Greek (or Ελληνικά) is an independent branch of the Indo-European family. It is spoken by about 14 million people living in Greece and Cyprus, and an additional 8 million members of the Greek Diaspora worldwide. Greek-speaking settlements can be found in Albania, Turkey, Southern Italy, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, the United Kingdom and Germany. In the Western Hemisphere, sizable Greek communities are found in the United States, Canada, Argentina and Brazil.
Inflection: Greek is highly inflected. Each article, noun, adjective and pronoun has at least 6 forms: There are 3 cases (nominative, accusative, genitive) X 2 numbers (singular, plural)
Genders: Every noun can be one of three genders: masculine, feminine or neuter. Each adjective, pronoun and article has all three genders. That means that there are 18 ways to say ‘good’ or even ‘the’ in Greek (3 cases X 2 numbers X 3 genders = 18 forms)
Word Order (Syntax): Considerably more flexible than English. While in English in the vast majority of the sentences are in Subject-Verb-Object order, Greek allows for Object-Verb-Subject, or Verb-Subject-Object, etc.
Intonation: Greeks ask questions using a different ‘melody’, which helps listening comprehension, but can be a challenge for an English speaker to imitate.
Pronunciation: Moderately to low difficulty here. Most letters are pronounced a single way. There are a few sounds, such as for the letters ‘gamma’ and ‘chi’ that do not exist in English but most students succeed in pronouncing them with a little practice.
Word length: The average Greek word contains more letters than the average English word.
% common vocabulary w. English – cognates: Greek an English have several hundred of medium frequency words in common. There is a dictionary with some 25,000 Greek words that are encountered in English, but most of them are highly specialized scientific and technical terms.
Affinity to English/Language family: Just like English, Greek belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. Etymologists can find ties between over 90% of the vocabulary.
Length (fitting): The average modern Greek sentence contains more words than an English one. (The opposite is true of Ancient Greek.) A DTP specialist working in InDesign usually has to fit 15-20% more text into the same space.
Measurement Units: Metric (kilograms, meters, liters, Celcius degrees, etc.)
Script similarity: About 2/3rds of the Greek alphabet look and are pronounced in a similar way as in English. The remaining 1/3rd causes some headaches: what looks like a perfect P is pronounced as an R in Greek. X is pronounced as an ‘h’ or the ‘ch’ in ‘Bach’. The lower case ‘n’ is a vowel in Greek – pronounced as a long ‘ee’, etc.
Long/Short Vowels: Modern Greek lost its long vowels as far back as the 1st century AD. All syllables have the same – short – duration.
Speech Speed: As if they want to make up for their long words and sentences, and perhaps enabled by the short syllables native Greek speakers speak considerably faster than English speakers. This results in massive contractions – yet another listening comprehension challenge.
Letters pronounced in groups? Mostly no – you can safely read each and every letter separately and be understood. However, there are a few combinations where the presence of certain letters next to some others result in pronunciation changes.
Accents/Diacritics: Modern Greek uses accents to stress syllables. Almost all students of Greek need several weeks before getting used to ‘reading’ the accent, and an even longer time until they use them consistently.
Capitalization: There is no ‘Title’ case in Greek. Only the first letter of the first word is capitalized.