Koine Greek, also known as Alexandrian dialect, common Attic, Hellenistic or Biblical Greek, was the common supra-regional form of Greek spoken and written during the Hellenistic period, the Roman Empire, and the early Byzantine Empire, or late antiquity. It evolved from the spread of Greek following the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC, and served as the lingua franca of much of the Mediterranean region and the Middle East during the following centuries. It was based mainly on Attic and related Ionic speech forms, with various admixtures brought about through dialect levelling with other varieties.
Koine Greek included styles ranging from more conservative literary forms to the spoken vernaculars of the time. As the dominant language of the Byzantine Empire, it developed further into Medieval Greek, which then turned into Modern Greek.
Literary Koine was the medium of much of post-classical Greek literary and scholarly writing, such as the works of Plutarch and Polybius. Koine is also the language of the Christian New Testament, of the Septuagint, and of most early Christian theological writing by the Church Fathers. In this context, Koine Greek is also known as "Biblical", "New Testament", "ecclesiastical" or "patristic" Greek. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius also wrote his private thoughts in Koine Greek in a work that is now known as The Meditations. Koine Greek continues to be used as the liturgical language of services in the Greek Orthodox Church.
NameThe English-language name Koine derives from the Koine Greek term ἡ κοινὴ διάλεκτος he koinè diálektos, "the common dialect". The Greek word koinē itself means "common". The word is pronounced, or in US English and in UK English. The pronunciation of the word koine itself gradually changed from to .
Ancient scholars used the term koine in several different senses. Scholars such as Apollonius Dyscolus and Aelius Herodianus maintained the term Koine to refer to the Proto-Greek language, while others used it to refer to any vernacular form of Greek speech which differed somewhat from the literary language.
When Koine Greek became a language of literature by the first century BC, some people distinguished two forms: written as the literary post-classical form, and vernacular as the day-to-day vernacular. Others chose to refer to Koine as "the dialect of Alexandria" or "Alexandrian dialect", or even the universal dialect of its time. Modern classicists have often used the former sense.
Origins and historyKoine Greek arose as a common dialect within the armies of Alexander the Great. Under the leadership of Macedon, their newly formed common variety was spoken from the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt to the Seleucid Empire of Mesopotamia. It replaced existing ancient Greek dialects with an everyday form that people anywhere could understand. Though elements of Koine Greek took shape in Classical Greece, the post-Classical period of Greek is defined as beginning with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, when cultures under Greek sway in turn began to influence the language.
The passage into the next period, known as Medieval Greek, dates from the foundation of Constantinople by Constantine the Great in 330. The post-Classical period of Greek thus refers to the creation and evolution of Koine Greek throughout the entire Hellenistic and Roman eras of history until the start of the Middle Ages.
The linguistic roots of the Common Greek dialect had been unclear since ancient times. During the Hellenistic period, most scholars thought of Koine as the result of the mixture of the four main Ancient Greek dialects, "ἡ ἐκ τῶν τεττάρων συνεστῶσα". This view was supported in the early twentieth century by Paul Kretschmer in his book Die Entstehung der Koine, while Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff and Antoine Meillet, based on the intense Ionic elements of the Koine – instead of and instead of – considered Koine to be a simplified form of Ionic.
The view accepted by most scholars today was given by the Greek linguist Georgios Hatzidakis, who showed that, despite the "composition of the Four", the "stable nucleus" of Koine Greek is Attic. In other words, Koine Greek can be regarded as Attic with the admixture of elements especially from Ionic, but also from other dialects. The degree of importance of the non-Attic linguistic elements on Koine can vary depending on the region of the Hellenistic World.
In that respect, the varieties of Koine spoken in the Ionian colonies of Anatolia would have more intense Ionic characteristics than others and those of Laconia and Cyprus would preserve some Doric and Arcadocypriot characteristics, respectively. The literary Koine of the Hellenistic age resembles Attic in such a degree that it is often mentioned as Common Attic.
Biblical KoineBiblical Koine refers to the varieties of Koine Greek used in Bible translations into Greek and related texts. Its main sources are:
- The Septuagint, a 3rd-century BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and texts not included in the Hebrew Bible;
- The Greek New Testament, compiled originally in Greek.
Some of the features discussed in this context are the Septuagint's normative absence of the particles μέν and δέ, and the use of ἐγένετο to denote "it came to pass." Some features of Biblical Greek which are thought to have originally been non-standard elements eventually found their way into the main of the Greek language.
S.J. Thackeray, in A Grammar of the Old Testament in Greek According to the Septuagint, wrote that only the five books of the Pentateuch, parts of the Book of Joshua and the Book of Isaiah may be considered "good Koine". One issue debated by scholars is whether and how much the translation of the Pentateuch influenced the rest of the Septuagint, including the translation of Isaiah.
Another point that scholars have debated is the use of ἐκκλησία ekklēsía as a translation for the Hebrew קָהָל qāhāl. Old Testament scholar James Barr has been critical of etymological arguments that ekklēsia refers to "the community called by God to constitute his People". Kyriakoula Papademetriou explains:
New Testament GreekThe authors of the New Testament follow the Septuagint translations for over half their quotations from the Old Testament.
