Greek vs. Latin — Origins and Differences

Seeing as these two are considered the most influential and important languages in the history of ancient Europe, the birthplace of Western civilization in terms of culture, science, politics, arts, and so many other aspects, and the fact that they have both influenced most European languages, it is natural to link the two of them together, to place them into the same family, or to assume, even, that one originated from the other. But is this actually so? 

Is it possible that Greek originated from Latin? It is not, mainly for one simple reason: Greek is approximately two thousand years older than Latin. So, what about the other way around? Did Latin originate from Greek? Also no. They do, however, share the same origin. 

Both Greek and Latin belong to branches of the Indo-European language family, which does not necessarily make them all too similar, since these two branches are radically different. Latin belongs to the Romance branch (the ancestor of so many modern languages such as Spanish, Italian, French, etc.) while Greek belongs to the Hellenic branch. 

Here are some differences between these two very important languages: 

— Greek and Latin have different alphabets. Funnily enough, even though we’ve established the only thing these languages in general share in common is their very origin, their alphabets are, in fact, very related. The Greek alphabet originated from the Phoenician Alphabet —which in turn originated from Egyptian hieroglyphs— and the Latin language actually borrowed an early version of this alphabet thanks to the Etruscans (Italian ancestors originating from the Greek Empire). As a result, seeing as they share roots, these two alphabets are quite similar. However, they are not exactly the same and still hold significant differences between one another. 

— Greek is a living language, whereas Latin is regarded as a “dead” or extinct language. Even though Greek originated thousands and thousands of years ago, unlike Latin, it is still spoken nowadays in Greece, Cyprus and some other countries, still evolving and developing over time. Latin, on the other hand, is no longer used in everyday life, having ceased to be Europe’s lingua franca (dominant language) after the Middle Ages. Nowadays, it is used in very specific scenarios (terminology, religious ceremonies, etc.).

— Even though neither originated from the other, Greek and Latin still influenced each other. It was Latin that borrowed the most terms and vocabulary from the Greek language, in fact. After all, the Romans —Latin speakers— were fascinated by Greek culture; apart from their mythology and other parts of their culture, they also borrowed several terms in their language. This is evidenced by the fact that many terms in languages descending from Latin (Spanish, for example) originate from Greek. This heavy influence does not seem to be a two-way street, however, seeing as the influence of Latin on the Greek language is rather faint, probably because Greek is so much older.

In conclusion, despite sharing origins at one point and influencing each other throughout history, these two titanic languages do not originate from one another and are, in fact, quite different. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that both their grammar, vocabulary and the cultures they gave speech to have made the Western world what is it today. 

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Gracias a Camila Binetti por la nota, Araceli Sabransky por las publicaciones para Instagram y Linkedin, y Christian Trappani por la organización.

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