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Koine Greek

Koine redirects here.


For other uses, see Koine cient scholars. A school of scholars such as Apollonius
Dyscolus and Aelius Herodianus maintained the term
Koine to refer to the Proto-Greek language, while others
Koine Greek (UK English /kni/,
US English used it to refer to any vernacular form of Greek speech
which diered somewhat from the literary language.[9]
/kne/, /kne/ or /kini/;
from Koine Greek
, the common dialect), also known When Koine Greek became a language of literature by
as Alexandrian dialect, common Attic or Hellenistic the 1st century BC, some people distinguished it into two
Greek (Modern Greek , Hellenis- forms: written (Greek) as the literary post-classical form
tic Koin", in the sense of Hellenistic supraregional lan- (which should never be confused with Atticism), and verguage"), was the common supra-regional form of Greek nacular as the day to day spoken form.[9] Others chose
spoken and written during Hellenistic and Roman an- to refer to Koine as the Alexandrian dialect ( tiquity. It developed through the spread of Greek fol- ) or the dialect of Alexandria, or even
lowing the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th the universal dialect of its time. The former was often
century BC, and served as the common lingua franca of used by modern classicists.
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 admix- 2 Origins and history
tures brought about through dialect levelling with other
Koine Greek displayed a wide spectrum of dierent
styles, ranging from more conservative literary forms
to the spoken vernaculars of the time.[5] As the dominant language of the Byzantine Empire it developed further into Medieval Greek, the main ancestor of Modern
Literary Koine was the medium of much of post-classical
Greek literary and scholarly writing, such as the works of
Plutarch and Polybius.[4] Koine is also the language of
the Christian New Testament, of the Septuagint (the 3rdcentury BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), 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.[7] It continues to be used as the liturgical lanDark blue: areas where Greek speakers probably were a majorguage of services in the Greek Orthodox Church.[8]
ity. Light blue: areas that were Hellenized

Koine Greek arose as a common dialect within the

armies of Alexander the Great.[9] Under the leadership of
Macedon, their newly formed common dialect was spoken from Egypt to Mesopotamia.[9] Though elements of
Koine Greek took shape during the Classical Era, the
post-Classical period of Greek is dened as beginning
with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, when
cultures under Hellenistic sway in turn began to inuence the language. The passage into the next period,
known as Medieval Greek, dates from the foundation
of Constantinople by Constantine I in 330. The postClassical period of Greek thus refers to the creation and
evolution of Koine Greek throughout the entire Hellenis-


The word koin () is the Greek word for common,

and is here understood as referring to the common dialect ( ). The word is pronounced
/kne/, /kne/ or /kini/ in US English and /kni/
in UK English. The pronunciation of the word in Koine
gradually changed from close to the Ancient Greek pronunciation [koine] to [kyni]. Its pronunciation in Modern Greek is [cini].
The term was applied in several dierent senses by an1


tic and Roman eras of history until the start of the Middle Information can also be derived from some Atticist scholAges.[9]
ars of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, who, in order
The linguistic roots of the Common Greek dialect had to ght the evolution of the language, published works
been unclear since ancient times. During the Hellenistic which compared the supposedly correct Attic against
age, most scholars thought of Koine as the result of the the wrong Koine by citing examples. For example,
mixture of the four main Ancient Greek dialects, " Phrynichus Arabius during the 2nd century AD wrote:
" (the composition of the
Four). This view was supported in the early 20th century by Paul Kretschmer in his book Die Entstehung
der Koine (1901), while Ulrich Wilamowitz and Antoine
Meillet, based on the intense Ionic elements of the Koine
such as instead of and instead of ( , ) considered Koine to be a simplied form of Ionic.[9]

Basilissa (queen) none of the Ancients said, but
basileia (queen) or basilis (queen).
, '
Dioria (deadline) is extremely disreputable, instead you will say prothesmia (appointed time).
Do not say pantote (always), but hekastote (every time) and dia pantos (continually).

