The Greek alphabet has been in continuous use for the past 2,750 years or so since about 750 BC. It was developed from the Canaanite/Phoenician alphabet and the order and names of the letters are derived from Phoenician. The original Canaanite meanings of the letter names was lost when the alphabet was adapted for Greek. For example, alpha comes for the Canaanite aleph (ox) and beta from beth (house).
At first, there were a number of different versions of the alphabet used in various different Greek cities. These local alphabets, known as epichoric, can be divided into three groups: green, blue and red. The blue group developed into the modern Greek alphabet, while the red group developed into the Etruscan alphabet, other alphabets of ancient Italy and eventually the Latin alphabet.
By the early 4th century BC, the epichoric alphabets were replaced by the eastern Ionic alphabet. The capital letters of the modern Greek alphabet are almost identical to those of the Ionic alphabet. The minuscule or lower case letters first appeared sometime after 800 AD and developed from the Byzantine minuscule script, which developed from cursive writing.
- Type of writing system: alphabet – the first one to include vowels.
- Direction of writing: Originally written horizontal lines either from right to left or alternating from right to left and left to right (boustrophedon/βουστροφηδόν). Around 500 BC the direction of writing changed to horizontal lines running from left to right.
- Diacritics to represent stress and breathings were added to the alphabet in around 200 BC. In 1982 the diacritics representing breathings, which were not widely used after 1976, were officially abolished by presidential decree.
- The letter sigma has a special form which is used when it appears at the end of a word.
Used to write
Greek (Ελληνικά), an Indo-European language spoken by about 12 million people in Greece, Cyprus and many other countries, including Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bulgaria, Canada, Djibouti, Egypt, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Jordan and Kazakhstan.
Greek alphabet – Classical Attic pronunciation
- Σ = [z] before voiced consonants
Greek alphabet – Modern pronunciation
Sample text in Greek
Óli i ánthropi yeniúnde eléftheri ke ísi stin aksioprépia ke ta dhikeómata. Íne prikizméni me loyikí ke sinídhisi, ke ofílun na simberiféronde metaksí tus me pnévma adhelfosínis.
Sample text in Polytonic Greek
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)