Babylon NG
The world's best online dictionary

Download it's free

The Greek Alphabet

The Greek alphabet is derived from the Phoenician alphabet. The Greek alphabet was developed in the late 8th century BC. The major difference between the Phoenician alphabet and the Greek alphabet was the introduction of vowels. The first vowels to be included were A, E, I, O and Y. It is notable that the Greek alphabet was the first alphabet to include vowels.

The modern uppercase Greek alphabet is:

A, B, Γ, Δ, E, Z, H, Θ, I, K, Λ, M, N, Ξ, O, Π, P, Σ, T, Y, Φ, X, Ψ, Ω

Originally, in classical Greek, only uppercase letters were included in the alphabet.

In Medieval Greek times, the lowercase letters were added to assist scribes with faster writing. The majority of lowercase letters are substantially different in form from the uppercase. They were based on the miniscule Byzantine script. They are:

α, β, γ, δ, ε, ζ, η, θ, ι, κ, λ, μ, ν, ξ, ο, π, ρ, ς, σ, τ, υ, φ, χ, ψ, ω

Prior to 403 BC, there were several versions of the Greek alphabet regionally, including the eastern Ionic Greek. In 403 BC, the Ionic alphabet became the standard in Athens and the other forms fell into disuse.

Each letter is assigned a name to identify it, much the same as the parent Phoenician alphabet. With the exception of letters subsequently added to the Phoenician alphabet, these names have no meaning in relation to the letters.

Greek script was originally written from the right to left, then it was written in alternating directions (right to left and left to right) until the style of writing left to right became standard at the same time as the Ionic alphabet was adopted.

The diacritics, grave (`), acute (´) and circumflex (^), came into practice during the Hellenistic period to assist with pronunciation, but the grave accent was eradicated in the official spelling reform of 1981. Also abolished were diacritics used to indicate breathings. Rough breathings were accented with a " ʹ " and smooth breathings with an " ' ". Those who write in Ancient Greek still employ these diacritics however.

Greek has a large vocabulary. Most of this vocabulary is handed down from Ancient Greek, although the meanings may have changed through the centuries. Greek contains loanwords from Latin, Italian and Ottoman Turkish. Typically, loanwords were given Greek inflections but, in the last century, loanwords, especially French and English, have not acquired inflection.

Several alphabets, such as the Latin, Gothic, Glagolitic and Cyrillic, were derived from the Greek alphabet and it had influence on the development of others. Greek symbols are used in mathematics, physics and sciences to indicate parameters.

Despite its extraordinarily long history, the syllabic structure of Greek has remained constant with changes generally occurring during the Hellenistic period. These changes included use of the stress accent rather than the original pitch accent. Inflection also remained primarily unchanged although there were transitions in word formations, derivation and composition.

There are thousands of surviving Greek alphabet texts, mainly from the Hellenistic period.