a History of Greek


The History of the Greek Language, to us, begins in the early periods of Ancient Greece, while the Mycenaeans and the Minoans were still around. Greek was spoken all over the two empires, but at that time they did not have an alphabet. This continued until the Minoans, who lived on the island of Crete, first came in contact with the Pheonicians.

When the Pheonicians and the Minoans started trading, the Minoans envied the Pheonicians abilities to record trading they had done. They realized that they're trading business would not succeed to grow larger if they did not aquire a way to write things down. So they took the Pheonician alphabet, added vowels to make it easier, and voila, now, everyone who could speak greek could basically write it, as long as they had learned this new alphabet.

The Mycenaeans, nieghbors of the Minoans, also started using this alphabet. As more words started being written down, people set down how each word was to be spelled to avoid confusion whether this word meant that or this. Spelling quizzes were born to childeren.

Later, near 1200 BC, the Mycenaeans and the Minoans fell to the Doric invaders from the northern Baltic Peninsula. Not much education went on for the next 400 to 600 years as the barbarians ruled over the future greeks.

Then, near 800BC the Greeks, basically a combination of the Mycenaeans and the Minoans overthrew their barbarian rulers and the Archaic or Dark Age of greece ended. The new period, named the Classical or Hellenic period (about 700 BC to about 350 BC) period, brought forth a flowering of civilization. This was the time during which Homer wrote his epics, most of the tragedies of Ancient Greece were written, and great philosophical achievements were made.

A number of dialects of greek arose during this time, but the most important and dominating one proved to be the Attic dialect, the one spoken in Athens. However, the Ionic style became important too and the two fused to become the standard for orators and philosophy. This became known as the Attic-Ionic dialect.

When Alexander set out to conquer the Middle Eastern region, he took with him his Attic-Ionic dialect. His conquest started the Hellenistic Age of greece, the time in which the cultures of Greece and the Middle East came together to make a new culture. As this happened, the Greek language became altered, too, and the result was the form in which the New Testement was first written. This is today known as Koine, Biblical, or New Testement greek.

The new Koine greek had significant changes in all aspects of the language, grammar, vocabulary, and pronounciation. This form of greek is very well represented in text, as stated the New Testament, the Discourses of Epictetus and the Histories of Polybius were all written in this style of Greek. It is said that this type of greek was Jesus's second language, too.

Some greeks, however, resisted this change. They held tight to their old greek. This movement was called Atticism, and it treated only classical Attic greek as the medium for all literature to be written in.

Atticism dominated the years of the Byzantinian Empire in Greece, from the 330 founding of Constantinople untill the fall of the empire to the Turks in 1453. However, we cannot say how everyday speech of the language sounded like, since ordinary speech was said to be unfit for literature, and nothing was written down in "speech form". As the greeks entered 400 years of bondage to the Turks, the amount of literature written was drastically reduced, since it was required that all literature be writtin in the old, purist attic style, and almost no one had the capability to do this.

In 1830, when Greece finally won back it's independance, a new country was formed with Athens and Peleponnesus as its main regions. The dialects spoken in these areas became the national language, and the language spoken in almost all greek societies. A new form of greek was developed, however, to purify the language. This was called the katherevusa, and it became the new method of speaking in greece. But building a language that is broad enough to serve as both formal and normal speech proved to be difficult. Even today the language has some problems, but slowly the informal or demotic language has become the official language of greece.





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Andries Smith 2000