Greek belongs to the Hellenic branch of the Indo-European language family, and is spoken by about 13 million people mainly in Greece and Cyprus, where it is an official language. Greek is also recognised as a minority language in parts of Italy, and in Albania, Armenia, Romania and Ukraine, and the Greek diaspora. Greek has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Greek has been spoken in the Balkan Peninsula since around the late 3rd millennium BC. The earliest written evidence is a Linear B clay tablet found in Messenia that dates to between 1450 and 1350 BC, making Greek the world's oldest recorded living language. Among the Indo-European languages, its date of earliest written attestation is matched only by the now extinct Anatolian languages.
The Greek alphabet has been in continuous use since about 750 BC. It was developed from the Canaanite/Phoenician alphabet, however, when the Greeks adapted the Phoenician alphabet to write their language they created the world's first fully phonemic alphabet which represented by consonant and vowel sounds.
The Greek language holds an important place in the histories of Europe, the more loosely defined Western world, and Christianity; the canon of ancient Greek literature includes works of monumental importance and influence for the future Western canon such as the epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. Greek was also the language in which many of the foundational texts of Western philosophy, such as the Platonic dialogues and the works of Aristotle, were composed; the New Testament of the Christian Bible was written in Koine Greek.
During classical antiquity, Greek was a widely spoken lingua franca in the Mediterranean world and beyond. Today Greek roots are often used to coin new words for other languages; Greek and Latin are the predominant sources of international scientific vocabulary.
The oldest example of an ancient Greek alphabet is based on inscriptions from Crete dated to about 800 BC. Greek was written from right to left in horizontal lines at this time. The names of the letters were slightly different to those for later varities Greek.
This is the modern Greek alphabet (the Classical Attic pronunciation) used today: