History of Greek language

1. History of Greek Language

Greek Language is very old, the oldest in Europe and perhaps in the whole World. Its existence is referred in the 7th Century BC, as historical written monuments have shown (Dipylo inscription), but its roots are hidden in the depths of centuries as the Homeric epics and the Linear writings A and B have witnessed. It is merely not found in each time possessing the same vocabulary, the same morphology, etc., as we can see below.

2. Periods of Greek Language

The language of every people does not follow similar manners of speech from time to time. It presents similarities as well as differences in inflection or in sentence construction of words, etc from place to place as well.

Ancient Greek                               Modern (new Greek
Εμπρός εις την θάλασσα.               = Μπροστά  στην θάλασσα.
Σήμερον όλοι εορτάζουν.               = Σήμερα όλοι γιορτάζουν.
Επέρασεν και η Αποκριά.              = Πέρασε και η Αποκριά.
Όλοι κατέβησαν εις τον αιγιαλόν  = Όλοι κατέβηκαν στον γιαλό
Μία χελιδών έαρ ού ποιεί.             = Ένα χελιδόνι δεν φέρνει την άνοιξη.

This is due to the fact that:
1) From time to time sciences and technology change or develop, feeding with new words the vocabulary. Tools and activities were different fifty years ago new tools and new activities to day are called in different names.
2) The language is differentiated continuously in order to be simpler and more precis in expression.

Roughly, the Greek language is divided in three long periods: The ancient (up to 300 A.D.), the Medieval (300 – 1453 A.D.) and the modern (recent) period (1453 A.D. – today). Analytically in the following:

1) First period, archaic

It’s the period from very old times until the Persian wars (490 BC)

(Pelasgean nation was the ancestry – descent of Greeks)

MINOAN TIMES, from 1500 BC until 1200 BC
(According to Thucydides (A, 3-6), Minoas was the first king that turned away the barbarians from Greek sea and from Greek islands and he was the cause to create after the Greece. According to Homer and Herodotus Minoas was king of island Crete and of most Greek islands three generations before Trojan war.) 
 An indication of what about was the kind of language in the Minoan times cab be found of language in decoding by M. Ventris and J. Chadwich of the tablets written in the Linear writing B’, where one is able to realize the little differentiation of the next period.
Words from Linear writing B’: pome (ποιμήν), patter (πατήρ), meri (μέρη, μέλη), doelos (δούλος), jero (ιερό)....

MYCENAEAN TIMES from 1200 BC until 500 BC
From Trojan War until the Persian wars

This is the period of the ancient dialects: Ionic, Doric and Aeolic. A precise indication of how the language of that time can be found in the literary works of Homer, Residues, Tyrtaeos, Simonides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and other prose and rhyme writers.

Dipylos tablet, 8th – 7th century BC
 From 1300 BC tile 750 BC (Dipylos inscription) the replacement of the Lenear Writing B’ with the Writing system of our days places.

Attician inscription of 5th century BC.

Spartian dialect: Αμές δ`ε γ' εσόμεθα πολλ~ω κάρρονες

Tyrtaios  (685 - 667 BC):
Τεθνάμμενας γ`αρ καλόν ενί προμάχοισι πεσόντα
ανδρ'  αγαθόν περί  η πατρίδι μαρνάμενον
τ`ην δ' αυτού προλιπόντα κα`ι πίονας αγρούς
πτωχεύειν πάντων εστ' ανιηρότατον.... (Υποθήκη)

Homer (8/7ος century B.C.):
Μήνιν αειδε, Θε~α, Πηληιάδε?ω Αχιλλ~ηος..

If we check the forty words of the first Homeric poetical lines, we can realise that to day eleven (11) words are similarly spoken: θεά, ηρώων, αυτούς, και, το, τα, η, ο βουλή, πολλά, εξ, πρώτα... fourteen (14) words obtained an small phthongic differentiation in their endings (therefore inclination): ψυχάς > ψυχές. Αχιλλεύς > Αχιλλέας, μήνις > μανία, διαστήτη > διάσταση, άλγεαάλγη.... and the rest can be found as base (theme) for other words.

2) Second period, the Classical

The period from the Persian wars to the end of 4th century BC (490 – 300 BC), which is called Classical. Sparta and Athens was the most power full towns but Athens was the centre of the letters and arts.
A precise indication for the condition of the language in that period can be found in the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Lyssias, Aeschinis, Aristotle and other prose and rhyme writers of that time.

<< άρχεται dε πόλεμος ενθέδε ήδη Αθηναίων και Πελοπονησίων και των εκατέροις ξυμμάχων...>> (Thucydides “Plataica B 1 – 6)

In the 4th century BC, after the victories (and the splendour) against Persians, common alphabet and writing are established for all Greeks as well as a common name (the name “Hellenes”).
By the victories of Alexander the Great the Greek language of that period become the international language of the era especially in the Hellenized areas of the east (Syria, Persia, Egypt, etc).

