Hear the word ‘Greece’ and what comes to mind? Is it crystal clear seas? Is it the birthplace of democracy and civilization? Maybe it’s a traditional plate smashing ceremony, or is it Meryl Streep singing Dancing Queen on a boat jetty?! Whatever your initial reactions, ‘Greece’ has different meanings for many people. Having been on holiday to Greece many times, I can vouch for its stunning coastlines, welcoming population and amazing climate. But despite some of the world’s most recognizable traditions and practices originating from this country, its language is relatively unknown. Greek may not be the world’s most common language, so unless you have a business in Greece or you plan to spend a lot of time there, there seems little reason to learn it. Yet, the main reason to learn it is to gain a much deeper understanding of one of the world´s most ancient civilizations.
The oldest surviving record of Greek dates from the second millennium BC, when large tablets manufactured out of clay were inscribed for religious and administrative usage. As a side note, just to be clear, the difference between Ancient Greek and Modern Greek is huge, and a native speaker of one would not be able to understand the other. Despite this, learning Modern Greek will give you unparalleled access to one of the world’s richest histories. For example, Greece – officially known as the Hellenic Republic – is the birthplace of the Olympic Games, starting in Olympia in 776BC (although some historians place the first event at around 1000BC), primarily for the purpose of getting men fit. It also promulgated one of the earliest forms of democracy, when non-slave adult men were given a direct say in the state’s affairs. The English word ‘democracy’ itself comes from the Greek word for people, ‘demos’, and the word for rule or power, ‘kratos’ – both of which combined to make ‘demokratia’, rule of the people. What´s more, the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and countless others will all have a much deeper meaning when studied in their mother tongue (albeit its successor).
For many people, Greek may not be as difficult as it first appears. Approximately 30% of the entire English vocabulary consists of words that derive from a Classical Greek origin. Words like ‘phone’, ‘biography’ and ‘aero’ all stem from the Greek language, and many of these ancient Greek stems have retained their pronunciation and meaning in its modern day equivalent, making it a whole lot easier for native English speakers. Its influence on other languages around the world means learners are able to recognize and understand words from all sorts of different tongues. The opposite phenomenon has happened as well, with English’s global dominance meaning that new Greek words are constantly cropping up, such as ‘parkaro’ – the verb to park. Also, in a similar format to many European languages, Greek has three genders: not only the normal masculine and feminine, but also a neuter, meaning there are three different ways to say ‘the’.
So now you have the information you need to know, go out there and learn some Greek!