Wednesday, April 9, 2014

It Really Is All Greek To Me

I speak Greek. I am a descendant of Greeks, which explains my ability to speak the language. My knowledge of it is not very sophisticated; it’s more of an elementary school level. But despite my limited vocabulary and faulty grammar, I am still able to hold a simple, basic conversation in this European language. I can also read and write Greek, although quite poorly. Still, when I do write in Greek, the writing is understood, even by citizens of Greece, although it does make them wince. Like they’re in pain.


Because I was born in Canada, and because I was in English schooling, my parents figured that the only way I’d learn to read and write Greek was to attend after school Greek language courses a couple of times a week. Which I did attend until sixth grade. And so did my brothers and just about every other Canadian-born kid I knew who descended from Greeks. And that’s how we all learned the Greek alphabet, which is much different from the English one.

The Greek Alphabet

The Greek language has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries, over 3,000 years of written records. Over 15 million people in the world speak Greek, mostly individuals who live in Greece and Cyprus, but also people in other countries around the world. Like me. Many modern languages have adopted Greek words. For example, English has over 50,000 in its lexicon that are derived from the Greek language, particularly in the sciences.


You can often hear people say “It’s all Greek to me” when they don’t understand something that they’ve read or heard. But for individuals like me that speak this language, that statement is true. Literally. This is especially spot on with mathematical, botanical and medical terms. Many common words that we use every day stem from the Greek language, and although most people don’t notice this because they’re so used to them being a part of their every day language, and because they don’t speak Greek, I do. Knowing Greek was especially useful when I was in school because it was easy to ‘translate’ words that are formed from Greek roots into English. This was a blessing during science related exams.


Although I don’t apply my knowledge of Greek very often (at least not consciously), it does come in handy now and again. Especially when I play trivia-type board games, or watch trivia-type game shows like ‘Jeopardy’ or ‘Who Wants to Be A Millionaire’. Unlike some contestants on such shows that might not know, for instance, what someone with cryophobia is afraid of, I know the answer right away. Individuals who suffer from this (and I suspect it’s something I suffer from for a few months out of every year) are afraid of the cold. “Cryo” in Greek means “cold”, and phobia means “fear”. You see, for me, it’s just a matter of translation. Because it really is, after all, all Greek to me...

Do any of you speak more than one language?

(This was originally posted a couple of years ago.)

26 comments:

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    1. I know, right? There's this crazy Greek yogurt movement, and people will pay anything for it.

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    2. I'd like to learn to make my own. I won't buy the yoghurts with stabalizers added.

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    3. Yes, make it yourself! It's simple, it'll taste much better, and it'll be more economical.

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  2. "Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek. "

    Was your family like the movie family on My Big Fat Greek Wedding?

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    1. No, my family is too quiet. But I do know some people like that. There is a lot of truth in the movie, but it's very exaggerated. Still. I laughed so hard when I watched it because I recognized so many things.

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  3. This is so cool! Now i want to learn to speak Greek. Awesome language and alphabet. My brother took a couple of Greek and Latin classes after school growing up. (He always knew he wanted to be a lawyer, and now he is.). I wish i had done it, but i guess it's never too late, right?

    Lol at the yogurt funny! (Lol)

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    1. It's a very interesting language, and a little difficult, really. My comprehension of it is very basic, but I can carry a conversation if need be...as long as it's not too sophisticated!

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  4. Oh, you speak Greek, awesome, Martha.
    I speak a little French and a little Spanish.
    I would like to speak Greek but 'it's all Greek to me' LOL

    Really enjoyed this post, learning about your heritage.

    I am a big fan of Greek yogurt ....lol at the card ....

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    1. Speaking different languages is fun. I studied Russian in college, and that was something. A whole new alphabet!

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  5. We owe so much to Greece, don't we? Your post made me think of the father in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and how he was always telling people about the Greek roots of English words! Love that movie! Nia Vardalos based her screenplay on growing up Greek in Winnipeg, even though the movie version was moved to the US somewhere. So yay Winnipeg too, eh. I speak enough half-assed French to get by in a pinch.

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    1. She did a great job with that movie. I've seen it a few times. It's quite exaggerated, but there is plenty of truth in it.

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  6. because I'm Chinese Jamaican, I can speak the local Jamaican patois and that's about it! Good for you though Martha!