3) Third period, the Alexandrine

The period from the times of Alexander’s successors (from the Hellenistic times) to the times of the emperor Octavian Augustus (300 – 30 BC), which is called Alexandrine because the centre of the Greek language (of letters and arts) has been transferred in Alexandria, Egypt.
A precise indication for the condition of the language in that period can be found in the works of Theoctitos, Dhiodhotos os Sicily, Apollonius of Rhodes, even in the works of the Apostles.
<<Και εκδύσαντες αυτόν περιέθηκαν χλαμύδα κοκκίνην>> (Evangelist)

4) Fourth period, the Latin

The period from the times of the emperor Octavian Augustus to the times of Justinian (30 BC – 527 AD). In the beginning of the 4th century AD Constantinople becomes the center of the Greek language. However the Greek language is not the official in the eastern Roman Empire. Latin remains the official language until 527 AD. Many words of the Greek language in that period are substituted by Roman (Latin) words which in their majority are been maintained up to this, such as: κάστρο, φρατζόλα, κελί, σπίτι, μπαρμπέρης...

5) The fifty period, the Byzantine

The period from the times Justinian’s times to the Capture of Constantinople (528 – 1453 AD), which is called the Byzantine period, because the center of the Greek language (of the Greek letters and arts) has been the Byzantio (= the Constantinople).

6) Sixth period, the Turkish period

The period from the times of the Capture of Constantinople (from Turkish) and later from Venetian to the Greek revolution (1453 – 1821 AD).
Many words of the conquerors have been maintained up to this day
Turkish words: μπογιατζής (boyatzi), χασάπης (kasap), χούι, χαράτσι...
Venetian words: μπουκάλα, φρατζόλα, μποτίλια...

7) Seventh period, the New Greek

From the Greek revolution of 1821 until nowadays. This is the period of the New Greek, the pure (“Katharevussa”) and the popular (“demotic”) Greek language.

a.      Atticism

During the Roman Era, when the Greek language was still international (circa the end of the 1st Century AD), some Greek writers, bookish mans, literary mans etc, appeared, who did not write in their contemporary language, but in the Attic authors’ language of the Classical Era. They were urged in this activity not only by their trust to the superiority (the high standards) of the Attic dialect but also by their perception whey realized that the Greek Language of their times had been invaded occupied by barbarisms (foreign words, idiom etc.) because of ignorance or degeneration, 50 it should not be immortalized.  This movement was called Atticism and the authors, who estimated the Attic dialect as their ideal language, Atticists, As a right usage criterion was estimated the localization of a word or a type in the texts of the Attic writers of the 5th and the 4th Century BC, not the fact that this word or this type were useless in the language of their times.    
As a result of Atticism was the creation of bilinguality which means the usage of two different linguistic forms: The one (the old – fashioned) mainly in the written speech and the other (the popular) mainly in the oral speech. The bilinguality occurred till 1976 when Demotic (the popular) was established officially.
The most significant Atticists were Dionisysius of Alicarnassus, Lucian, Plutarch and Arian.

b.      Katharevousa (= “Pure Language”)

Katharevousa (language) was the language that appeared for first time in the years of the Turkish Occupation as a compromising solution between the Byzantine Atticism and the spoken language.
Katharevousa, the “pure” language, some times was found to be closer to the ancient Greek Language (then it was called αρχαΐζουσα or άκρατος = strict pure language) and some times closer to the Modern Greek Language (then it was called simplified or simple pure language).
The Katharevousians, like the Atticists, started from the perception that the spoken language of their times was barbaric and rude, full of idioms and morphologically dissimilar (many foreign words, many idioms, many different – Greek or foreign – endings, etc). Thus, it was unable to express arts and sciences in a simple and clear way. Because of this condition, their main aim was the complete hellenization of the vocabulary, a plan that was fulfilled finally in a great extent. Some foreign words, which were transformed into Greek, were the following.
From Italian: γαζέτα, σπετσαρία, ρετσέτα, μπαρμπέρης
Into Greek: εφημερίδα, φαρμακείο, συνταγή, κουρέας
From Turkish: αμανάτι, μεϊντάνι, νταμάρι, πεχλιβάνης, τεμπεσίρι, τζαμπάζης
Into Greek: ενέχυρο, αγορά, λατομείο, παλαιστής, κιμωλία, ζωέμπορος.

c. Demotic

Demotic is the language all Greeks speak today. It is named so because it is used by all demotes (c i t i z e n s ) , it is (p a n) demotic (p u b l i c) in contrast to Katharevousa which was not public and popular.

