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See our webcast for a colourful introduction to Greek culture and the Greek language.

Wikipedia: Greece, Greek language.

Church in Santorini

Language

The Greek language dates back to the 9th century BC, between the fall of the Mycenaean civilisation and the rise of Ancient or Classical Greece. The Greek alphabet shares similarities with the West Semitic family of scripts and more importantly the Phoenician alphabet. At first the Greek alphabet varied according to different geographical areas. The two major variations were the Western (Chalcidian) and Eastern (Ionic) Greek. The Western Greek alphabet formed the basis for the Old Italic alphabet and later the Latin alphabet. Today there are around 20 million Greek native-speakers worldwide. This is a large number considering that Greece has a population of less than 11 million!

The Greek alphabet which consists of 24 letters divides the letters into two categories: consonants and vowels. There are 17 consonants and 7 vowels.

Listen to the Greek Alphabet Audio (.mp3 60KB) and practice with us.

1. Α, α

Alpha

Άλφα

2. Β, β

Veta

Βήτα

3. Γ, γ

Ghamma

Γάμμα

4. Δ, δ

Delta

Δέλτα

5. Ε, ε

Epsilon

Έψιλον

6. Ζ, ζ

Zeta

Ζήτα

7. Η, η

Eta

Ήτα

8. Θ, θ

Theta

Θήτα

9. Ι, ι

Yiota

Ιώτα

10. Κ, κ

Kappa

Κάππα

11. Λ, λ

Lambda

Λάμβδα

12. Μ, μ

Me

Μι

13. Ν, ν

Ne

Νι

14. Ξ, ξ

Kse

Ξι

15. Ο, ο

Omikron

Όμικρον

16. Π, π

Pe

Πι

17. Ρ, ρ

Ro

Ρο

18. Σ, σ

Sigma

Σίγμα

19. Τ, τ

Taf

Ταύ

20. Υ, υ

Ypsilon

Ύψιλον

21. Φ, φ

Fe

Φι

22. Χ, χ

He

Χι

23. Ψ, ψ

Pse

Ψι

24. Ω, ω

Omega

Ωμέγα

Can you recognise all vowels? They are very similar to the English! They are: Alpha, Epsilon, Eta, Yota, Omikron, Ypsilon and Omega. The consonants must always be accompanied by vowels to create a pronounceable unit (word). In addition, the Modern Greek orthography includes several digraphs, one of which is diphthongs. Diphthongs are made of two vowels that are pronounced as one. For example, there are 'ai' (from ‘a’ and ‘i’; pronounced as aa) and ‘oi’ (from ‘o’ and ‘i’ ee). Digraphs sound like one vowel. However they are not regarded as a letter of the alphabet because they consist of two letters.

Further information about the Greek alphabet

Exercise

Accompanying audio (.mp3 29KB): conversation between two friends

Listen to how two friends greet each other when they meet! Below on the left are the phrases you've just heard, all mixed up! Now try to match these with the English phrases provided.

yiA sou Elektra

Very well, thanks!

polE kalA, efharistO

I'm well, thanks! How about yourself?

OkΑy

See you later

yiA sou Katerina, tE kAneis;

OK

ta lEme arghOtera

Hi Electra!

kalA Emai, efharistO, ke esE;

Hi Katerina! How are you?

Culture

Greece has a distinct culture that goes back thousands of years.
Greece is famous for its long history and tradition, as it goes back thousands of years before Christ. The Greek history and civilisations can be roughly divided into the following periods:

Proto-Greek: c 2000BC (Minoans)
Mycenaean: c 1600-1100 BC
Ancient Greek: c 800-300 BC
Hellenistic Greek: 300BC-500
Medieval Greek: c 500-1453 (Christianity-Byzantine Empire)
Modern Greek: c 1453 – present

The actual name of Greece is Hellas (Ellada-Ελλάδα) and the people are called Hellenes (Έλληνες).

Comparing to its historical background, modern Greece is in many ways similar as well as different! The Greeks maintain strong family, religious and national values. They have a sense of pride that is part of their heritage and become very sensitive when their values are challenged! They are known for their hospitality, open heart and feelings! The Greeks are thought to be expressive when they talk; they often shout and move their hands! The Greek people enjoy socialising and going out. There are a lot of choices when it comes to all forms of entertainment and having fun: cafes, tavernas, ouzeri (tapas places), restaurants, bars, clubs, theatres and so on. It is safe to say that in Greece you have enough choice to satisfy the most demanding tastes. Nevertheless, the Greeks can appear to be quite laid back, loud, rude and disorganised! Do not get too upset by that! They will make up for it by taking you out for a great dinner, glass of wine and a good conversation! And to conclude, when you are invited to a Greek’s house and you are offered food, you have to say yes! If you refuse, your host may feel slightly distressed!

Resources

Here are some useful links if you are planning to travel to Greece or you are fascinated by what you have read and seen so far. The page includes information on various aspects of Greece:

Greek Language and Culture Language

Greek as a foreign language - Greek Beginners
Gateway to the Greek Language & Linguistics
Greek Thesaurus

History & Culture

Official site of the Greek Ministry of Culture

Archaeological sites

Greece, Travel, History, Mythology, Greek islands
Ancient Greece

Music

Greek Music
e-radio
Live 24 (in Greek)

Diet and Food in Greece

A Guide to Greek Food
Mediterranean Diet and Food
Eat Healthily the Mediterranean Way

Online Greek Television and Radio

Watching television online is an excellent way of practising a language. For more information about Greek television, head to the ERT website.
Greek Internet TV is also available through the wwiTV portal where you can search for a channel either by country or topic area. (Caution: the channels are not accessible to all as they are dependent on your computer configuration, your Internet browser and the type of multimedia software you use).
There are also a huge number of Internet radio stations (available among other things through the ListenLive website).