A very old language, in use for over 3,500 years, Modern Greek is a descendent of Ancient Greek and is affiliated to the Hellenic branch of Indo-European.
Since Greece is such a big travel destination, French and English are also used quite often, while German is used in some places. Travelers can easily get around if they speak any of these languages.
The main problem is the alphabet because Greeks don’t use the Roman alphabet, well known in all Western countries.
The language is the most important part of any culture; therefore to understand why Modern Greece is spoken today we should go back in history and learn about the ancient language.
First written Greek language
Proof of the first written Greek language was found in the remains of the Knossos palace on Crete.
During the Mycenaean civilization, the syllabic script -known as Linear B- was used.
In the 8th and 9th century BC, the Greek language was based on the Phoenician syllabic, written from left to right and back again. This is the closest form that resembles the Modern Greek.
The classical Period
During the Hellenic period (classic period) , each Greek state had its own dialect. The most important ones were the Attic and the Ionic, but Athens started to establish itself as the center of political, cultural and economical center of the Greek world, thus the Attic idiom started to be used by the majority.
The Attic language
After the classic period, the Attic dialect started to be rejected by some users which lead to dialect mixing and the creation of a new dialect: koine (or “common” dialect). During the Macedonian Empire this dialect was adopted as the official administrative language. The language was spread by Alexander the Great through Egypt, Asia Minor , Persia, Syria and Mesopotamia.
The koine dialect is the basis for the Modern Greek language.
The language was a very important unifying factor for the Greeks during the revolution against the Turks.
The New Greek State’s decision
In 1922, when the New Greek State was created, there was the need to identify the state’s national language. Since the use of the Attic language proved impossible from the practical point of view, katharevoussa (literally meaning “purifying language”) came into existence. The new language started to be criticized and a distinction rose between katharevoussa –known as the language of official functions- and dimotiki language, used by the people in their every day life (the common language).
In 1976, after a lot of problems between the users of the two languages, dimotiki language was adopted in administration and education.
Common phrases useful for travelers
When traveling to Greece it’s useful to know some common phrases. Your Greek host will be very pleased if you greet them in their own language rather than in English. Of course, we won’t be using the Greek alphabet, but how the words are spoken.
- Hello, goodbye (informal) – Yia sou
- Good morning – Kalimera
- Good evening – Kalispera
- Goodbye – adio
- My name is – Me lene
- The bill please – To logariasmo Parakalo
- Bread – psomi
- Chicken – kotopoulo
- Water – nero
- Do you accept credit cards – Pernete pistotikes kartes
- Bus station – Praktorio leoforion
- Left – Makria
- Right – dhexia
- Straight on – Katefthia, isia
- Harbour – limani