Greek > short history :outline:ancient times:after ancient times

language and script in helladic area
Dates may vary from source to source.
A.-----non alphabetical scripts
...prehellenic languages
1. Cretan Hieroglyphic c.2000-1750 a.e.v. not deciphered
2. Linear A 1700-1400 a.e.v. not deciphered
3. Linear B 1400-1200 a.e.v. deciphered by M. Ventris and J. Chadwick in 1953. It is Greek. Crete and mainland Greece
4. Cypro-minoan 1500-1100 a.e.v. not deciphered
5. Cypriot syllabary 6th-4th a.e.v. centuries
B. -----greek alphabet for greek language
1. Greek alphabetic system c.8th century a.e.v.: Capital letters are the same until today. Ancient variations: EASTERN - WESTERN GROUPS
...ancient greek language
idioms or dialects
2. Hellenistic (300 a.e.v.- 300 e.v.) additions of small letters used until today and diacritic marks used until 1982.
...ancient Koine
   Byzantine times (300-1453). No further changes to the alphabet.
...byzantine Koine
   Ottoman occupation (1453-1821) : Printed greek appears.
...modern greek
the battle between demotic and katharevousa
3. 1982 e.v: a minor change: only one stress mark is preserved from the hellenistic accents.
...Demotic becomes official in 1976.

Human languages: origin, evolution.
links on language
History of script, writing.
Introduction to script evolution.

greek in ancient times
Dates may vary from source to source
Relatively little is known about the pre-hellenic substratum in the helladic area. Who were those pre-hellenic people? What were the languages spoken? Contemporary research has not given definite answers. Scientists hypothesize about the so-called Mediterranean Pelasgic languages, the Eteocretan language and the language of the undeciphered Linear A script.
Some of the words of these prehellenic people still survive. When you visit the hill of Lycabettus (Λυκαβηττός mod.gre: [likavi`tos]) in Athens, remember that its name dates from that period! The word thalassa θάλασσα [`θalasa] eng.=sea, so beloved to the greeks, is also prehellenic.
scripts: not alphabetical
1. Minoan hieroglyphics of Crete c.2000–1750 a.e.v. at the Phaestos disk. (script not deciphered)
photo of the mysterious PHAESTOS DISC:
It was found at the ancient city Phaestos (of the island of Crete).
It is the oldest inscription of Minoan Crete.
Dated c.1850-1600 a.e.v.

2. Linear A (1700–1400 a.e.v.) represents an unspecified language.
It is a syllabographic writing system: each symbol is a syllabogramme.
Links on these prealphabetical scrips

The hellenic phyla start arriving in the helladic area 3 or 4 thousand years before. They speak greek, a language that belongs to the family of indoeuropean languages. Greek is still a living language.
Links on history of greek language
The ancient greek language appeared in a mosaic of variants of idioms and pronunciations. (idiom---dialect).
This is a map showing
the approximate geographical dispersal of dialect styles.

The groups of their dialects and idioms roughly correspond to the greek phyla, cities and theis colonies. The language of the city-states would vary in grammar, pronunciation, etc. (individualism has always been a prominent characteristic of the greeks!) The main groups are:
--ionic or attic
--macedonian, elian, achaean, and other subdivisions.
Homer writes his epic poems in a mixture of ionic, aeolic idioms and other elements. What we call 'classic ancient greek' is the attic greek of the 5th golden century of Athens and the great WRITERS of this period.
Greek dialects @wikipedia
The Major Greek Dialects of antiquity by Richard C. Carrier
scripts of the greeks: 1. not alphabetical
The first script of the greeks is Linear B (1400–1200 a.e.v.). the script of the Mycenaeans. This is the very first greek, carved in tablets. Like Linear A, it is a syllabographic writing system.
The script was deciphered in 1953 by two british: the architect Michael Ventris and classicist John Chadwick. They found that its c.90 symbols represent greek language!
After Mycenaeans decline, Dark Ages of illiteracy follow.
Linear B is forgotten!
Links on prealphabetical greek scripts.
the phoenician breakthrough
In the meantime, phoenicians create the so-called northsemitic script: a phonetic consonantgramme system (each letter represents a specific set of sounds!). The greeks seem to love this concept and...
... they add vowels, creating a complete, flexible phonetic alphabet.
scripts of the greeks: 2. the greek alphabet
Links on greek alphabet history
The greek alphabet is born: 8th century a.e.v. (e.g. the Dreros inscription in Crete). Its letters are today's capital greek letters.
For details on the typeface of letters, the writing style, the various types of greek alphabet (eastern-western groups) see a special page about the greek alphabet in ancient times.
Ancient greek letters were also used as:
MUSICAL NOTES: links on ancient greek music notation [[addendum: page on ancient greek notes]]

