Monday, 17 April 2017

It's all Greek to me...

You have probably heard this expression and it is more likely to use it every time you find something extremely incomprehensible. “It’s all Greek to me”… But is it really such a difficult language?


Let’s see together some info and statistics about Greek:

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. It has the longest documented history of any living language. It contains a mixed syllable structure, allowing for relatively complex combinations of sounds. The main two countries that Greek is spoken are Greece and Cyprus. There are in total 13,134,490 users all over the world (13,077,490 as their first language and 57,000 as their second).

At this point, it is very important to mention that Greek roots are often used to coin new words for other languages as well as the fact that Greek and Latin are the predominant sources of international scientific vocabulary, so a lot of words are already known to an English speaker (asthma, telephone, dodecagon, archaeology, strategy etc). It is significant that in a typical English dictionary of 80,000 words about 5% of them are borrowed from Greek.

After that it would be nice to say that we all partly speak Greek, but it seems that is not as easy as it sounds.

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI), a part of the US Department of State, has created a list where a lot of languages are ranked according to the difficulty in studying them.

As they mention: “All estimates relating to the length of time needed to learn these languages to a proficient level assume that the student is a native speaker of English with no prior knowledge of the language to be learned”.

To manage this, they have divided the difficulty of learning a language as an English native speaker in four categories:

Category I.  ("World languages"). Languages closely cognate with English.
Languages like Spanish, Italian, Romanian.

Category II. Languages that take a little longer to master than Category I languages.
Language like German, Indonesian.

Category III. ("Hard languages") Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English
This is where you can find Greek. It is one of the 42 “hard languages” for an English native speaker. In the same category you can also find Polish, Armenian, Russian and Turkish. The estimated time to reach a professional level by learning a language in this category is 44 weeks or approximately 1100 hours.

Category IV. ("Super-hard languages") Languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers.
According to this list, Arabic, Cantonese (Chinese), Mandarin (Chinese), Japanese and Korean are the hardest languages.

After that, we could conclude that Greek is indeed a hard language to learn but not one of the hardest.

Last but not least, you may wonder what Greeks say when they use an expression similar to “it’s all Greek to me”.

So, for Greeks the equivalent expression is: “It sounds Chinese to me” (Μου φαίνονται κινέζικα, /Mu fenonte kinezika/), and it seems quite fair according to the above survey.


Source for the ranking of languages.

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