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I will shortly be driving around Greece. I do not know Greek, but I would like to learn the Greek alphabet, so that I can recognise road signs for town/city names, so that if there is a sign that is written only in Greek alphabet I can 'read' it.

I have heard that many signs will have Latin letters as well. Are there any official transliterations for Greek letters to Latin that I can use?

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    @pnuts That page seems to have made up its own rules for transliteration, which are nothing like I've ever seen: for example, I can't think of a single transliteration of a Greek word I've ever seen before today with "ee" in it. It's OK if you want something reasonably close to the pronunciation of the word but, for transliteration, it's poor. – David Richerby Aug 12 '15 at 12:35
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    @pnuts All four are greek to me! :-) My little is to use Goole Maps which show both Greek and transliterated name. In populated areas one should not have much trouble with mobile internet connection in Greece. – Pavel Aug 12 '15 at 13:06
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    @pnuts Thanks for the prod. Yes, there is an official (as in, defined by the Hellenic Organization for Standardization and used by the Greek government). I've posted an answer covering this. – David Richerby Aug 12 '15 at 13:09
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    @Rory Note that the EU has recently introduced massive restrictions on how much you can be made to pay for data while roaming above your ordinary data rate (I think it's now capped at a few Euro per day; it will soon become free). So, although it won't help you reading road signs, if you use data at home, you may as well use it while roaming, too. – David Richerby Aug 12 '15 at 14:46
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    I might be wrong, but I don't recall the last time I saw a road sign that didn't include a Latin alphabet transliteration. So there is a chance that you won't actually run into this problem in practice. – Sigma Ori Aug 12 '15 at 17:27
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Yes, there is an official transliteration scheme from the Greek alphabet to Roman. The Greek Government uses the Hellenic Organization for Standardization (ELOT) standard 743. Wikipedia has the full table: I'll not reproduce it here, since Stack Exchange doesn't support tables and the Wikipedia table also includes other transliteration schemes.

Note that, although Greek is a phonetic language (the spelling tells you exactly how to pronounce the word, though the same sound can be spelled in different ways), ELOT.743 doesn't respect that. So, for example, "γκ" is pronounced like the "g" in "goat" but is transliterated "gk". Note also that there are several of these two-letter combinations and you need to know those to pronounce words correctly: it's not enough just to know the sound of each letter. On the other hand, if you just want to be able to recognize words, it doesn't really matter how you pronounce them in your own car.

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    Modern Greek does mark the stressed vowel with an accent, check e.g. in.gr and see that every word has one. (The accent is omitted in capitalized words). According to Wikipedia, Ancient Greek had pitch accent instead of stress accent and had three different diacritics to mark three tonal qualities. Modern Greek is written phonetically in the sense that one can (mostly) unambiguously tell the pronunciation based on the spelling (including stress). It doesn't work the other way: it's impossible to tell the spelling based on pronunciation. E.g. there are 5 ways to spell /i/. – Szabolcs Aug 12 '15 at 13:19
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    @Szabolcs Thanks for the correction: I removed the incorrect part of the answer. – David Richerby Aug 12 '15 at 14:43
  • @Szabolcs I realised the source of my error. I was mostly using maps and guidebooks written in English. That loses the stress marker so, whenever I wanted to ask somebody about a place, I'd guess where the stress was, I'd invariably guess wrong, and that, coupled with trying to get the pronunciation from the transliteration, too, would often mean the person I was talking to couldn't work out where I meant. So I've come to associate place names with "I dunno where the stress goes" and I forgot that I'd read those words in Roman transliteration, rather than Greek. – David Richerby Aug 12 '15 at 16:48
  • @Szabolcs The use of the polytonic system in Greek really became more popularized in the Byzantine era and as far as I am aware was only used as a teaching aid for children in late antiquity (but certainly I am no expert!). Nowadays polytonic is occasionally used by intellectual types, for instance there are one or two newspapers that use it. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Calchas Aug 12 '15 at 17:55
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Wikipedia has a page on the Greek Alphabet, showing the conversion between its letters and the ones used in the Latin alphabet. This will help you decipher the text, but not the meaning. Below is a screenshot of the conversion table which can be found on the linked page:

Greek to Latin alphabet

Last time I went on a road trip in Greece (2008) I don't remember reading that many road signs in Latin alphabet, but I might obviously be wrong. In my opinion the best tip I can give you is to learn the Greek names of the place you will be heading to, and their representation in Greek alphabet. To this purpose, here is a Wikipedia page with a list of the largest cities in Greece. Following on the individual page for each city you will find their modern Greek names. Just to give you a few examples of you should expect to read (signs are spelt in UPPERCASE):

  • English Name - Greek Name - Greek Spelling
  • Athens - Athina - ΑΘΗΝΑ
  • Thessaloniki - Thessaloniki - ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗ
  • Patras - Patra - ΠΑΤΡΑ
  • Sparta - Sparti - ΣΠΑΡΤΗ

You should also probably learn keywords such as city centre, beach, no parking, and any other phrase you might typically find on a road sign.

For more general tips on driving in Greece, this website provides a set of helpful guidelines on the topic.

  • @Szabolcs Thanks. I fixed the mistakes. Don't be afraid to edit posts. ;) Regarding Unicode Latin you are right: it was easier to type as opposed to HTML codes. – JoErNanO Aug 12 '15 at 13:03
  • Thanks! Edited, but the edit still needs review. – Szabolcs Aug 12 '15 at 13:05
  • @Szabolcs Reviewed. Feel free to add more cities if you wish. – JoErNanO Aug 12 '15 at 13:06
  • Thanks for your advice. However I don't know where I'll be going. We decide on the day where to go. If we pick a town/city in the morning, I don't really have time to learn it. – Rory Aug 12 '15 at 14:18

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