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Modern Greek language

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Title: Modern Greek language  
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Subject: Euphemism, Romantic nationalism, Phi, The Nome Trilogy, Greek Orthodox Church, Katharevousa, Alveolar trill, Voiced alveolar fricative, Voiced velar fricative, Near-open central vowel
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Modern Greek language

Modern Greek
νέα ελληνικά néa ellīniká
Pronunciation [ˈne.a eliniˈka]
Native to Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Egypt (Alexandria), Italy (Calabria and Puglia), Romania, Turkey, Ukraine (Mariupol), plus diaspora
Native speakers 12 million  (2007)
Language family
Early forms
Standard forms
Writing system Greek alphabet
Greek Braille
Language codes
ISO 639-1 el
ISO 639-2 gre (B)
ell (T)
ISO 639-3 ell
Linguist List
Linguasphere part of 56-AAA-a
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Modern Greek (Greek: νέα ελληνικά or νεοελληνική γλώσσα "Neo-Hellenic", historically and colloquially also known as Ρωμαίικα "Romaic" or "Roman", and Γραικικά "Greek") refers to the varieties and dialects of the Greek language spoken in the modern era. The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic modern features of the language had been present centuries earlier, from the fourth to the fifteenth century AD. During most of the period, the language existed in a situation of diglossia, with regional spoken dialects existing side by side with learned, more archaic written forms, as with the demotic and learned varieties (Dimotiki and Katharevousa) that co-existed throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries.


Varieties of Modern Greek include:

  • Demotic Greek (Δημοτική): Strictly speaking "Demotic" refers to all popular varieties of Modern Greek which followed a common evolution path from Koine and have retained a high degree of mutual intelligibility to the present day. As shown in Ptochoprodromic and Acritic poems, Demotic Greek was already before the 11th century the vernacular, "Roman" language of the Byzantine Greeks, notably in peninsular Greece, the Greek islands, coastal Asia Minor, Constantinople and Cyprus. Today, a standardised variety of Demotic Greek is the official language of the Hellenic Republic (Greece) and Cyprus, and is referred to as the "Standard Modern Greek", or less strictly simply as "Modern Greek" or "Demotic".
Demotic Greek comprises various regional varieties with minor linguistic differences, mainly in phonology and vocabulary. Due to their high degree of mutual intelligibility, Greek linguists refer to those varieties as "idioms" of a wider "Demotic dialect", known as "Koine Modern Greek" (Koini Neoelliniki - 'common Neo-Hellenic'). Most English-speaking linguistics tend to refer to them as "dialects", emphasising degrees of variation only when necessary. Demotic Greek varieties are divided into two main groups, Northern and Southern.
The main distinguishing feature common to Northern variants is a set of standard phonological shifts in unaccented vowel phonemes: [o] becomes [u], [e] becomes [i], and [i] and [u] are dropped. The dropped vowels' existence is implicit, and may affect surrounding phonemes: for example, a dropped [i] palatalizes preceding consonants, just like an [i] that is pronounced. Southern variants do not exhibit these phonological shifts.
Examples of Northern dialects are Rumelian, Epirote, Thessalian, Macedonian,[3] Thracian.
The Southern category is divided into groups that include variety groups from:
  1. Megara, Aegina, Athens, Cyme (Old Athenian) and Mani Peninsula (Maniot)
  2. Peloponnese (except Mani), Cyclades and Crete, Ionian Islands, Northern Epirus, Smyrna and Constantinople
  3. Dodecanese and Cyprus.
Demotic Greek has officially been taught in monotonic Greek script since 1982. Polytonic script remains popular in intellectual circles.
  • Katharevousa (Καθαρεύουσα): A semi-artificial sociolect promoted in the 19th century at the foundation of the modern Greek state, as a compromise between Classical Greek and modern Demotic. It was the official language of modern Greece until 1976. Katharevousa is written in polytonic Greek script. Also, while Demotic Greek contains loanwords from Turkish, Italian, Latin, and other languages, these have for the most part been purged from Katharevousa. See also Greek language question.
  • Pontic (Ποντιακά): Originally spoken in the Pontus region of Asia Minor until most of its speakers were displaced to mainland Greece during the great population exchange between Greece and Turkey that followed the Destruction of Smyrna. It hails from Hellenistic and Medieval Koine but preserves characteristics of Ionic since ancient colonisations. Pontic evolved as a separate dialect from Demotic Greek as a result of the region's isolation from the Greek mainstream that followed the Battle of Manzikert.
  • Cappadocian (Καππαδοκικά): A dialect close to and of the same fate as Pontic. Hails directly from the Alexandrian dialect, and its speakers settled in mainland Greece during the great population exchanges.
  • Southern Italian or Italiot (Κατωιταλιώτικα): Comprising both Calabrian and Griko varieties, it is spoken by around 15 villages in the regions of Calabria and Apulia. The Southern Italian dialect is the last living trace of Hellenic elements in Southern Italy that once formed Magna Graecia. Its origins can be traced to the Dorian Greek settlers who colonised the area from Sparta and Corinth in 700 BC. However, it has received significant Koine Greek influence through Byzantine Greek colonisers who re-introduced Greek language to the region, starting with Justinian's conquest of Italy in late antiquity and continuing through the Middle Ages. Griko and Demotic are mutually intelligible to some extent, but the former shares some common characteristics with Tsakonian.
  • Yevanic: A recently extinct language of Romaniote Jews. The language was already in decline for centuries until most of its speakers were killed in the Holocaust. Afterward, the language was mostly kept by remaining Romaniote emigrants to Israel, where it was displaced by modern Hebrew.
  • Tsakonian (Τσακωνικά): Spoken in its full form today only in a small number of villages around the town of Leonidion in the region of Arcadia in Southern Peloponnese, but partially spoken further afield in the area. Tsakonian evolved directly from Laconian (ancient Spartan) and therefore descends from the Doric branch of the Greek language. It has limited input from Hellenistic Koine and is significantly different from and not mutually intelligible with other Greek varieties (such as Demotic Greek and Pontic). Some linguists consider it a separate language because of this.

