Greek language

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Overview: Greek language
(see also: Greek alphabet )
Ancient Greek (approx. 2000 BC)
Mycenaean (approx. 1600–1100 BC)
Ancient Greek (approx. 800–300 BC)
Aeolian , Arcadian-Cypriot ,
Attic , Doric , Ionian
Koine (approx. 300 BC - 300 AD)
Late Antique Greek (approx. 300–600)
Middle Greek (approx. 600–1500)
Modern Greek (since around 1500)
Today's official language
Popular language: Dimotiki
Educational language: Katharevousa
Griko , Jevan , Cappadoc ,
Pontic , Tsakonian , Cypriot

The Greek language ( Modern Greek ελληνική γλώσσα Elliniki Glóssa [ listen ? / I ], ancient Greek ἑλληνικὴ γλῶσσα hellēnikḕ GLOSSA or Attic ἑλληνικὴ γλῶττα hellēnikḕ glotta ) is an Indo-European language with a writing tradition that extends over a period of 3400 years. Ancient Greek, used in antiquity and taught in schools today, and modern Greek spoken in Greece today are different levels of the Greek language. Audio file / audio sample

Western culture is largely shaped by the language and culture of ancient Greece . European literature, philosophy and science begin in the Greek language. Important works of world literature such as the Homeric epics , the great dramas by Aeschylus , Sophocles and Euripides , the philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle or the New Testament are all written in Greek. In numerous loan and foreign words ( Graecisms ), Greek is alive in many modern languages.


The Greek language belongs to the Indo-European languages and is a separate branch of this language family . The ancient Macedonian language is closely related to Greek. Linguists refer to this group of languages ​​as the Hellenic languages . Most linguists suspect that both languages ​​are an equivalent split from the original Hellenic language, while others claim that Macedonian is a dialect of Greek.

The closest relatives are Armenian and Albanian . This Balkan Indo-European hypothesis is supported by quantitative methods.



The Greek language is one of the main branches of the Indo-European language family . It emerged from the original Indo-European language (possibly through one or more intermediate levels, e.g. Balkan Indo-European ) . A whole series of hypotheses exist for the period of the emergence of Greek, which is likely to coincide with the immigration of Indo-Europeans to the Balkan Peninsula during the early Bronze Age. These range from 3600 BC. BC (Gimbutas) to 2000 BC Chr. (Schuler). The immigrating Indo-Europeans met a culturally high-ranking indigenous population, later called Pelasger ( Πελασγοί ) by the Greeks . Their language has not been handed down, but only developed as a substrate in Greek. These include B. Loan words like θάλασσα , thálassa ('sea') and νῆσος , nēsos ('island') as well as numerous place names like Κόρινθος ( Corinth ) and Παρνασσός ( Parnassus ). The Pelasgian language (or languages) was probably not Indo-European; There is speculation about a connection with the Minoan language of Crete . Greek was probably also influenced by an unknown Indo-European language that may have been close to the extinct Illyrian .

Mycenaean time

The oldest written record of the language in Linear B writing. They appear from the 14th century BC. BC - so in Mycenaean times - as very short texts on transport amphora , where they describe the content. Longer texts on numerous clay tablets, also of a purely practical nature, were found in the archives of some Mycenaean palaces. They date from the beginning of the 12th century BC. Chr. After the destruction of most of the known Mycenaean palaces in the 12th century, knowledge of Linear B was lost. The structurally similar Cypriot syllabary remained in Cyprus until the 3rd century BC. Chr. In use.

Classic time

Beginning of the Iliad

Towards the end of the " dark centuries ", probably around 800 BC. BC, the Greeks adopted the Phoenician writing system and modified it by introducing vowel symbols. One of the best-known early examples of the new alphabetical script is the so-called Nestor cup . In classical times, a large number of dialects can be identified, among the most important are Attic (still taught in schools as ancient Greek ) , Ionian , Doric- Northwest Greek, from which today's Tsakonian is derived, Aiolic and Arcadian-Cypriot .

The Homeric epics at the beginning of the written tradition , the Iliad and the Odyssey , for example, are written in an artistic form of language that used words from different dialects, often according to the requirements of the meter , but on the whole Ionic with numerous aiolic elements and archaisms .

