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Every year, on the 25th of March, millions of Greeks around the world meet with their families and friends to dine together. In Greece, military and student parades are held and similar parades also occur in hotspots of the Greek diaspora, such as New York. You may or may not have heard that the 25th of March is the Greek Independence Day. However, who were the oppressors of Greeks at that time? Who did they revolt against?
To begin with, it is important to highlight that, if the events surrounding this day had never occurred, the Hellenic Republic of Greece might have never existed. The 25th of March signals the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire that lasted between 1821 and 1830. The events changed drastically the political, social, and cultural situation in Greece and in the Balkan peninsula. They also influenced central and western Europe in various ways, including the arts, aesthetics, and even the architecture; with examples being some of the most important European capitals, like Vienna. The term “philellin” (φιλέλληνας), meaning a lover/friend of Greece, was coined at that time. But now let’s dive into the history.
Once upon a time, 200 hundred years ago, an idea had started to flourish. An idea of a liberated Greece which would embrace the cultural and political ideas of its ancient past.
In the 18th century, affluent and well-educated Greeks who studied and lived in western Europe came into contact with the radical ideas of the European Enlightenment. Known also as the “Age of Reason”, the movement questioned the traditional ideas of that time. The Enlightenment thinkers embraced rationality and focused on scientific discoveries that could improve humanity.
“Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!”Immanuel Kant
These ideas had yet to reach Greece or – to be more precise- the areas that we consider Greece now and the ones were, traditionally, Greek tribes used to reside (e.g. the western coastal areas of Turkey). That was because Greeks had being living under the Ottoman rule since the fall of the Byzantine capital city of Constantinople in 1453.
Greek scholars abroad, such as Adamantions Korais, were intrigued by the ideas of Enlightenment. They despised the lack of education amongst the Greek orthodox clergy at that time and the distinct influence of the Ottomans (and sometimes of the Byzantines) on the Greek culture. Their vision was that of a democratic Greece, that would recapture the glory of the Golden Age of Pericles. They were Influenced by events such as the French Revolution and they dreamt of a Greek national revolution that would liberate the Greek state with the following establishment of a proper constitution.
These ideas, in addition to the unfortunate fates of influencers such as Rigas Feraios, soon influenced three young merchants from the Greek diaspora in Russia to found the “Friendly Society” (Φιλική Εταιρεία) in Odessa. It is worth mentioning that, within the captured lands, klephts and armatoloi, anti-Ottoman insurgents that resided in the Ottoman Empire, were, in the meantime, undermining the dominance of the Ottomans in the area.
With the help of wealthy Greek communities in Britain and the United States and the support of Western European aristocrats, such as the poet Lord Byron, who were fascinated by classical Greece, the vision turned into a plan. And the Greek War of Independence finally started in spring 1821 with the legendary general Theodoros Kolokotronis being one of the most prominent leading figures in the battles that occurred. And the rest is history.
Note: History is a highly controversial subject. The influence of certain ideas, such as the Enlightenment, over the Greek Revolution are not widely accepted. The same goes for some of the narratives mentioned above. Please note that the importance of the role of certain people on the Greek Revolution is debated from time to time. For any further information regarding this topic, you can refer to the linked sources.
Alpha, beta, gamma, delta…?
Many non-native Greek speakers tend to pronounce the letters of the Greek language in a way that is similar to the phonetic values of their own language. As a result, they find it difficult to communicate with native speakers, although they know the basics of the Greek vocabulary and grammar. Of course, they are not to blame. Many schools are teaching Greek the wrong way. Here is why:
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Writing Greek on paper is different from typing Greek on a computer.
Although most of Helinika’s visitors have no problem typing the Greek letters, they often find it difficult to write those letters on paper. That is why we prepared a short video on our YouTube channel that you can use to mimic a common writing style for the Greek letters. It goes without saying that there are many more handwritings out there and you can develop yours with a lot of practice. Writing in a different alphabet is not easy but it is definitely worth the effort!
One of the most common assumptions Greek language students have when starting their learning journey is that the Greek punctuation marks are the same as the ones used in English or other European languages. Although most punctuation marks are used in the same way, there are also many differences.
If you are using this question mark (?) at the end of a question in Greek, you are grammatically wrong. Most people will understand that you are asking a question, however, the correct Greek question mark is the following: ;
“How are you?”
