Short Presentation of the History of Greek language

31 January 2014

Greek language is one of the Indo-european languages. It’s the only member of an individual branch of Indo-european languages. It also belongs to the Balkan languages. In Greek language we have written texts since 15th century B.C.

Greek language was the most widespread language in anquity in Mediterranean and South Europe mainly because of the number of colonies that have been founded by the Greeks in the Mediterranean coast and became the language of trade in the end of Alexander’s reign. Greek is the mother tongue for 12,000,000 people mainly in Greece and Cyprus. It is also the mother tongue of indigenous populations in Albania, Bulgaria, Fyrom, Italy and Turkey. Because of immigration the language is also spoken in Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States. The total number of people speaking Greek as first or second language is approximately 25 million.

Greek is the official language of Greece and Cyprus and one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. It is also recognized as a minority language in Albania, Armenia, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine.

As it concerns the first phase (first Greek), which is placed before 1600 B.C., our knowledge is based on techniques of comparative method that comes from comparative linguistics. The first Greek has preserved a great part of the Indo-european mother language.

In the next phase (Mycenaean Greek) which appeared in the signs of Linear B and in some parts of Homer, we can also notice many ancient words.

In classic Greek, whose most ancient texts are the Homeric epics and the Dypilon inscription , the basic characteristic is the high dialectic differentiation whose cause is the scattering of the Greek world in many areas. However there is no clear answer on the question if the basic dialects ( dwric, ioanian, aeolian) were shaped in the Greece due to political division or they came with various tribes during the Bronze Age. They might both have happened. However the dialects were quite different.

One of the most important dialects in the classic era was the Attic dialect  which was mainly used in Athens but also as a language of philosophers and scientists. This dialect comes from the Ionian language with plenty of Doric influences. It was adopted as the official language by Phillip of Macedonia and as the official language of the entire Hellenistic world by his son Alexander. It is the source of all the next Greek dialects. The language was used as first or second language by many people that had different mother tongues and this had as a result tremendous changes in every level of the language. The result of these changes is the Hellenistic Greek which appears mainly in the New Testament. It is important that the first supporters of the Attic dialect appeared in this period, and they considered necessary the preservation of the original dialect at least in written language (the first appearance of linguistic division). The Hellinistic Greek was turned into Medieval Greek and this derives from the folk songs.

The borders between New Greek and Medieval Greek are rather vague and they are placed roughly in the last years of Byzantine Empire. During this period, as well as during the Turkish occupation we had an intense dialectic differentiation, which carried on until a few decades ago.

From antiquity until today the linguistic division tortures the Greek language. It first appeared in the 1st century B.C. and then during the Turkish occupation with the conservatives and the progressives of the language. Later, when the Greek state was founded there was an attempt of cleaning the language and in the 20th century there was the division of the Katharevousa (puristic) language and the Demotic Greek. In 1977 the problem was solved with the establishment of Demotic Greek as the official language of the Greek state. Modern Greek, which is now used, is argued to be a combination of the original Demotic and the traditional Katharevousa as stressed in the 19th century, also with institutional input from Koine Greek, spoken in the years of Jesus.

Greek language has over 800,000 words and many of them are met in foreign languages. This makes it the richest language in the world. It is taught in many Universities all over the world because of its functionality since its musicality and its semantic value achieve a psychological harmony and a mental alertness. Characteristically the German philosopher Martin Heidegger said: “Ancient Greek belongs to the model, through which the spiritual powers of creative genius emerge, since due to the possibilities that it provides the thought, it is the most powerful and at the same time the most spiritual of all the languages in the world.”


The Story of Greek Diaspora

Expatriate Greeks or Greek Diaspora (dispersion), also known as Omogenia, is the term that refers to the communities of Greek people, who stay permanently in countries and areas outside Greece, but they still preserve individually and collectively the material, cultural and emotional relationship with their country or their origin.  Greek Diaspora (dispersion) is not the same as Greeks of abroad because the second term includes also those people who don’t live permanently in another country, i.e. sailors, diplomats, commercial representatives.

The long history of Greek Diaspora (dispersion), starts approximately in 2000 B.C. and is divided in 3 main periods, with different features:1) the four centuries of Turkish occupation 2) the period from the foundation of the Greek state to the 2nd world war 3)the period from  the end of the war to the end of the 20th century. The reasons for immigration are the political, military, economic and social conditions in Greece. Greek Diaspora (dispersion) is characterized by its significant contribution to the social, cultural and political development of Greek world, especially during the period of ottoman occupation and it is about the 1/3 of the Greek population.

In 1995 the Greeks abroad joined their forces for the first time forming “Greece of the World”. A presidential decree instituted World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) to consult and advise on issues concerning the Greeks abroad and facilitate better communication with homeland in order Greeks to gain even more power.

Today more than 5,000,000 citizens of Greek origin live outside the Greek borders in 140 countries of the world. The greatest number lives in the USA, second comes Europe (including the countries of Former Soviet Union) (1,000,000), Australia (650,000-700,000) Canada (350,000), Asia and Africa (100,000), Central and South America (60,000).



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