Greek

The language of the Septuagint is probably a classical variant of ancient Greek. The language of the New Testament was called common Greek or Koiné Greek and was the language that all educated Roman citizens and other prominent people of the Roman world spoke.

Written Greek has an alphabet that consists of 24 letters, each having an upper and lower case form. (The most ancient form of Greek had twenty-seven symbols that appear mainly as numerals.) Ancient Greek used three different diacritical marks, an acute accent, a circumflex, and a grave accent. These symbols did not show stress but instead showed musical pitch.

Written Greek had another pair of diacriticals, the breathings, that appeared before all words beginning in vowels or the letter ρ (rho). The smooth breathing meant that the speaker should sound the vowel as usual, while the rough breathing meant that the speaker should exhale before sounding the vowel. Thus the rough breathing was equivalent to the Roman letter H. (A word beginning in ρ always had the rough breathing, hence the transliteration of all such words as beginning with the Roman letters "rh").

Classic Greek had eight different noun cases, many of which had identical forms. These were:

Case name Meaning Usage
Vocative Calling Direct address
Nominative Naming Subject of a sentence
Genitive Belonging Possessive
Ablative Carrying from a person, place or thing Object of some prepositions that connote such carrying
Dative Giving Indirect object meaning a thing or person to whom something is given or done
Locative Placement in space or time Object of the preposition en within, or a time reference
Instrumental Means of doing a thing Indirect object meaning an instrument of an action
Accusative Motion toward a thing Direct object or object of a preposition indicating or consistent with such motion

In addition, ancient Greek had five different declensions of nouns and adjectives and at least two different conjugations of verbs.[1]

Classical Greek did not have separate numerals. Instead, the Greeks used the first nine letters to stand for the integers one through nine, the next nine to stand for the multiples of ten, and the final nine to stand for multiples of a hundred. The Greeks depicted numbers greater than a thousand by using the first nine letters written at the left, with a smooth breathing to indicate a multiple of a thousand. Myriads, or multiples of ten thousand, had their own special symbols. The myriad was the highest power of ten that the Greeks normally used.

When the Romans conquered Greece, they made Greek the common language of commerce in all of Rome's provinces. Furthermore, 70 percent of modern words in English and many other languages derive from Greek, either directly or through Latin.

Modern Greek

In modern Greece the official language is Standard Modern Greek. Greek is spoken by about 95% of the population but there are people who also speak English and Turkish.

Modern vernacular Greek retains much of the grammatical structure of ancient Greek. But not all of the people of Greece today descend from the ancient Greeks. Many descend from the many invaders from Turkey and the various Balkan nations. (Indeed, there are some Turkish speaking groups, and some Greeks speak English or French). The Greek language today has absorbed many words and phrases from these invading peoples. For example, the modern Greek verb meaning "I unite" is ενωνω or enono meaning literally "I join together", whereas the ancient Greeks used a verb more properly meaning "I cause to stand together."

Modern Greek has two diacritical symbols: an acute accent that shows stress and the diaeresis, used with a vowel to indicate that one should pronounce it separately from another immediately preceding vowel. The breathings have disappeared. In addition, at least one consonant has changed its sound: the letter β (beta) is no longer plosive, but fricative, and sounds like the Roman letter V. Likewise, the old diphthong αυ is often pronounced like the Roman digraph "av."


  1. Machen, J. Gresham. New Testament Greek for Beginners. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001 (ISBN 1579101801).

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