The nal answer which is academically accepted today

was given by the Greek linguist G. N. Hatzidakis, who
proved 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 linguis- Other sources can be based on random ndings such as intic elements on Koine can vary depending on the region scriptions on vases written by popular painters, mistakes
of the Hellenistic World.[9]
made by Atticists due to their imperfect knowledge of
In that respect, the varieties of Koine spoken in the Ionian pure Attic, or even some surviving Greco-Latin glossaries
colonies of Asia Minor (e.g. Pontus) would have more in- of the Roman period,[10] e.g.:
tense Ionic characteristics than others and those of Laconia and Cyprus would preserve some Doric and Arcado, ;
Cypriot characteristics, respectively etc. The literary
Bono die, venisti?
Koine of the Hellenistic age resembles Attic in such a deGood day, you came?
gree that it is often mentioned as Common Attic.[9]
, ' .
Si vis, veni mecum.
If you want, come with us.[11]
3 Sources
The rst scholars who studied Koine, both in Alexandrian
and contemporary times, were classicists whose protoAd amicum nostrum Lucium.
type had been the literary Attic language of the Classical
To our friend Lucius.
period, and would frown upon any other kind of Hellenic
speech. Koine Greek was therefore considered a decayed
enim habet?
form of Greek which was not worthy of attention.[9]
Indeed, what does he have?
What is it with him?
The reconsideration on the historical and linguistic im.
portance of Koine Greek began only in the early 19th
century, where renowned scholars conducted a series of
Hes sick.
studies on the evolution of Koine throughout the entire
Hellenistic and Roman period which it covered. The
sources used on the studies of Koine have been numer- Finally, a very important source of information on the anous and of unequal reliability. The most signicant ones cient Koine is the modern Greek language with all its diare the inscriptions of the post-Classical periods and the alects and its own Koine form, which have preserved some
papyri, for being two kinds of texts which have authentic of the ancient languages oral linguistic details which the
content and can be studied directly.[9]
written tradition has lost. For example, the Pontic and
Other signicant sources are the Septuagint, the somewhat literal Greek translation of the Old Testament, and
the New Testament. The teaching of the Testaments was
aimed at the most common people, and for that reason
they use the most popular language of the era.

Cappadocian dialects preserved the ancient pronunciation of as (, , , etc.),

while the Tsakonic preserved the long instead of
(, , , etc.) and the other local
characteristics of Laconic.[9]


Patristic Greek

Dialects from the Southern part of the Greek-speaking regions (Dodecanese, Cyprus etc.), preserve the pronunciation of the double similar consonants (-, -,
-), while others pronounce in many words
as or preserve ancient double forms (
-, etc.). Linguistic phenomena
like the above imply that those characteristics survived
within Koine, which in turn had countless variations in
the Greek-speaking world.[9]


4.1.1 Septuagint Greek
There has been some debate to what degree biblical
Greek represents the mainstream of contemporary spoken Koine and to what extent it contains specically
Semitic substratum features. These could have been induced either through the practice of translating closely
from Hebrew or Aramaic originals, or through the inuence of the regional non-standard Greek spoken by the
originally Aramaic-speaking Jews.
Some of the features discussed in this context are the Septuagints normative absence of the particles and ,
and the use of 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.

4.1.2 New Testament Greek

The Greek of the New Testament is less distinctively
Semitic than that of the Septuagint, partly because it appeared 300 years later and partly because it is largely a de
novo composition in Greek, not primarily a translation
from biblical Hebrew and biblical Aramaic.[12]

4.2 Patristic Greek

The 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 Koin, relatively close to the spoken language of their time, following the model of the Bible. After the 4th century, when
Christianity became the ocial state religion of the Roman Empire, more learned registers of Koin also came
to be used.[13]
Papyrus 46 is one of the oldest extant New Testament manuscripts
in Greek, written on papyrus, with its 'most probable date' between 175-225.


