General Information
Native name:Ελληνικά
Writing system:Greek Alphabet
Language family:Indo-European
ISO 639-1:el
First language:13 million
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Greek is a Hellenic language.

Geographic DistributionEdit

Official language inEdit

  • Greece
  • Cyprus

Recognized minority language in Edit

  • Albania
  • Armenia
  • Australia
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Romania
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine
  • United States

Greek Letters Edit

The Greek Alphabet is the basis for many modern Latin alphabets, here is a short description of it.

The Greek alphabet is a set of several letters that has been used to write the Greek language since the late 9th century BC or early 8th century BC. It is the first and oldest alphabet in the narrow sense that it notes each vowel and consonant with a separate symbol. It is as such in continuous use to this day. The letters were also used to represent Greek numerals, beginning in the 2nd century BCE.

The Greek alphabet is descended from the Phoenician alphabet, and is not related to Linear B or the Cypriot syllabary, earlier writing systems for Greek. It has given rise to many other alphabets used in Europe and the Middle East, including the Latin alphabet.In addition to being used for writing Modern Greek, its letters are today used as symbols in mathematics and science, particle names in physics, as names of stars, in the names of fraternities and sororities, in the naming of supernumerary tropical cyclones, and for other purposes.

History Edit

The Greek alphabet emerged centuries after the fall of the Mycenaean civilization and consequent abandonment of its Linear B script, an early Greek writing system. Linear B is descended from Linear A, which was developed by the Minoan civilization, whose language was probably unrelated to Greek; consequently the Minoan syllabary did not provide an ideal medium for the transliteration of the sounds of the Greek language.

The Greek alphabet we recognize today arose after the Greek Dark Ages — the period between the downfall of Mycenae (ca. 1200 BC) and the rise of Ancient Greece, which begins with the appearance of the epics of Homer, around 800 BC, and the institution of the Ancient Olympic Games in 776 BC. Its most notable change, as an adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet, is the introduction of vowel letters, without which Greek would be illegible.

Vowel signs were originally not used in Semitic alphabets. Whereas in the earlier West Semitic family of scripts Phoenician, Hebrew, Moabite. a letter always stood for a consonant in association with an unspecified vowel or no vowel; because these languages were Semitic, they lost no legibility in having no vowels, as Semitic words are based on triliteral roots that make meaning clear with only the consonants present, and vowels are clear from context. Greek, however, is an Indo-European language, and thus differences in vowels make for vast differences in meanings. Thus the Greek alphabet divided the letters into two categories, consonants ("things that sound along") and vowels, where the consonant letters always had to be accompanied by vowels to create a pronounceable unit. Although the old Ugaritic alphabet did develop matres lectionis, i.e., use of consonant letters to denote vowels, they were never employed systematically.

The first vowel letters were Α (alpha), Ε (epsilon), Ι (iota), Ο (omicron), and Υ (upsilon), modifications of Semitic glottal, pharyngeal, or glide consonants that were mostly superfluous in Greek: /ʔ/ ('aleph), /h/ (he), /j/ (yodh), /ʕ/ (ʿayin), and /w/ (waw), respectively. In eastern Greek, which lacked aspiration entirely, the letter Η (eta), from the Semitic glottal consonant /ħ/ (heth) was also used for the long vowel /εː/, and eventually the letter Ω (omega) was introduced for a long /ɔː/.

Greek also introduced three new consonant letters, Φ (phi), Χ (chi) and Ψ (psi), appended to the end of the alphabet as they were developed. These consonants made up for the lack of comparable aspirates in Phoenician. In western Greek, Χ was used for /ks/ and Ψ for /kʰ/ — hence the value of the Latin letter X, derived from the western Greek alphabet. The origin of these letters is disputed.

The letter Ϻ (san) was used at variance with Σ (sigma), and by classical times the latter won out, san disappearing from the alphabet. The letters Ϝ (wau, later called digamma) and Ϙ (koppa) also fell into disuse. The former was only needed for the western dialects and the latter was never truly needed at all. These lived on in the Ionic numeral system, however, which consisted of writing a series of letters with precise numerical values. Ϡ (sampi), apparently a rare local glyph form from Ionia, was introduced at latter times to stand for 900. Thousands were written using a mark at the upper left ('A for 1000, etc).

Because Greek minuscules arose at a much later date, no historic minuscule actually exists for san. Minuscule forms for the other letters were only used as numbers. For the number 6, modern Greeks use an old ligature called stigma (Ϛ, ϛ) instead of digamma, or ΣΤ/στ if this is not available. For 90 the modern Z-shaped koppa forms were used: Ϟ, ϟ. (Note that some web browser/font combinations will show the other koppa here.)

Originally there were several variants of the Greek alphabet, most importantly western (Chalcidian) and eastern (Ionic) Greek. The former gave rise to the Old Italic alphabet and thence to the Latin alphabet, while the latter is the basis of the present Greek alphabet. Athens originally used the Attic script for official documents such as laws and the works of Homer: this contained only the letters from alpha to upsilon, and used the letter eta for the sound "h" instead of the long "e". In 403 BC Athens adopted the Ionic script as its standard, and shortly thereafter the other versions disappeared.

By then Greek was written left to right, but originally it had been written right to left (with asymmetrical characters flipped), and in-between written either way — or, most likely, in the so-called boustrophedon style, where successive lines alternate direction.

In the Hellenistic period, Aristophanes of Byzantium introduced the process of accenting Greek letters for easier pronunciation. During the Middle Ages, the Greek scripts underwent changes paralleling those of the Latin alphabet: while the old forms were retained as a monumental script, uncial and eventually minuscule hands came to dominate. The letter σ is even written ς at the ends of words, paralleling the use of the Latin long and short s.

Letter names Edit

Each of the Phoenician letter names was a word that began with the sound represented by that letter; thus 'aleph, the word for “ox”, was adopted for the glottal stop /ʔ/, bet, or “house”, for the /b/ sound, and so on. When the letters were adopted by the Greeks, most of the Phoenician names were maintained or modified slightly to fit Greek phonology; thus, 'aleph, bet, gimel became alpha, beta, gamma. These borrowed names had no meaning in Greek except as labels for the letters. However, a few signs that were added or modified later by the Greeks do in fact have names with a meaning. For example, o mikron and o mega mean “small o” and “big o”. Similarly, e psilon and u psilon mean “plain e” and “plain u”, respectively.

*Archaic letter

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