greek in hellenistic times
language (greek language links)
In the hellenistic period, Greek 'koine' language (a kind of simplified attic greek) becomes a homogenous lingua franca. Pronunciation changes for some letters in different times and places (in my GREEK ALPHABET PAGE each letter's pronunciation is briefly discussed). Grammar and syntax are simplified, but not the historical orthography, which remains intact since c.400 a.e.v.
The ancient attic classical style of the great writers was admired and idolized. Most alexandrian scholars continued writing in this style, while common people used the Koine (as in the New Testament). This was a first schizoglossia between scholars and laymen that tortured greek language for 2.000 years.
script (greek alphabet links)
Capital letters did not change. But other developments happened during the hellenistic times:
1. Small letters were used first sporadically in a text, then in the whole text. (The change lasted a few centuries). They are today's small greek letters of the GREEK ALPHABET.
2. The scholars (grammarians) of Alexandria introduced diacritic accent marks to fascilitate their philological work. These little marks, had to do with stress, the lost prosody's aspiration, and also the iota hypogegrammenon. These marks were used until 1982 e.v. and the script is called polytonic greek script.

Greek after hellenistic times till today
Since ancient and hellenistic times till today, we use the same alphabet symbols as described above. Grammar and syntax has been simplified, but not the historical orthography, which remains intact since c.400 a.e.v. The hellenistic diacritics were in use until 1982 e.v. This is called polytonic greek script.
In middle times greek letters appear in byzantine manuscripts in various calligraphic forms, but no real changes happened to the typeface of greek letters since hellenistic times. The style of handwriting may vary from time to time, but it is easily recognizable. A capital letter is now used as the first letter of the beginning of sentences and as the first letter of proper nouns. Capitals are often used in titles, road signs, commercial logos.
See note on letter names, gender and typeface.
The only change: The hellenistic diacritics were used until 1982 e.v. when a law was passed in the greek parliament for the monotonic greek script. The hellenistic marks (that had no pronunciation impact) were abandoned and only one stress mark is used.
Greeks use the current pronunciation when reading texts of any historical period, from Homer to today's newspapers.
As for the language... it is a living being that changes much more rapidly than its own writing system. It evolves continuously. Its history is interwoven with historical events.
Here is what happened to greek language after hellenistic times, after the 'koine' greek:

Roman period: Latin is the common lingua of all the imperium. Yet, greek was the main educational subject of the élite roman society. Some roman writers, wrote in greek. (Marcus Aurelius for instance).

Christians gradually prevail: The Byzantine period starts as the Nova Roma (New Rome era, using latin) in 330 e.v. Although greek was the language of the gospels, the word hellen implied the 'non-christian'. Greek art, philosophy, scientists and scholars were prosecuted fiercely. The Olympic Agons were banned and athenian philosophical schools shut down. Oddly, in this pagan-hating society, Homer's epic poems were a main educational text along with the gospels.
In Byzantium of 6th century the administration language changes back to greek, since latin was not understood by the people. The Eastern Roman Empire becomes more and more hellenized. Laws and scholarly texts insist on the grandeur of attic greek of the past, but spoken language continues to develop to a common byzantine language. Texts that were considered un-christian were ignored and greek philosophy was used only selectively by theologians. It was the Arabs that saved, translated and studied a huge number of ancient greek texts in their numerous theoretical schools from Baghdad to Cordoba. Later, the texts were transferred to the west. As the end of Byzantium approaches, especially after 1204 (destruction of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade), the byzantines try to concentrate on the ancient greek past. By the time of the final fall of Constantinople (today's Istanbul) to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the byzantine scholars had migrated to the West.
medieval greek @wikipedia

New Times: Turkocracy (1453 - 1821) has lent a great number of words to the greek language. With the exception of a handful of schools and the official Eastern Orthodox Church preserving gospel language, the sole vehicle of language evolution were the ordinary people. Local idioms reflect the different political and social history of each area. Folk poetry reaches its peak. It gradually crystallizes into demotice language, which is practically what we speak today in Greece. Francocracy (as well as Enetocracy) appeared in some places only, and for brief periods: there was no language-lending impact by them. During the byzantine and ottoman times Slavic and Albanian words also had a very strong impact: all balkan peoples moved around a broad area, forming villages, interacting on each other.

