Is Greek similar to other languages?

  • Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    Greek is a stand alone member of the Indo-European family of languages that includes:

    Germanic - e.g. English
    Romance - e.g. French
    Celtic - e.g. Welsh
    Slavic - e.g. Polish
    Albanian
    Armenian
    GREEK
    Iranian - e.g. Kurdish
    North Indian - e.g. Punjabi

    Not everyone divides or names these families in exactly the same way, but you will see that Greek is part of a biger family of most (but not all) European languages. It may look unfamiliar because of the way its written, but it is undoubtedly Indo-European and distantly related to those languages (and others) mentioned above.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    For someone who comes from one of the other Indo-European languages (like the speakers of Welsh, Russian, and English who have answered here), Greek is quite different from them. Parts of it look vaguely similar, but learning either Ancient or Modern Greek is a lot of work. Most of the words are unfamiliar, and the grammar is significantly different from other modern Indo-European languages. (I don't mean it's especially different - Greek, Welsh, and Russian are all equally different and difficult for an English-speaker like me.)

    Ancient and Modern Greek are similar, like two closely related languages, so if you know one, it is not so difficult to study the other one.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    For someone who comes from one of the other Indo-European languages (like the speakers of Welsh, Russian, and English who have answered here), Greek is quite different from them.
    I'd like to note, however, that most comparatively archaic IE languages, while mutually unintelligible, do share a considerable set of similarities (some of which are also shared by other Eurasian families, and some of which are also present in more developed IE languages):
    - comparatively high syntheticism (syntactical relationships tend to be reflected in bound morphemes);
    - fusional nature (a single inflection tend to express several grammatical parameters simultaneously);
    - strictly postpositioned inflections;
    - VO word order (SVO or VSO), with all the universals which necessarily come with it;
    - the common notion of an agent-based grammatical subject;
    - grammatical gender;
    - well-grammaticalized number (singular +dual + plural in the most archaic systems);
    - cross double marking in verb phrases, agreement in noun-adjective phrases (with declinable, generally noun-like adjectives), dependent marking in possessive phrases;
    - similar systems of grammatical cases with the nominative alignment of verbal arguments;
    - prepositions (which are the main category to reflect spatial relationships) demanding certain cases from dependent noun phrases;
    and more.
     
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    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Is Greek similar to other languages? What exactly does "similar" mean? Well, Greek shares a large amount of vocabulary with almost all European languages, due to borrowings from Greek (directly or via Latin) as well as words newly formed from Greek roots. We cannot talk even about a telephone without using two Greek words (teleos "distant" and phone "voice").
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    I'd say that people who studied Latin and Ancient Greek at school, even not knowing much about linguistics can see a certain relationship. I remember myself comparing some declensions as a mnemotechnical tool (-oorum = -oon, etc). There was also some clearly related vocabulary, whether as cognates or loanwords. Other than that, the languages looked clearly different.

    Modern Greek is said to sound close to Castilian Spanish because of high coincidence in their phonologies. But that's all.

    There is also a certain 'Balkan-Mediterranean sound', which I don't know how to explain, but that may have to do with aerial influences between languages, even when not closely related.

    All that said, Greek stands mostly alone.
     

    Linnets

    Senior Member
    That's true actually, Cypriot-Greek in its full glory (pronunciation, dialectal vocabulary & grammar) is mostly unintelligible to speakers of Standard Modern Greek, it's like Swiss German to Modern High German
    There's a bunch of Greek "variants"/"dialects" that could be considered separate Hellenic languages as well: Tsakonian (a descendant of Doric Greek), Pontic Greek, but also Katharevousa (actually a modern form of Classical Greek).

    Modern Greek is said to sound close to Castilian Spanish because of high coincidence in their phonologies. But that's all.
    The most distinct feature of Modern Greek phonology is the high occurrence of /i/ sound.
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Referring to Greek, this page on the BBC's website says, "Its closest relations are the Indo-Iranian languages and Armenian."

