The history of the Greek Language begins, as far as the surviving texts are concerned, with the Mycenaean civilization at least as early as the thirteenth century BCE. The earliest texts are written in a script called Linear B. After the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization (around 1200 BCE) writing disappeared from Greece. In the late ninth to early eighth century BCE a script based on the Phoenician syllabary was introduced, with unneeded consonant symbols being reused to represent the Greek vowels. The oldest surviving alphabetic inscriptions are written using this new system and date from the late eighth century BCE.

In the classical, or Hellenic period, Greek existed in several major dialects, each of which has its own significance for the history of the language, but the most influential of these would ultimately prove to be the one spoken in Athens, called Attic. Well within the Hellenic period, though, Attic and Ionic—the form of the language spoken mainly in the Greek city states directly across the Aegean Sea from Athens—exerted significant influence on each other as the preferred forms of the language for oratory and philosophical prose, eventually producing a dialect now called Attic-Ionic.

The terms “Hellenistic Greek” and “Koine Greek” are used interchangeably for the language spoken in this period. Christian scholars also use the terms “Biblical Greek” and “New Testament Greek” to refer to the language as it appears in the earliest copies of the New Testament of the Christian Bible.

Crete managed to resist Turkish control until 1669. The poetry produced there in the local dialect near the end of this period would contribute significantly to the development of modern demotic literature, as would the folk songs produced on the mainland.

When Greece finally won its freedom in 1830 a new kingdom was formed with Athens and the Peloponnese at its core. The dialects spoken in these regions became the basis for the standard spoken language of today’s Greek society. This standard was not formed directly from the folk songs and poetry of earlier peasant society, however. A purified, katharevusa (Καθαρεύουσα) form of Greek was devised. Efforts to impose it were heavily influenced by the old Atticism, though, and the attempt to produce a prose medium broad enough to cover both formal and colloquial situations has proved extraordinarily difficult. Even today, the language question still presents problems, yet the continuing growth of educational institutions as well as journalism and the broadcast media have begun to affect a solution. The distance between demotic and katharevusa is narrowing as a way of speech arises which combines aspects of both.