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The Greek language (or "Hellenic") is an Indo-European language with a documented history of some 3,000 years. Ancient Greek in its various forms was the language both of classical Greek civilisation and of the origins of Christianity, and was a first or second language over a large part of the Roman Empire. It has been studied in schools and universities in many countries from the Renaissance onwards.
Modern Greek, which differs in many ways from Ancient Greek but is still recognisably the same language, is spoken by approximately 12 million speakers worldwide, most of whom live in Greece. Greek is traditionally written in the Greek alphabet.
History of the Greek Language
Greek has been spoken in the Balkan Peninsula since the 2nd millennium BC. The earliest evidence of this is found in the Linear B tablets dating from 1500 BC. The alphabet normally used was adapted from the Phoenician alphabet in c. 1000 BC and, with minor modifications, is still used today.
Two main forms of the language have been in use since the end of the medieval Greek period: Dhimotiki, the Demotic (vernacular) language, and Katharevusa, an imitation of classical Greek, which was used for literary, juridic, and scientific purposes during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Demotic Greek is the official language of the modern Greek state, and the most widely spoken by Greeks today.
Modern Greek is similar to the ancient Greek language, more so than Italian is to Latin, for example. It is claimed that an "educated" speaker of the modern language can read ancient texts, but this is surely as much a function of education as of the similarity of the languages. Still, Koine /ci?ni/, the version of Greek used to write the New Testament and the Septuagint, is relatively easy to understand for modern speakers.
Greek words have been widely borrowed into the European languages: astronomy, democracy, philosophy, thespian, etc. Moreover, Greek words and word elements continue to be productive as a basis for coinages: anthropology, photography, isomer, etc. and form, with Latin words, the foundation of international scientific and technical vocabulary.
We look forward to helping you learning some Greek for your stay in Greece!
The Endless Greece Language Guide team