WHAT IS A DIALECT?
The Greek language, although it remained cohesive from antiquity to the present, has never been uniformly spoken throughout the Greek speaking region, thus forming local dialectal variations. Eventually one of these variations prevailed displacing the others and becoming the standard (“koine”) language of the Hellenophones. Accordingly, the ancient attic dialect formed the basis of the common language which was spoken during the Alexandrian and Roman times and whose gradual division has led to new dialectal forms since the early Byzantine era. At the end of the first millennium the formation of the Modern Greek dialects and idioms had already started. The forms of the Greek language which differ from region to region are known as dialects, the linguistic science however makes a distinction between a dialect (when local differences are significant and obstruct comprehension by other same language speakers non inhabitants of the region) and an idiom or dialectical variation (when differences are noticeable but do not inhibit mutual illegibility). Nowadays we consider as dialects the Pontiac (in which the Greek of Crimea-Mariupol are included), the Cappadocian, the Tsakonian and the Southern Italian. All the other regional variants of the Modern Greek Standard are known as idioms. In particular, the Cretan and Cypriot idioms are exceptionally known as dialects, thus acknowledging an intermediate level of language variation.
CLASSIFICATION CRITERIA OF MODERN GREEK DIALECTS
There is no consensus among researchers regarding the classification and differentiation criteria of the Modern Greek dialects and idioms, since there are no distinct geographical borders. Some indicative examples for each language level are provided below regarding the differentiation criteria on which research usually focuses. Some of them constitute survivals of the language ’s older forms while others are innovations of the standard Modern Greek language.
- Unstressed [e] and [ο] are raised to [i] and [u] respectively (“devoicing”) and unstressed [i] and [u] are typically deleted, e.g. παιδί > πιδί, κουλούρι > κ'λούρ'. This feature proliferates mainly in Northern Greece (and is called “Northern vocalism”).
- Pronunciation of [k] as [ts] (velar softening, known as “tsitakismos”), e.g. Κυριακή > Τσυριατσή. This feature proliferates in the Aegean Islands, Mani and Crete among others.
- Geminate consonants, who are pronounced distinctively long, e.g. θάλασ-σα. This feature proliferates mainly in the Dodecanese islands, Cyprus and South Italy.
- Lack of synizesis, e.g. τα παιδία, η μηλέα. This feature proliferates mainly in Pontos, South Italy, the Eptanese (Ionian islands) and Mani.
- Preservation of the final –ν, e.g. το παιδίν. This feature proliferates mainly in the Dodecanese islands and Cyprus.
- Ending of the 3rd plural, Simple Present Tense, active voice in -ουσι instead of -ουν, e.g. έχουσι instead of έχουν. This feature proliferates mainly in the Dodecanese islands and Cyprus.
- Masculine article [i] instead of [ο], e.g. ι Νίκους. This feature proliferates mainly in Northern Greece.
- Augmentation formed with [i-] instead of [e-] in the past tenses, e.g. ήλεγα, ηφέρνανε. This feature proliferates in the Dodecanese islands, Crete and Cyprus.
- Use of the interrogative pronoun είντα instead of τι, e.g. είντα θές; This feature proliferates mainly in the Aegean islands.
- Indirect object expressed in the accusative instead of the genitive case, e.g. θα σε δώσω instead θα σου δώσω. This phenomenon abounds in Northern Greece, Pontos and Asia Minor.
- Clitic attachment to the right (and not to the left, as in Standard Modern Greek) e.g. έδωσά σου instead σου έδωσα. This phenomenon proliferates mainly in the Aegean islands and Asia Minor.
THE MODERN GREEK DIALECTS
The conventional linguistic and geographical classification which is usually deployed based on a combination of linguistic (mainly phonetic) and geographical criteria is depicted in the table below:
- Southern Italian
- Asia Minor
- Mani, Kymi and Old Athens
Survival of the Modern Greek dialects
Nowadays and especially after the Second World War the local variations of the Modern Greek language convey a picture of decline and in some cases they have already become extinct (e.g. the Cappadocian dialect). Specifically the Modern Greek dialects constitute an element of cultural tradition rather than living languages in use. Under the pressure of socioeconomic factors (modifications in the structure of the traditional societies which were preserving the local language forms) and due to the wide use of the standard form of Modern Greek (via the channels of compulsory education and the mass media) even the modern Greek idioms are being used by less and less speakers (mainly elderly people). Furthermore, these forms are constantly changing at all language levels (phonology, morphology, vocabulary), thus tending to be assimilated by the standard Modern Greek.
- Anagnostopoulous, G. (1924): Introduction to the Modern Greek dialectology. About the emergence of Modern Greek dialects. Επετηρίς της Εταιρείας Βυζαντινών Σπουδών 1: 93-108(in Greek). [Εισαγωγή εις την νεοελληνική διαλεκτολογία. Περί της αρχής των Νεοελληνικών διαλέκτων. Επετηρίς της Εταιρείας Βυζαντινών Σπουδών 1: 93-108]
- Andriotis, N. (1933): About the emergence of the northern idioms of Modern Greek. Yearbook of the Society for Byzantine Studies 10: 304-23. (in Greek). [Περί της αρχής των βορείων ιδιωμάτων της νέας ελληνικής. Επετηρίς της Εταιρείας Βυζαντινών Σπουδών 10: 304-23].
- Dawkins, R. M. (1940): The Dialects of Modern Greek. Transactions of the Philological Society, 1-38.
- Kontosopoulos, N. (2001): Dialects and idioms of Modern Greek. Athens: Grigoris (in Greek).[Διάλεκτοι και ιδιώματα της Νέας Ελληνικής. Αθήνα: Γρηγόρης.]
- Newton, B. (1972): The generative interpretation of dialect. A study of Modern Greek phonology. Cambridge: CUP.
- Vayacacos, D. V. (1972): Modern Greek, Modern Greek dialects and the Historical Dictionary of the Greek language of the Academy of Athens. Accompanied by a bibliography of 2630 titles. Lexicographic Bulletin 12: 81-276 (in French). [Le grec moderne, les dialectes neohelleniques et le dictionnaire historique de la langue grecque de l' Academie d' Athenes. Avec une bibliographie de 2630 titres. Λεξικογραφικόν Δελτίον 12: 81-276]
- Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs & Centre for the Greek Language (1999): Dialect enclaves of the Greek language. Athens (in Greek) [Διαλεκτικοί θύλακοι της ελληνικής γλώσσας. Αθήνα].
- Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs & Centre for the Greek Language (1999): The Greek Language and its dialects. Athens (in Greek) [Η Ελληνική Γλώσσα και οι Διάλεκτοί της. Αθήνα].