Hellenistic period

The political, economic and cultural supremacy of Athens in the 5th century BC BC made the Attic dialect spoken there the basis of a supraregional common language (Koinē, Greek κοινή , 'the common' or 'general'), which was created by the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. BC to the world language and lingua franca . This is the language in which the New Testament was written, among other things.

Roman empire

In the Roman Empire , too , Greek remained the official language of the eastern provinces alongside Latin and was also required in the west among the educated classes, also due to the cultural dependence of the Romans on the Greeks. In the eastern half of the empire, Greek had been the dominant language since Hellenism . Under the influence of foreign languages ​​and the persistent dialects, some simplifications in grammar and phonetics were made compared to the Attic. Since the late 1st century BC this has resulted in Again and again, especially in the 2nd century , to efforts to "purify" the Greek language with recourse to the classical Attic ( Atticism ). This form of language, which was used around 400 BC. Artificially raised Greek spoken in Athens to the norm and vehemently propagated by authors such as Dionysius of Halicarnassus , it now became the language of literature and the educated upper class, while colloquial language continued to move away from this rigid form. The result was a pronounced diglossia that was to be typical of Greek for centuries.


Even after the division of the Roman Empire in 395, the “adjusted” form of Attic ancient Greek remained the literary language of the late ancient Eastern Roman Empire. After the loss of the Latin-speaking areas on the Balkan Peninsula , the Latin official language was quickly abandoned around 630 , and Eastern Current was finally converted from a Roman to a Byzantine Empire . The pronunciation of everyday Greek had changed by this time very much, especially what the vowels and diphthongs terms (the distinction between long and short vowels disappeared, and several vowels as long i ( [⁠ i ⁠] pronounced), a Appearance known as Itazism ). The beta has now consistently than [⁠ v ⁠] pronounced. By 700 at the latest, the pronunciation was already very similar to that of today's Greek, and it has been practically identical to it since the 10th century.

After about 640, Eastern Current / Byzantium experienced a severe crisis phase; this led to the fact that for about 150 years there was hardly any classical literature. In addition, along with most of the Poleis , grammar lessons also disappeared , as did the local elites who had defined themselves for centuries through their education ( paideia ). When a notable literary production resumed in the late 8th century, the language of these texts was therefore usually much closer to the spoken Greek of that time than was the case in late antiquity. The change in pronunciation led to strong simplifications in the formation of inflections and grammar in everyday language, which also influenced literary language. But most of the literary works of the Byzantine period are written in a language form that at least approximates ancient Greek, in which the degree of deviation from the "classical" language form can be very different.

In Syria and Egypt, after the Arab conquest, Greek initially remained the official language for a few decades before it lost this function to Arabic from around 700 onwards .

Modern times

The Ottoman Empire's attitude towards the Greek language was generally tolerant: schooling in Greek was not forbidden, although this is still often claimed to this day, and many Greeks entered civil service because of their language skills. The first newspaper in Constantinople was written in Greek. In addition, Greek (especially the Koine) was the church language . The use of the language was free to everyone; there was no open repression. The loss of its status as the state language , however, meant that Greek was subjected to a change again, primarily shaped by the tendency to simplify the classical, complex grammatical structure.

After the founding of the modern state in 1829/30, the so-called Katharévousa (Greek καθαρεύουσα, 'pure [language]'; the foundations were created by Adamantios Korais ) became the official language of instruction and official language, an artificially created high-level language that initially served as a middle ground between strongly ancientizing and vulgaristic models for the new state language, but from the 1830s onwards increasingly based on the classical Attic in terms of vocabulary and grammar . The centuries-long coexistence ( diglossia ) of this standard language and the vernacular ( Dimotiki , Greek δημοτική) resulted in major problems in the field of education, since children were massively impaired in their natural language development and prevented from freely expressing themselves in their mother tongue. After numerous legislative initiatives in the course of the 20th century to establish the vernacular and just as numerous setbacks and tendencies towards archaism (analogous to the current government), the vernacular did not finally become the language of state administration and science until 1976 - in modern Greek literature the decision was for the vernacular fell in the 19th century (poetry) and at the beginning of the 20th century (prose). Many words and grammatical structures have been adopted from the Katharevousa in the modern vernacular, which is why this is also regarded as a synthesis of Katharevousa and Dimotiki and is called "Modern Greek Koine" (νεοελληνική κοινή, Standard Modern Greek ). The Orthodox Church and some linguistic purists continue to adhere to the Katharévousa for written use.


