Greek: Είναι όλα τα ελληνικά μου.

And then there was … Greek.

Did you know this was one of the first languages to have vowels and that most speakers can understand ancient Greek (even better than English speakers can understand Middle English)? Greek is spoken primarily in the Mediterranean by 14 million, although there are lots of communities in Turkey, Albania and even here in the U.S. and Canada that speak it.

REGIONAL HISTORY: It’s not always good to go by assumptions, but I will take a wild guess and speculate that most of you are already familiar with Ancient Greece and the development of city-states like Sparta and Athens, Alexander the Great’s conquest and eventual takeover by the Romans near the first millennium AD.

Let’s fast forward. Greece became tied to Byzantium around the 300s, with Constantinople as the cultural and political capital of the empire. Greece was part of the Byzantine Empire for nearly 1,000 years. Like the rest of the countries in the Balkans however, Greece would find itself in the hands of the Ottoman Empire around the 1400s, causing many Greeks to immigrate.

Greece would be under Ottoman rule until they waged war in 1821. The Greek War of Independence last for nine years and, although successful, Greece was later ruled by Danish Bavarian Prince Otto, who was installed by The Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia). Prince William (later King George I), from Denmark, would rule for 50 years.

The 20th century for Greece would see highs and lows. Lows include a bitter split of the country over WWI, Turkish conflicts and emigration, German occupation in WWII and division between Communists and anti-Communists after that. Highs, though, included economic growth, the formation of a parliamentary democracy (from a dictatorship) with Konstantinos Karamanlis as the country’s leader and mending ties with Turkey.

WRITING SYSTEM: The Greek alphabet has a bunch of letters similar to Latin ones and even one or two identical to Cyrillic letters. Below, you will find the Greek letters, followed by the English transliterations in parentheses and their pronunciations (according to Greek-Language.com):

Α α – (a) a as in father
Β β – (b)
Γ γ – (g) g as in go; y before Ε/I; ng as in sing before Γ, K, Ξ, or Χ
Δ δ – (d) th as in then (not breathy)
Ε ε – (e) e as in set
Ζ ζ – (z)
Η η – (e) ee as in meet
Θ θ – (th) th as in thin (breathy)
Ι ι – (i) ee as in meet, y as in yet
Κ κ – (k)
Λ λ – (l)
Μ μ – (m)
Ν ν – (n)
Ξ ξ – (ks)  ks as in kicks
Ο ο – (o) o as in boat
Π π – (p)
Ρ ρ – (r) like a Spanish R, trilled
Σ σ/ς – (s)
Τ τ – (t) t as in stop (not breathy)
Υ υ – (u) u as in German über
Φ φ – (ph) ph as in phone
Χ χ – (ch) ch as in bach
Ψ ψ – (ps) ps as in lips
Ω ω – (o) o in tote

There’s a trilled “r,” which is enough to make me excited about the possibilities. I’m also curious about what makes Greek so not like the other languages I’ve looked at.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Greek doesn’t sound like any of the other languages I’ve read about. I think it’s a language isolate anyway in the Indo-European family, but it seems to have its own style, its own flavor. What I think is remarkable is how it has remained relatively unchanged, as compared to Latin and other older languages that have been around for a while (and have broken up into other languages).

If you love listening to Greek sung, you might like this. This song was performed by Sofia Jobbar in Sweden’s Melodifestivalen (a popular music contest that precedes the Eurovision Song Contest) earlier this year and I just love it. It’s one of those songs I think would play in my head, walking in a busy city at night.

SOURCES USED IN THIS POST:

Lonely Planet
Omniglot
Visit Greece
Wikipedia (Greece)

6 Responses to “Greek: Είναι όλα τα ελληνικά μου.”


  1. 1 Pol October 26, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Just some remarks from a Spaniard in love with Modern Greek.

    Greek has nothing to do with Spanish in terms of vocabulary — apart from the loan words — but it is interesting that due to its vowels and syllabic patterns, it sounds strangely familiar to a Spaniard, as if it were some sort of spoken Spanish that uses unknown vocabulary, but still easy to transcribe.

    It is true that the letter χ sounds as ‘ch’ in German Bach or ‘j’ in Spanish jaula, but it only happens in front of the vowels ‘a’, ‘e’ and ‘o’. When followed by an ‘e’ or an ‘i’, it sounds differently: as ‘ch’ in German ich. I’ve heard some English speakers using that same sound when pronouncing the word human.

    This site is great!

  2. 2 maxiewawa October 26, 2009 at 8:16 am

    I can’t believe you haven’t chosen one yet! That story on the World was quite a long time ago, and you still haven’t settled down.

    I do enjoy the little stories you write about each language though.

    Good luck in your search!

  3. 3 Jim Morrison October 29, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Pol,
    I agree that the sound of Greek is reminiscent of the sound of Spanish. When I hear Greek spoken, I think ‘what’s this language?, it sounds romance, but I don’t understand a single word of it. It must be Greek’.
    Jim

  4. 4 a January 8, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Let’s correct just one of several inaccuracies: Prince Otto was Bavarian, not Danish.

    • 5 37languages January 9, 2010 at 8:05 pm

      Thanks for that! What other inaccuracies did you notice?

      • 6 a January 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm

        You wrote:

        “one of the first languages to have vowels”

        But all languages have always had vowels!

        Did you possibly mean than the Greek *alphabet* was the first one to have separate letters for vowels?

        You also wrote:

        “most speakers can understand ancient Greek
        (even better than English speakers can understand
        Middle English)”

        The degree to which a modern Greek understands ancient Greek depends heavily on his/her education level as well as the kind of ancient Greek under consideration. Homer’s language differs considerably from the language in which the New Testament was written. Poetry (e.g., Sappho) is much more difficult to understand than prose (e.g., Herodotus), philosophy much more difficult than a letter sent by an everyday person to another everyday person etc.

        The problem with such claims is that most ancient Greek surviving texts are not in everyday language and do not deal with everyday subjects, but are forms of literature, written in a more or less artificial and lofty style, and dealing with lofty subjects.

        I’d be surprised if an educated English has more difficulties with Chaucer than an educated modern Greek with -say- Aeschylus.


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