    I don't know any of the languages mentioned, so I can't comment.
    This is not the view of professional historical linguists. The prevalent view is that Greek is not specifically connected with any other branch of Indo-European.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I am currently learning modern Greek for my upcoming stay in Greece. I find the grammar really straightforward. No surprises at all: the genders, the plurals, negation, SVO word order, the use of verb tenses, sometimes even the conjugation of verbs, also the cases. The usages parallel closely other European languages. Basically if you are familiar with Romance languages and German, you won't have any headaches. It is really structured in the same way.

    The phonology of Greek is exactly like Spanish, point by point even. There is literally no new sound to learn if you speak Spanish. Good for me, but French people find the pronunciation excruciatingly difficult. There are many many sounds that don't correspond to French, and not approximating these sounds will make it impossible to be understood in Greek.

    The vocabulary is not so hard if you are good at picking out and relating it too Greek derived words in English, but it's not evident. For example knowing what "audio", "cardiologist", "gynecologist" and "dermatologist" etc. really mean in essence will help you learn simple vocabulary. Sometimes you can have a good laugh when you learn Greek... for example, heliotherapy means sunbathing.

    A difficulty in learning Greek if your goal is learning to write the language, is that it's not so phonemic. The alphabet is more complicated than the phonology. There are about 8 ways to write the vowel /i/ and the "u" can be pronounced 4 different ways depending on what's before and after. If they did a reform they could get rid of some letters and several combinations of letters. But I'm only learning to decipher so it's not so bad. I suppose the complexity of the alphabet comes from ancient Greek which was apparently pronounced very differently.

    All in all the biggest job is memorizing vocabulary.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    The phonology of Greek is exactly like Spanish, point by point even. There is literally no new sound to learn if you speak Spanish.

    Well, there are z's (and dz's), v's and ç's. No major problems perhaps, but distinctive.
     

    Linnets

    Senior Member
    In Modern Greek there's no /tʃ/, but two affricates that don't exist in Spanish: /ts/ and /dz/ (actually they are [ts̺] and [dz̺]). I don't think Spanish speakers will have any problems with sonorants like /v/ or /z/ even if they don't exist in the language (but there's the approximant [β] and [v] is an allophone of /f/ in some rare words such as Afganistán).
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Well, there are z's (and dz's), v's and ç's. No major problems perhaps, but distinctive.
    The v doesn't seem as strong as in English or French, I find it's closer to the intervocalic v in Spanish, probably because there is not really a lot of b. I guess for Spanish speakers who can't make the z or dz it could be an issue intervocalically sometimes, but maybe a non-voiced version would pass.
    Compare that to people who can't say th, rolled r, uvular fricatives kh and gh, dh, ts, don't distinguish m and n in coda, and then stress the last syllables of every word. It's pretty catastrophic.
    In Modern Greek there's no /tʃ/, but two affricates that don't exist in Spanish: and /ts/and /dz/ (actually they are [ts̺] and [dz̺]). I don't think Spanish speakers will have any problems with sonorants like /v/ or /z/ even if they don't exist in the language (but there's the approximant [β]).
    A number of Spanish speakers pronounce ch closer to /ts/ than Italian /tʃ/
     
    There are also the [t͡s] c, ɟ v and ʎ sounds, the latter is actually still used in some Spanish regions. However, I must admit that European Spanish and Greek sound really similar to me (much more than Italian and Spanish, for instance) the s sound is excatly the same...
    The so called retracted [s̪]; if you think about it, in the languages that there's no distinction between [ʃ] and [s ] the realization of the latter is retracted (e.g. Finnish, Castilian Spanish, Icelandic, Dutch too if I'm not mistaken)
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    The so called retracted [s̪]; if you think about it, in the languages that there's no distinction between [ʃ] and [s ] the realization of the latter is retracted (e.g. Finnish, Castilian Spanish, Icelandic, Dutch too if I'm not mistaken)
    Catalan has both [s̪] and [ʃ]. It doesn't seem to bother them.
     
