Greek language

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

GREEK A LANGUAGE of south-eastern Europe, a classical LANGUAGE of the Western world, and a member of the INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGE family. It is commonly divided into Ancient or Classical Greek (often thought of as a dead language) and Modern Greek, the language of Greece, Cyprus (with Turkish), enclaves in the Soviet Union and the eastern Mediterranean, and Greek and Cypriot immigrants in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the US.

Greek in English

The influence of classical Greek on English has been largely indirect, through LATIN and FRENCH, and largely lexical and conceptual, with some orthographic and other effects. For speakers of English, Greek has been traditionally perceived as remote, esoteric, and yet worth a certain respect: compare the idiom It's Greek to me (I can't understand it) and the saying The Greeks had a word for it (expressing a traditional view of the richness of the language). Greek word-forming patterns, words, and word elements were adopted and adapted into Latin over c.1,500 years, and passed through Latin into many European and other languages, being used in the main for scholarly and technical purposes. The flow into English was at first limited and largely religious, such as Old English cirice and its descendant church (from kūriakón dôma the Lord's house). The significant influx was in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, as with catalogue 1460, rhetorical 1476, stratagem 1489, psalmodize 1513, analytical 1525.

Greek in Latin dress

The spelling of Greek words in English has been shaped by the orthographies of Latin and French: Greek kalligraphia becomes Latin calligraphia, French calligraphie, English calligraphy. Occasionally, however, a more Greek look survives: kaleidoscope, not *calidoscope, kinetic, not *cinetic. Synonymous variants sometimes occur: ceratin, keratin, both from kéras horn. Contrasts occur when a k survives in some usages but not in others: ceratosaurus horned lizard, keratogenous producing horny tissue; cinematography making moving pictures, kinematograph (obsolete) a film projector. Although most Greek personal and place-names have a Latinate look in English (Achilles, Hercules; Athens, Crete), they can, for literary and other purposes, take forms closer to the classical (Akhilleus, Herakles) or the modern (Athinai, Kriti). The use of ph as a marker of Greek words in Latin survives in English because it was favoured by French writers, the ph representing the Greek letter phi. English philosophy and French philosophie contrast with Italian filosofia and Spanish filosofía, which did not keep the Latinism: see F, P. English neuralgia, neurosis are closer to Greek than both French névralgie, névrose and Italian nevralgia, nevrosi, which have been influenced by the pronunciation of Modern Greek.

Hybridized Greek

Because it has been filtered into English through Neo-Latin, the Greek contribution has been liable to hybridization. However, because some loans (diuretic, deontology, dogmatism) are fairly close to their originals, and other forms are virtually identical with them (diphtheria, dogma, drama), the effects of Latinization and the easy creation of hybrids have tended to be overlooked. The words rhetorical and analytical are largely Greek, but they end with the suffix -al, an adaptation of Latin -alis. Scholars have tended to minimize such adaptations, because Latin and Greek were equally classical, sometimes discussing Greek as if it were a self-contained and pure source of technical vocabulary for English. Henry Bradley put it as follows:
So well adapted is the structure of the Greek language for the formation of scientific terms, that when a word is wanted to denote some conception peculiar to modern science, the most convenient way of obtaining it usually is to frame a new Greek compound or derivative, such as Aristotle himself might have framed if he had found it needful to express the meaning (The Making of English, 1904).This is only partly true. A new formation is likely to be more NEO-LATIN than classical Greek. It was circumstance rather than inherent worth that made Greek a prime source of terms for European academic discourse. Other classical languages, such as ARABIC and SANSKRIT, are comparably extensive in systems of WORD-FORMATION exploited in their own scholarly traditions, but have had little impact on English because no such channels as Latin and French were open to them. Elsewhere, however, they have had a comparable impact.


views updated

Greek language, member of the Indo-European family of languages (see Indo-European). It is the language of one of the major civilizations of the world and of one of the greatest literatures of all time. Many modern scientific and technical words in English and other Western languages are derived from Greek, and it has been estimated that 12% of the English vocabulary is of Greek origin.

Ancient Greek

By the 16th cent. BC, Greek-speaking people were established in Greece, probably having come as invaders from the north. In antiquity there were a number of dialects of the Greek language, the most important of which were Aeolic, Arcadian, Attic, Cyprian, Doric, and Ionic. Ancient Greek was prevalent in the Balkan peninsula, the Greek islands, W Asia Minor, S Italy, and Sicily. Because of the political and cultural importance of Athens in the classical period of Greek history, the Athenian dialect, Attic, became dominant. From Attic there developed an idiom called the koinē, which means "common" or "common to all the people" and which became a standard form of Ancient Greek.

After Alexander the Great the koinē developed into an international language that remained current in the central and E Mediterranean regions and in parts of Asia Minor and Africa for many centuries. Most of the New Testament was written in the koinē, which helped to gain a wide audience for Christianity. Byzantine Greek, based on the koinē, was the language of the Byzantine or East Roman Empire, which lasted from AD 395 until it was crushed by the Turks in 1453.

The earliest surviving texts in Ancient Greek are of the 15th cent. BC and are written in a script known as Linear B, which was deciphered in 1953 by Michael Ventris. Later documents, including inscriptions and literary works, are written in the Greek alphabet, which was derived from the script of the Phoenicians c.9th cent. BC A variety of the Greek alphabet is still used today for the Greek language.

Modern Greek

Modern Greek stems directly from the Attic koinē and dates from the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. The official language of Greece and one of the official languages of Cyprus, Modern Greek is spoken today by about 12 million people, chiefly in Greece and the Greek islands (10 million speakers), Turkey (600,000), Cyprus (550,000), and the United States (390,000). The Greek language has not changed much in its long history. The differences are largely in pronunciation and vocabulary, but they also include divergences in grammar. Modern Greek, for example, has absorbed a number of loan words from Turkish and Italian, although its vocabulary is essentially that of Ancient Greek.

