The Hellenic aka Greek language (Ελληνικά) is the only remaining descendant of the original proto-Indo-European dialects. Starting from the 8th century BC, its ancient form was spoken and read throughout the Hellenic world which, due to its significance in the history of Western civilization, had been called "The Cradle of Civilization." Unlike Latin, Greek is still a living language with a continuous history of almost 3,000 years.
Origins of the Greek Alphabet:
The Greek alphabet is thought to be the ancestor of all major European alphabets today. Although the script was adapted from the Semites around the tenth or ninth century BCE, it included significant improvements which were directly responsible for its influence. The history of the language that you speak is carved on its very words that, spoken and sung by millions of people over thousands of years, bring the history of our nation to us. Ancient Greeks spoke in different ways from place to place. That means that the language was taking different forms from place to place, forms which are known as dialects. In Sparta they had the Doric dialect and in Athens they had the Attic dialect and other dialects in other places. This, however, didn't prevent them from communicating and understanding each other without great difficulties, because the differences between the dialects were not very significant. Their language was virtually the same.
The common language however, was developed much later, after the Classical Age, in the years between 300 B.C. and 300 A.D. This language, that gradually became the common language of all Greeks, came from the Attic dialect and in particular the one spoken in Athens between 500 and 400 B.C., namely the time that Athens had reached the zenith of their glory. But in order for the Attic dialect to become a common language it had to borrow words from other dialects as well. This happened at the time that Alexander the Great was conquering Middle East, so this common language became (with time) a language of the Middle Easterners as well. It was spoken and written everywhere: Syria, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Persia (modern Iran), Egypt etc. It had become in a way the international language of that era.
The Language 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 imagine 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 second millennium B.C. 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 B.C. With the rise of Athens in succeeding centuries, a dialect of Ionic known as Attic began to produce the great literature of the classical periods. Attic became the dominant form of the language and the basis of the Koine, or common languages, whose use passed far beyond the border of present-day Greece. After the conquests of Alexander the Great it was spoken as far east as India, and later was adopted as a second langugage by the Roman Empire. The New Testament was written in the Koine and it is used by the Eastern Orthodox Church through the present day.
The Greek alphabet, an adaptation of the Phoenician, dates from about 1000 B.C. 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 and dating from 1500 B.C., was deciphered in 1952, but this was largely abandoned by 1200 B.C.Greek was the official languages 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 in the 19th.
Today Greek is spoken by about 10 million people, including some 5.000,000 on the island of Cyprus. In addition to the common speech, known as Demotic, an imitation of classical Greek, know 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 inscientific, technical and other fields.
Equally important Greek suffices are -meter (measure), -gram (letter), -graph (write), -scope (see), -phone (sound), and -phobia (fear). ETHNOLOGUE.GR: LANGUAGES IN GREECE Hellenic Republic, Elliniki Dimokratia. National or official language: Greek. 10,600,000 (1998 UN). Literacy rate 94% to 96%. Also includes Armenian 20,000, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic 2,000, Balkan Gagauz Turkish, English 8,000, Western Farsi 10,000, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Urum, Arabic 28,000. Information mainly from R. Dawkins 1916; P. Trudgill and G. Tzavaras 1977; B. Comrie 1987; W. Browne 1989, 1998. Christian, Muslim. Blind population 13,000 (1982 WCE). Deaf population 42,600 to 634,565 (1986 Gallaudet University). Deaf institutions: 17. Data accuracy estimate: B. The number of languages listed for Greece is 15. Of those, 13 are living languages and 2 are extinct. Diversity index 0.14.
Text by http://www.greece.org/