In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek and Indo-European

  • Introduction
  • Phonology
  • Morphology
  • Pragmatics
  • Onomastics
  • Greek Language Contact

Classics Greek and Indo-European
Daniel Kölligan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0386


With an attested history of more than 3,000 years, Greek is one of the languages central for the reconstruction of the common proto-language of the Indo-European language family that also comprises the Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Indo-Aryan, Tocharian and Anatolian (including e.g., Hittite and Luwian), Armenian, and Albanian subphyla. The earliest documentation of Greek is clay tablets written in a syllabic script, Linear B, from the second half of the second millennium BCE, the earliest specimens of which date back to about 1450 BCE. After the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial culture in the twelfth century, written documents reappear in different scripts from the eleventh century onward, in a syllabic script on Cyprus and in what became the common Greek alphabet adapted from the Phoenician script probably in the ninth century. Greek phonology is comparatively conservative, which makes it an important comparandum for the reconstruction of the phonological system of the proto-language (Proto-Indo-European, or PIE), including the triple representation of the PIE “laryngeals” *h1/2/3 visible in this language, while other branches show a single reflex, such as <ḫ> in Anatolian or a vowel such as /i/ in Sanskrit, /a/ in Latin, etc., or no reflex at all. While Greek nominal morphology is considerably reduced in complexity in comparison to that of other languages such as Sanskrit and Old Church Slavonic, its verbal morphology is roughly as rich in categories as that of the other languages of “Core Indo-European,”, i.e., the subphyla mentioned above, excluding Anatolian with a much simpler system. The rich and early documentation of Greek makes it an important contributor for historical linguistics both for reconstruction and for the study of language change in general. The former includes questions of historical syntax such as basic word order, the positioning of clitics, etc., and the field of PIE “realia” as visible in the Greek lexicon and the corresponding etyma in other languages, ranging from agricultural terminology such as ζυγόν ‘yoke’ = Skt. yugam, Lat. iugum, etc., PIE *i̯ugom, and βοῦς ‘cow’ = Skt. gauḥ, Lat. bōs, etc., PIE *gōu̯s, to words for divinities such as the personified daylight sky Zεύς = Skt. Dyauḥ, invoked as ‘father Sky’ in Greek Ζεῦ πάτερ = Lat. Iū-piter, Skt. nom. Dyauḥ pitā). The following annotated bibliography tries to capture major reference works and studies on the prehistory, internal history, and synchronic analysis of the Greek language, with a focus on Ancient Greek.

General Overview

This overview presents bibliographic reference works for finding literature on the linguistic study of Ancient Greek, and a selection of journals publishing on Greek and Indo-European.

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