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Greek language

Greek is an Indo-European language with a documented history of 3,500 years, the longest in the Indo-European family. It is also the earliest attested Indo-European language if the extinct Anatolian languages are excluded. Today, it is spoken by approximately 15 million people in Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Italy and Turkey. There are also many Greek emigrant communities around the world, such as those in Melbourne, Australia – which has the fourth largest urban Greek population in the world, after Athens, Thessaloniki and Nicosia.

Greek has been written in the Greek alphabet (the first to introduce vowels), since the 9th century BC in Greece (before that in Linear B), and the 4th century BC in Cyprus (before that in Cypriot syllabary). Greek literature has a continuous history of nearly 3000 years.


Greek has been spoken in the Balkan Peninsula since the 2nd millennium BC. The earliest evidence of this is found in the Linear B tablets in the "Room of the Chariot Tablets", a LMII-context (c. 1500 BC) region of Knossos in Crete. The later Greek alphabet is unrelated to Linear B, and is believed to be derived from the Phoenician alphabet (abjad); with minor modifications, it is still used today. Greek is conventionally divided into the following periods:
  • Mycenaean Greek: the language of the Mycenaean civilisation. It is recorded in the Linear B script on tablets dating from the 16th century BC onwards.
  • Classical Greek (also known as Ancient Greek): In its various dialects was the language of the Archaic and Classical periods of Greek civilization. It was widely known throughout the Roman empire. Classical Greek fell into disuse in western Europe in the Middle Ages, but remained known in the Byzantine world, and was reintroduced to the rest of Europe with the Fall of Constantinople and Greek migration to Italy.
  • Hellenistic Greek (also known as Koine Greek): The fusion of various ancient Greek dialects with Attic (the dialect of Athens) resulted in the creation of the first common Greek dialect, which gradually turned into one of the world's first international languages. Koine Greek can be initially traced within the armies and conquered territories of Alexander the Great, but after the Hellenistic colonisation of the known world, it was spoken from Egypt to the fringes of India. After the Roman conquest of Greece, an unofficial diglossy of Greek and Latin was established in the city of Rome and Koine Greek became a first or second language in the Roman Empire. Through Koine Greek is also traced the origin of Christianity, as the Apostles used it to preach in Greece and the Greek-speaking world. It is also known as the Alexandrian dialect, Post-Classical Greek or even New Testament Greek (after its most famous work of literature).
  • Medieval Greek: The continuation of Hellenistic Greek during medieval Greek history as the official and vernacular (if not the literary nor the ecclesiastic) language of the Byzantine Empire, and continued to be used until, and after the fall of that Empire in the 15th century. Also known as Byzantine Greek.
  • Modern Greek: Stemming independently from Koine Greek, Modern Greek usages can be traced in the late Byzantine period (as early as 11th century).


Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European language family. The ancient languages which were probably most closely related to it, ancient Macedonian (which may have been a dialect of Greek) and Phrygian,[citation needed] are not well enough documented to permit detailed comparison. Among living languages, Armenian seems to be the most closely related language.

Geographic distribution

Modern Greek is spoken by about 15 million people mainly in Greece and Cyprus. There are also Greek-speaking populations in Georgia, Ukraine, Egypt, Turkey, Albania, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Southern Italy. The language is spoken also in many other countries where Greeks have settled, including Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Official status

Greek is the official language of Greece where it is spoken by about 99.5% of the population. It is also, alongside Turkish, the official language of Cyprus. Due to the membership of Greece and Cyprus in the European Union, Greek is one of the 20 official languages of the European Union.