Phonology and writing

A series of radical sound shifts, which the Greek language underwent mainly during the period of Koine, has led to a phonological system in Modern Greek that is significantly different from that of Ancient Greek. Instead of the rich vowel system of Ancient Greek, with its four vowel-height levels, length distinction, and multiple diphthongs, Modern Greek has a simple system of five vowels. This came about through a series of mergers, especially towards /i/ (iotacism). In the consonants, Modern Greek has voiced and voiceless of fricatives in lieu of the Ancient Greek voiced and aspirated voiceless plosives. Modern Greek has not preserved length distinction, either in vowels or in consonants.

Modern Greek is written in the Greek alphabet, which has 24 letters, each with a capital and lowercase (small) form. The letter sigma additionally has a special final form. There are two diacritical symbols, the acute accent which indicates stress and the diaeresis marking a vowel letter as not being part of a digraph. Greek has a mixed historical and phonemic orthography, where historical spellings are used if their pronunciation matches modern usage. The correspondence between consonant phonemes and graphemes is largely unique, but several of the vowels can be spelled in multiple ways.[4] Thus reading is easy but spelling is difficult.[5]

A number of diacritical signs were used until 1982, when they were officially dropped from Greek spelling as no longer corresponding to the modern pronunciation of the language. Monotonic orthography is today used in official usage, in schools and for most purposes of everyday writing in Greece. Polytonic orthography, besides being used for older varieties of Greek, is still used in book printing, especially for academic and belletristic purposes, and in everyday use by some conservative writers and elderly people. The Greek Orthodox Church continues to use polytonic and the late Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens[6] and the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece[7] have requested the reintroduction of polytonic as the official script.

The Greek vowel letters with their pronunciation are: ⟨α//, ⟨ε//, ⟨η//, ⟨ι//, ⟨ο//, ⟨υ//, ⟨ω//. There are also vowel digraphs which are phonetically monophthongal: ⟨αι//, ⟨ει//, ⟨οι//, ⟨ου//, ⟨υι//. The three digraphs ⟨αυ⟩, ⟨ευ⟩ and ⟨ηυ⟩ are pronounced /av/, /ev/ and /iv/, but before voiceless consonants they are pronounced [af], [ef] and [if], respectively.

The Greek letters ⟨β⟩ and ⟨δ⟩ are pronounced // and // respectively. The letter ⟨γ⟩ is generally pronounced //, but before the mid or close front vowels, it is pronounced ] (or ] and ] in some dialects, notably those of Crete and the Mani). Μoreover, before the mid or close back vowels, tends to be pronounced further back than a prototypical velar, between a velar ] and an uvular ] (transcribed ɣ̄).