Biblical Koine

5 Dierences between Attic and

Koine Greek

The study of all sources from the six centuries which are
Biblical Koine refers to the varieties of Koine Greek
symbolically covered by Koine reveals linguistic changes
used in the Greek Bible and related texts. Its main sources
from ancient Greek on elements of the spoken language
including, grammar, word formation, vocabulary and
phonology (sound system).
The Septuagint, a 3rd-century BC Greek translation
Most new forms start o as rare and gradually become
of the Hebrew Bible and texts not included in the
more frequent until they are established. As most of the
Hebrew Bible;
changes between modern and ancient Greek were introduced via Koine, Koine is largely familiar and at least
The Greek New Testament, compiled originally in partly intelligible to most writers and speakers of Modern



Dierences in grammar

Main article: Koine Greek grammar



Main articles: Koine Greek phonology, Ancient Greek

phonology and Modern Greek phonology
During the period generally designated as Koine Greek,
a great deal of phonological change occurred: at the start
of the period, the 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 signicant 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:

Simple vowels mostly preserved their ancient pronunciations. /e/ was raised and merged with . In
the 10th century AD, / /y/ unrounded to merge
with . These changes are known as iotacism.[9]
The consonants also preserved their ancient pronunciations to a great extent, except , , , , ,
and . , , , which were originally pronounced
/b d/, became the fricatives /v/ (via []), //, //,
which they still are today, except when preceded by
a nasal consonant (, ); in that case, they retain
their ancient pronunciations (e.g. [ambros], [andras], [aelos]). The
latter three (, , ), which were initially pronounced as aspirates (/p t k/ respectively), developed into the fricatives /f/ (via []), //, and /x/. Finally , which is still metrically categorised as a double consonant with and because it was initially
pronounced as (sd), later acquired its modernday value of /z/.[9]

The ancient distinction between long and short vow- 5.2.1 New Testament Greek phonology
els was gradually lost, and from the 2nd century BC
all vowels were isochronic (all vowels having equal The Koine Greek in the table represents a reconstruction
of New Testament Koine Greek, deriving to some degree
from the dialect spoken in Judaea and Galilaea during the
From the 2nd century BC, the Ancient Greek pitch 1st century and similar to the dialect spoken in Alexandria, Egypt. Note the realizations of certain phonemes
accent was replaced with a stress accent.[9]
dier from the more standard Attic dialect of Koine.
Loss of /h/, the spiritus asper. /h/ had already been Note the soft fricative "" in intervocalic position, the
lost in the Ionic varieties of Asia Minor and the preservation of the aspirated plosive value of ph, th
and kh, the preservation of a distinction between the
Aeolic of Lesbos.[9]
four front vowels i, "", e, and y (which is still
, , /ai ei oi/ were simplied to , , /a e rounded), and other features.

The diphthongs , , and became

, which had already been
pronounced as // by the Boeotians since the
4th century BC and written (e.g. , ,
), became in Koine, too, rst a long vowel
// and then, with the loss of distinctive vowel
length, //, merging with . The diphthong had
already merged with in the 5th century BC in
Argos, and by the 4th century BC in Corinth (e.g.
), and it acquired this pronunciation also in
Koine. The diphthong fronted to /y/, merging
with . The diphthong came to be pronounced
[yj], and remained a diphthong. The diphthong
had been already raised to /u/ in the 6th century
BC, and remains so in Modern Greek.[9]
The diphthongs and came to be pronounced
[av ev] (via [a e]), but are partly assimilated to [af
ef] before the voiceless consonants , , , , , ,
, , and .[9]

6 Sample Koine texts

The following texts show dierences from Attic Greek in
all aspects - grammar, morphology, vocabulary and can
be inferred to show dierences 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 dierent 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.

6.1 Sample 1 A Roman decree

The following excerpt, from a decree of the Roman Senate to the town of Thisbae in Boeotia in 170 BC, is rendered in a reconstructed pronunciation representing a hypothetical conservative variety of mainland Greek Koin

in the early Hellenistic era.[14] The transcription shows
partial, but not yet completed raising of and to /i/,
retention of pitch accent, and retention of word-initial /h/
(the rough breathing).
[] , ,
[] ,

[] .
[per hn tizbs lus epojsanto; per
tn kat hauts pramton, hotines en t
pilai t hemetrai enminan, hpos autos dotsin hos t kat hauts prmata eksesontai, per ttu t prmatos htos
doksen; hpos kintos mainios strates
tn ek ts sykltu pnte apotksi, ho n
auti ek tn demoson pramton ka ts
idas psteos panontai]
Concerning those matters about which the citizens of Thisbae made representations. Concerning their own aairs: the following decision was taken concerning the proposal that
those who remained true to our friendship
should be given the facilities to conduct their
own aairs; that our governor Quintus Maenius should delegate ve members of the senate who seemed to him suitable in the light of
their public actions and individual good faith.