Linguistic matter

Linguistic Matter was “the existing quarrel until 1976 between the oral language of the public and the official written language”. By the appearance of Atticism during the Roman times, the bilinguality of the Greek Language obtained the starting point for instance, while others were used to say «η τάξη, της τάξης, οι τάξεις, ψάρι, κυβέρνηση, κήρυκας, κρεοπώλης» others were used to say «η τάξις, τση τάξης, ιχθύς, ελαιόλαδο, κυβέρνησις, τελάλης, χασάπης” and other were used to say «η τάξις, της τάξεως, αι τάξεις, οψάριον, έλαιον, γκουβέρνο» according to the descent and the education of everyone.
Because of this situation a justified movement started about the “arrangement” of the language by the men of letters (journalists, authors, poets). However, they could not find an agreement about how this wish would become a reality. This difficulty brought a war of arguments between the Katharevousians (who strove for the return of the ancient Greek Language and especially that one of Attica in the 5th Century BC) and the Demoticistes (who proffered the modern Greek Language).
Katharevousians: L.Photiades, A.Grazi, N.Doukas, N.Theotokis, P. Kodrikas, P. Soutsos, K.Kondos, and others.
Demoticistes: Rigas Pheraeos, G.Kostandas, D.Philippides, I. Vilaras, A. Christopoulos, D. Solomos, D. Vernadakis, I. Psicharis, M. Triantaphilides, and others.
Adamantios Corais was standing between the two opinions.
Finally, politics inserted/ intervened! The conservatives, moved by the ideal ancient Greek standards, demanded the return of the ancient Greek Language in the Attic way, while the leftists reacted, because they considered it an utopia or something very difficult to come true. They preferred the Greek Language in the condition formed by the time and the circumstances. The conservatives won in this conflict and the respective education started to be applied in schools. Until the establishment of the desirable language, the Greek were used to speak the modern Greek language almost like to day and write the schools official documents in a language closer to the ancient dialect of Attica. For instance, while the Greeks were speaking «η Αθήνα, η τάξη» their written way should be «αι Αθήναι, η τάξις». This style of writing was called Katharevousa by the archaists because it demanded Greek words only, so that to be a purely Greek language therefore mentally clear.

However, the desirable return of the ancient Greek Language was proved unattainable and that was an expected conclusion because:
1) On the one hand students in schools were taught the ancient Attic dialect deficiently; on the other hand the local dialect (Cretan, Vlachian…) or a language similar to the Greek Demotic Language nowadays was in daily usage at home and work.
2) The language is living organism that is developed, enriched, improved continuously. Therefore, nothing can bring it backwards-to a previous day.
a) The changes in form and in inclination of certain groups of words did not occur accidentally but similarly to other change, for practical reasons. I.e. (simplification) nouns ending in –is: τάξις, πράξις… were transformed into nouns ending in –η in order to obtain the same inclination with nouns ending in – η: πηγή, νίκη
b)      Many words were changed by time phonologically for euphony or meaning differentiation. For instance: χώρα  (geographical) and χώρα  > ώρα (time), γράφμα > γράμμα (more euphony), συνμαθητής > συμμαθητής (more euphony)…
c)      Many words meaning old times men’s professions became words of two genders. i.e. o γιατρός > η γιατρός (masculine) or γιατρίνα (feminine),  ο έμπορος > ο, η έμπορος or  o  έμπορας (masculine) and η εμπόρισσα (feminine)….

Αs a result, the oral or written speech in school was different compared to the oral or written speech at home or at work. (For example, in school compositions students were writing  « α ι   μ η τ έ ρ α ι, ε ι ς   τ α ς  Α θ ή ν α ς» however, at home they were saying «ο ι  μ α ν ά δ ε ς, σ τ η ν  Α θ ή ν α». Τhe consequences for many students were the linguistic confusion or the school a- version.
Facing this problem, a conservative government under the leadership of Constantine Karamanlis, despite of the fact that in older times the conservatives fought the establishment of the Demotic language, in 1976 established unconstrained (unforcedly) the Contemporary Greek or Demotic Language a long with the linguistic standards (vocabulary and inclination) referred in the book «Νέ ο ε λ λ η ν ι κ ή  Γ ρ α μ μ α τ ι κ ή» (Modern Greek Grammar Ο.Α.Ε.Δ  Publication, Athens 1976).
The “one accent” system was established in 1982 by the socialist government under the leadership of Andreas Papandreou. Its establishment took place to make the Greek writing easier. Nevertheless, in was also a demand of Computer users because 20 Computers of that generation did not contain any plectrum for accents or signals. The reason was the lack of signs in the Latin alphabet (the aspiration marks, the accents and the solvent marks).
A significant role in the formation of the modern style of the contemporary Greek Language haw been played the linguist M. Triantaphillides (“Grammar of the Demotic Greek Language”) as well as by many journalists and authors of our times.


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