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Languages in Greece: Greek & Beyond

Updated: May 22, 2023

Greece is a country located in southeastern Europe with a rich history and culture. The country has two official languages, Greek and Greek Sign Language. Greek is the primary language spoken by over 10 million people worldwide and is the official language used in all government and public institutions in Greece.


Greek is a member of the Hellenic branch of the Indo-European language family and has its roots in ancient Greece. Although it is not a Romance language, it has borrowed many words from Latin and other Romance languages throughout history. It also has its own unique alphabet consisting of 24 letters.


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Greek Sign Language, on the other hand, is recognized as an official language in Greece and is used by the deaf community. Like other sign languages, it has its own grammar and syntax, which means it's not simply a visual representation of spoken Greek.


It's important to note that although both languages share the name "Greek," they are distinct from each other. While Greek Sign Language uses signs to communicate, spoken Greek uses sounds produced by vocal cords.


Importance of Language in Greek Culture and Society

The Greek language has been around for over 3,000 years and is considered one of the oldest languages in the world. It has a rich history and has played a significant role in Greek culture and society. In this section, we will discuss the importance of language in Greek culture and society.


Preserving Identity and Heritage

Language is closely tied to identity and heritage, which is why the Greek language plays such an important role in their culture. The Greek language has been passed down from generation to generation, allowing Greeks to maintain their unique cultural identity. This is particularly important as many aspects of Greek culture are intertwined with the language. For example, many ancient texts were written in Ancient Greek, so knowledge of the language is essential for understanding these texts.


Influence on Other Languages

The influence of the Greek language extends far beyond Greece itself. Many words and phrases used in English have been borrowed from Ancient Greek. For example, words like "democracy," "philosophy," "academy," and "theater" all have roots in Ancient Greek. This demonstrates just how much impact the Greek language has had on other cultures throughout history.


Essential for Understanding Literature, Philosophy, and History

Knowledge of the Greek language is essential for understanding some of humanity's most significant works of literature, philosophy, and history. Many classical works were originally written in Ancient Greek or have been translated into Modern Greek. Without an understanding of the language itself, it would be impossible to fully appreciate these works' depth and meaning.


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List of the Different Languages Spoken in Greece

Hellenic language is the official language of Greece and is spoken by the majority of the population. Greek, a dialect of Hellenic language, has its roots in ancient Greek and is the most widely spoken language in Greece. It is estimated that more than 99% of Greeks speak Greek as their first language. The Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters and has been used since the 8th century BC.


Apart from Hellenic language, several minority languages are also spoken in Greece, including Turkish, Albanian, and Romani. These languages are recognized under international law as minority languages and are protected by specific legislation in Greece. Turkish is spoken mainly in Thrace, while Albanian is spoken primarily in Epirus and Western Macedonia. Romani speakers can be found throughout Greece but mainly reside in Central Macedonia.


Greece has a significant population of speakers of Romance languages such as Italian, French, and Spanish due to its historical ties with these countries. Many Greeks study these languages at school or university level and use them for business or travel purposes. In addition to this, there are also communities of foreigners living in Greece who speak these languages as their mother tongue.


The use of English as a second language is also prevalent in Greece, particularly in urban areas and among younger generations. English is taught as a foreign language from an early age at schools across the country and many Greeks continue to learn it throughout their adult lives. This proficiency in English has made Greece an attractive destination for tourists from English-speaking countries.


Exploring the Various Dialects of Greece

Greece is a country steeped in history and culture, with a rich linguistic heritage that spans back thousands of years. Today, Greece is home to a diverse range of dialects, each with its own unique characteristics and nuances. In this section, we will explore some of the most notable dialects spoken across the country.


Demotic Greek: The Most Widely Spoken Dialect

The most widely spoken dialect in Greece is known as Demotic Greek. This variety is based on the language spoken in Athens and the surrounding regions, and it serves as the standard form of modern Greek. Demotic Greek is characterized by its soft pronunciation and simplified grammar, making it easy for learners to pick up.


Macedonian and Doric Dialects

In addition to Demotic Greek, there are several other notable dialects spoken throughout Greece. One such example is the Macedonian dialect, which is primarily used in northern Greece and parts of North Macedonia. This variety features a distinct accent and vocabulary that sets it apart from other forms of Greek.

Another well-known dialect is the Doric dialect, which can be heard primarily in the Peloponnese region. This variety has a more archaic feel than Demotic Greek and features unique grammatical structures not found in other forms of the language.


Regional Varieties

Beyond these two major dialect groups, there are also several regional varieties that are unique to specific cities or areas within Greece. For instance, the Tsakonian dialect spoken in Leonidio has been recognized as one of Europe's last surviving ancient languages. Meanwhile, Cypriot Greek is used exclusively on Cyprus and has evolved into its own distinct form over time.


Greek Diaspora Communities

Finally, it's worth noting that Greek diaspora communities around the world have developed their own distinct varieties of Greek over time. For example, Italian-Greek communities have created their own unique dialects that blend elements of both languages. Similarly, those living in Western Thrace or the South Caucasus have developed their own regional varieties that reflect their unique cultural heritage.


