Greek is a member of the Indo-European language family and the only member of the Hellenic subgroup of this family. Today it is spoken on the Greek peninsula and on the Greek islands in the Eastern Mediterranean, on Cyprus and in a few small regions in Albania, Italy and Turkey, but it was once spoken throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. It remained an important language after the Greeks were conquered by the Romans, and eventually it became the second language of the Roman Empire.

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire Turkish became the language of the state in Greece and remained so until Greece became an independant state in the early 19th century. After independance a more or less artificial form of Greek, the so-called Katharevousa, based on Classic Greek became the official language of Greece, but nowadays Demotic, the spoken language of the ordinary people, has largely replaced Katharevousa (although Katharevousa words and expressions are still occasionally used).

The Greek language has been very important for Western civilization, and most Western languages have borrowed many Greek words, mainly in the field of science. After the Renaissance Greek replaced Latin as the number one source for new scientific terms. Biology, astronomy, kleptomania, paedophilia and cybernetica are just a few words of the many that were created from Greek elements and are now used in most European languages in only slightly modified forms (e.g. French biologie, Portuguese biologia, Swedish biologi, Russian biologija, Hungarian biológia). Even non-European languages have in some cases borrowed Greek words, either directly from Classical Greek, or through the medium of other European languages. Examples of such words are Turkish bioloji (from French biologie), Malay biokimia (biochemistry) and Tagalog heolohiya (from Spanish geologia).

Greek is written it the Greek alphabet. In texts written in Classical Greek you will notice that usually each word has a vowel with an accent mark on it. These show the pitch or tone associated with that vowel. There were originally three different tones in Greek, and the accent marks were invented by a grammarian called Aristophanus of Byzantium in 260 B.C. as an aid for readers of the works of Homer. In the 7th century these accent marks started to appear in other texts, and this practice was continued until a spelling reform in 1985. It is unknown how these tones were pronounced; they were replaced by a stress accent like the one existing in English, many centuries ago. Nowadays only this stress accent is indicated in Greek words (unless the word consists of only one syllable, in which case an accent would obviously be redundant). Undoubtedly Greek schoolchildren and foreigners who are trying to learn Greek have reason to be thankful for this spelling reform!

Another feature abolished by the spelling reform was the use of the signs psili and dasia over vowels or over the letter rho when they started a word. A dasia indicated that the vowel used to be preceded by an aitch sound (or followed by one in the case of rho), and a psili indicated no aitch sound. Like the tone accents the aitch sound disappeared a long time ago from the Greek language. But in Greek borrowings in European languages (which were after all usually borrowed from Classical Greek) the letter h is not uncommon (e.g. helium and rheumatism).

The spelling of Greek is fairly regular. Some vowels and vowel combinations have the same pronunciation, and sometimes a consonant letter can be pronounced in more than one way, but always in a predictical way. On the whole the modern Greek orthography is not difficult once the Greek script is mastered. However, people who already know Classical Greek and now try to learn Modern Greek may have some trouble in getting accustomed to the modern pronounciation of the letters. For example, the letter beta is pronounced more or less as "veeta" in Modern Greek!