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Learn Greek: Face-to-Face and Online Classes Offered

About Learning Greek with Berlitz

Greek, the first great language of Western civilization, is considered by many to be the most effective and admirable means of communication ever devised. Its lucidity of structure and concept, together with its seemingly infinite variety of modes of expression, render it equally suitable to the needs of the rigorous thinker and the inspired poet. We can only surmise how classical Greek must have sounded to the ear, but the spoken word was probably no less beautiful than the written.

Greek-speaking people moved into the Greek Peninsula and adjacent areas from the Balkan Peninsula in the 2nd millennium BC. In time, four distinct dialects evolved: Aeolic, Ionic, Arcado-Cyprian, and Doric. It was in the Ionic dialect that the epic poems of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, appeared, perhaps in the 9th century BC. With the rise of Athens in succeeding centuries, Attic, the dialect of Athens and an offshoot of Ionic, began to produce the great literature of the classical period. Attic became the dominant form of the language and the basis of the Koine, or common language, whose use passed far beyond the borders of present-day Greece. The conquests of Alexander the Great carried it as far east as India. It was the second language of the Roman Empire, and later the ruling language of the Byzantine Empire. The New Testament was written in the Koine, and it is used by the Eastern Orthodox Church to the present day.

The Greek alphabet, an adaptation of the Phoenician, dates from about 1000 BC. It was the first alphabet in which letters stood for vowels as well as for consonants, in contrast to the Semitic alphabets, which had only consonants. Like the Semitic alphabets, it was at first written from right to left, but then shifted to a style in which lines alternated from right to left and left to right, and then shifted again to the present left-to-right direction. An earlier form of Greek writing, known as Linear B, was discovered on clay tablets in Crete and Peloponnesus. Deciphered in 1952, it came into use about 1500 BC but was largely abandoned by 1200.

Greek was the official language of the Byzantine Empire from the 4th to the 15th century and thereafter continued to be spoken by Greeks under Turkish rule. Modern Greek began to take shape about the 9th century, and became the official language of the kingdom of Greece when independence was achieved in 1829. Today Greek is spoken by about 10 million people, including some 500,000 on the island of Cyprus. In addition to the common speech, known as Demotic, an imitation of classical Greek, known as Pure, has been revived for literary purposes.

The impact of Greek upon the vocabulary of all languages, including English, has been enormous. Such prefixes as poly- (much, many), micro- (small), anti- (against), auto- (self), hemi- (half), hetero- (different), chrono- (time), tele- (distance), geo- (earth), physio- (nature), photo- (light), hydro- (water), litho- (stone), phono- (sound), anthropo- (man), psycho- (mind), and philo- (love), each generate dozens of vital words in scientific, technical, and other fields. Equally important Greek suffixes are -meter (measure), -gram (letter), -graph (write), -scope (see), -phone (sound), and -phobia (fear). The names of the Greek letters (e.g., alpha, beta, gamma, delta, iota, pi, omega) are used for many purposes in all Western languages.

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Authorized from the original edition of The Languages of the World 3rd edition by Keneth Katzner published by Routledge, a member of the Taylor & Francis Group.

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