Sample 2 Greek New Testament

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word

was with God, and the Word was God. He was
in the beginning with God. All things were
made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life,
and the life was the light of men. And the light
shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

7 Notes
[1] Koine. Collins Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
[2] koine in Merriam-Webster
[3] Koine. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House.
[4] Bubenik, V. (2007). The rise of Koin". In A. F. Christidis. A history of Ancient Greek: from the beginnings to
late antiquity. Cambridge: University Press. pp. 342
[5] Horrocks, Georey (1997). 46. Greek: a history of
the language and its speakers. London: Longman.
[6] Horrocks, Georey C. (2010). Greek: a history of the language and its speakers (2nd ed.). London: Longman. p.
xiii. ISBN 978-1-4051-3415-6. Retrieved 14 September
[7] A history of ancient Greek by Maria Chrit, Maria Arapopoulou, Centre for the Greek Language (Thessalonik,
Greece) pg 436 ISBN 0-521-83307-8
[8] Victor Roudometof and Vasilios N. Makrides, eds.
Orthodox Christianity in 21st Century Greece, Ashgate
Publishing, 2010. A proposal to introduce Modern
Greek into the Divine Liturgy was rejected in 2002
[9] Andriotis, Nikolaos P. History of the Greek Language.

The following excerpt, the beginning of the Gospel of [10] Augsburg.

John, is rendered in a reconstructed pronunciation repre- [11] The Latin gloss in the source erroneously has with me,
senting a progressive popular variety of Koin in the early
while the Greek means with us.
Christian era, with vowels approaching those of Modern
[12] Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare(1856-1924) Grammar
of Septuagint Greek

, .
. , .
. ,
. , .
[en arki in o loos, ke o loos im bros to(n)
teo(n), ke teos in o loos. utos in en arki
pros to(n) teo(n). panda di atu ejeneto, ke
koris atu ejeneto ude en o jeonen. en
ato zoi in, ke i zoi in to pos ton antropon; ke to pos en di skotia peni, ke i skoti(a)
a()to u katelaen]

[13] Horrocks (1997: ch.5.11.)

[14] G. Horrocks (1997), Greek: A history of the language and
its speakers, p. 87), cf. also pp. 105-109.
[15] Horrocks (1997: 94).

8 References
Abel, F.-M. Grammaire du grec biblique.
Allen, W. Sidney, Vox Graeca: a guide to the pronunciation of classical Greek 3rd ed., Cambridge
University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-521-33555-8

Andriotis, Nikolaos P. History of the Greek Language
Buth, Randall, : Koine Greek of
Early Roman Period
Bruce, Frederick F. The Books and the Parchments:
Some Chapters on the Transmission of the Bible. 3rd
edition. Westwood, N.J.: Revell, 1963. Chapters 2
and 5.
Conybeare, F.C. and Stock, St. George. Grammar
of Septuagint Greek: With Selected Readings, Vocabularies, and Updated Indexes.
Smyth, Herbert Weir, Greek Grammar, Harvard
University Press, 1956. ISBN 0-674-36250-0

Further reading
Stevens, Gerald L. New Testament Greek Primer.
ISBN 0-7188-9206-2
Stevens, Gerald L. New Testament Greek Intermediate. From Morphology to Translation. ISBN 07188-9200-3
Easterling, P & Handley, C. Greek Scripts: An illustrated introduction. London: Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, 2001. ISBN 0-902984-179


External links

Free Koine Greek Keyboard A unicode keyboard

originally developed by Char Matejovsky for use by
Westar Institute scholars
The Biblical Greek Forum An online community for
biblical Greek
Greek-Language.com Dictionaries, manuscripts of
the Greek New Testament, and tools for applying
linguistics to the study of Hellenistic Greek
New Testament Greek Online
Polis Koine A method to learn Koine Greek including a video of a class
Diglot A daily di-glot or tri-glot (Vulgate) reading



Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses


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