The Greek alphabet has been in continuous use for the past 2,750 years or so since about 750 BC. It was developed from the Canaanite/Phoenician alphabet and the order and names of the letters are derived from Phoenician. The original Canaanite meanings of the letter names was lost when the alphabet was adapted for Greek. For example, alpha comes for the Canaanite aleph (ox) and beta from beth (house).
At first, there were a number of different versions of the alphabet used in various different Greek cities. These local alphabets, known as epichoric, can be divided into three groups: green, blue and red. The blue group developed into the modern Greek alphabet, while the red group developed into the Etruscan alphabet, other alphabets of ancient Italy and eventually the Latin alphabet.
By the early 4th century BC, the epichoric alphabets were replaced by the eastern Ionic alphabet. The capital letters of the modern Greek alphabet are almost identical to those of the Ionic alphabet. The minuscule or lower case letters first appeared sometime after 800 AD and developed from the Byzantine minuscule script, which developed from cursive writing.
Greek (Ελληνικά), an Indo-European language spoken by about 14 million people mainly in Greece and Cyprus, where it is an official language. Greek is also recognised as a minority language in parts of Turkey, Italy and Albania.
Today the Greek alphabet is used only to write Greek, however at various times in the past it has been used to write such languages as Lydian, Phrygian, Thracian, Gaulish, Hebrew, Arabic, Old Ossetic, Albanian, Turkish, Aromanian, Gagauz, Surguch and Urum.
This alphabet is based on inscriptions from Crete dated to about 800 BC. Greek was written from right to left in horizontal lines at this time. The names of the letters were slightly different to those for later varities Greek.
The Ancient Greeks had two numeric systems: the Acrophonic or Attic system used the letters iota, delta, gamma, eta, nu and mu in various combinations. These letters were used as they represented the first letters of the number names, with the exception of iota: Γέντε (gente) for 5, which became Πέντε (pente); Δέκα (Deka) for 10, Ηἑκατόν (Hektaton) for 100, Χίλιοι (Khilioi) for 1,000 and Μύριον (Myrion) for 10,000. This system was used until the first century BC.
The Acrophonic system was replaced by an alphabetic system that assigned numerical values to all the letters of the alphabet. Three obsolete letters, stigma, koppa and sampi, were used in addition to the standard Greek letters, and a apostrophe-like numeral sign was used to indicate that letters were being used as numerals.
Óli i ánthropi yeniúnde eléftheri ke ísi stin aksioprépia ke ta dhikeómata. Íne prikizméni me loyikí ke sinídhisi, ke ofílun na simberiféronde metaksí tus me pnévma adhelfosínis.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Information about Greek | Modern Greek phrases | Ancient Greek phrases | Tower of Babel in Modern Greek | Tower of Babel in Ancient Greek | Greek links | Greek learning materials | Books about the Greek alphabet
Corrections and notes on pronunciation provided by Δημήτρης Χριστούλιας (Dimitris Christoulias)
Information about Greek numbering systems
Online Greek lessons
http://www.ibiblio.org/koine/greek/lessons/ (New Testament)
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