    This is not the view of professional historical linguists. The prevalent view is that Greek is not specifically connected with any other branch of Indo-European.
    Professor, there was a supposed Greco-Armenian hypothesis, has it been abandoned?
    Catalan has both [s̪] and [ʃ]. It doesn't seem to bother them.
    True, perhaps it's the exceptio probat regulam ;)
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    The alphabet is more complicated than the phonology. There are about 8 ways to write the vowel /i/ and the "u" can be pronounced 4 different ways depending on what's before and after.
    The letters ι, υ, η and the digraphs ει, οι, υι represent the sound [i ].
    The digraph αι represents the sound [e].

    The letter υ represents the sound [i ] and in the combinations αυ, ευ it's pronounced [f] or [v].
    The digraph ου represents the sound [u ].

    Remember also the high frequence of [z] allophone of /s/ in Spanish before voiced consonants.
    Same in Greek. Σβήνω and Σμύρνη are pronounced [zvino] and [Zmirni].
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    No doubt there are fascinating ideas and discussions on here, but we've yet to hear from the OP exactly what they were looking for with regard to 'similarity'.

    Failing that, I think you should all be thanked for giving such full and passionate answers to his/her question.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    The letters ι, υ, η and the digraphs ει, οι, υι represent the sound [i ].
    The digraph αι represents the sound [e].

    The letter υ represents the sound [i ] and in the combinations αυ, ευ it's pronounced [f] or [v].
    The digraph ου represents the sound [u ].


    Same in Greek. Σβήνω and Σμύρνη are pronounced [zvino] and [Zmirni].
    Thanks, I think I'm okay with those. Now I just have to figure out the various pronunciations of ντ, μπ, γγ, and γκ.
    This may be one of the most beautiful languages in the world.
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    Thanks, I think I'm okay with those. Now I just have to figure out the various pronunciations of ντ, μπ, γγ, and γκ.
    This may be one of the most beautiful languages in the world.
    ντ is pronounced d (or nd) and μπ is pronounced b (or mb).
    γγ & γκ are pronounced g, but before the front vowels they are pronοunced ɟ. However, it would sound more natural to add sometimes a ɲ or a ŋ in front, e.g. γκρεμός [gremós] but έγκλημα [éŋglima]; γκέμι [ɟémi] but έγκυος [éɲɟios].
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Remember also the high frequence of [z] allophone of /s/ in Spanish before voiced consonants.

    But speakers are not really aware of most allophones in their languages. Most Spanish speakers would think that the s in mismo is the same as in sal, or that both b's in baba sound the same, unless one makes them think about it. In Catalan we can distinguish who has Spanish as their first language because they say casa and caça in the same way. This means that, at a conscious level, the sound is still new to these speakers.

    Besides, the fact of being represented by another letter doesn't help. It's like English speakers learning Castilian Spanish and still saying ce/ci with /s/, despite having th in their language too. In this case, rather than getting used to a new sound, it's getting used to a new context.

    I reckon that Castilian may have had an influence on Catalan pronunciation, not only for the retracted s, but also for other common sounds.

    This is not the thread for it, but remember that the strong influence of Castilian on Catalan pronunciation is a very recent thing and mainly urban. Some of the changes attributed to that could be explained by other internal changes, such as restructurisation after dropping of intervocalic -z- from -ti-, seen in raó, poal (compare Occitan rason, posal or Aragonese razon, pozal) and in many old words that recovered the /z/ by relatinisation (bellea, nowadays bellesa, etc).
     

    Linnets

    Senior Member
    Catalan has both [s̪] and [ʃ]. It doesn't seem to bother them.
    Yes, but /ʃ/ is without lip protrusion (old IPA symbol [ʆ], now [ʃʲ]).

    Having read a paper that dealt with this issue (see this discussion) I believe there are are way fewer reasons to consider these affricates than /ks/ and /ps/.
    I believe there's a difference between /ts/ (sequence of /t/ and /s/) and /t͡s/ (affricate): compare pazzesco ('madly') in Northern Italian pronunciation [patˈsɛsko] (sequence) and in Tuscan/standard Italian pronunciation [patˈt͡sesko] (affricate). I'm not sure about Greek, though.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    I believe there's a difference between /ts/ (sequence of /t/ and /s/) and /t͡s/ (affricate): compare pazzesco ('madly') in Northern Italian pronunciation [patˈsɛsko] (sequence) and in Tuscan/standard Italian pronunciation [patˈt͡sesko] (affricate). I'm not sure about Greek, though.
    No doubt; I'm saying that in Greek it's a cluster like /ps/ and /ks/ (but much rarer), and that Greek has no affricates.
     

