Back to the Future with Ancient Greek

Learn Ancient Greek as it was spoken more than 2,500 years ago with the newest addition to the uTalk language learning app – and discover why there’s no word for socks!

London-based language learning company uTalk made the app, in consultation with Classics experts, to recreate how hundreds of authentic Ancient Greek words and phrases were originally spoken.

But the app, which also features some careful reimagining of modern-day words into Ancient Greek – e.g. pizza becomes Italian flatbread – does have a few omissions.

“We’re very serious about helping people learn Ancient Greek particularly now it’s one of the language choices for primary schools,” says uTalk CEO Richard Howeson.

“The language is also an important part of our cultural past and future.   But we have deliberately left out translations for some words like socks because they’re not associated with the Ancient Greeks – and they do look terrible with sandals!” he jokes.

All the Ancient Greek words were translated and voiced by doctoral students from Oxford University who based the pronunciation on historical evidence of how the language was spoken in everyday life.

This evidence comes from plays, personal letters – and even phrasebooks, dating back to when the Greek-speaking world came under Roman control.

“Greek street sellers found that they needed to know some Latin words to sell things, like fish, to Roman soldiers,” explains Richard.

“So they made phrasebooks, written in Ancient Greek, of what Latin words would sound like in their language and from what remains of these books and the sorts of mistakes they made we can work out how they spoke.”

“If there was a time machine and we had this app,” Richard adds, “I believe we could just about make ourselves understood whereas speaking modern Greek would be of little help.”

The app shows how Ancient Greek words pepper the English language from names of letters of the alphabet like alpha and iota to adjectives like mega and micro.  And Ancient Greek is particularly present in the fields of medicine, science, academia and technology.

The uTalk app is designed as a fun complement for students learning Ancient Greek and does not include grammar instruction.

“Many people think of Ancient Greek as a dead language but hearing it as it was really spoken – or as near as – brings it alive,” adds Richard.  “And, anything that helps encourage children to learn it in schools, has to be a good thing.”

Twelve words that come from Ancient Greek:

  1. Mega from mégas which is Greek for big.
  2. Micro from mikrós for small.
  3. Music from mousiké which means (art) of the muses. In Ancient Greece mythology, Muses were goddesses of science and art.
  4. Telephone from tēle meaning far away and phōnḗ meaning voice.
  5. Pharmacy from pharmakeia meaning medicine.
  6. Arachnophobia (fear of spiders) from arákhnē and phóbos, the Ancient Greek words for spider and fear.
  7. Idiot is from idiṓtēs which means uneducated and unskilled as well as private as a person.
  8. Technology comes from the Greek tékhnē for craft and logos meaning word – so technology is words expressing a craft.
  9. Iôta is the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet and, in English, means an extremely small amount.
  10. Hoi polloí (which means the masses or commoners in English) translates as the many or the people in Ancient Greek.  Its usage in English originated in the early 1800s when it was fashionable for the well-educated to be familiar with Greek and Latin.
  11. Álpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet and, in English, means the beginning or first.
  12. Hoi órnithes meaning birds which gives us the word ornithology (the study of birds) in English.

You can learn more Ancient Greek here!

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