The letters ⟨θ⟩, ⟨φ⟩ and ⟨χ⟩ are pronounced //, // and // respectively. The letter ⟨χ⟩, before mid or close front vowels, is pronounced ] (or ] and ] in some dialects, notably those of Crete and the Mani) and before the mid or close back vowels, it tends to be pronounced as a postvelar [x̱]. The letter ⟨ξ⟩ stands for the sequence /ks/ and ⟨ψ⟩ for /ps/. The digraphs ⟨γγ⟩ and ⟨γκ⟩ are generally pronounced ] in everyday speech, but are pronounced ] before the front vowels // and // and tend to be pronounced [ɡ̄] before the back // and //. When these digraphs are preceded by a vowel, they are pronounced [ŋɡ] in formal speech ([ɲɟ] before the front vowels // and // and [ŋ̄ɡ̄] before the back // and //). The digraph ⟨γγ⟩ may be pronounced [ŋɣ] in some words ([ɲj] before front vowels and [ŋ̄ɣ̄] before back ones). The pronunciation [ŋk] for the digraph ⟨γκ⟩ is extremely rare, but could be heard in literary and scholarly words or when reading ancient texts (by a few readers); normally it retains its "original" pronunciation [ŋk] only in the trigraphγκτ⟩ where ⟨τ⟩ prevents the sonorization of ⟨κ⟩ by ⟨γ⟩ (hence [ŋkt]).


Main article: Modern Greek grammar

Modern Greek is largely a synthetic language. It is one of only two Indo-European languages that has retained a synthetic passive, the other being Albanian (the North Germanic passive is a recent innovation based on a grammaticalized reflexive pronoun). Noticeable changes in grammar (compared to classical Greek) include the loss of the dative case, the optative mood, the infinitive, the dual number, and the participles (except the past participle); the adoption of the gerund; the reduction in the number of noun declensions, and the number of distinct forms in each declension; the adoption of the modal particle θα (a contraction of ἐθέλω ἵναθέλω ναθε' ναθα) to denote future and conditional tenses; the introduction of auxiliary verb forms for certain tenses; the extension to the future tense of the aspectual distinction between present/imperfect and aorist; the loss of the third person imperative, and the simplification of the system of grammatical prefixes, such as augmentation and reduplication. Most of these features are shared with other languages spoken in the Balkan peninsula (see Balkan language area), although Greek does not show all typical Balkan areal features, such as the postposed article.

Because of the influence of Katharevousa, however, Demotic is not commonly used in its purest form, and archaisms are still widely used, especially in writing and in more formal speech, as well as in some everyday expressions, such as the dative εντάξει ('OK', literally 'in order') or the third person imperative ζήτω! ('long live!').

Sample text

The following is a sample text in Modern Greek of the Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (by the United Nations):

Άρθρο 1: 'Ολοι οι άνθρωποι γεννιούνται ελεύθεροι και ίσοι στην αξιοπρέπεια και τα δικαιώματα. Είναι προικισμένοι με λογική και συνείδηση, και οφείλουν να συμπεριφέρονται μεταξύ τους με πνεύμα αδελφοσύνης.
—Modern Greek in Greek alphabet
Arthro 1: 'Oloi oi anthropoi gennioyntai eleytheroi kai isoi stin axioprepeia kai ta dikaiomata. Einai proikismenoi me logiki kai syneidisi, kai ofeiloyn na symperiferontai metaxy toys me pneyma adelfosynis.
—Modern Greek in Roman Transliterationfaithful to script
Árthro 1: Óli i ánthropi yeniúnde eléftheri ke ísi stin aksioprépia ke ta dhikeómata. Íne prikizméni me loyikí ke sinídhisi, ke ofílun na simberiféronde metaksí tus me pnévma adhelfosínis.
—Modern Greek in Transcriptionfaithful to pronunciation
[ˈarθro ˈena ‖ ˈoli i ˈanθropi ʝeˈɲunde eˈlefθeri ce ˈisi stin aksioˈprepia ce ta ðiceˈomata ‖ ˈɪne priciˈzmeni me loʝiˈci ce siˈniðisi | ce oˈfilun na simberiˈferonde metaˈksi tuz me ˈpnevma aðelfoˈsinis]
—Modern Greek in IPA
Article 1: All the human beings are born free and equal in the dignity and the rights. Are endowed with reason and conscience, and have to behave between them with spirit of brotherhood.
—Gloss, word-for-word
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
—Translation, grammatical


Further reading

External links

  • Portal for the Greek Language (modern & ancient)
  • Institute for Language & Speech Processing
  • ILSP PsychoLinguistic Resource (online tools and information)
  • Audio example of Modern Greek


  • Online course "Filoglossia" by ILSP
  • Greek online course "Greek by Radio" from Cyprus radio broadcasting CyBC in English, 105 lessons with Real audio files

Dictionaries and glossaries

  • Greek-English Dictionary Georgacas for Modern Greek Literature
  • Triantafyllides Dictionary for Modern Greek
  • Modern Greek - English glossary
  • English-Greek Dictionary (Modern Greek)


  • Illustrated Modern Greek grammar
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