Greek and Latin are two of the most important languages in the history of ancient Europe and even some parts of Asia, the Middle East and North Africa (to a somewhat lesser extent).
Most people know that Greek and Latin have influenced most European languages English included – but some get confused about the relationship between the two languages. Did the Greek language develop from Latin? Or did Latin come from Greek?
The answer is pretty simple:
Greek did not come from Latin. Some form of Greek, or Proto-Greek has been spoken in the Balkans as far back as 5.000 years. The oldest ancestor of the Latin language, which was an Italic language goes back some 3.000 years. In other words: Greek is older than Latin, so there’s no way that Greek could come from Latin.
But what about the other way around? Could Latin be a descendant of Greek?
On the contrary, Greek and Latin do in fact belong to two different branches of the Indo-European language family. Latin belongs to the Romance branch (and is the ancestor of modern languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian) whereas Greek belongs to the Hellenic branch, where it’s quite alone!
In other words, Greek and Latin are only related in that they’re both Indo-European. They have a common ancestor called “Proto Indo-European” but the Slavic, Celtic, Germanic and even some North-Indian languages share the same ancestry. So that doesn’t make them close.
Greek VS Latin: How Similar Are The Two Languages?
So we’ve established that Greek and Latin are mostly unrelated. Now let’s compare them:
Even though Greek and Latin belong to two different branches of the Indo-European language family, they have similarities. But not a lot.
In the following, I’ll try and compare the two languages in terms of alphabet, pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary.
The Greek And Latin Alphabets And How They’re Pronounced
When comparing the two alphabets, it’s important to keep in mind that while the Greek and Latin languages aren’t particularly closely related, the scripts used for writing the languages, on the contrary, are closely related.
The Greek alphabet originally came from the Phoenician alphabet, which itself came from Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Latin language borrowed an early form of the Greek alphabet when the Etruscans (the ancestors of the Italians of Tuscany) got it from the Greek settlement of Cumae on the Italian peninsula.
So while the two scripts don’t look 100% alike, they have the same roots, and they do have a lot of similarities when comparing each letter.
For a comparison of the Modern Greek alphabet and the Latin alphabet (as it’s used in English today) see the following:
|Modern Greek||Modern Latin|
|Γ||C or G|
|Ϝ Υ||F U W V|
As you see, many, if not most letters are identical or almost identical in the two scripts, despite there being a few letters that the two alphabets don’t share. There are, however, differences in pronunciation that I’ll now try and get into.
Greek isn’t overwhelmingly difficult to pronounce. In fact, there are only three or four letters that stand out when you compare Greek pronunciation to English.
These are “Γ”, which is pronounced like a French R, “P”, which is a thrilled R, “X” which is an aspirated C-sound like in “Lichtenstein” and “Y” which is pronounced like the French “U”.
Latin pronunciation, like Greek is relatively close to English. It also has the thrilled R and it uses aspirated consonants, especially in Greek loan-words. It doesn’t have the guttural “French” R-sound, however.
In Latin, unlike Modern Greek, the V is pronounced like an English “W”. This sound used to exist in early forms of Greek, however, and was represented by the letter “Ϝ”.
There are quite obviously many other differences and similarities between Greek and Latin pronunciation, but these are some of the main points. Generally, I’d say that Latin is the easier language for an English speaker to pronounce.
Greek And Latin Grammar. How Different Are They?
Being two completely different languages that are mostly unrelated, one would assume that they’d be very different grammar wise. And they are, but not as much as expected!
Both are highly inflected languages, meaning that words change their forms depending on grammar. This happens in almost all languages, but while in English more words are usually added to make a sentence more precise, in highly inflected languages like Greek and Latin, individual words are modified with prefixes, suffixes and internal changes.
This comes into effect with, for example, conjugation of verbs, noun declension and cases.
Although the two languages both have more or less complicated grammar features, they’re used differently.
- Greek, for example has the “aorist” tense, which is a form of past tense that doesn’t exist in Latin. It descries a point in time without being specific about duration.
- While Latin has singular and plural forms of nouns, Greek also uses a special “dual” form for things that comes in pairs, like two shoes, two eyes,and so on.
- Latin does not have articles (like “the”, “a” or “an”) whereas Greek does.
- While both languages have the nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative case, Latin also has one called the ablative case.
- Latin, like English, has a passive and an active voice. Using the active voice, you’d say that “Paul bought a bicycle” and with the passive voice it would be “a bicycle was bought by Paul”. In Greek, there is a “middle” voice that seems passive, but effectively is active. (A little like the English “I got up”).
And the list goes on and on. Comparing Greek and Latin grammar is like comparing apples and oranges. They do have a lot in common, being fruits, but they’re far from being the same thing.
Comparing Greek And Latin Vocabulary
Finally, let’s look at the vocabulary. The individual words that make up each language don’t have a lot in common other than sharing a distant ancestry.
And while some of the most basic words actually seem quite similar, this is mostly due to the Proto Indo-European origins of the words, like the word “father” which was “fæder” in old English, “pater” in Latin and “patḗr” in Ancient Greek.
More complicated words have a lot less in common between the different languages.
A link that does exist between Latin and Greek vocabulary, however, is Greek loan-words in Latin. The Greek culture was an important source of inspiration for the Romans and Greek words entered the Latin language through this relationship.
Several thousands Latin words are loan-words from Greek.
But what about the other way around?
While the Romans appear to have been influenced by the Greek language and culture at a high degree, the Greeks, on the other hand, seem to have been slightly less impressed by the Latin language. There doesn’t appear to be nearly as many Latin loan words in Greek than Greek loan-words in Latin.
The reason for this might be that Greek is a much older language than Latin, and that the Romans considered it a language of prestige that already had an established reputation.
Latin, while being the language of an Empire, didn’t carry the same weight and while it did influence Greek, it was more on an everyday-level than for academic and intellectual terms which was the case for Greek’s influence on Latin.
Conclusion – Greek VS Latin
The answer to the question “Is Greek a Latin based language?” is a resounding no.
Greek existed 2000 years before Latin, and by the time the Romans arrived in Greece, the Greeks had an established and refined civilization that didn’t really need any input from the Latin language.
The two languages aren’t even related except for being members of the same language families.
Still, the two languages do have a few similarities, and the Greek language and culture did influence Latin quite a bit, even though the opposite wasn’t as much the case.