If you know me you will know that I am interested in languages. Not that I am a linguist – I am fluent in English, but for someone born in a town that is 95% francophone I speak French terribly, and while I have studied German in university I was not very good at that, either. I seem to do better with dead languages, as I don’t have to have conversations in them, but just be able to read it and translate texts into English. I did two years of high school Latin, a year of New Testament/Koiné Greek, and two years of Biblical Hebrew. I did the Greek and Hebrew over thirty years ago, but a remarkable amount of it has stuck with me, and I can usually make some sense of texts from the Bible, especially if I have a concordance and grammar handy.
I now live in Greece. I am studying modern Greek, in an hour-long lesson twice a week. The focus is on being able to have a conversation, which makes it, for me, much more difficult than the New Testament Greek I did in 1985-86. As well, back then I was taught to pronounce words in ways that had a limited relationship to how Paul might have actually said things when dictated his letters. A lot has changed in the past 2000 years, and the pronunciation of Greek letters is one of them. British residents here in Greek who read Classics in their youth and taught it in schools confirm that it is not that much help to know ancient Greek, and really gets in the way sometimes.
Studying Greek has made me want to do a series on the Greek language. It is a rather large topic, but perhaps to begin with I should talk about types of Greek in a historical vein. Just as English has changed over the years, so has Greek. My impression is that Classical Greek – the Greek spoken by Herodotus, Plato, and Euripides – is not as different from modern Greek as Old English (aka Anglo-Saxon) is from modern English. However, there are over three thousand years of Greek writing extant, which makes for a long time line. In due course I will try to address each type, and topics within each.
The chart below is the consensus understanding of the evolution of Greek. Enjoy!
|1600 – 1100 BCE||Mycenaean Greek
|1100 – 800 BCE
|“Greek Dark Age” no writing or inscriptions|
|800 – 420 BCE||Ancient/Classical||Homeric Greek (Archaic Greek)
|420 – 330 BCE||Classical Greek
|330 BCE – 300 CE||Hellenistic Greek (Koiné or
|300 – 1452 CE||Byzantine Greek
|1452 CE – present||Modern Greek
|Standard Modern Greek|