Learn Greek

Dec 16, 2009 5:57:47 PM / by Rachel Reardon

GreeceGreek is not a widely spoken language and it may not give you the passport to learning other languages but it merits a seat in the pantheon of languages because it is one of the world’s oldest recorded living languages and because many words in English and other languages have been derived from Greek.

Greek is spoken in Greece, and it is one of the two official languages in Cyprus. It is also spoken by emigrant and minority communities in Germany, the USA, Australia, Canada, the UK, and in the neighboring countries Albania, Turkey, Southern Italy, as well as in the countries around the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. All in all it is spoken by about 14 million people.

It belongs to the Indo-European family of languages and it is an independent branch of it. According to some historical linguists the peoples in the plains of Europe and Anatolia spoke the Proto-Indo-European language until the 3rd millennium BC. At the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC this language had already been divided into the various Indo-European languages, one of which was Proto-Greek, the common ancestor of all dialects of Ancient Greek. Proto-Greek speakers came to Greece in the 2nd millennium BC. The first record of Greek is the script in Linear B on tablets in Mycenae dating from the 15th or 14th century BC.

Ancient Greece was the cradle of civilization and the means of expressing it was Ancient Greek. The great philosophical, scientific, and cultural texts of that era, which influenced the entire Western thought, were written in this language. It is only natural that a great number of Greek words has been borrowed in international science, philosophy, and technology vocabulary: words like mathematics, geometry, athletics, theater, philosophy, and many others have Greek origin. It is said that 12% of the English vocabulary is derived from Greek.

Ancient Greek has undergone many changes in phonology, morphology, syntax but the language was never interrupted and, although Greeks today cannot understand Ancient Greek texts without some help, the similarities are more than obvious and many words have survived unaltered as they were in ancient times. For example, the word for “child” was “pes” (“pedos” in genitive) in Ancient Greek and it is “pedi” in Modern Greek.

Most interesting is the search of the origin of words and how they changed meaning through the ages. For example, did you know that the word “enthusiast”, of Greek origin of course, comes from the Ancient Greek word “entheos” = en (in) + theos (god) and meant having or being inspired by divine ecstasy?

Having said all that, learning Greek, apart from giving you a means to communicate with the Greeks who live in the beautiful place you are going to visit, will also give you a better insight in your own language.

Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Rachel Reardon

Written by Rachel Reardon

Rachel works with some of the coolest marketers, designers, and writers around to help Mango look and sound its best. She loves bold colors, old books, the Montréal metro, and Star Trek. She has conflicting feelings about the Oxford comma.

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