A fishing boat is tied up at the pier on Ios.

Learning Greek

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A Greek Study Guide

I have been very happy with the Duolingo smart phone app.

Greek
By Radio
I had used the recordings of the "Greek By Radio" program from the Cyprus Broadcast Company. It's 105 audio files, about 15 minutes long each, plus some corresponding pages with the complete text, vocabulary tables, and so on.

Eleven years later, I was going back to Greece. And I found the Duolino app to be far superior.

Follow the link to my old notes on the Greek by Radio programs if you want. Below are some brief notes on the Duolingo program, and my study notes for it.

Additional things I needed included basic grammar tables. Yes, you can buy an entire book on Greek grammar, but this page has the "just enough" versions that I needed while going through the Duolingo lessons.

There will also be some word lists. Parts of this page became my personal study guide. Maybe you will also find it useful.

Alphabet

It is not too difficult to deal with the language. Really. You will have an advantage if you happen to know any Russian or other East Slavic languages, as Saints Methodius and Cyril devised the Cyrillic alphabet using Greek as much as possible in the cases of similar sounds. Apparently Methodius did most of the work but Cyril got the credit, hence the alphabet's name "Cyrillic" and not "Methodical".

Here's the alphabet — the capital and lower case Greek, the letter's name, and the very approximate English (and NATO and Old English and Scottish and French) equivalent. If you just see boxes or gibberish, use a better browser that understands Unicode.

Greek Name English
Α    α Alpha A as in "father"
Β    β Beta V as in "Victor"
Γ    γ Gamma G as in "goat"
Δ    δ Delta Ð as in "there"
Ε    ε Epsilon E as in "get"
Ζ    ζ Zeta Z as in "Zulu"
Η    η Eta I as in "feet"
Θ    θ Theta Þ as in "thick"
Ι    ι Iota I as in "feet"
Κ    κ Kappa K as in "Kilo"
Λ    λ Lambda L as in "Lima"
Μ    μ Mu M as in "Mike"
Greek Name English
Ν    ν Nu N as in "November"
Ξ    ξ Xi X as in "ox"
Ο    ο Omicron O as in "hOt"
Π    π Pi P as in "Papa"
Ρ    ρ Rho R as in "Romeo"
Σ    ς, σ Sigma S as in "Sierra"
Τ    τ Tau T as in "Tango"
Υ    υ Upsilon I as in "feet"
Φ    φ Phi F as in "Foxtrot"
Χ    χ Chi CH as in "loch"
Ψ    ψ Psi PS as in "lapse"
Ω    ω Omega O as in "note"
Greek English
αι ai as in "aisle"
αυ av as in "mauve" before vowels or voiced consonants
af as in "off" otherwise
ει ee as in "feet"
ευ ev as in "ever" before vowels or voiced consonants
ef as in "left" otherwise
ηι ee as in "feet"
ηυ iv as in "shiver" before vowels or voiced consonants
if as in "if" otherwise
οι ee as in "feet"
ου oo as in "food"
υι ee as in "feet"

Because of a process called ἰωτακισμός or iotacism, many vowels and diphthongs in Ancient Greek converged so that in Modern Greek η, υ, ει, ηι, οι, and υι are all pronounced the same as ι.

References

I'm pretty sure you will want a dictionary. Among other uses, you can make lists of categories of words. Don't try to memorize long lists of things, break them into manageable groups of five to seven.

Colors, days of the week, time terms (now, later, today, tomorrow, etc) directions (near, far, there, to the left, to the right, etc), and so on.

A basic and grammar reference also makes sense. Dover sells a cheap one.

However, Dover has reprinted a grammar from 1950. It has some outdated phonetic marking from the era of katharevousa (see below), a failed project to make modern Greeks speak a hybrid language resembling Classical or Ancient Greece. It shows the polytonic orthography, using five diacritics to indicate three types of pitch accent plus "rough" and "smooth" breathing for initial vowels. Amazon reviews from actual Greeks say "This isn't modern Greek" and even "Not even my grandma uses this language anymore!"

If you search for greek grammar at Amazon, much of what you find will be either Classical Greek, the Attic Greek of 500–300 BCE, or New Testament Greek, the Koine Greek of the common people of 300 BCE to 350 CE.

The Yale textbook A Manual of Modern Greek seems to have the right aim, but its reviews indicate that it resembles a 1970s military manual, with its pages filled with constant-width font.

Grammar

Masc. = Masculine gender
Fem. = Feminine gender
Neu. = Neuter gender
Subj. = Subjective, or Nominative case
The dog drinks the water.
Obj. = Objective, or Accusative case
The dog drinks the water.
Poss. = Possessive, or Genitive case
The dog's water. Or, really: The water of the dog.

As for general patterns of noun gender:

Most masculine nouns end in –ος, –ασ, and –ης.

Most feminine nouns end in –α and –η.

Most neuter nouns end in –ο and –ι. A few end in –ος.

Definite Article, "the"

Singular
Masc. Fem. Neu.
Subj. ό ή τό
Obj. τό(ν) τή(ν) τό
Poss. τού τής τού
Plural
Masc. Fem. Neu.
Subj. οί οί τά
Obj. τούς τίς τά
Poss. τών τών τών

The (ν) is only used when the following words begins with a vowel or with a few specific consonants:
τό σκυλί / τόν άντρα
To err on the side of caution and formality, always use it.

Proper names take the definite article.

Indefinite Article, "a" or "one"

Masc. Fem. Neu.
Subj. ένας μία / μιά ένα
Obj. ένα(ν) μία(ν) / μιά(ν) ένα
Poss. ενοσ μιάς / μίας ενός

Personal Pronouns

The Subjective 3 Person pronouns have both "he" and "it" forms.

The Objective and Possessive cases have long and short forms.

