Modern Greek stems directly from the Attic koinē and dates from the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. The official language of Greece and one of the official languages of Cyprus, Modern Greek is spoken today by about 12 million people, chiefly in Greece and the Greek islands (10 million speakers), Turkey (600,000), Cyprus (550,000), and the United States (390,000). The Greek language has not changed much in its long history. The differences are largely in pronunciation and vocabulary, but they also include divergences in grammar. Modern Greek, for example, has absorbed a number of loan words from Turkish and Italian, although its vocabulary is essentially that of Ancient Greek.
The spoken form of Modern Greek, however, differed markedly from the written form until recently. The latter, referred to as katharevousa, was used by the government, the schools, and the mass media until the mid-1970s and is much more like Ancient Greek than the spoken form, which is called dēmotikē. Dēmotikē, the language of popular speech, has more foreign loan words and a simpler grammar than katharevousa. Although a literature in dēmotikē developed during the 20th cent., it was not until 1976 that it was accepted as the official written Greek language (see Greek literature, modern).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.