Greek Language and Languages

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Most materials used in Greek research are written in Greek. However, you do not need to speak or read Greek to research Greek records. You will need to know the Greek alphabet and some key words and phrases to understand the records. Many of the records of the Catholic church are also in Latin and Italian, and some military records during the period of King Otto are in German. Use the following to help with reading these records:

Forms of the Greek Language

There are several forms of the Greek language:

  • Ancient Greek, Biblical Greek, and Byzantine Greek are not seen in genealogy.
  • Official Greek, Katharevusa (kathareuousa), was used in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries until the late 1960s.
  • Popular Greek, Demotic (dimotiki), was used in older records of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.
  • Demotic Greek was established as the official language of the country in the 1970s. The Greek language has its own alphabet of 24 letters. The representation of Greek words in the Latin alphabet is called transliteration (sometimes referred to as romanization). No single system for transliterating Greek letters is satisfactory to everybody. The problem is complicated by tradition, phonetics, and politics.

As a result of this, Greek place names and people names may be spelled in various ways in different sources you use in your Greek research. For example, Hania may be spelled Hania or Chania or Khania depending on how the letters are transliterated. This often makes it difficult to figure out what the original Greek spelling may have been.

United States Library of Congress - Preferred Greek Transliteration table

The United States Library of Congress developed a system for their needs that has been accepted by most American libraries, but it is impractical for representing the names of people and places. The system preferred for genealogical purposes allows a letter-for-letter representation with less emphasis on pronunciation. It can easily be used by personal computers and can easily be converted back to Greek letters so that the names will be spelled mostly the same as the original Greek.

Following is a list of the letters of the Greek alphabet, the preferred method of transliteration for place names and personal names, and alternative methods of transliteration used:

Preferred Other
 ! " A a
# $ V v B b
' ( G g Y y
) * D d Th, th Dh dh
+ , E e
- . Z z
/ 0 I i E e
1 2 Th th
3 4 I i
5 6 K k C c
7 8 L l
9 : M m
; < N n
= > X x Ks ks
 ? @ O o
A B P p
C D R r Rh rh
E FH S s
I J T t
I.J. Tz tz J
K L* Y y I i
M N F f Ph ph
O P H h Ch ch Kh kh
Q R Ps ps
S T O o Æ Ç

* When this letter follows another vowel (", ,, @), it is transliterated as u.

Language Aids

A genealogical word list for Greek is found in the following source:

  • Catsakis, Lica (Bywater) and Daniel M. Schlyter. Greek Genealogical Research. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Greek Association of Family History and Tradition (SIPEO), 1993 (45–50). (FHL book 949.5 D27b.)

The following books and English-Greek dictionaries can also aid you in your research. You can find these and similar material at many research libraries:

  • Divry’s New English-Greek and Greek-English Dictionary. Athens, Greece: Divres, 1959. (FHL film 1183597, item 2.)
  • Jannaris, A.N. A Concise Dictionary of the English and Modern Greek Languages as Actually Spoken. London, England: John Murray, 1895 [1956 reprint]. (FHL book 489.3321 J261c; film23 1181682, item 2.)

For additional language aids, including dictionaries of various dialects and time periods, check the Family History Library Catalog in the Place search or in the Subject search under: