Monday, November 8, 2010

Learning Greek for Dummies - Lesson 1


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  • Please ask any question you might have regarding Greek by posting comments! I will gladly help! Post comments and / or send me emails to do so!
  • Visit Harmonia Philosophica Blogspot again and again to practice! Philosophy Wires are constantly published at this philosophy portal in pairs - both in Greek (Φιλοσοφικά Τηλεγραφήματα) and in English! Click here for an example. Try reading them and start having a grasp of the language! Communicate with me for questions. Feel free to leave your comment or question here!

Language Lessons (Internet Polyglot)



About the Greek language

Greek is a language that is considered from many as the oldest in Europe and one of the oldest in the world. All other European languages actually descend from Greek and you can find literally thousands of words in English, French, German or Latin that have Greek roots.
For example the word "philosophy" is composed of the Greek words "philos" (Greek: "φίλος") and "sophia" (Greek: "σοφία"), which in Greek mean "friend" and "wisdom" respectively. Thus, knowing Greek is of great importance if someone wants to understand his/her own language.
With these lessons you will be able to understand philosophy in its own original language: the Greek.
"…Our alphabet {English} came from Greece.
Our language is full of Greek words.
Our science created an international language through Greek terms.
Our Grammar and our oratory, even the punctuation
and the division in paragraphs are Greek discoveries."
W. Durant

Getting started - The alphabet

The Greek alphabet should be familiar to most of you, since it is the basis for the alphabets now used in European languages. Namely, the Greek letters (with the equivalent English characters in parenthesis) are: α (a), β (b), γ (g), δ (d), ε (e), ζ (z), η (h), θ (u), ι (i), κ (k), λ (l), μ (m), ν (n), ξ (j), ο (o), π (p), ρ (r), σ (s), τ (t), υ (y), φ (f), χ (x), ψ (c), ω (v).
The pronunctiation of these letters in Greek sometime confuses people who have not spoken Greek. The only advice is that "practice makes perfect". The way you should pronounce the alphabet letters is:

α - Alpha
β - Beta
γ - Gamma
δ - Delta
ε - Epsilon
ζ - Zeta
η - Eta
θ - Theta
ι - Iota
κ - Kappa
λ - Lambda
μ - Mu
ν - Nu
ξ - Xi
ο - Omikron
π - Pi
ρ - Ro
σ - Sigma
τ - Tau
υ - Ypsilon
φ - Phi
χ - Chi
ψ - Psi
ω - Omega

Speaking with someone who speaks Greek could be helpful. I plan to install audio-playing capabilities to this Knol so that you can hear to some proper prononciation here. Stay tuned for updates.

Dialogue No. 1

The lessons will be carried out with the help of dialogues. I will write one dialogue at each lesson and then analyze it. Through that dialogue you will learn a small piece of Greek grammar and laguage syntactic rules so that after the first twenty lesson you will be able to speak easily in Greek and understand Greek when someone talks to you.

The first dialogue takes place at a coffee shop in the morning. In Greek it goes like this:

- Καλημέρα [Kalimera]
- Καλημέρα. Πως είσαι; [Kalimera. Pos ise?]
- Είμαι καλά. Εσύ πως είσαι; [Ime kala. Esi pos ise?]
- Πρέπει να πάω στη δουλειά τώρα. [Prepei na pao sti douleia tora]

In English the same dialogue is:
- Good morning
- Good morning. How are you?
- I am fine. How are you?
- I have to go to work now.

In that dialogue, the first and most easy part if the "Καλημέρα" part. "Καλημέρα" in Greek means "Good morning". It is the sum of two words actually: "Καλή" (= "Good" in English, pronounced "Kali") and "Ημέρα" (= "Day" in English, pronounced "Imera").

So Καλή + Ημέρα = Καλημέρα = Good morning! Simple?

It is important to understand that Greek is a very structured, logical and self-reliable language. Almost every word is logically decucted from more simple ones in a very consistent way.
The second important word to notice is the word "είσαι". In Greek the equivalent to "I am" is the "Είμαι".

The following list shows how the "I am" matches the "Είμαι" words in Greek

I am                    => Είμαι
You are               => Είσαι
It is                      => Είναι
We are                => Είμαστε (plural)
You are (plural)   => Είσαστε (plural)
They are              => Είναι (plural)

Since "Πως" means "How", asking "Πως είσαι;" means "How are you?". And when you want to answer that you are fine you can say "Είμαι καλά", as in "I am fine" ("Καλά" = "Fine" in this context, pronounced "Kala"). Leaning the "Είμαι" ("ειμί" in ancient Greek) is crucial to understand Greek.

The word "Πρέπει" means "I have". So when saying "Πρέπει να ..." you say "I have to...". In our case the speaker has to go to work (= "δουλειά" in Greek, pronounced "douleia", derived from the ancient Greek word "δουλεία" which means "slavery"), so he says "Πρέπει να πάω στη δουλειά".

But we haven't explained the word "πάω" yet. "Πάω" is based on "Πηγαίνω" which means "to go". The verbs in Greek are used more or less in a similar way in English. So the various uses of the word "Go" are listed side-by-side with the uses of the word "Πηγαίνω" in the following list.

I go                => Πηγαίνω (phgaino)
You go           => Πηγαίνεις (phgaineis)
He/She goes   => Πηγαίνει (phgainei)
Go! (order)     => Πήγαινε! (phgaine)

If you want to say "I must go there" you say "Πρέπει να πάω εκεί" (pronounced "Prepei na pao ekei").
If you want to say "I wish to go there" you say "Εύχομαι να πάω εκεί" (pronounced "Euchomai na pao ekei").

Lesson summary

In the first lesson we came to learn very few basic things about Greek: the alphabet, the pronounciation of the Greek letters, the word "Είμαι" and a small everyday dialogue. In the next lessons I will analyze more in depth the structure of the verbs in Greek and show you more complicated examples.


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