    anahiseri

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain) and German (Germany)
    Modern Greek is said to sound close to Castilian Spanish because of high coincidence in their phonologies. But that's all.
    Yes, in fact. As a native speaker of Spanish I can confirm it through personal experience: There were quite a lot of Greeks where I used to live some years ago, and I remember I often heard people speak in a language that had to be Spanish, it sounded exactly like that, but I didn't understand anything. It's a funny experience. With Italian it's the oposist for me: I realize it's another language, I would never take it for Spanish, but I understand a great deal without having studied it, just because of the similarities with other Romance languages.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, in fact. As a native speaker of Spanish I can confirm it through personal experience: There were quite a lot of Greeks where I used to live some years ago, and I remember I often heard people speak in a language that had to be Spanish, it sounded exactly like that, but I didn't understand anything. It's a funny experience.

    As a non-native Spanish speaker I find the above puzzling. Greek does not sound anything like Spanish to me. The two languages may share many phonemes, but the different phonotactics and prosody make them sound quite different to me.

    Compare:

    starting at 3:26

    with

    starting at 0:53 or
    starting at 1:36 or
    starting at 2:08
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    I personally think it is comparable to Castilian Spanish alone, not to Southern or Hispanic American Spanish, which are clearly less monotonous and 'dry'.

    A very slight difference can be perceived in the prosody, when paying attention. But they are very similar indeed in their monotony, to the point of looking like speeches with made-up words. Instead of videos read, compare these two speeches, for instance:

     

    anahiseri

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain) and German (Germany)
    As a non-native Spanish speaker I find the above puzzling. Greek does not sound anything like Spanish to me.
    Well, I can't justify it, it's just my perception. It's never happened to me with any other language I've been exposed to. And I'm talking about connected speech, not about single words, which sound very different.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Well, I can't justify it, it's just my perception. It's never happened to me with any other language I've been exposed to. And I'm talking about connected speech, not about single words, which sound very different.

    It is obviously all subjective. To me Greek does not sound like Spanish just as Spanish spoken by someone with an English accent does not sound like Spanish.

    Spanish and Greek do have similar phoneme inventories. They also both tend to avoid, though not completely, consonant clusters. Many syllables are open and when closed can only end in a limited range of consonants, in the case of Greek only /n/ and /s/ which are quite frequent word endings in Spanish. Both have the sound of <c> in "cinco" which is rare in European languages. Both also have the sound of <j> in "jota" which, while not rare, is a sound which stands out. Both have five identical vowel phonemes so there are no sounds like those in French "tu" or "peu" which stand out to a Spanish speaker. There is no vowel reduction.

    So, that is a lot in common. The differences are, first, that although the two languages may have the same sounds they do not arrange them in the same way. So far as I know "mobo" and "taga" are not Spanish words but they sound as if they could be. On the other hand, "nomis" and "quiterai", although they do not violate the phonotactics of Spanish, do not have a Spanish ring to them, but sound as if they could be Greek. Secondly, they just come over to me as having a different "flavour" - not a great analogy, but something like the difference between a clarinet and oboe.
     

