The Ancient Greek Language: Is it similar to Modern Greek? The first link states that modern Greek descended from ancient Greek, however the second link says otherwise. What is really the truth? (links are down in the “answers” area)

By: | Post date: 2017-08-16 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics

I’m to take seriously a doctor’s tongue-in-cheek commentary in a medical journal, as evidence that Modern Greek is not descended from Ancient Greek? Quoting a phrase book as his authority?

Over an answer with contributions from several good minds that know both languages, including some (like me) with academic training in linguistics?


A guy that says

Latin is experiencing something of a revival as a subject for serious study, and it lives on in the everyday language of much of southern Europe.


Latinene loquuntur in Siciliâ? Praeclarum! Eamus pizzam edendum!

I registered to the Lancet. Resuscitating dead languages says all of the following:

And Greek? My phrase book asserts that “Modern Greek is not nearly as difficult as it looks”. Possibly, but ancient Greek looks more dead than old Latin. To the burden of alien letters and baffling accents has to be added changes in pronunciation. Physicians-in-the-making may pick up all sorts of things on vacation by the Mediterranean but not, I fear, medical etymology. The science writer Lancelot Hogben tried to present the derivation of common scientific terms in a systematic way, but his book is out of print. Before a classically educated generation of physicians dies away entirely perhaps one of them could do something thorough for medicine, as an educational tool.

He is not saying Modern Greek is not similar to Ancient, let alone that it is not descended from Ancient Greek. (Good Christ.) He’s saying that it’s changed a fair bit, and it has. But he’s not saying it in a way that deserves to be taken seriously.

Burden of alien letters and baffling accents? Vacation by the Mediterranean?! This is not an argument. This is not particularly funny either, and as an Australian, I thought I got British humour.

At least he namechecks Hogben. I loved that guy’s conlang.

It is true that David Sharp, vacationing in Malia sans doute and sneering at the locals’ alien letters and baffling accents, would not hear all the Greek vocabulary of medicine from the local peasantry waiting upon him. (He wouldn’t hear none of it, either.) And yes, Ancient Greek is dead; just as Shakespearean Fricking English is.

But if you want an answer on whether Ancient and Modern Greek are similar, take the counsel of your learnèd fellow Quorans in 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? (and its two dozen merged questions), over a medico who thinks the following counts as wit:

When last I saw the Aegean it looked more like the froth on lager, but around the time of the Trojan wars it was a “wine dark sea”. Poor translation, colour blindness-or did wine in Homer’s day really look like that? The Nauticos project has identified amphorae in this ruined ship—indeed the Mediterranean sea-bed is littered with these huge pots. Those accident-prone ancient merchant seamen did not hug the coastline, as long suspected, but intrepidly carried wine (and olive oil too) across far deeper waters, spilling some en route.

And don’t get me started on Illiterature and medicine, the squib that somehow prompted David Sharp’s squib:

My advice is to drop a sicknote on literature-and-medicine lecture days in college, and with journals hasten to the educational delights of obituary pages. I’m sure there is nothing wrong with literature, and that even the most delicate child can be trusted with it; and I’ll defend to my last gasp anyone’s right to read it (although, maybe, not to write it). But literature’s relevance to coping with people in the Monday morning surgery queue is nil—unless they happen to be very old Russians.

Screw you too, buddy.

That squib by John Bignall does not even mention classical languages: how on earth did David Sharp used it as a springboard for his excursus?

This curricular fad relates largely to living languages but perhaps dead ones have more to offer directly since so many medical terms come from Latin or ancient Greek, with the occasional mongrel admitting to both types of parent.

… That’s a segue?

I am brand new to the ways of the Lancet. Do they do this kind of thing a lot in their squibs?

Coz if they actually paid attention during those literature-and-medicine lecture days in college, their squibs might be better literature. Certainly funnier. And with less WTF segues.

and I’ll defend to my last gasp anyone’s right to read it (although, maybe, not to write it)


The answer, by the way, is yes. Modern Greek is similar to Ancient Greek, in the way that Modern English is similar to Middle English.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

siþen þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at troye
þe borȝ brittened and brent to brondez and askez
þe tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wroȝt
watz tried for his tricherie þe trewest on erþe
hit watz ennias þe athel and his highe kynde
þat siþen depreced prouinces and patrounes bicome
welneȝe of al þe wele in þe west iles

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