If the English semicolon is the Greek question mark, what symbol represents the Greek semicolon? The punctuation mark that is used in this case is the «άνω τελεία» or “up dot”, which is basically an interpunct: ꞏ
«Δεν είχε χρήματαꞏ ξέχασε το πορτοφόλι του.»
“He had no money; he left his wallet (at home).”
As you might have already noticed from the above examples, the Greek quote marks are the same as the ones used in the French language: «»
The English quotes are used only when it is necessary to add another set of quotes in the quoted sentence.
«Τι έκανες;», ρώτησε.
“What have you done?”, he asked.
«Τι σημαίνει “κέφι”;»
“What is ‘kefi’?”
The rest of the punctuation marks, such as the full stop (.), the comma (,), the exclamation mark (!), and the suspension points (…) are the same as in English.
Here are their names in Greek:
• Full stop= Τελεία
• Comma= Κόμμα*
• Exclamation mark= Θαυμαστικό
• Suspension points= Αποσιωπητικά
*The word “comma” in English derives from this Greek word. «Κόμμα» also means “(political) party”.
Are certain Greek words untranslatable?
The Greek language, one of the oldest languages in the world, has many words and phrases with no English equivalent. We provide you with a list of untranslatable Greek words, their etymology, and meaning.
There is no exact equivalent of the word “μεράκι” in English. This noun describes the love, devotion, and passion that a person displays for his/her art, craft, profession, field of study or hobby. It can also be used for day-to-day chores, such as cooking or cleaning, as long as they are completed in a ritualistic way. The word describes a part of the Greek culture that places quality over quantity and dedicating time and care in the creation of something.
For example, let’s use tea as an example. If you sloppily dip a tea bug into a cup of hot water for a couple of seconds, you are definitely not making tea with meraki (and probably not even tea). On the other hand, if you carefully select the type of tea you fancy drinking, let it steep and brew, and if you pour it into a nice cup, stir it nicely and maybe add some other ingredients in it, then you prepared your tea with meraki.
The word actually derives from a Turkish word: “merak”. The Turkish term has a broader meaning and can often be used to describe concern, worry, but also curiosity.
«Έχει μεράκι για την δουλειά του.»
Translation: “He has meraki for his job.”
Meaning: “He is passionate about his job.”
«Σου έφτιαξα αυτόν τον καφέ με μεράκι.»
Translation: “I made this coffee with meraki.”
Meaning: “I made this coffee with love.”
“Φιλοξενία” is an ancient Greek word that is still used today. It derives from the verb “φιλώ” (to love in ancient Greek; to kiss in modern Greek) and the noun “ξένος” (foreigner, stranger).
If you look up a Greek to English dictionary, the translation you get will probably be the term “hospitality”, which defines the relationship between a guest and a host. Although this is the most accurate translation you can get in English, “φιλοξενία” has a history that takes up way back in time.
“Φιλοξενία” was a set of rules defined by the gods, and specifically of Zeus Xenios. It describes the attitude towards people who are not part of the household, strangers or people from a different origin. The ethical obligations of “Φιλοξενία” are: a) to be offered to anyone, whatever his or her financial, political or other position is b) to respect everyone equally c) to never raise weapons against each other (the host and the visitor). The material obligations are: a) to welcome and take care of the visitor b) to offer him/her a meal c) to offer him/her a bath and/or the opportunity to sleep d) to offer him/her goodbye wishes and gifts.
Many modern Greeks live by these rules, offering food and care to their guests. Hotel guests in Greece are often surprised to find welcoming gifts, such as food baskets, which are usually charged in hotels abroad. Although “φιλοξενία” is not followed religiously by all Greeks today, it is still something that is highly associated to the Greek culture.
«H Ελλάδα φημίζεται για την φιλοξενία της.»
Translation: “Greece is well-known for its philoxenia.”
Meaning: “Greece is well-known for its hospitality and welcoming attitude.”
If you ask a native speaker to describe the noun “κέφι”, he/she will probably say it is about being in a good mood. Although this is not completely wrong, having “κέφι” is more than simply having a good mood.
“Κέφι” is something that you have or you can lose. It is also something you can make, do and ruin. Is the feeling of light-heartedness, the desire to be spontaneous or the willingness to do something with your whole heart. It can describe the positive ambiance in a room, the party-spirit at a joyful event like a wedding, or simply the interest in doing something.