The (ε) is optional, the (ν) is as before.

Singular Plural
Subj. 1st Pers. εγώ εμείς
2nd Pers. (ε)σύ (ε)σείς
3rd Pers. M: αυτός, εκείνος
F: αυτοί, εκείνη
N: αυτό, εκείνο
M: αυτοί, εκείνοι
F: αυτές, εκείνες
N: αυτά, εκείνα
Obj. 1st Pers. εμένα μέ εμάς μάς
2nd Pers. εσένα σέ εσάς σάς
3rd Pers. M: αυτόν
F: αυτή(ν)
N: αυτό
τόν
τή(ν)
τό
M: αυτούς
F: αυτές
N: αυτά
τούς
τίς, τές
τά
Poss. 1st Pers. εμένα μού εμάς μάς
2nd Pers. εσένα σού εσάς σάς
3rd Pers. M: αυτού
F: αυτής
N: αυτού
τού
τής
τού
M: αυτών
F: αυτών
N: αυτών
τούς
τούς
τούς

Noun Declension

Masculine and neuter nouns with ο as the final vowel

See the masculine έμπορος and neuter νερό, merchant and water.

Singular Plural
Subj. έμπορος νερό έμποροι νερά
Obj. έμπορο νερό εμπόρους νερά
Poss. εμπόρου νερού εμπόρων νερων

Masculine nouns ending –ας and –ης

See άντρας and ναύτης, man and sailor.

Singular Plural
Subj. άντρας ναύτης άντρες ναύτες
Obj. άντρα ναύτη άντρες ναύτες
Poss. άντρα ναύτη αντρών ναυτών

Feminine nouns ending –ε and –η

See μητέρα and κόρη, daughter and daughter.

Singular Plural
Subj. μητέρα κόρη μητέρες κόρες
Obj. μητέρα κόρη μητέρες κόρες
Poss. μητέρας κόρης μητέρων κορών

Neuter nouns ending –ι

See νησί and χέρι, island and hand.

Singular Plural
Subj. νησί χέρι νησιά χέρια
Obj. νησί χέρι νησιά χέρια
Poss. νησιού χεριού νησιών χεριών

Neuter nouns ending –ος

See έθνος and έδαφος, nation and ground. This is a less common ending for neuter nouns.

Singular Plural
Subj. έθνος έδαφος έθνη έδαφη
Obj. έθνος έδαφος έθνη έδαφη
Poss. έθνους έδαφους έθνών έδαφών

Nouns that add a syllable

See ψαράς and καφές, fisherman and coffee. These retain the final vowel of the singular, and a –δ– (or –τ– for neuters) is inserted before the plural ending.

Singular Plural
Subj. ψαράς καφές ψαράδες καφέδες
Obj. ψαρά καφέ ψαράδες καφέδες
Poss. ψαρά καφέ ψαράδων καφέδων

Then there are less common patterns, and nouns with irregular declensions. See a detailed grammar reference for details on those.

Katharevousa (or καθαρεύουσα)

The Colonel's Coup in 1967 was accompanied by the typical authoritarians' demand to return things to an idealized superior "before time". Part of this was the demand for using a more formal language, called καθαρεύουσα or katharevousa. Should the official language of the Greek nation be the language the people spoke, or should it be a cultivated imitation of ancient Greek?

A language purity movement had begun in the late nineteenth century, aiming to wipe out the linguistic influence of the Byzantine Empire and the following Ottoman Empire. Language fanatics wanted to have everyone in Greece speak the prestige Attic dialect of literary classical Greek of 500–300 BCE.

The Koine Greek that the people spoke in about 300 BCE to 350 CE was the common people's language. The New Testament was written in Koine, it was the official language of the Byzantine Empire until it fell in 1453, and it survives as the liturgical language of the Greek Orthodox church. But that was too modern for the katharevousa advocates.

Katharevousa was archaic, with syntactical, morphological, phonological, and lexical features of Ancient Greek. It was an artificial hybrid of a language that had never been spoken by anyone. This meant that it was only partly intelligible to a Greek person without a higher education.

By the late 1800s, it had gotten to where an educated Greek citizen could usually figure out what written Katharevousa meant, with substantial effort, but they couldn't write it. Literacy was suffering. The attempt to impose it as an official language cut people off from government, public life, and literature. The Wikipedia page on the Greek language question says, in a note:

The names of everyday objects were particularly resistant to "purification". Necktie remained γραβάτα (Italian cravatta) and coffee stayed καφές (Turkish kahve). The "purified" alternatives λαιμοδέτης "neck-tie" and the much-ridiculed νηφοκοκκόζυμον "sober-berry-brew" never did win popular support.

Then in April 1967 a group of right-wing military officers seized power in a coup d'état. The regime of "The Colonels" as it was known was a time of strongly authoritarian government. Part of this was a link between Katharevousa and the government itself. Demotic or Δημοτική, the common Greek language of the people, was banned from education. Demotic Greek was criticized as a jargon or slang that didn't even have a grammar, and the language was accused of being connected to communism and treason.

When The Colonels' regime collapsed in July 1974, that was the end of Katharevousa. Article 2 of Law 309 — still written in Katharevousa as all laws were then — decreed that Modern Greek, the Demotic spoken by the people of Greece, should be the only language used in education at all levels. Standard Modern Greek became the official language of administration in 1977, and over the next ten years the whole legal system was converted and rewritten. In 1982 a presidential decree imposed the monotonic written accent system on all education. It uses only the tonos or mark for stress, and the diaresis to indicate separated vowel sounds (as the same mark does in English and French, as in naïve, coöperate, and Noël). The pitch accents and "rough" and "smooth" breathing for vowels disappeared, as they only indicated how words had been pronounced over two millenia earlier.