Before the invention and introduction of the Greek script, which is still in use today, around the 9th century BC. The Mycenaean Greek was recorded in the so-called linear B script, which, however, fell out of use with the fall of the Mycenaean culture. Its predecessor, the Linear A script, was probably not used for the Greek language.

Although the pronunciation of Greek has changed many times over the millennia, the orthography has remained largely constant thanks to various efforts to keep the language clean . The accents ( acute , grave accent and circumflex ) and symbols for breath sounds ( spiritus asper and spiritus lenis ), which were introduced into the Greek written language in the Hellenistic period , were used until recently. By Decree No. 297 of the Greek President of April 29, 1982 , the breath symbols were abolished and the accents were replaced by a single symbol ( tonos ), which indicates the stressed syllable. The tone looks like an acute, but is not identical to it (in Unicode the tone and the acute are represented by different codes). However, literary texts in particular are often still printed with breath marks and accents - regardless of whether it is the modern Greek vernacular Dimotikí or the state and educational language Katharévousa .


The Greek language and writing had an immense influence on the development of Europe : Both the Latin and the Cyrillic alphabet were developed on the basis of the Greek alphabet .

The New Testament was originally written in Hellenistic Greek (see Bible Greek ) and was first printed by Erasmus of Rotterdam .

One of the main sources of the Renaissance and humanism was the return to Greek, which was almost forgotten in the West, triggered among other things by the flight of many Byzantines to the West after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 .

Even today, scientific terms are often coined internationally with recourse to Greek (and Latin ) words. In the Greek language itself, almost only Greek words are used for this, many Latin-based technical terms that are common in almost all other modern languages ​​are therefore different in modern Greek.

Individual evidence

  1. Greek language in: Encyclopædia Britannica (English)
  2. ^ B. Joseph (2001): Ancient Greek . In: J. Garry et al. (Ed.): Facts about the World's Major Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present .
  3. MultiTree: A Digital Library of Language Relationships ( )
  4. Hans J. Holm (2008): The Distribution of Data in Word Lists and its Impact on the Subgrouping of Languages. Proceedings of the 31st Annual Conference of the Society for Classification e. V. at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, March 7-9, 2007. In: C. Preisach, H. Burkhardt, L. Schmidt-Thieme, R. Decker (Eds.): Data Analysis, Machine Learning and Applications. Berlin: Springer, pp. 629-636.


  • Geoffrey Horrocks : Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers . Chichester [u. a.]: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4051-3415-6 .
  • Francisco R. Adrados : History of the Greek Language. From the beginning until today (translated by Hansbert Bertsch), A. Francke Verlag, Tübingen / Basel 2002, ISBN 3-8252-2317-5 .
  • Hans Eideneier : From Rhapsody to Rap. Gunther Narr Verlag, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-8233-5202-4 .
  • Leonard Robert Palmer : The Greek language. Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands 1980, reprinted The Bristol Classical Press, London 1996 (The Great languages), ISBN 0-391-01203-7 . - Review by: Jon-Christian Billigmeier, in: The American Journal of Philology 104, 1983, 303-306, ( online ).
    • German translation: The Greek language. Basics of the history of language and historical-comparative grammar. Institute for Linguistics at the University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck 1986 (Innsbruck Contributions to Linguistics, Vol. 50).
  • Eduard Schwyzer : Greek grammar. CH Beck, Munich. Volume 1: General part, phonology, word formation, inflection. 1934/1939, 6th edition 1990. Volume 2: Syntax and syntactic stylistics. 1950, 5th edition, 1988. Volume 3: Register. 1953, 2nd reprint of 2nd edition 1980. Volume 4: Job register. 1971, 3rd edition 2005.
  • Handbook of Classical Studies 2 .
  • Antonios N. Jannaris : An Historical Greek Grammar . Macmillan and Co., Limited, London 1897.

Web links

Wikibooks: Wikijunior languages ​​/ Greek  - learning and teaching materials