The verbs used along with “κέφι”, such as “χάνω” (to lose) and “χαλάω” (to ruin/mess up), imply that the normal state for humans is to be happy and have a passionate and joyful view of life. If you lose your “κέφι”, fear not; you can also find it.
This word derives from a Turkish word, “keyif”, which has a similar if not the same meaning as in Greek.
«Έχασα το κέφι μου.»
Translation: “I lost my kefi.”
Meaning: “I am not in a good mood anymore.”
«Δεν έχω κέφι για δουλειά σήμερα.»
Translation: “I do not have kefi to go to work today.”
Meaning: “I am not feeling like going to work today.”
«Βρήκε το κέφι του.»
Translation: “He found his kefi.”
Meaning: “He is happy again.”
Of course, these are not the only untranslatable Greek words with no English equivalent. Do you know any Greek words you are fascinated with? Leave a comment down below.
The first step in your learning journey is the alphabet. Once you’ve become familiar with the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet and their individual pronunciation, it is important to learn the various letter combinations. To begin with, let’s start with the seven vowels and 17 consonants.
There are seven vowels in the Greek language and their sounds are distinct. These are:
Αα – Άλφα
Εε – Έψιλον
Ηη – Ήτα
Ιι – Ιώτα
Οο – Όμικρον
Υυ – Ύψιλον
Ωω – Ωμέγα
There are three different letters for the “e” sound (“e” as in “hero” or “zero“): Ηη, Ιι, and Υυ.
There are two different letters for the “o” sound (“o” as in “oven” and “open”): Οο and Ωω.
Εε is pronounced similar to the “e” in “hen” or “pen”.
Αα is pronounced similar to the “a” in “parrot” and “carrot”.
Listen the entire Greek alphabet pronunciation here.
There are no separate vowels for the sounds of “i” (as in “island” or “highland”) or “u” (as in “ultra” and “utility” ). Therefore, some letter combinations are deemed necessary to pronounce words borrowed from foreign languages.
A digraph is a pair of characters used in the orthography of a language to write a distinct sound. The term itself derives from Greek (di= double/twice, grapho= to write).
The modern Greek digraphs are the following:
αί, εί, οί, υί, αύ, εύ, (ηύ – rare)
A diphthong is a combination of two adjacent vowel sounds withing a single syllable. The term itself derives from the Greek word “δίφθογγος” (di= double/twice, phthongos= sound), however, it applies in any language that uses combinations of vowels.
The modern Greek diphthongs are:
αη, οη, αϊ/άι, οϊ/οι
The Greek language has 17 consonants that are often mispronounced by non-native speakers. Here are the consonants of the Greek language:
Ββ – Βήτα
Γγ – Γάμα
Δδ – Δέλτα
Ζζ – Ζήτα
Θθ – Θήτα
Κκ – Κάππα
Λλ – Λάμδα
Μμ – Μι
Νν – Νι
Ξξ – Ξι
Ππ – Πι
Ρρ – Ρο
Σς – Σίγμα
Ττ – Ταφ
Φφ – Φι
Χχ – Χι
Ψψ – Ψι
The Greek consonants are separated between:
• Labials, which are formed with the lips (e.g. “Ππ”).
• Dentals, which are formed with the tongue and teeth (e.g. “Ττ”).
• Palatals, which are formed with the tongue and palate (e.g. “Κκ”).
There are certain consonant sounds that are not represented by a single letter in th Greek alphabet, such as “Bb” or “Dd”. As a general rule of thumb, the words that require these phonetic sounds derive from other languages, usually Turkish, English, and French (e.g. “μπαχτσές”).
These are: μπ, ντ, γκ/γγ, τζ, τσ.
Μπ is pronounced similar to Bb (as in “Black”, “Back”, and “Band”).
Ντ is pronounced similar to Dd (as in “Disc”, “Dusk”, and “Duck”).
Γκ or Γγ is pronounced similar to Gg (as in “Gallon” and “Gulf”).
Τζ is pronounced similar to Jj (as in “James” and “Joy”).
Τσ is pronounced similar to Ch (as in “Choice” and “Challenge”).
It is important to highlight that all Greek vowels and consonants have a distinct and clear sound, similar to Spanish and Portuguese. There are no “hidden” sounds when reading a word aloud. This is why, contrary to popular belief, Greek can be one of the easiest languages to pronounce!
Would you like to challenge yourself and become an avid speaker of the Greek language? We know you can – join our video courses, where we delve into details, and learn Greek like a native!
