Picture of Becca .
>Question about older Greek dictionaries.
by Becca . - Saturday, 29 November 2014, 04:07 PM

Hi, I have just started to learn Greek. I was looking for a Greek dictionary, and there are quite a few second hand ones, printed up to 50 years ago - I like these editions because I can appreciate the quality, and I believe in saving old books!

But, what got me worrying, was a review written about a version printed in the 1960s: "This is a reprint of the edition I have from 40 years ago! The language used in it is no longer being used in modern Greek. My children cannot understand have of the Greek words in it!!! Can you imagine taking a trip to Greece and trying to translate using this dictionary?"

Is this woman right; would a modern Greek dictionary printed 50 years ago be unusable today? Because I still use an old (not literally 'Old English') English dictionary, and it is perfectly fine - some of the words may not be in common everyday usage, but the words still exist within the language.

So does modern Greek really evolve so quickly? Could I use an older dictionary?

Picture of Greg Brush
Re: >Question about older Greek dictionaries.
by Greg Brush - Sunday, 30 November 2014, 06:07 PM
  There are two issues with these "older" Greek dictionaries from the period of 40 or more years ago. The first is that all dictionaries of that era used the ancient polytonic system of writing, which employed three types of written accent marks along with two symbols indicating aspiration or non-aspiration before an initial vowel sound. This system is no longer used and can be visually confusing to beginners.

The second issue is that most dictionaries of that era were based on the formal, so-called "katharevousa" (Purified) language, which looked back to and tended to preserve much older words and inflected forms from ancient or classical Greek, and which were used in the formal writing of the 19th and 20th centuries, but which were no longer really current in the colloquial language.

By contrast, dictionaries from less than 40 years ago use the monotonic system of accentuation with only one accent/stress mark and no marks of aspiration, and have almost entirely dropped these ancient, classical, or medieval words which simply aren't used anymore except occasionally in VERY formal or ecclesiastical writing.

In addition, a spelling reform in the 1980's "simplified" the spelling of a number of words. This is a process that is still at work today, as a number of native Greek and imported foreign words are now usually seen in writing with their simplified spelling. So dictionaries of more than about 30 years ago simply will not accurately reflect the currently accepted spelling of some words.

My recommendation is to find a dictionary that is less than 20 years old (that is, anything from the mid-to-late 1990s up to today) for everyday use. If you want something 40+ years old as a supplementary reference, that's fine -- it will help with older printed material from the era of 50 or more years ago (I routinely use these older dictionaries for this purpose), and can ultimately help you develop a historical overview of Greek language development over the last few centuries. Just be aware that some listings in these older dictionaries do not reflect the contemporary spoken language.

Greg Brush
Picture of Becca .
Re: >Question about older Greek dictionaries.
by Becca . - Sunday, 30 November 2014, 08:38 PM
  Thank you so much for explaining, otherwise I would have been totally confused from the off go! It's really interesting - I'll reference your answer whenever I need to from now on.