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    1. That must be quite interesting, Christine. I visited Jamaica many years ago, and sometimes I couldn't keep up when they were speaking!

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  7. Hang on to all the Greek culture you can. It'e well worth it and makes you a much more confident person.

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    1. It's been quite an experience, Red, and it's a very interesting culture. But I'm not sure it'll last. I've very far removed from it, and my kids even more so.

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  8. I figure most of genes came from Ireland and Scotland and I don't speak Gaelic but luckily nobody does (kinda).

    I took German in high school but only 2 years. Grammar got way too hard for me to want to be graded on it.

    Learned Japanese slowly in my free time. By far one of the hardest things you could learn. Most European languages share similarities which makes things easier. But besides borrowed English words, there's very little in common. For example there's no real way to say a, an, or the in Japanese. Modern Japanese speech also uses pro-nouns not as often as you would think.

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    1. Wow, Japanese? That is cool. Now there's a really interesting language. I can just imagine how difficult it must have been. Quite the challenge!

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  9. I never thought about Canadians knowing Greek… always thought it was French … how interesting.. and yes! English was my favorite subject in school ~ it was interesting to learn origins of words.

    And no … I'm like most Americans … know only one language. sigh. know a little Spanish. When I was in school, we were required to take a foreign language ~ seems a least one year ~ maybe two… know what I took? Latin. WEll? it did help with the origin of some words. BUT the only sentence I remember is Britannia est parva insula ~ I think that's how it went… BUT not many instances where that bit of knowledge came in handy…

    love Greek Yogurt! plain … Greek Alphabet comes in handy if your pledging to a fraternity or sorority … always confounds me BUT I'm easily confounded … ;)

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    1. French and English are the country's two official languages. But in the big cities, you find people speaking other languages that they've inherited as descendants of other cultures. Most people I know speak second and third languages with the third being a European, Southeast or Southwest Asian language, etc. But we all communicate in English in most of the country, and in French in Quebec.

      I love Greek yogurt, too, but I joke about it because when I was growing up, many of the moms made it at home, and now it's being sold all over the place, and quite expensive. It's very easy to make, and it's far more economical to do it yourself.

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    2. There are a gazillion recipes all over the internet, but some of them are more complicated than others. I'm including a few links that are I really like.

      This is a really good one:
      How to Make Your Own Greek Yogurt

      And here is another one:
      Make Your Own Homemade Greek Yogurt

      I like this one, too:
      Easy Homemade Yogurt (& Greek Yogurt)

      Now, the thing some people don't know is that Greek yogurt is just regular yogurt that has been strained to make it thicker. So if you find any type of plain yogurt (my favourite, too!) that you like on sale, pick it up and follow this recipe:
      Homemade Greek Yogurt

      The last recipe is the easy way out, but it's a quick fix. If you have the time to make your own yogurt, the first few recipes are worth a try. They will produce much healthier and tastier results.

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    3. oh my ... .thanks, Martha! yes... I will read this websites... I thought maybe you had your own special recipe... that's all I eat is Greek Yogurt... all the others have sugar and cornstarch and so forth ... unbelievable what is put into yogurt ... I just want cultured milk...

      Thank you! Happy Saturday ... Yates, Charlie and I are off on a little trip this morning ... looks like rain ... rats

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    4. That sounds like fun, Carolyn! I hope you have a wonderful day...minus the rain...rats is right. I hope the day clears up.

      I don't have a special recipe because making Greek yogurt is so basic that there really isn't a unique one. The important difference between homemade and store-bought is that homemade is much better for you, and because it omits all the crap companies add, it tastes even better! And after you make the yogurt, you can make it special by adding in things you enjoy whenever you make yourself a bowl. Some add yogurt, others add fruit, and others add nuts. My favourite is fresh fruit; fresh berries to be exact! YUMMY! Enjoy :)

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  10. Well isn't that fantastic, wow Greek is so beautiful, being from Montreal and moving unto Gatineau I am of course fluently bilingual French/English took a year of Spanish, \I was getting good but they didn,t have the promised second year not enough students interested, bummer, greek heavenly

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    1. Spanish is such a beautiful language. I took one term and really enjoyed it. But I didn't pursue it, and I didn't have anyone to practice it with, so it's long forgotten!

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