The Greek language is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages and it has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, 3.400 years or more of written records. Since c. 800 BC, this language has been written with the Greek Alphabet, which was formed out of the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic and many other writing systems.
The Greek language has provided us with many scripts, history and has laid the foundation of sciences, such as astronomy, mathematics, western philosophy and many others. The Holy Bible itself was first written in Ancient Greek before it was translated into any other language. Most scientific words and words that we use in our everyday communication came from it. Back in the ancient times, it was spoken in all over the Mediterranean as a common or trade language.
Modern Greek or Modern Hellenic (Σύγχρονα Ελληνικά) is the language spoken in Greece, officially since 1822 with the creation of the First Hellenic Republic and unofficially since the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and in Cyprus officially since 1960. It evolved from Ancient Greek, up to the point that it became easier to learn, speak and write for everyone, since through the ages more and more civilians were going to schools.
The modern Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters, 7 vowels and 17 consonants, each having an upper-case and lower-case form, except for one letter which also has an “end form”, which is used when we find this letter in the end of a word. The following table presents the alphabet and the names of each letter in Greek and English.
|Greek letter||Letter’s name in Greek||Letter’s name in English||Greek Letter||Letter’s name in Greek||Letter’s name in English|
|Α α||Άλφα||Alpha||Ν ν||Νι||Ni|
|Β β||Βήτα||Beta||Ξ ξ||Ξι||Xi|
|Γ γ||Γάμμα||Gamma||Ο ο||Όμικρον||Omicron|
|Δ δ||Δέλτα||Delta||Π π||Πι||Pi|
|Ε ε||Έψιλον||Epsilon||Ρ ρ||Ρω||Rho|
|Ζ ζ||Ζήτα||Zeta||Σ σ ς||Σίγμα||Sigma|
|Η η||Ήτα||Eta||Τ τ||Ταυ||Tau, Taf|
|Θ θ||Θήτα||Theta||Υ υ||Ύψιλον||Upsilon, Ypsilon|
|Ι ι||Ιώτα||Iota||Φ φ||Φι||Phi|
|Κ κ||Κάππα||Kappa||Χ χ||Χι||Chi|
|Λ λ||Λάμδα||Lamda||Ψ ψ||Ψι||Psi|
|Μ μ||Μι||Mi||Ω ω||Ωμέγα||Omega|
Even though the letter “Γ γ” is called Gamma in English, this is not the sound it produces when used. “Γ γ” sounds like the ‘Wh’ in the word ‘Why’ or ‘Where’, but instead of saying the word and get yourself confused, try and produce the letter’s sound without rounding your mouth. The same goes for the letter “Δ δ”, which sounds like the ‘th’ in the article ‘The’, but instead, the letter “Θ θ” sounds like the ‘th’ in the word ‘Thesis’.
You might also be confused with the following letters; Ξ ξ, Χ χ, Π π, Ρ ρ. 2 of these letters are known to you in the English language but produce a different sound in Greek. ‘X’ as in ‘example’ is replaced by “Ξ ξ” in Greek, while “Χ χ” sounds like the letter ‘H’ as in ‘He wants’. ‘P’ as in ‘pie’ is replaced by “Π π”, while “Ρ ρ”is the same as ‘R’ in ‘replace’.
Additionally, the vowels “Η η”,” Ι ι”, and” Υ υ” all produce the exact same sound (as the letter ‘I’ in ‘Independence’) when written individually in a word, as well as “Ο ο” and” Ω ω” sound as ‘o’ (as in ‘Morning’). “Ε ε” only sounds like the letter ‘e’ in the word ‘therapy’, and” Α α” only sounds like the letter ‘a’ in the previously mentioned word.
With that said, here’s a table that provides different examples:
|Greek letter||How it’s supposed to sound in Greek, using English letters and words||Greek Letter||How it’s supposed to sound in Greek, using English letters and words|
|Α α||A, as in ‘therapy’||Ν ν||N, as in ‘night’|
|Β β||V, as in ‘variety’||Ξ ξ||X, as in ‘example’|
|Γ γ||W, as in ‘woman’, but try and produce the sound without rounding your mouth||Ο ο||O, as in ‘morning’|
|Δ δ||Th, as in ‘the’||Π π||P, as in ‘pie’|
|Ε ε||E, as in ‘egg’||Ρ ρ||R, as in ‘rotation’ ‘replace’|
|Ζ ζ||Z, as in ‘zest’||Σ σ ς||S, as in ‘symphony’|
|Η η||I, as in ‘independence’||Τ τ||T, as in ‘tilt’|
|Θ θ||Th, as in ‘thesis’||Υ υ||I, as in ‘independence’|
|Ι ι||I, as in ‘independence’||Φ φ||F (or Ph, as in philosophy)|
|Κ κ||K (or C, as in ‘cape’)||Χ χ||H, as in ‘he wants’|
|Λ λ||L, as in ‘light’||Ψ ψ||Ps, as in ‘claps’|
|Μ μ||M, as in ‘man||Ω ω||O, as in ‘morning’|
Now you are ready to read your first Greek word: “Καλημέρα” (‘Kalimera’, translates to: Good Day or Good morning). The little mark above the letter e is what we call a tone in Greek and it is used to clarify that you lift your speech tone at this part (kali-ME-ra). This tone makes a difference in many words, because if you use it in different parts of the same word then the word’s meaning may change. There’s a tone in all Greek words that contain 2 or more syllables.
“Καλημέρα” itself, as we said before, may translate to ‘Good day’ or Good morning’. This word is a combination of 2 words, like many other Greek words, and it divides to “Καλή” (Good, with a female gender-affiliated word ending) and “Μέρα” (Day). Either you say “Καλημέρα” or “Καλή μέρα”, it doesn’t make a difference in wishing good day to someone, but we usually use the first word because it takes less time to spell it out.
Another example of a word combination is the word “πεντακάθαρος” (pentakatharos) which translates to ‘absolutely clean’ or ‘very, very clean’. The words combined are “πέντε” (five) and “καθαρός” (clean, with a male gender-affiliated word ending), so in a sort of way you may say that it means ‘five times cleaner than it should be’, but unlike the word “καλημέρα” you can’t split up this combined word and keep its original meaning.
Lastly, let’s see some of the forms that a single word may take. We’ll use “ομιλώ/μιλώ” (omilo) (I speak, I talk) as an example. Its noun is “ομιλία” (omilia) (speech) and the one who speaks is called “ομιλητής” (omilitis) (speaker). If we add “συν” (syn) (loosely translated to ‘plus’) to this word, then it becomes “συνομιλία” (synomilia) (conversation) and the people who take place in a conversation are called “συνομιλητές” (synomilites) (interlocutors). The same ‘syn’ can be found in the word ‘synopsis’ which originated from the Greek word “σύνοψις” and means the exact same thing in both languages, but only in Greek can you divide the word to “συν” and “όψη” (aspect, view), which will again lose its original meaning.
I hope you liked this intro to Modern Greek, but unfortunately like every other language, I can’t cover everything in a single blog article, like for example connections between different vowels and consonants which lead to different sounds (something that structures a lot of our words), and many more. But If you liked this short lesson, then you can find more of them soon in the lessons section of our blog.
By Markus Doumpas