Volume 16, No. 2 
April 2011

  Aikaterini Spanakaki-Kapetanopoulos


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Index 1997-2011

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
One Translator's Journey
by Heidi Holzer

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
How do you Deal with Requests for Discounts?
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

Technical Translation
Specialization in Translation—myths and realities
by Charles Martin

  Translators and the Computer
An Analysis of Google Translate Accuracy
by Milam Aiken and Shilpa Balan
The New Five-Year-Rule
by Jost Zetzsche

  Translation Theory
How to Avoid Communication Breakdowns in Translation or Interpretation?
by Sahar Farrahi Avval
A Taxonomy of Human Translation Styles
by Michael Carl, Barbara Dragsted, and Arnt Lykke Jakobsen

  Language & Communication
Words of Greek Origin
by Aikaterini Spanakaki-Kapetanopoulos
Translation and Neologisms
by Forough Sayadi

  Literary Translation
'Speaking in the Feminine': Considerations for Gender-Sensitive Translation
by Kate James

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
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by Gabe Bokor
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by Gabe Bokor

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Language & Communication

Words of Greek Origin

by Aikaterini Spanakaki-Kapetanopoulos

reek is undoubtedly a language of special importance that has been used for centuries to express and refine philosophical and scientific concepts. It is not by chance that the international scientific language has formed, and continues to form, many of its terms by borrowing Greek root words. While all languages lend and borrow words, it appears that the Greek language has contributed an extraordinarily large number of important words of to modern languages.

The English language and international scientific terminology contain a more than hundred and fifty thousand Greek words.
According to a research conducted by Mr. Aristidis Konstantinidis, the English language and international scientific terminology contain a more than hundred and fifty thousand Greek words. His study, which took 28 years to complete, led to the conclusion that one out of four English words is of Greek origin. Lexicographic research shows that Greek is the language of sciences and literature in the English language. According to Mr. Konstantinidis, research on the effect of the Greek language on European vocabulary revealed that, in 1991, French contained 1250, and German 1450 words of Greek roots. Modern English contains words from Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Hippocrates, Thukydides, Homer, Hesiodos, and Galinos.

The effect of the Greek language is recognized in the European vocabulary and especialy in the English language, but has not yet been systematically studied. Research done on the French and German languages has shown that there were about 1500 Greek root words included in dictionaries, which is quite a misleading figure. Scientists recognize the fundamental role Greek language has played in forming the vocabulary in their fields, but they do not have an overall picture of the effect on other scientific fields. In Greece, the importance of Greek root words that have been borrowed by other languages is underestimated due to lack of knowledge and systematic work.

All words that have been recorded by Mr. Konstantinidis in his research are words that Englishmen and Americans recognize in their dictionaries as words of Greek origin. The research therefore, has not been based on personal interpretations of etymology. Moreover, a number of dictionaries, except for the Oxford dictionary, identify many words as being of Latin roots, disregarding the fact that some Latin roots may actually come from Greek. E.g., the word "electric" (electricity), is reported as coming from the Latin "electrum," however, without mentioning that this word, in turn, comes from the Greek "electron" (amber) or "kechrimpari." The Oxford Dictionary includes 10,500 Greek words, which constitute 21,6% of the dictionary. Ancient Greek words, that were loan words from Persian, such as the word "agaria" (chore) or Hebrew words, such as "satanas" (satan), have not been included in the study. It's worth mentioning that according to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, the English language has borrowed 57 words from Turkish and 34 words from all Slavic languages. Greek, however, has contributed 41,614 words.

Both English and international terminology uphold and respect Greek rules and tradition. Ηistorical spelling, complex consonants or consonant clusters are often maintained to a great extent, despite the fact that they are not pronounced. The Greek letter [ψ] is given as [ps], Greek plurals are sometimes maintained despite the fact that they represent a difficulty for foreigners. E.g., the word "Ipatitis" (hepatitis), maintains the Greek plural, hepatitides, phenomenon-phenomena, criterion-criteria, phalanx-plalanxes etc. Moreover, grammatical rules are also maintained, as for the creation of complex words. As regards dasia-accented words (Greek polytonic orthography of Ancient Greek) the English letter H is added. For instance, there are 23,000 dasia-accented words in medicine alone, and 11,000 in zoology.

Denying the Greek etymology of words in Western languages does a disservice both to those languages and to Greek. It carries the risk that future generations will not recognize words of Greek roots and their importance. Consequently, neglecting the Greek cultural heritage can lead to denial of Greek identity.

Those who advocate the replacement of the Greek alphabet (another Greek word) by the Latin alphabet, do not realize that this would lead to going back to ancient Greek and polytonic system. But why the English chose Greek to borrow from? First, it is the wealth of Greek words that provides the possibility of selecting among synonyms in order to express oneself adequately and with conceptual precision. It's not by chance what Americans say when in need of a specialized or precise term, that "the Greeks have the word for it." Second, it is the plasticity of the words from which many derivatives can be produced. In medical terminology, 394 basic words produce 17,000 derivatives.

It is not by chance that Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, the well-known French chemist, used Greek in order to name many chemical elements such as chlorine.

It is the magic of history and etymology. Behind a word there is often hidden an entire history, as all the simplicity of the Spartans' life is hidden in the word laconic, . Greek is characterized as the language of sciences, since words that do exist in English, are replaced by Greek words when they are used in the context of scientific terminology, e.g. the science of deserts in known as erimology, from the Greek word "erimos."

It can be agreed that there is disconnect between demotic and literary language. The literary language is populated to a great extent by Greek words either for reasons of prestige or because it's a centuries-old tradition. English is becoming the modern language of science, and some countries such as France, Sweden and Italy are trying to resist this trend. Yet, most countries use English terms, and therefore Greek vocabulary has infiltrated in many Latin-based languages through English.

Although Greece is a small country geographically (Greek word "geographia" meaning geography), it is so rich in history and culture that it has affected much of the world. The Greek language has followed a dynamic course as it infiltrated numerous languages. The Greek language is an element of cultural heritage of Western civilization and a priceless treasure for Greeks and non-Greeks to be proud of.




Babiniotis G. (1998) "Lexicon of Modern Greek", Lexicology Center: Athens, Greece.

Konstantinidis, A. (2006) "The Universal Reach of the Greek Language", ISBN 960-90338-2-2. Athens: self-published.