“But, for my part, it was Greek to me” – William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Greek belongs to the Hellenic branch of the Indo-European language family and is spoken by about 13 million people mainly in Greece and Cyprus, where it is an official language. Greek is also recognized as a minority language in parts of Italy, and in Albania, Armenia, Romania and Ukraine, and the Greek diaspora.

Greek has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Greek has been spoken in the Balkan Peninsula since around the late 3rd millennium BC. 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 living language. Among the Indo-European languages, its date of earliest written attestation is matched only by the now extinct Anatolian languages.

The Greek alphabet has been in continuous use since about 750 BC. It was developed from the Canaanite/Phoenician alphabet, however, when the Greeks adapted the Phoenician alphabet to write their language they created the world’s first fully phonemic alphabet which represented by consonant and vowel sounds.

Ancient Greek

Linear B

In 1900 the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941) discovered a large number of clay tablets inscribed with mysterious symbols at Knossos, Crete. Evans spent the rest of his life trying to decipher the inscriptions, with only limited success. He realized that the inscriptions represented three different writing systems: a "hieroglyphic" script, Linear A and Linear B.

The hieroglyphic script appears only on seal stones and has yet to be deciphered. Linear A, also undeciphered, is thought to have evolved from the hieroglyphic script, and Linear B probably evolved from Linear A, though the relationship between the two scripts is unclear.

Michael Ventris (1922-56) was the person who eventually deciphered Linear B in 1953. showing beyond reasonable doubt that Linear B did indeed represent an early form of Greek known as Mycenaean Greek, used between about 1500 and 1200 BC.

Ancient Greek

Classical Attic, the dialect of Ancient Athens

Attic Greek is the Greek dialect of the ancient city-state of Athens. Of the ancient dialects, it is the most similar to later Greek and is the standard form of the language that is studied in ancient Greek language courses. Attic Greek is sometimes included in the Ionic dialect. Together, Attic and Ionic are the primary influences on Modern Greek.

The earliest Greek literature, which is attributed to Homer and is dated to the 8th or 7th centuries BC, is written in "Old Ionic" rather than Attic.

The first extensive works of literature in Attic are the plays of the dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes dating from the 5th century BC. The works of the philosophers Plato (427–347 BC) and his student Aristotle (384–322 BC) dates to the period of transition between Classical Attic and Koine.

Koine Greek

The language of the New Testament

Alexander the Great carried the Attic-Ionic form of the language, along with Greek culture more generally, far into the Near East where it became the standard language of commerce and government in the fourth century BC, existing alongside many local languages.

Greek was adopted as a second language by the native people of these regions and was ultimately transformed into what has come to be called the Hellenistic Koine, or Koine Greek (common Greek), which served as the lingua franca of much of the Mediterranean region and the Middle East during the following centuries, during the Hellenistic period, the Roman Empire, and the early Byzantine Empire, or late antiquity.

As the dominant language of the Byzantine Empire, it developed further into Medieval Greek, which then turned into Modern Greek.

The Christian New Testament is a good representative of the Koine Greek.

Modern Greek

The modern Greek language

Modern Greek is the form of the Greek language spoken in the modern era. The end of the Medieval Greek period and the beginning of Modern Greek is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453.

Throughout the centuries, the Greek language holds an important place in the histories of Europe, the more loosely defined Western world, and Christianity. The canon of ancient Greek literature includes works of monumental importance and influence for the future Western canon such as the epic poems Iliad and Odyssey (Ionic Greek). Greek was also the language in which many of the foundational texts of Western philosophy, such as the Platonic dialogues and the works of Aristotle (Attic Greek), were composed, as well asthe New Testament of the Christian Bible (Koine Greek).

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Greek language resources

Learn modern and ancient Greek at Kypros.orgGo!
Learn modern Greek at ilearngreek.comGo!
Learn modern Greek at Polymath.orgGo!
Learn New Testament/Koine GreekGo!
Learn ancient Greek at TextKit.comGo!

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