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Historical Evolution of Greek Language and Its Impact on Modern Greek

Evolution of Greek Language: From Medieval to Modern

Medieval Greek was the language used in Greece from the 5th to the 15th century. During this period, the language underwent significant changes, with new words and phrases being introduced from various sources such as Latin, Arabic, and Slavic languages. In particular, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, many Greek scholars fled to Italy and other parts of Europe, bringing with them their language and culture.

The modern Greek language is based on the modern form of Greek that emerged in the 19th century. This form was heavily influenced by Katharevousa (purified) Greek – a standardized version of the language that aimed to purify it from foreign influences. However, this led to a divide between those who supported Katharevousa and those who preferred Demotic (popular) Greek – a more colloquial version of the language spoken by ordinary people.


Changes in Modern Greek during the 20th Century

In the 20th century, there were significant changes in modern Greek due to its exposure to other languages. The incorporation of loanwords from French, English, Italian and Turkish into modern Greek became more common during this period. As a result of these changes, some Greeks expressed concern that their language was losing its purity.


In response to these concerns, a new spelling system for standard modern Greek was introduced in the 1990s. This system aimed at simplifying the language and making it easier for children to learn. For example, several letters were removed from the alphabet because they were not commonly used or had similar sounds as other letters.


Despite these changes over time - both good and bad -modern-day Greece still has one of the oldest living languages in existence today with rich cultural heritage attached to it. It is also worth noting that while standard modern greek is officially recognized as an official language by Greece and Cyprus, there are also many other dialects spoken in different regions of the country.


Prehistoric Inhabitants of Greece and Their Language

Ancient Greece is known for its rich history, culture, and language. The ancient Greeks were the first known inhabitants of Greece, and their language was the primary language spoken in the country from the 9th century BC to the 4th century AD. In this section, we will discuss prehistoric inhabitants of Greece and their languages.


The Ancient Greek Language

The ancient Greek language had several dialects, including the Attic dialect which was used in Athens and became the standard form of ancient Greek. This dialect was used in literature and philosophy by famous authors such as Plato, Aristotle, and Sophocles. Another well-known dialect is Mycenaean Greek which was an ancient language spoken by the Mycenaean civilization that existed from around 1600 BC to 1100 BC. Although it is not fully understood today due to a lack of written records, many scholars believe that it influenced later forms of Greek.


Other ancient Greek dialects included the Doric dialect which was spoken in Sparta and other parts of Peloponnese, and the archaic dialect which was used in literature until the 5th century BC. These different dialects allowed for regional variations in pronunciation and vocabulary.


Other Groups That Inhabited Greece Throughout History

In addition to Greeks, other groups that inhabited Greece throughout history included Thracian Greeks, Caucasus Greeks, Greek Muslims, and Albanians. These groups had their own languages and dialects such as Maniot Greek dialect spoken by Maniots who lived on southern Peloponnese peninsula or Pontic Greek spoken by Greeks living along Black Sea coastlines.


During Ottoman rule (1453-1821), Turkish speakers also lived in Greece. The Byzantine Empire used Byzantine Greek as its official language until its fall in 1453 AD after Constantinople's capture by Ottoman forces.


Cypriot Syllabary and Cypriot Greek: A Brief Overview

Cypriot Syllabary:

The Cypriot Syllabary is a writing system that was used in Cyprus during the Bronze Age. It dates back to around 1500 BC, and it is believed to have been influenced by the Minoan Linear A script. The Cypriot Syllabary consists of over 50 syllabic signs, which represent different consonant-vowel combinations. This writing system was used for several centuries until it was eventually replaced by the Greek alphabet in the 4th century BC.


Cypriot Greek:

Cypriot Greek is a dialect of the Greek language spoken in Cyprus. While it shares many similarities with Standard Modern Greek, there are also several unique characteristics that set it apart. One of these differences is that Cypriot Greek uses some letters that are not found in the standard Greek alphabet. For example, it includes an extra letter called "san," which represents the sound "sh." Certain words and phrases may be pronounced differently or have different meanings than they do in Standard Modern Greek.


Official Languages:

Today, the official languages of Cyprus are Greek and Turkish. While both languages are widely spoken on the island, there has historically been tension between ethnic Greeks and Turks living in Cyprus. In fact, from 1963-1974, there were violent clashes between these two groups that ultimately led to Turkey's invasion of northern Cyprus.


English as a Second Language in Greece

English is widely spoken as a second language in Greece due to its importance as a global language. While Greek is the official language of Greece, many Greeks are fluent in English as well. This is because English has become an essential tool for communication and business on a global scale.


Standard Greek, also known as Katharevousa, is the official form of the Greek language used in Greece today. It was created in the 19th century to replace Koine Greek, which was considered too informal for official use. However, many Greeks still speak dialects of Modern Greek that differ from Standard Greek.


Many English words have been adopted into the Greek language, and vice versa, due to cultural and linguistic influences. For example, "computer" in Greek is "ypologismos," while "internet" is "diktyo." On the other hand, some common phrases such as "opa!" have made their way into English from Greek culture.


Other foreign languages spoken in Greece include Bulgarian, Albanian, Spanish, and Latin among others. However, English remains one of the most important European languages and is commonly taught as a foreign language in schools throughout Greece.

Learning English can open up opportunities for Greeks both domestically and internationally. For example, it can help them communicate with tourists visiting their country or enable them to work for multinational companies that require employees who speak multiple languages.


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