Modern Greek, Phonology and writing

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Modern Greek ( or "Neo-Hellenic", historically and colloquially also known as "Romaic" or "Roman", and "Greek") refers to the dialects and varieties of the Greek language spoken in the modern era.


A series of radical sound shifts, which the Greek language underwent mainly during the period of Koine, has led to a phonological system in Modern Greek that is significantly different from that of Ancient Greek. Instead of the rich vowel system of Ancient Greek, with its four vowel-height levels, length distinction, and multiple diphthongs, Modern Greek has a simple system of five vowels. This came about through a series of mergers, especially towards (iotacism).

In the consonants, Modern Greek has voiced and voiceless of fricatives in lieu of the Ancient Greek voiced and aspirated voiceless plosives. Modern Greek has not preserved length distinction, either in vowels or in consonants.

Modern Greek is written in the Greek alphabet, which has 24 letters, each with a capital and lowercase (small) form. The letter sigma additionally has a special final form. There are two diacritical symbols, the acute accent which indicates stress and the diaeresis marking a vowel letter as not being part of a digraph. Greek has a mixed historical and phonemic orthography, where historical spellings are used if their pronunciation matches modern usage. The correspondence between consonant phonemes and graphemes is largely unique, but several of the vowels can be spelled in multiple ways. Thus reading is easy but spelling is difficult.

A number of diacritical signs were used until 1982, when they were officially dropped from Greek spelling as no longer corresponding to the modern pronunciation of the language. Monotonic orthography is today used in official usage, in schools and for most purposes of everyday writing in Greece. Polytonic orthography, besides being used for older varieties of Greek, is still used in book printing, especially for academic and belletristic purposes, and in everyday use by some conservative writers and elderly people. The Greek Orthodox Church continues to use polytonic and the late Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece have requested the reintroduction of polytonic as the official script.

The Greek vowel letters with their pronunciation are: , , , , , , . There are also vowel digraphs which are phonetically monophthongal: , , , , . The three digraphs , and are pronounced , and , but before voiceless consonants they are pronounced , and , respectively.

The Greek letters and are pronounced and respectively. The letter is generally pronounced , but before the mid or close front vowels, it is pronounced (or and in some dialects, notably those of Crete and the Mani). Μoreover, before the mid or close back vowels, tends to be pronounced further back than a prototypical velar, between a velar and an uvular (transcribed ).

The letters , and are pronounced , and respectively. The letter , before mid or close front vowels, is pronounced (or and in some dialects, notably those of Crete and the Mani) and before the mid or close back vowels, it tends to be pronounced as a postvelar . The letter stands for the sequence and for . The digraphs and are generally pronounced in everyday speech, but are pronounced before the front vowels and and tend to be pronounced before the back and .

When these digraphs are preceded by a vowel, they are pronounced in formal speech ( before the front vowels and and before the back and ). The digraph may be pronounced in some words ( before front vowels and before back ones). The pronunciation for the digraph is extremely rare, but could be heard in literary and scholarly words or when reading ancient texts (by a few readers); normally it retains its "original" pronunciation only in the trigraph where prevents the sonorization of by (hence ).

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External Links

  • WikipediaPortal for the Greek Language (modern & ancient)Hellenic National CorpusILSP PsychoLinguistic Resource (online tools and information)Audio example of Modern GreekOnline course "Filoglossia" by ILSP

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