All About Modern Greek

It is difficult to find a language that has had a more formative influence on Western culture than the Greek language. Koine Greek, the vernacular language spoken in the Roman Empire, facilitated the spread of knowledge that is the very foundation of the West. More importantly, this is the language of the New Testament, which is arguably the most influential religious work ever written. Today, the modern Greek language continues to be a force in the world, especially in Europe and the Middle East.

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The roots of modern Greek can be traced to the eighteenth and nineteenth century as Greece began agitating for independence from the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Greeks not living in their homeland were used to speaking a variant of Greek based closely on ancient Greek, but the common language spoken by those who lived in Greece did not have the same classical or literary flair. After independence was won in the 1800s and many Greeks returned to Greece, there were two main variants of Greek spoken there until the end of the century.

At that point, scholars began to systematize the grammar and spelling of the Greek spoken by the common people, and that variant of modern Greek is now known as Demotic Greek. For a time it was not the official language of the government, but in 1976 the Greek parliament adopted Demotic as the tongue for all legal and governmental transactions. Until 1976, Katharevousa, the form of modern Greek that exhibits a more classical influence was the official language for the government, which created many communication problems since most of the common people spoke Demotic. It is therefore no surprise that with the change of the language, many of these problems were largely solved.

Modern Greek is a descendant of the ancient Greek language that was spoken in the Roman Empire and later in the Byzantine Empire. While the Katharevousa form of modern Greek exhibits more similarities to the ancient Greek than Demotic, there are still significant differences between both forms of modern Greek and the ancient form of the language. Chief among these is the absence of the dative case — the form of nouns and adjectives that indicates the presence of the indirect object in a sentence. There has also been a loss of specific verb forms such as the infinitive, and so what ancient Greek could say with one verb, modern Greek can say only with two or more verbs. The pronunciation of modern Greek is also different than ancient Greek in terms of accents and pitches, though both Katharevousa and Demotic have the same phonetic system. Demotic also commonly borrows words from other languages like Turkish and Italian while Katharevousa tends to invent new Greek words instead of using those from foreign cultures.

With a little practice, anyone can learn modern Greek and thereby get a new insight into a civilization different than their own. Studying Greek is recommended for those interested in learning more about Western culture and expanding their cultural horizons.

The Athens Centre — center devoted to the study of Greek language and culture that features renowned programs in the modern Greek language

Filoglossia — ten modern Greek lessons online

Greek-English Dictionary — dictionary to assist English-speaking students of the modern Greek language

Greek Quick Fix — several essential Greek phrases from the BBC

Greek Reading Exercises — a collection of exercises for helping students to learn how to read modern Greek texts

Introduction to Modern Greek — brief information on the development of modern Greek and its differences from ancient Greek

Learn Greek Online — site offering modern Greek lessons at three different levels

Modern Greek Studies Association — professional society devoted to the study of modern Greek language and culture

Writing the Greek Letters — site with diagrams for writing the Greek letters

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