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Greek language: tips for beginners

2015.01.27
Greek language: tips for beginners

Greek is one of the ancient languages in the world. Even nowadays Greek is spoken by 10 million citizens of Greece, by most people in Cyprus and, of course, by a Greek expat community scattered all over the world. Certainly, we could say that it is not so much. But it would be quite unreasonable to consider Greek depending on the number of its speakers at present.

This language is interesting in terms of its exciting history: Greek is the basis of the Western art - philosophy, literature, the Christian Church. That is why in every European language we can find a lot of words with Greek stems: космос, телефон, грамматика, лампа, астрономия and others. So we can be sure that  all speak a little Greek!

 

Some History

Of course, Modern Greek is quite different from the language spoken by the greatest ancient thinkers such as Plato or Aristotle. The language has changed considerably through the centuries, and the term "The Greek Language" needs specifying. The different stages of its development use the following names:

  • Ancient Greek  — the language of Ancient Greece, including the time when it was a part of the Roman empire (till 5A.D.).

  • Byzantine Greek (or Medieval Greek) — the language of Greek and Hellenistic people in the Byzantine Empire (6th-15th centuries). But many researchers of the Neo-Hellenistic period object to this term and suggest speaking about Modern Greek and Ancient Greek, which can be explained by the fact that at that period Greek was extremely uneven.

  • Modern Greek has been existing since about 16th century asthe language of Greek and Hellenistic people of late Byzantine and the Ottoman Empire. Nowadays it is the official language of Greece and Cyprus.

The 19th and 20th centuries are characterized by a special linguistic situation — diglossia (the simultaneous existence of two language variants). But in 1976  Demotic Greek (δημοτική) became the official language,  only several elements were left from Katharevousa (καθαρεύουσα), a language variant aimed at the Greek literary tradition and following the Ancient Greek norms of writing.

About Greek Dialects

Most Greek regions have their own local dialects. For example, there are Cypriot, Cretan, Tsaconian, Southern Italian and Northern dialects of Greek. The dialects are only spoken and are not used in written speech (the exceptions are books where the characters speak a dialect). Each region also has a special pronunciation which is more or less perceptible to a foreigner.

The most different variants are Cypriot Greek and the so-called Classical Greek. The Cypriot dialect is characterized by the sounds "sh" and "ch" that are not present in Modern Greek, also by long vowels and double consonants or their "swallowing", which is not typical of Modern Greek either. The phonetic differences are also recorded:

Μούττη – μύτη - a nose

(mUtti – mIti)

Όι – όχι - no

(Oi – Okhi)

Μυάλος – μεγάλος - big

(MyiAlos–  megAlos)

 As you can see, this is quite a significant difference, not to mention the fact that there are words that are totally different from their Greek "relatives":

Καρκόλα – κρεβάτι – a bed

(karkOla - krevAti)

Ιντυχάνω – μιλώ - to speak

(indikhAno – milO)

Φκάλλω – βγάζω – to take out

(fkAllo – vgAzo)

 

But there is no need to be afraid of these differences: no matter where in Greece and Cyprus you go, you will be understood without any problems if you speak classical Modern Greek (that is spoken in the continental part of Greece — the Athens and Thessaloniki).

 

How and What to Start

 

Start with the alphabet and practise hard the pronunciation of the sounds since in Greek it is pronunciation along with correct stress that plays a decisive role: in Greek there are a lot of  similar sounds whose replacement can lead to confusion, or sometimes to adverse consequences. Especially it concerns the sounds which do not exist in Russian.

The next step is learning Greek grammar, in this situation it does not matter if you learn the language on your own or with a teacher. Many people notice the similarity between Russian and Greek grammar. It is true to some extent: both Greek and Russian have the noun gender (like in Russian the genders are masculine, feminine and neuter), number and cases (it is easier for Russian speakers as there are only four cases - nominative, accusative, genitive and vocative), and verbs have the conjugation and mood. Since Modern Greek is a simplified version of Ancient Greek, there are not so many rules in contrast to Russian, but there are quite many exceptions. But this is the feature that brings Greek and Russian together, and until you start learning Greek you have no idea how much these language have in common!

That is why you can't learn Greek, like English, by memorizing a certain number of words: you won't be able to make up even simple sentences without familiarizing yourself with grammatical structures of Greek. So please be patient and spend enough time on grammar.

Learning words can turn into a game. Take, sayάνθρωπος (Антропос) – a person. What science studies a human being? АНТРОПОлогия! Or τραπέζι (трапЭзи) – a table. What do we do at a table? ТРАПЕЗничаем, i. e. we eat. We can give a limitless number of such examples.

Learning Greek may seem difficult at first. But everything is in your hands, the success depends    on how regular and intensive your classes are (it is better to work with an experienced teacher), and on further language practice.

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