From Facebook I had a message with a question that had at its heart the relationship between Modern Greek and Ancient Greek.
I’ve been trying to get this straight in my own mind for a bit (you may remember my post on presents) and I think the following describes it. Anyone that can point to errors here, please do!
Ancient and Modern Greek share many features, including a common script but there are many differences between them. The origins of words in the modern Greek language are from a number of roots and there are differences in grammar and pronunciation too.
Modern Greek was standardised as recently as 1982, which is why – compared with many other languages – it is relatively consistent with well defined rules. It resulted from the combination of the generally spoken version of the language or “δημοτική γλωσσα” (“popular language” and the formal language “καθαρευουσα γλωσσα” (literally “cleansed language”) used by the courts and administration from the late 18th century and now obsolete. You still see examples of Katharevousa Greek on inscriptions from the early 2Oth Century and jolly confusing they are too, as they look like Greek but don’t look like the Greek you are learning!
The precursor of the δημοτική γλωσσα was the common dialect of Ancient Greek known as “ελληνιστική κοινή” (Koine Greek) which was in use from the time of Alexander the Great and continued in wide use across the ancient world until around 300AD. A version of Koine Greek was also used in the Byzantine Empire until 1453AD. Koine Greek was the successor of Attic Greek which in turn superceded the Greek used by the Mycenaeans that we see written on the Linear B tablets of 1450BC, the earliest time we can trace Greek back to.
So, Modern Greek uses words from all these earlier sources to a different extent and adds words (as do all languages) borrowed from Latin, English and many other languages. The existence of Katharevousa Greek led to many words for new things being introduced as new Greek words.
Modern Greek differs from Koine Greek and Ancient Greek in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, but there are many commonalities and cross-overs. In the examples below I omit the accents / breathing symbols for Attic Greek.
For example, the word for goat in Modern Greek is κατσίκα and in Ancient Greek τράγος, (although, confusingly the word τράγος is still used in modern Greek to mean a pervert / dirty old man).
The word for television, in Modern Greek τηλεορασή, and for computer υπολογιστή are both 20th Century Katharevousa coinages.
The word for sheep in Modern Greek is αρνί, in Attic Greek προβατον, and in Mycenean we-re-ne-ja (pronounced close to the modern Greek word).
Similarly the word for gifts or presents in Modern Greek is δώρα in Attic δωρουσ is and in Mycenean do-ra.
In Modern Greek we also see words lifted from English and simply transliterated into Greek letters. So for “Bar” (the kind you go to drink in) we have Μπαρ. The same thing happens from other languages as well. so σπαγχέτο from the Italian “spaghetti”. Other peculiarities are coining words from related words so that the Modern Greek word for mobile phone (το κηνιτό) has been created from the Modern Greek word κινητός meaning movable. It still has a distant relation to the Attic greek word for move, kινειν, but the “phone” part isn’t translated.