The "historical present" tense is a term used for present tense verbs that are used in some narrative sections of the New Testament to describe events that are in the past with respect to the speaker. This is seen more in works attributed to Mark and John than Luke. It is used 151 times in the Gospel of Mark in passages where a reader might expect a past tense verb. Scholars have presented various explanations for this; in the early 20th century some scholars argued that the use of a historical present tense in Mark was due to the influence of Aramaic, but this theory fell out of favor in the 1960s. Another group of scholars believed the historical present tense was used to heighten the dramatic effect, and this interpretation was favored in the New American Bible translation. In Volume II of the 1929 edition of A Grammar of the New Testament, W.F. Howard argues that the heavy use of the historical present in Herodotus and Thucydides, compared with the relatively infrequent usage by Polybius and Xenophon was evidence that heavy use of this verb tense is a feature of vernacular Koine, but other scholars have argued that the historical present can be a literary form to "denote semantic shifts to more prominent material."
Patristic GreekThe term patristic Greek is sometimes used for the Greek written by the Greek Church Fathers, the Early Christian theologians in late antiquity. Christian writers in the earliest time tended to use a simple register of Koiné, relatively close to the spoken language of their time, following the model of the Bible. After the 4th century, when Christianity became the state church of the Roman Empire, more learned registers of Koiné also came to be used.
Differences between Attic and Koine GreekThe study of all sources from the six centuries which are symbolically covered by Koine reveals linguistic changes from Ancient Greek on elements of the spoken language including grammar, word formation, vocabulary and phonology.
Most new forms start off as rare and gradually become more frequent until they are established. As most of the changes between modern and ancient Greek were introduced via Koine, Koine is largely familiar and at least partly intelligible to most writers and speakers of Modern Greek.
Differences in grammar
PhonologyDuring the period generally designated as Koine Greek a great deal of phonological change occurred. At the start of the period pronunciation was virtually identical to Ancient Greek phonology, whereas in the end it had much more in common with Modern Greek phonology.
The three most significant changes were the loss of vowel length distinction, the replacement of the pitch accent system by a stress accent system, and the monophthongization of several diphthongs:
- The ancient distinction between long and short vowels was gradually lost, and from the second century BC all vowels were isochronic.
- From the second century BC, the Ancient Greek pitch accent was replaced with a stress accent.
- Psilosis: loss of rough breathing,. Rough breathing had already been lost in the Ionic Greek varieties of Anatolia and the Aeolic Greek of Lesbos.
- ᾱͅ, ῃ, ῳ were simplified to ᾱ, η, ω.
- The diphthongs αι, ει, and οι became monophthongs. αι, which had already been pronounced as by the Boeotians since the 4th century BC and written η, became in Koine, too, first a long vowel and then, with the loss of distinctive vowel length and openness distinction, merging with ε. The diphthong ει had already merged with ι in the 5th century BC in Argos, and by the 4th century BC in Corinth, and it acquired this pronunciation also in Koine. The diphthong οι fronted to, merging with υ. The diphthong υι came to be pronounced, but eventually lost its final element and also merged with υ. The diphthong ου had been already raised to in the 6th century BC, and remains so in Modern Greek.
- The diphthongs αυ and ευ came to be pronounced , but are partly assimilated to before the voiceless consonants θ, κ, ξ, π, σ, τ, φ, χ, and ψ.
- Simple vowels mostly preserved their ancient pronunciations. η was raised and merged with ι. In the 10th century AD, υ/οι unrounded to merge with ι. These changes are known as iotacism.
- The consonants also preserved their ancient pronunciations to a great extent, except β, γ, δ, φ, θ, χ and ζ. Β, Γ, Δ, which were originally pronounced, became the fricatives ,,, which they still are today, except when preceded by a nasal consonant ; in that case, they retain their ancient pronunciations. The latter three, which were initially pronounced as aspirates, developed into the fricatives ,, and. Finally ζ, which is still metrically categorised as a double consonant with ξ and ψ because it may have initially been pronounced as σδ or δσ, later acquired its modern-day value of.
New Testament Greek phonology
Γ has spirantized, with palatal allophone before front-vowels and a plosive allophone after nasals, while β is beginning to develop a fricative articulation intervocalically. φ, θ and χ still preserve their ancient aspirated plosive values, while the unaspirated stops π, τ, κ have perhaps begun to develop voiced allophones after nasals. Initial aspiration has also likely become an optional sound for many speakers of the popular variety. Monophthongization and the loss of vowel-timing distinctions are carried through, but there is still a distinction between the four front vowels /e/, /e̝/, /i/, and /y/.
Sample Koine textsThe following texts show differences from Attic Greek in all aspects – grammar, morphology, vocabulary and can be inferred to show differences in phonology.
The following comments illustrate the phonological development within the period of Koine. The phonetic transcriptions are tentative, and are intended to illustrate two different stages in the reconstructed development, an early conservative variety still relatively close to Classical Attic, and a somewhat later, more progressive variety approaching Modern Greek in some respects.