What other languages influenced Greek?

In terms of the usual interpretation of the question (what languages did Greek borrow words from), at different times Greek has borrowed words from:

  • Persian (a small number)
  • Latin (a fair few)
  • Slavonic (surprisingly few)
  • Albanian (surprisingly fewer)
  • Aromanian (ditto)
  • Catalan (one word, παρέα < pare(j)a)
  • Romany (very few, although it is the go-to source for cants (secrecy languages), including Kaliarda, the gay cant: Roz Mov – Kaliarda
  • Old French (Cypriot)
  • Italian and Venetian (lots, though they have been purged)
  • (Ottoman) Turkish (lots, though they have been substantially purged)
  • French (before World War II)
  • English (after World War II)
  • … oh, and Ancient Greek
  • Can’t think of any words from Aromanian, but there should be a couple

Dialects outside of Greece have borrowed from the majority languages: Calabrian and Salentino in Southern Italy, French in Corsica, Russian and Tatar in Eastern Ukraine (formerly Crimea). And of course languages in the diaspora do the same.

How different is the Ancient Greek language from the modern Greek language? Can any Greek-speaking people testify if they understand classical Greek of Homer, et al?

I understand most of what’s going on in the Gospels, though much more so with Mark and John than Luke and Paul. Some Attic texts (and the Byzantine texts emulating them) are a challenge, not least because of their abstruse syntax, but I still have  a hazy notion of what’s going on. The syntax in Homer is much easier, but the vocabulary is impenetrable to me.

I’m an odd special case: although I am a self-styled world expert on machine recognition of Greek, I have not studied Classics, so my vocabulary is behind those who have studied it in school or uni. (In fact, for that reason my Aeolic is probably better than my Homeric — I had to do work at the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae on recognising Sappho, while Homer was already taken care of.) So my Ancient vocabulary starts from a more naive base from some other answerers’.

Greek has been more conservative than other languages in Europe, and part of that was the influence of Ancient Greek via the Church. (In many parts of Cyprus, for example, /θ/ has changed  to /x/ throughout the language; so anthropos is pronounced akhropos. With one exception: the word for God, theos.) Universal literacy in Iceland had an even starker conservative effect. The grammar has also been conservative, though there is not as much grammar as there used to be. (No dual, no infinitive, no optative, no perfect, no future, no dative, no third declension, just two conjugations.)

Bear in mind though that there was massive reimportation of Ancient vocabulary and phrases into formal Greek (in no small part to eliminate Italian and Turkish loanwords); and that Greek has an historic orthography. So Greeks now can read more Ancient Greek than they were actually supposed to; and an 18th century Greek peasant, time travelling to Ancient Greece, would have little idea what was going on.

How different are Cypriot names from their Turkish and Greek counterparts?

Greek Cypriot surnames are often patronymics, formed as the genitives of given names. Surnames are quite region-specific in Greek, so you can tell a Greek Cypriot surname: it’s the one *without* a suffix, like -opoulos, -akis, -idis, -ellis, -atos, etc.

Greek Cypriots use a few more Ancient names than Greece Greeks, and a lot more Old Testament names. For a truly random sampling, there’s the current Cypriot cabinet:


  • Nicos Anastasiades
  • Ioannis Kasoulidis
  • Harris Georgiades
  • Socratis Hasikos
  • Christoforos Fokaides
  • Costas Kadis
  • Marios Demetriades
  • Georgios Lakkotrypis
  • Nicos   Kouyialis
  • Zeta Emilianidou
  • Ionas Nicolaou
  • George Pamboridis
  • Nikos Christodoulides
  • Constantinos Petrides

Nicolaou is “Nicholas”; that’s in fact my surname in Greek. (My father is Cypriot, though I haven’t spent much time there.) Most of the other surnames are -ides/-ades, the revived ancient Greek patronymic which also got taken up by Pontic Greeks. Ionas is “Jonah”; you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in Greece called Jonah. There are some Socrates’s in Greece, but I think there are rather more in Cyprus. Btw, Marios (Mario) is more common in Cyprus as a name as well.

Are there words in two different languages that are identical by coincidence and not language exposure? I read about an Aboriginal language that used ‘dog’ to refer to a dog. Are there two words that sound the same but have different meanings?

Couple more examples:

Mati meaning “eye” in Modern Greek, and mata meaning “eye” Malay. This one shows up in historical linguistics textbooks, copied from Bloomfield: Language.

One of the nicest counterexamples is meli meaning honey in Greek and Hawaiian. Nice, because it actually *is* a result of language contact (in a roundabout way): meli – Wiktionary (and it tripped up Trask in his textbook: Trask’s Historical Linguistics )

Why do the names of many Greek letters end in “a”?

The following is intelligent guesswork.

In ancient Greek, words were constrained to end in a vowel, /n/ or /s/.
The Phoenecian letter names did not fit that pattern, so they were adapted to end in vowels.

Of the available vowels, nouns most frequently ended in alpha (neuters or feminines) or eta (feminines). Omega, iota and upsilon were rare noun endings; omicron was not a noun ending in ancient Greek; epsilon was restricted to the dual third conjugation. So distributionally, alpha was the easiest vowel to pick.  Bisyllabic Phoenecian letter names, and letters ending in stops (t, p, k, d) all end up ending in alpha. Monosyllabic letter names alternate between iota, upsilon, and -au (which is not actually a normal Greek word ending, but is at least consistent with the rest of Greek phonotactics.)

The actual alphabetic letters are indeclinable foreign words, so this is only an analogy: the alphabet letters are neuters, but don’t decline like neuters. If you google σίγματα, which would be the expected plural of σίγμα, you’ll find Modern Greek usages—and Photius saying that the plural of σίγμα is not σίγματα.

There’s also a hint from Indo-European that Greek alpha corresponded to schwa as a “default” vowel — it corresponds to the Indo-European zero-grade (absence of a vowel).

And very significantly, alphabets are recited in order, so there’s very very strong pressure for letters to sound similar. We know that people were copying out alphabets (abecedaries) for generations, getting the hang of the new invention. So once one or two letters fitting a pattern ended in alpha, all the other letters fitting the pattern did as well.

The exceptions were the monosyllabic letters, which stayed as they were, without adding an alpha: ei (epsilon is mediaeval), ou (omicron is mediaeval), u (upsilon is mediaeval), wau (digamma is later), tau, rho, pi, mu, nu, xi. The later additions stuck with the pattern of pi: phi (a counterpart of pi), chi, psi (rhyming with phi) — and ὦ (o) for omega, matching ou for omicron.

So, referencing https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ph…

ʾālep: alpha
bēt: beta
gīml: gamma
dālet: delta
çādē: zeta
ḥēt: heta
ṭēt: theta
yōd: iota
kāp: kappa
lāmed: lamda (later lambda)
qōp: koppa
ṣāmek: sigma

Answered 2015-09-23 · Upvoted by

Logan R. Kearsley, MA in Linguistics from BYU, 8 years working in research for language pedagogy.

How do you say “cheers” in Greek? What are some other common Greek toasts?

Some more:

  • Πάντα γεια (panda ya): Health forever!
  • Εβίβα (evíva): Viva! (antiquated)
  • Άσπρον πάτο (áspron páto): Bottoms up
  • Να πάνε κάτω τα φαρμάκια (na páne káto ta farmákya): Let the poison go down! (i.e. take away the taste of bitterness from life by drink)