Modern Greek [Demotic Greek]
Modern Greek is the most widely spoken native language in Greece today, and the heir to a linguistic tradition dating back more than 3,000 years, to the source of western thought. It’s no coincidence that many words which are almost universal across modern European languages, such as ‘philosophy’ and ‘democracy’, come directly from Ancient Greek.
Ancient Greece was a cauldron of dialects. Doric, Arcado-Cypriot, Aeolic and Attic-Ionic were spoken around the Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea and Sea of Crete. During the reign of Alexander the Great (356 BC to 323 BC), a common language derived from the Athenian dialect progressively appeared. This koine developed and spread throughout the Hellenistic period, enjoying unprecedented prestige. However, after Theodosius I’s death in 395 AD, the division of the Roman Empire and the growth of Byzantium reduced the prestige of Athens and its language divided into various regional dialects. Slavic, Arabic, Norman and Venetian invasions, followed by Turkish occupation, further divided the language.
Following the Treaty of Adrianople (1829) and the Treaty of London (1830), Greece was declared independent. Naturally, the question of its national language arose. After long disputes and bloody confrontations between the defenders of formal Katharevousa and the supporters of a more popular version of Greek, Demotic Greek – the language of the people – was finally adopted in 1976.
Even though Modern Greek is only spoken natively in Greece and Cyprus, it bears witness to a glorious past. The alphabet we use to write in English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French and most European languages comes from Greek, via Latin. The Greeks adapted the writing system of the Phoenicians to create the first alphabetic script to have distinct letters for vowels as well as consonants. The syllabary of the merchants and navigators of Byblos was modified to adjust to the specific needs of the Greek language, giving birth to α (alpha), β (bêta)... you know the rest!
Classification by family:
Indo-European languages > Hellenistic Greek > Byzantine Greek> Modern Greek