Learning Greek


A mosaic at Sepphoris I saw this summer

A couple years ago, I posted here about my experience learning German, the first foreign language I’ve ever seriously tried to learn. Even though I’m far from my goal of being fluent by the end of my college career, I’m still reviewing and learning, and I’m excited to be in a conversation class in the fall. I got so excited about German that I decided to start on a couple more languages – Latin and Greek – since I want to continue studying classics in grad school.

What is the difference between modern Greek and ancient Greek? Ancient Greek is much different from modern Greek. I’ve done a very small amount of research to learn just how different, and it seems like the difference between ancient and modern Greek, according to some website, is like the difference between English and Latin. Much more of a difference than I had thought. Some words are mutually intelligible – I can guess, for example, that the Latin rosa means “rose” – but other times I might guess incorrectly but have related meanings – I wouldn’t be able to simply guess that domus means “house” though I would recognize the derivative “domestic” or “domicile.” From what I gather, the relationship between ancient and modern Greek is similar. Modern Greek speakers can pick out words with varying degrees of difficulty.

Learning Greek is really interesting. It’s also one of the most difficult undertakings I’ve begun in college. First, there’s an entirely difficult alphabet. It’s not difficult to internalize, but it adds an extra layer of decoding to every exercise. Then, Greek, like Latin, is also an inflected language, and full of participles and dozens of forms of verbs that I still don’t recognize, even just after a single semester.

Even though ancient Greek is not a modern language, I still have taken some things away that remind me that language and culture tightly intertwined. I never that language has a profound effect on the way we think until I started learning different languages. “Shame” and “modesty” in Greek are the same word, and shame seems to have a positive connotation rather than negative. Groups of people are not “they” but rather “hes” or “shes” in a sense, and if a group is made up of a hundred females and a single male, the group is still a group of “hes.” Epicene nouns are nouns that have a masculine gender, but their articles can simply be changed to feminine to indicate that the thing in question is feminine. From these things, what are the implications about gender in Greek culture? I’m fascinated to think about things like this, and I’m learning to apply the same mode of thinking in examining modern American culture and other cultures I encounter.


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