A VERY BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO ANCIENT GREEK

Did you ever wonder what words like “hyperbaric” mean?  Did you ever look at a mathematical equation and wonder where symbols like sigma come from?  When you say, “It’s Greek to me,” does that mean you don’t understand it?

On these pages is a brief, “entry level” introduction to ancient Greek.  It is not meant to be exhaustive; rather, it is what I wish I had known before I started taking formal Greek courses in college, and it is intended to be accessible to everyone, from elementary school on up.  Knowing the basics ahead of time would have eased some of the anxiety that comes from having to learn a new alphabet, a new way of using nouns, and a whole new language at the same time.  Even if you expect never to take a Greek course, you will always encounter words, letters, and symbols that you will understand better if you know something about Greek.  (And just maybe this will make you curious enough to try learning the language after all!)

What I have done is focus on the aspects of Greek that differ from English, and present them in an elementary, non-demanding way, reusing a small number of words throughout to minimize the complexity of the whole.  First, of course, comes the alphabet; then the genders and cases of nouns.  The latter is an intellectual adjustment if one has never known or studied such a language, and it is what I thought would have made my studies easier at the time.  Then comes a look at verb forms, which will be more familiar to those who have studied a European language such as Spanish or French.

WHY LEARN GREEK?

- many English words, especially scientific ones, are derived from that language, and you will understand them better;

- you can impress your friends by knowing the Greek letters in an equation, or explaining in scholarly terms what the origin of a word is;

- Greek is a living language, and the alphabet and basic vocabulary may come in handy someday;

- and if you work at it, you will be able to read your favorite ancient texts in the original tongue.

To view these pages, you will need a Unicode font and a Unicode-enabled browser.  If your operating system is Windows XP or 2000, and your browser is Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5, Netscape 6, or a subsequent version, you should be ready to go.  The above Windows versions come with a Unicode font, Palatino Linotype, already installed.  If you do not have a Unicode font, or are not sure,

visit the Unicode fonts page for more information.

Some more notes:  the pronunciation that I have described here is the “pseudo-phonetic” one usually taught in beginner’s courses.  It may not be totally accurate; but the pronunciation of Greek has changed drastically over the millenia, and unfortunately, no sound recordings have survived from ancient times, so different sources teach different pronunciations.  If you go to Greece today, you will not hear anything like what you hear in an ancient Greek course; nor will you see some of the grammatical features of the ancient language, as they have faded out over time.  But that is the nature of a living language.

Have fun!

--Russell

index | introduction | alphabet | accents | diphthongs | gender | case | declensions | verbs | conclusion

Aristarchus | webrings | get a Unicode font

All pages © 2002-2007 by Russell Cottrell.

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