|Name in the language:||ελληνικά (elinika)|
|Language family:||Indo-European languages, Greek branch|
|Native speakers:||13 million|
|Region:||Greece, Albania, Cyprus|
|First writings:||1500 B.C.|
|Writing systems:||Linear B, Cypriote syllabary, Greek alphabet|
|Status:||official language in Greece and Cyprus|
|Regional or local language in:||Italy, Albania, Armenia, Romania, Ukraine|
Greek (Greek: ελληνικά (elinika)) belongs to the Greek branch of the Indo-European languages family, spoken by about 13 million people, mostly in Greece and Cyprus, where it has an official status. Greek is also recognized as a minority language in certain regions of Italy, as well as Albania, Armenia, Romania and Ukraine.
The first writings in Greek, known as the Linear B script, used between 1500 and 1200 B.C., were discovered in Mycenae. This type of Greek is known as Mycenaean Greek. Another script, known as the Cypriote syllabary, was used in Cyprus to record a local Greek dialect from 1200 B.C. until 300 A.D.
The Greek alphabet has been in use for the last, approximately, 2 750 years, starting from 750 B.C. It is descended from the Proto-Canaanite/Phoenician alphabet. Namely, the order of letters and their names were borrowed from the Phoenician alphabet. The initial Canaanite meaning of letters was lost while adapting the alphabet to Greek. For example, the alpha letter name is derived from Canaanite aleph (ox), and beta came from beth (house).
Originally there were various versions of the alphabet, used in different Greek cities. The local alphabet varieties can be divided in three groups: green, blue and red. The Modern Greek alphabet originated from the blue group. The Etruscan alphabet – same as other alphabets of ancient Italy and, eventually, Latin – developed from the red group.
In the early 4th century B.C., the local alphabet varieties were replaced by the Eastern Ionic alphabet. Modern Greek capital letters are almost identical to Ionic letters. The lower-case letters appeared in about 800. Their introduction is associated with the Byzantine minuscule script, descended from the cursive writing.
- Type of writing: alphabet (the first alphabet comprising vowels).
- Direction of writing: initially, it was written in right-to-left horizontal lines; also, boustrophedon (βουστροφηδόν) was used, alternating two writing directions – right to left and left to right. After 500 B.C., the left-to-right writing direction in horizontal lines was established.
- The diacritics, used to mark accent and breathing, were added to the alphabet in about 200 B.C. In 1982, the breathing diacritics, which were not frequently used after 1976, were cancelled by the presidential decree.
- The sigma letter has a special form, used in final position.
Greek (Ελληνικά) — an Indo-European language, spoken by about 14 million people, mostly in Greece and Cyprus, where it has an official status. Greek is also partially recognized as a minority language in Turkey, Italy and Albania.
Nowadays the Greek alphabet is used to write only Greek. However, in the past it was also used to write such languages as Lydian, Phrygian, Thracian, Gaulish, Old Hebrew, Arabic, Old Ossetian, Albanian, Turkish, Aromanian, Gagauz, Urum and Surguch.
Ancient Greek alphabet
The ancient Greek alphabet is based on the inscriptions from Crete, dated about 800 B.C. During this period, Greek used the right-to-left direction of writing, in horizontal lines. The names of letters slightly differed from the names in later versions of the Greek alphabet.
Greek alphabet (Classical Attic pronunciation)
Σ = [z] before voiced consonants
Consonant clusters | Special symbol
Obsolete and archaic letters
Greek numerals and other symbols
The ancient Greeks used two number systems: Acrophonic or Classical (Attic) system used the letters of iota, delta, gamma, eta, nu and mu in various combinations. These letters were used as initial letters of the names of numerals, except iota: Γέντε (gente) for 5, which changed into Πέντε (pente); Δέκα (Deka) for 10, Ηἑκατόν (Hektaton) for 100, Χίλιοι (Khilioi) for 1,000 and Μύριον (Myrion) for 10,000. This system was used until the 1st century B.C.
The ancient Greeks assigned numerical values to the alphabet letters in order to indicate numbers. Three archaic letters — stigma, koppa and sampi – were used in addition to standard Greek letters, and a small stroke symbol marked the letters used as numerals.
Greek alphabet (Modern pronunciation)
- Γ= [γ] before back vowels [a, o, u]. Before front vowels [e, i], it is pronounced as [ʝ] and written as γ
- Κ= [k] before back vowels [a, o, u], and [с] before front vowels [e, i]
- Λ= [ʎ] before unstressed i, followed by a vowel, e.g. λιώμα [ʎóma]
- Ν= [ɲ] before unstressed i, followed by a vowel, e.g. νιώθω [ɲóθo]
- If [i] is preceded by a voiced consonant and followed by a vowel, [i] becomes [ʝ], e.g. διάκος [ðʝákos]. If [i] is preceded by a voiceless consonant and followed by a vowel, [i] is pronounced as [ç], e.g. φωτιά [fotçá]. In both cases, it is unstressed.
- Σ= [z] before voiced consonants
- Χ= [χ] before back vowels [a, o, u], and [ç] before front vowels [e, i]
- αυ= [av] before vowels and voiced consonants; [af] elsewhere.
- ευ= [ev] before vowels and voiced consonants; [ef] elsewhere.
- ηυ= [iv] before vowels and voiced consonants; [if] elsewhere.
- ντ= [nd] in the middle of a word; [d] in initial position.
- μπ= [mb] in the middle of a word; [b] in initial position.
- γγ & γκ= [ŋg] in the middle of a word; [g] in initial position. If it is followed by [i] or [e], it is pronounced as [ŋɟ] in the middle of a word and [ɟ] in initial position.
- The diaeresis is used to mark the separate pronunciation of vowels, e.g. Αϊτή[aití]. However, when the first letter is stressed, the use of diaeresis is optional, e.g. γάιδαρος [γáiðaros].
- If κ, π, τ, ξ, ψ и τσ are preceded by a word ending with v, they become voiced, and N changes into a corresponding nasal sound in final position, e.g. τον πατέρα [tombatéra].