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The Greek Language

Greek, called “el-li-ni-ka” by Greek Speakers, is the official language of Greece and one of the two official languages of Cyprus (the other language is Turkish). It is also spoken by the autochthon populations of Albania, Bulgaria, FYROM and Turkey as well as by the Greek minorities in Australia, Canada, Germany, UK, Russia, Serbia, USA etc. It is one of the official languages of the European Union.

The Greek language has its origins in the Indo-European languages and is the longest known language in history to still be officially spoken. The most ancient text of the Greek language is the Proto – Greek, which is dated from 2500 – 1700 BC. However, surviving texts, which in this case includes the discovery of Linear B, begin from the time of the Mycenaean civilization, dating from the 15th or 14th century BC. The ancient Greek language was spoken during the Archaic (9th – 6th century BC) and the Classic (5th – 4th century BC) period in Greece. Ancient Greek was spoken during the Hellenistic period as well, though, that stage of the language is referred to as Koine Greek (post-Classical antiquity 300BC – 300 AD), which was the lingua franca for the Mediterranean. Moreover, Koine Greek was the first common dialect between the Greeks and comprises the third period of the Greek language as it is the main bridge for Modern Greek. It was also the language of the New Testament of the Christian Bible and the teaching medium for Christianity. Medieval or Byzantine Greek is described as the fourth period of the Greek language. It starts with the transfer of the capital of the Roman Empire to Costantinoupolis in 330 AD and finishes with its fall in 1453 by the Ottoman Empire.

The fall of the Byzantine Empire was followed by the fifth stage of the Greek language, which is the today’s Modern Greek. During the 19th and 20th century there was a stage of diglossia, as the language was separated into the Demotic and the learned Katharevousa. The Demotic was the one which dominated on both official and unofficial levels and constitutes the official Modern Greek Language of both Greece and Cyprus.

The Greek language is the native language of about 12 million people (mostly the populations of Greece and Cyprus). Nevertheless, the total number of people who speak Greek is estimated to be approximately 20 million, either as a first or second language.

During the evolution of the Greek language there were some ancient dialects which managed to survive and which are spoken in different local forms in some places of the Greek nation today. These dialects are:

  • Cappadocian: This particular Greek dialect was spoken in Cappadocia, Turkey. After the Cappadocian speakers moved to Greece because of the population exchange in 1923, they used Modern Greek rather than their native language. Today there are still a few native Cappadocian speakers in Central and Northern Greece. Because of the surrounding Turkish majority, the Turkish influence on the dialect is significant.
  • Cypriot: The origins of Cypriot Greek come from the dialect of Koine Greek and it is the daily way of speech for the Greek Cypriots of Cyprus - a population of nearly 800,000 people. Even some older Turkish Cypriots have the Cypriot dialect as their first language whilst others have it as their second language. However, in formal situations the official Greek language is used, for politeness purposes, such as the Media, schools etc. This dialect came up after many different conquerors administer the island over the centuries. It has been strongly influenced by archaic forms of Greek, old French, Turkish, Italian, Venetian and English. Noteworthy is the fact that Greeks have difficulties understanding the Cypriot dialect and this is a reason why Cypriots usually use the Modern Greek language to show their respect during any interactions.
  • Grico: In Greek, Grico is known as Katoitaliotika, and it is a dialect of Modern Greek spoken by the citizens of Southern Italy (Magna Graecia – “Big Greece”) and Sicily. The towns and villages compiling the population of Magna Graecia amounts to approximately 40,000 people. This community has been recognized by the Italian parliament as the “linguistic minority of the Grico – Salentinian ethnicity”.
  • Cretan: This dialect is considered the oldest dialect in Greece. In addition to being spoken in Crete, it is also spoken in a village of Syria called Al Hamidiyah, and Turkey, from Muslim Cretans, after the population exchange in 1923. The Cretan dialect is known for the folk Cretan couplets (mandinada), the confection of archaic idioms and the avoidance of consonant clusters.
  • Pontic: Pontic is used by the Pontian Greeks who live on the southern coasts of Black Sea. Its characteristics are based on Koine and Byzantine Greek, Turkish, Persian as well as various Caucasian languages.
  • Tsakonian: This dialect is spoken by Greeks in some villages of Peloponnesus. Its origins come from the Doric dialect of Ancient Greek. It is divided into three additional dialects which are known as Northern, Southern and Propontis Tsakonian.
  • Yevanic: The origins of Yevanic come from the Hellenistic Koine and also include an element of Hebrew. It is typically spoken by Greek Jews.

The Greek language has made significant contributions to humanity in general. First of all, the Latin alphabet was based on the Greek alphabet and according to several researches it has been proven that more than 150 000 words of the English language are of Greek origin. In addition to this, most of the international scientific terminologies are Greek. For example, the word “trigonometry” in Mathematics is based on the Greek “tri-go-no-me-tri-a” (ôñéãùíïìåôñßá). Another example is the word “desert” in English. This word in Greek is called “erimos” and in the case of a scientific case, a scientist refers to it as “erimology” instead of “desertology” using the Greek word. It is also a fact that most of the names of our galaxy’s asterisms have Greek names, for example, Centaurs, Taurus etc.

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