    sotos

    Senior Member
    Greek
    No, it is not. In Greek a word (noun, verb, adjective) can hav 100 different forms due to declension, while in the rest of the european languages cannot have more than 5-6.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    No, it is not. In Greek a word (noun, verb, adjective) can hav 100 different forms due to declension, while in the rest of the european languages cannot have more than 5-6.
    You do not "decline" verbs (not finite verbs, anyway).
    And yes, while the Latin declension system was practically nullified in Romance languages, a Spanish verb still has about 70 synthetic forms due to conjugation (considerably more than a modern Greek verb, by the way; in fact, more than any modern Germanic, Slavic or Baltic verb has - only Bulgarian seems to approach that; Russian could cheat a bit by including all forms of participles, but I won't count that here).
    Speaking about nouns, an average modern Greek noun has only 8 forms (4 cases * 2 numbers). In Russian (which, I suppose, qualifies as a "European language") it has 12 (some have slightly more due to marginal cases). In Slovene it's 18 (6 cases * 3 numbers).
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    You do not "decline" verbs (not finite verbs, anyway).
    And yes, while the Latin declension system was practically nullified in Romance languages, a Spanish verb still has about 70 synthetic forms due to conjugation (considerably more than a modern Greek verb, by the way; in fact, more than any modern Germanic, Slavic or Baltic verb has - only Bulgarian seems to approach that; Russian could cheat a bit by including all forms of participles, but I won't count that here).
    Speaking about nouns, an average modern Greek noun has only 8 forms (4 cases * 2 numbers). In Russian (which, I suppose, qualifies as a "European language") it has 12 (some have slightly more due to marginal cases). In Slovene it's 18 (6 cases * 3 numbers).
    With verbs, on the other hand, Modern Greek has a very rich paradigm (active, middle and passive; aorist, imperfect and perfect), while poor old Russian has only one real tense.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    With verbs, on the other hand, Modern Greek has a very rich paradigm (active, middle and passive; aorist, imperfect and perfect), while poor old Russian has only one real tense.
    I don't see why the Russian preterite isn't a tense (as long as we don't follow the pretty arbitrary assumption that "any real tense must have personal forms"). Even from the purely morphological perspective the L-participles aren't used anywhere else anyway.
     
    Yes, but /ʃ/ is without lip protrusion (old IPA symbol [ʆ], now [ʃʲ]).


    I believe there's a difference between /ts/ (sequence of /t/ and /s/) and /t͡s/ (affricate): compare pazzesco ('madly') in Northern Italian pronunciation [patˈsɛsko] (sequence) and in Tuscan/standard Italian pronunciation [patˈt͡sesko] (affricate). I'm not sure about Greek, though.
    If I had to transliterate it, I'd have had it written as πατσέσκο, in IPA [paˈʦ͡e̞s̪ko̞]. Pizza is πίτσα [ˈpiʦ͡a]
     

    Quiviscumque

    Moderator
    Spanish-Spain
    The original poster threw his question and went away... but I wonder if he meant Ancient Greek or Modern Greek.

    Concerning the sound of Modern Greek, I cannot help but agree with the satements of anahiseri.

    Concerning the sound of Ancient Greek, I have always been intrigued: lots of aspirated consonants, pitch accent... If you search youtube for Podium-Arts' channel, you can find a proposal.
     

    Linnets

    Senior Member
    Concerning the sound of Ancient Greek, I have always been intrigued: lots of aspirated consonants, pitch accent...
    As far as I know, only some Asian languages have a phonemic inventory similar to the reconstructed Ancient Greek one i.e. voiceless, voiceless-aspirated, voiced consonants: e.g. Gujarati, Burmese, and Thai.
     

    anahiseri

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain) and German (Germany)
    With verbs, on the other hand, Modern Greek has a very rich paradigm (active, middle and passive; aorist, imperfect and perfect), while poor old Russian has only one real tense.
    I don't think there's any reason to be sorry for the Russians because of their simple past conjugation. (Yes, I thought it was funny that the ending does not depend on person, but that's nothing to complain about.) And whoever considers that Russiian is morphologically challenged, is advised to find out about the declension of numbers and of the words that go after the numbers, etc.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    While Russian numeral phrases are a syntactical nightmare, from the purely morphological perspective it isn't very complicated; the amount of forms which a cardinal numeral may demand from the dependent words is naturally limited - the difficulty rather lies in very complex rules and in elements of irregularity (like specific counting forms of different kinds for some particular words, appearing in different syntactical contexts).

    At any rate, the "simple" inflectional verbal morphology in Russian seems to mask the fact that inflectional verbal morphology in Russian is really hard to separate from derivational verbal morphology (which is very much relevant for the grammar - you always need the correct verb in a particular grammatical context!). Of course, the overall complexity of the verbal system is still considerably lower than for, say, Standard Arabic, but by the modern IE standards it's quite high.
     
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