After a period of greek Enlightenment under the influence of developments in european history, the new greek state started being formed. (Revolution starts in 1821, state is officially recognized in 1832). Scholars were alarmed by the variety of idioms and borrowed words. Alongside with political, economical, social issues, there came the linguistic one too! The question 'what is the language to use and teach?' was put: demotice (common, people's) or katharevousa? (purified, cleansed) The solution was pursued over 150 years of bitter fighting. Not only by linguists, or educators, but every single fibre of greek society. Political implications were obvious. The conservative powers imposed katharevousa (one could speak demotic, but had to write in the purified katharevoussa version for exams, courts, etc.). The progressive part of society, tried to legalise standard, common language. After a long period of political turmoil demotice (people's language) became the official language of the state, in 1976. In the meantime most literature was written in demotic. Dionyssios Solomos writes his poems in the demotic language. The most representative text of spoken greek is written by an illiterate merchant and general of the revolution, Yiannis Makryyiannis, who learned how to write in order to secretly record his mémoires. It is considered a monument of greek language. Our major novelist Alexandros Papadiamantis used katharevoussa and his own local idiom, mixed in a mystifying combination. A very personal idiom was also used by Kavafis, the poet of Alexandria. Nikos Kazantzakis wrote his novels in a triumphant demotic. Greeks love poetry, so it was no coincidence that prestigious international prizes awarded to greeks were won by poets: Nobel 1963 Yiorgos Seferis, Nobel 1979 Odysseas Elytis, Lenin Order 1977 Yiannis Ritsos.
Greeks use the current pronunciation when reading texts of any historical period, from Homer to today's newspapers.

Apart from common neohellenic greek and various local idioms which are easily understood, there are a few surviving greek dialects of modern times that flourished in places that, being quite isolated from the mainstream language evolution, produced a distinct greek dialect. These are:

1. Tsaconic dialect (gre: Tσακωνική διάλεκτoς) in Arcadia, Peloponnesus area (MAP): retains direct ancient doric elements. I distinctly remember the elders of the villages of the area speaking it fluently. It was studied by Michael Deffner. Younger generations are not using it.
2. South-italian dialect 'griko' (gre: Kατω-ιταλιωτική διάλεκτoς) in Apoulia and Calavria (Italy): the surviving greek communities of middle times at southern Italy (Magna Graecia) retained their greek, forming the 'griko' dialect. Over the last decades of the 20th century, serious efforts were made for the preservation of griko and the communities' greek culture.
3. Cappadocic dialect (gre: Kαππαδoκική διάλεκτoς) was spoken by greeks of Cappadocia (Turkey). Dialect influenced by the turkish grammatical phaenomena of adding suffixes. The speakers moved out of the area after the exchange of populations. When coming to Greece, the speakers adopted common greek.
4. Pontic dialect (gre: Πoντιακή διάλεκτoς) was spoken by the Black Sea (Euxeinos Pontos) greeks who also were a part of the incoming exchanged populations from Turkey. They still try to speak and sing in their dialect at festivals and gatherings.

A greek of today can understand most words in a classic attic text of the 5th a.e.v. century, but would need lessons for its grammar and syntax. To master in depth ancient or modern greek (or any language) would take years of studying. Homer is much more difficult than attic writers. Koine greek (of the gospels) is easily understood today although it sounds a bit 'old'. The greek language is the unbroken string, the very essence of the continuity of greek consciousness in time and history. Children in greek schools have to study quite hard to cover all greek grammar, literature and history of so many centuries. Humanistic studies still play a major role in school curriculum. Today's greek experiences, like all languages, the impact of american lingua franca. (Also see greeklish or greenglish).