The spoken form of Modern Greek, however, differed markedly from the written form until recently. The latter, referred to as katharevousa, was used by the government, the schools, and the mass media until the mid-1970s and is much more like Ancient Greek than the spoken form, which is called dēmotikē.Dēmotikē, the language of popular speech, has more foreign loan words and a simpler grammar than katharevousa. Although a literature in dēmotikē developed during the 20th cent., it was not until 1976 that it was accepted as the official written Greek language (see Greek literature, modern).

Distinctive Characteristics

Both the nouns and verbs of Ancient Greek were highly inflected. Verbs had active, middle, and passive voices; indicative, subjunctive, optative, and imperative moods; singular, dual, and plural numbers; and many tenses. Nouns had three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter) and five cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocative). Unlike Latin, Greek had a word for the definite article. Three accent marks are used in Greek, the acute (´), the grave (`), and the circumflex (ˆ). In Ancient Greek they denoted a pitch accent related to the length of vowels, but in Modern Greek they serve as a stress accent. The symbol for a rough breathing over an initial vowel represented the h sound in Ancient Greek, while the symbol for a smooth breathing over an initial vowel made clear the absence of aspiration. Though still retained today, the breathing marks no longer indicate pronunciation. In punctuation, the semicolon (;) stands for the question mark, and a raised dot denotes the semicolon and colon.


See P. S. Costas, An Outline of the History of the Greek Language (1936); E. H. Sturtevant, The Pronunciation of Greek and Latin (2d ed. 1940); O. Eleftheriades, Modern Greek: A Contemporary Grammar (1985).

views updated

Greek all Greek to me completely unintelligible. Greek for unintelligible language or gibberish is recorded from the late 16th century, as in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1599) when Casca, having said that Cicero spoke Greek, adds, ‘for mine own part, it was Greek to me.’
at the Greek calends never; the Greek Calends will never come as the Greeks did not use calends in reckoning time. The term is recorded from the mid 17th century.
Greek cross a cross of which all four arms are of equal length.
Greek fire a combustible composition emitted by a flame-throwing weapon, and used to set light to enemy ships, which was first used by the Greeks besieged in Constantinople (673–8). It ignited on contact with water, and was probably based on naphtha and quicklime.
Greek gift a gift made to conceal an act of treachery; the allusion is to the Trojan Horse, and to the warning timeo Danaos et dona ferentes ‘I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.’
Greek key a pattern of interlocking right-angled spirals.
Greek Orthodox Church the Eastern Orthodox Church which uses the Byzantine rite in Greek, in particular the national Church of Greece.
when Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war when two people of a similar kind are opposed, there is a struggle for supremacy. The saying is recorded from the late 17th century, and is found originally in Nathaniel Lee's The Rival Queens (1677), ‘When Greeks joined Greeks, then was the tug of war.’

See also fear the Greeks bearing gifts.

views updated

Greek / grēk/ • adj. of or relating to Greece, its people, or their language. Compare with Hellenic. • n. 1. a native or national of modern Greece, or a person of Greek descent. ∎  a Greek-speaking person in the ancient world, typically a native of one of the city-states of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. 2. the ancient or modern language of Greece, the only representative of the Hellenic branch of the Indo-European family. 3. a member of a fraternity or sorority having a Greek-letter name. PHRASES: it's (all) Greek to me inf. I can't understand it at all.DERIVATIVES: Greek·ness n.

views updated

Greek Indo-European language spoken in Greece since c.2000 bc. In ancient Greece there were several dialects: Attic, spoken in Athens, is the most common in literary records. Greek was widely spoken in the Middle East during the Hellenistic Age. It was the official language of the Byzantine Empire, and it began to evolve into its modern form in c.1000 ad. After the fall of Byzantium, it developed two forms: ‘demotiki’, the spoken language also used in most literary forms, and ‘katharevousa’, used in official documents.

views updated

Greekantique, batik, beak, bespeak, bezique, bleak, boutique, cacique, caïque, cheek, chic, clique, creak, creek, critique, Dominique, eke, freak, geek, Greek, hide-and-seek, keek, Lalique, leak, leek, Martinique, meek, midweek, Mozambique, Mustique, mystique, oblique, opéra comique, ortanique, peak, Peake, peek, physique, pique, pratique, reek, seek, shriek, Sikh, sleek, sneak, speak, Speke, squeak, streak, teak, technique, tongue-in-cheek, tweak, unique, veronique, weak, week, wreak •stickybeak • grosbeak • houseleek •forepeak • technospeak • newspeak •doublespeak • hairstreak • tugrik •fenugreek • Realpolitik • Ostpolitik •pipsqueak • workweek

views updated

Greek native of Greece OE.; language of Greece XIV; cheat, sharper XVI; adj. XIV. OE. Grēcas (pl.; and so for the most part till XVI), corr. to MLG. Grēke, MDu. Grieke, G. Grieche, ON. Grikkir (pl.), of which the earlier forms are OE. Crēcas, OHG. Chrēch, Goth. Krēks :- Gmc. *Krēkaz — L. Græcus (applied by the Romans to the people who called themselves Hellēnes; see Hellene) — Gr. Graikós; cf. L. Graius, used (esp. pl.) as a poet. syn. of Græcus.

views updated

Greek. Opera in 2 acts by Mark-Anthony Turnage to lib. by composer and Jonathan Moore from S. Berkoff's play Greek. Comp. 1986–8. Prod. Munich 1988, Edinburgh Fest. 1988, London (ENO) 1990.