Exercice: Try to pronounce the following words correctly. Listen to the audio and repeat after.
For more exercices and additional help/guidance from Helinika’s team, join our video courses!
November 9 was declared in 2017 as the international Greek language day. After years of efforts, the initiative to dedicate a day in the calendar year to one of the oldest spoken languages in the world suceeded.
The aim of the initiative was to promote the Greek language and remind the members of the Greek diaspora and everyone who is fascinated by the Greek history and culture, to keep the language alive by speaking it and teaching it to the next generations.
Helinika’s goal is to help everyone access free study materials and affordable Greek language courses online. Keep updated by following our Facebook page.
Introduction to the letters of the Greek alphabet. Learn how to read and write in Greek.
You’ve seen them in trigonometry, in physics, and probably in chemistry. Or you might have noticed them over the entrances of fraternities and sororities in many American Universities. The symbols look so familiar to the ones in the Latin alphabet but, at the same time, they are so different.
The letters of the Greek alphabet are indeed very popular. However, they are often mispronounced and used incorrectly. Here, you will learn how to properly write and pronounce them. This should be your first step in your learning journey. The alphabet is the A and Ω of every language.
One of the biggest mistakes that people who study modern Greek make is pronouncing the Greek alphabet according to the Erasmian pronunciation. Many schools in the West are using alternative pronunciations of ancient Greek that change the phonetic values of the letters. The aim is to imitate the phonological system of the student’s native language, hence making ancient Greek easier to pronounce. As a result, many non-native speakers assume that modern Greek uses the same alternative pronunciations. The reality is that the Greek letters are pronounced in this way:
If you are an English speaker, then you regularly speak Greek without knowing it. It is estimated that over 150.000 English words derive directly and indirectly from the Greek language.
“Dinosaurs”, for example, are the mighty lizards – the term derives from the Greek words “δεινός” (dinos) and “σαύρα” (saura), meaning mighty/strong and lizard respectively. Another example is the word “telephone”. This commonly used word derives from “τηλε-” (tele) and “φωνή” (phoni); the first stands for “distant” and the second for “voice”.
The same goes for most of the languages that are widely spoken in Europe. It is worth mentioning that some of the words were borrowed into Latin and then acquired from its descendants, the Romance languages, such as Italian and Spanish. Moreover, countless scientific and medical terms have Greek roots and, by understanding the language they derive from, you can understand more about this specific subject.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the modern Greek language is much closer to ancient Greek than most people think. In fact, it is closer to ancient Greek than Italian and Spanish are to latin. If you learned ancient Greek in school or if you are interested in ancient Greek history, speaking modern Greek will help you connect with the ancient civilization that influenced the modern western culture, ideas, and politics.
Over 13 million people around the world are able to speak Greek. The language is spoken in Greece, in Cyprus, and among members of the Greek diaspora, a term that refers to the people who originate from Greece but live abroad. That gives you countless possibilities for meeting people, making friends, negoatiating business partnerships, and even finding a job.
Now, you may wonder what type of job opportunities might be available for foreigners in Greece. The country has indeed quite high unemployement rates, however, during the summer season, job openings multiply. Islands such as Mykonos and Santorini and other touristic locations need to employ a big number of people who specialize in various hospitality positions.
Chefs, bartenders, and baristas from all over Greece and around the world are employed every summer season in some of the most reputable hotels and restaurants in Greece. In most cases, the employers provide free accommodation and there are countless opportunities to enjoy the beauty of Greece. Speaking Greek (at least) on a basic level is often a requirement.
Moreover, Greece is a popular destination for travellers, digital nomads, and Erasmus students. Although speaking Greek fluently is not necessary when travelling to Greece or moving for a couple of months, doing so will make your life much easier and will help you make good impressions to locals, meet people, and make friends.
Learning a new language not only expands your job prospects, but, according to a recent study, it also makes you smarter. Bilinguals embrace new concepts that are often not represented in their own monther tongues, which has positive effects on the brain.
Now, add a different alphabet to the mix and the unique complexities of the Greek grammar and syntax, and the Greek language becomes a good choice for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge and learn new things.
We answered the question why should everyone learn Greek. Are you ready to start? Helinika offers free study materials for everyone and, in addition to that, a series of affordable on-demand online courses for all levels. The best way to learn Greek is here. Start your e-learning journey now!