Modern Greek/Lesson 01.1

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About the Greek language[edit]

Biblical Greek. This section of the Codex Alexandrinus contains Luke 12:54-13:4.

The Greek language is one of the oldest written languages in the world, and Greek literary culture extends back in time even past the invention of writing, to the time of Homer. Greek is a language distinguished by an extraordinarily rich vocabulary. The vast majority of Modern Greek vocabulary is directly inherited from ancient Greek, like άνθρωπος (anthropos - man) or θάλασσα (thalassa - sea). Words of foreign origin have entered the language mainly from Latin, Italian and Ottoman Turkish. During older periods of the Greek language, loan words into Greek acquired Greek inflections, leaving thus only a foreign root word. Modern borrowings (from the 20th century on), especially from French and English, are typically not inflected.

IUp until the twentieth century, the archaic (καθαρεύουσα, "katharevousa," "purist") form of the language was the only one with cultural prestige, and was the formal language of government. Over the course of the twentieth century, however, the written language was changed to resemble the modern spoken language, becoming the modern demotic language (δημοτική, "of the people"), which is now the official language of the Greek and Cypriot states. The last change became effective as late as 1981, with the abolition of the polytonic system. This book is about the modern language, not classical or biblical Greek.

Introduction[edit]

This is the Greek alphabet.

Αα Ββ Γγ Δδ Εε Ζζ Ηη Θθ Ιι Κκ Λλ Μμ Νν Ξξ Οο Ππ Ρρ Σσς Ττ Υυ Φφ Χχ Ψψ Ωω

Each letter also has a name which is slightly different from how we say them in English. A excellent way to learn the Greek alphabet with good pronunciation, is through an alphabet song, like this one on YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/watch?list=PL-vatFTecrNVDgJHWaBLS9Kyc9QZxEUxI&v=YVq3587vT6s

Greek is generally pronounced as it is written. Six letters are virtually identical to English, and are the subject of this section. Section 2 covers another 12 letters with similar sounds as in English but have different printed forms (some may be familiar from math and science classes). Section 3 covers the last six letters for which there is no exact equivalent in English. Section 4 covers diphthongs, which are two letters when put together, sound different from each letter individually. (E.g. In English “ph” is a diphthong for the sound “f”.) The summary covers other things that help with reading Greek, such as accent marks.

Letter Name
Α α alpha
Ε ε epsilon
Ι ι Iota (yota)
Κ κ kappa
Ο ο omicron
Τ τ taf

The capital letters are all exactly the same as in the Latin alphabet. The small letters show some subtle differences:

  • The lowercase alpha looks similar to the 'single-story' lowercase 'ɑ' in English (not the double-story a).
  • The lower case epsilon looks like a miniature script e.
  • Lowercase kappa and iota looks like a miniature version of the uppercase letter.
  • The lowercase taf is also a miniature version of the capital one, whereas the Latin lowercase "t" is written as a cross stroke.

Knowing these few letters, you can already understand when a cartoon shows people shouting "α!" or "ο!". ο also happens to be the masculine article.

Here's how to pronounce the letters you just learned:

  • Α α is pronounced as the a in father, the IPA symbol [a]
  • Ε ε is pronounced as in enter
  • Ι ι is pronounced as the ee in meet, the IPA symbol [i]
  • Κ κ is pronounced as in keep.
  • Ο ο is pronounced as in obey, the IPA symbol [o]
  • Τ τ is pronounced as in time (without the extra air at the end that native English speakers like to add), the IPA symbol [t]

Let's practice reading some more. For example, do you know the American band whose greatest hit was "Africa"? It's Τότο. (All solutions can be found at the bottom of this page)

Why is there an accent on the omicron?

This accent indicates that the word stress should be on the ο. It's pronounced TOto, not toTO. Every Greek word of at least two syllables gets one accent indicating which syllable is stressed. This is a great feature for learners, since - unlike in English or German for example - you don't have to memorize the stress.

Here's another word for practice: κακάο. This is what the Greeks call cocoa. And κότα means "hen" in Greek.


You have already begun to read Greek. Please continue with the next section Modern Greek/Lesson 1.2, which covers Greek letters with the same sound as in English but the letters have different forms.

Solutions

Α α - Ι ι - Κ κ - Ο ο - Τ τ
Greek Transliteration English
Τότο Tóto Toto
κακάο kakáo cocoa
κότα kóta hen
Ρ ρ
Greek Transliteration English
Κροατία Kroatía Croatia