Greek is spoken by more than 12.000.000 people. The speakers mainly live in Greece and the southern part of Cyprus. Significant Greek communities also live in Albania, Italy, Egypt, Romania, Ukraine and in Istanbul. Before 1923, there were Greek communities in Turkey outside of Istanbul.
The Greek language forms a branch of the Indo-Euopean language family by itself.
The history of the Greek language is subdivided into five stages: 1) Mycenaean period from the 14th to the 13th century BCE, 2) Ancient Greek from the 8th century to the 4th century BCE, 3) Hellenistic Greek from the 4th century BCE to the 4th century CE, 4) Byzantine Greek from the 4th century to the 15th century CE, 5) Modern Greek from the 15th century on.
Mycenaean Greek was written with a syllabary on clay tablets. Since the 8th century Greek is written with the Greek script. This alphabet has been derived from a Semitic consonant script. The Latin and Cyrillic script and several other alphabets have been derived from the Greek letters.
In the Mycenaean Greek material no dialect variation is visible.
Ancient Greek is subdivided into four major dialect groups: 1) Doric Greek, 2) Aeolic Greek, 3)Ionic-Attic Greek, 4) Arcado-Cypriot Greek.
Hellenistic Greek (also called Koine) was rather uniform. It is based on the dialect of Athens and it was designed to provide a common dialect for all Greeks. Hellenistic Greek replaced all other Ancient Greek dialects and spread even to non-Greek speaking areas. It is the basis of all modern Dialects.
The literary language of the Byzantine empire, Byzantine Greek, was modelled after the classical Attic language. However, the spoken language was still Hellenistic Greek, which developed rapidly, whereas the literary language was cultivated according to the Attic tradition. On account of this the gap between written and spoken language deepened over the years.
Modern Greek is split up into two socio-linguistic varieties: 1) the local dialects which differ considerably, but are mutually intelligible, 2) Modern Standard Greek, the official written and spoken language of Greece, which is the result of the merger of Demotic Greek, which was the spoken language of the urban centers, and Katharevusa, which was the archaizing adminitrative language before 1976. Demotic Greek developed from the Peloponnesian dialect. Katharevusa was created as puristic and archaizing written language modelled after Ancient Greek.
The major local dialects of Modern Greek are: Peloponnesian, the Northern Dialects (spoken north of Attica, in northern Euboea, on the islands of the northern Aegean), Old Athenian (spoken by a few elderly people in Euboea and Megara)), Cretan, the Southeastern Dialects (Cyprus, Rhodes, Chios and other islands of the southeastern Aegean).
The morphology Greek in all its historical stages is highly fusional: Grammatical affixes cumulate several meanings, internal inflection ("ablaut") is a substantial feature of the morphology, nouns and verbs are split up into several inflection classes.
Ancient Greek morphology was quite complex: The noun had four cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative), three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) and three numbers (singular, dual, plural). An instrumental case was present in the Mycenaean period. The verb was inflected for mood (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, optative), aspect (perfective, imperfective), tense (present, future, various past tenses), person (1, 2, 3) and number (singular, dual, plural).
Modern Greek preserves a good deal of that complexity. However, the dative case and the infintive have been lost, and the ancient Greek tense system has been somewhat simplified.
New words are formed by derivation and composition. Derivation is carried out mainly by suffixes, derivation by prefixes is confined to verbs.
The major part of the lexical inventory of Modern Greek is inherited from Ancient Greek. Latin, Italian and Turkish loan word are inflectd with Greek endings. Modern loan words from French and English are not inflected.