Which Languages Are Spoken In Greece?
Spoken for some 4000 years, ‘Greek’, is widely considered to be the oldest language in Europe, which is majorly spoken in Greece. The Greek language has contributed greatly to the growth of Western civilization. It had a lasting impact on different fields of knowledge, such as science, philosophy, mathematics, and literature, to name a few. During the colonization of the Middle East, which took place under the reign of Alexander the Great, Greek was the lingua franca there. As a result of which many modern European languages owe their roots to the Greek Language. Let’s find out which languages are spoken in Greece!
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Greek; the Official Language of Greece
With a history of over 4000 years, the oldest Indo-European language is the Greek Language.
The division of Greek languages has many stages such as Byzantine, Roman, Hellenistic, Classical, Archaic, and Modern Periods. Within the Greek-speaking world, the Ancient Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters and 5 vowels. The Greek alphabet emerged through the modification of Phoenician alphabets.
Greek alphabets contain both lowercase letters and uppercase letters. The Greek language utilizes three different accent marks: circumflex, acute, and grave. However, the use of most accent marks has ceased as a result of the writing reforms of 1982.
In the pronunciation of Modern Greek Languages, speakers use both unstressed and stressed vowel sounds. Moreover, diphthongs are used in the Modern Greek Language, which is the pronunciation of vowel sounds plus vowels. And as a result, words have a single consonant-like pronunciation even if they consist of double consonants.
History of the Modern Greek language tells us that two different versions of the same language existed, one written and one spoken. The term ‘Diglossia’ describes just that. For centuries, the Inhabitants of Greece have spoken the demotic language called the ‘Dimotiki’. Katharevousa was another language that remained under the great influence of ancient Greek and people solely used it for formal writing.
As far as today’s Greece and its spoken languages are concerned, 99% of the nation’s population speaks its official language, i.e. ‘Greek’. However, a certain percentage of Greeks also speak French, Italian, Turkish, Russian, Albanian, and English. Statistically speaking, 99.5% or 11100000 of the population speak the ‘Modern Greek’ language, i.e. the standard Greek dialect.
Other Spoken Languages In Greece
Let’s review some of the languages spoken in Greece;
Around half of the population of Greece speaks and understands English. That makes up around 51% of the Greek population. Schools in Greece give English education as a second or third language. Since Greece has now become a major tourist attraction, given its rich history, a tourist would need no help in Athens as English is commonly spoken there. However, some basic Greek will always come in handy if you want to visit some rural or remote areas.
In the Western Thrace region of Greece, an estimated 128000 people speak Turkish. This is the aftermath of Ottoman Rule, which was also responsible for making up Greece’s Muslim minority. 9700 native speakers and around 40000 speakers in Greece speak Turkish, as per Ethnology. “Western Thrace Turks” is the name for people who speak Turkish in Greece. Now, a very small number of these Western Thrace Turks remain due to the exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a large number of wealthy Russians immigrated to Greece. Though the number is unknown, people in Northern Greece and Greek Macedonia speak Russian as either a secondary or primary language. Many Pontic Greeks and Georgians speak Russian as a third or second language. Moreover, the older generation of Caucasus Greeks, settled in Central Macedonia, Salonika, and Kilkis, also speaks Russian.
There are around 40000 Macedonian speakers in Greece who claim to possess a Macedonian heritage, i.e., they proclaim to be direct descendants of Alexander the Great, who himself was a Macedonian Greek. Based on the description of their language, these Macedonian speakers differ from each other. Many of them claim to possess an Ethnic Macedonian national identity, hence describing their language as Macedonian.
The Sephardic community in Greece spoke Ladino, which is described. The Judeo-Spanish language is another name for Ladino. It emerged among Sephardic Jewish communities who faced expulsion from Spain in the year 1492. The language remained in use over the centuries wherever the Sephardic Jews settled. It includes regions such as the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans, the Middle East, and North Africa. When Sephardic Jews migrated to the Ottoman Empire, a lot of them settled in Greece, especially Thessaloniki city. Today around 56% of the population that lives particularly in the city of Thessaloniki, speak this language. During the twentieth century, a lot of Jews migrated to Israel, while a large majority of Greece’s Jews fell victim to murder. The Jewish people in Greece also dwindled due to various other reasons such as the Holocaust and World War II. As a result of these events, the number of Ladino-speaking individuals in the population decreased. However, there is still a small number of around 2000 to 8000 people in Greece that speak this language.
Greece and its Historical Dialects
Historically speaking, the oldest and arguably the most significant language in the world, is the Ancient Greek language. This language sowed its seeds in Ancient Greek back in the 6th century. The Odyssey and Iliad dialects of the ancient Greek language were considered the oldest dialects, but they have become extinct. Nobody knows what that dialect sounded like, however, historians can only judge from the text which is written on some walls.
Greece and its Modern Dialects
Until the late 1950s, the Cappadocian language was spoken in Greece. But since only a small percentage of speakers existed, the language went extinct in the 1960s. Moreover, the Maniot Greek dialect and the Thracian Greek dialect were also spoken in some areas of Western Thrace and Mani.
A large portion of Greece had succumbed to the wraiths of the mighty Turks, however, the few Maniots who were able to fight off the Turks from their land, took a lot of pride in speaking the Maniot Greek dialect. They amount to a number of 500,000.
Twisted traditions and customs prevailed in Greece, owing to the tribes in the Balkans known as the Thracians. However, currently, it’s very difficult to ascertain the number of Thracian Greek speakers.
Moreover, the archaic dialect of Sarakatsanika is spoken by Northern Greece’s mountain shepherds. Around 1.2 million people speak the Cypriot dialect.
Greece and its Regional Languages
Hellenic languages have different non-official dialects as well. From the region of Attic Greek comes the modern Greek dialects except for the Tsakonian language. In the Tsakonian regions of the Peloponnese, around 1200 people speak the Tsakonian dialect which further comprises Southern, Propontis, and Northern dialects.
The Ancient Doric dialect is the actual source from which the Tsakonian dialect has inherited its dialect connotations.
On the other hand, the language that is facing extinction and has very few speakers is Cappadocian Greek. One of the reasons for that is, the Cappadocians switched towards Standard Modern Greek because it was commonly used by the majority of the population. Around 500,000 people speak the dialect of Crete. Though it differs from Standard Greek, these people rarely use it in written forms.
Moreover, this dialect is also spoken by Greek Muslims outside of Athens, Crete, and the Ottoman-era Cretans. The local area of Mani is where the Maniot dialect is from. Furthermore, some 600,000 people living in the areas of the South Caucasus speak the Pontic Greek language.
The Yevanic Greek dialect, once spoken by the Jewish Romaniotes, has now become extinct. Some elderly Romaniotes in Ioannina can still identify this dialect, although their number is fewer than fifty. Greece is home to various regional languages, including these extinct ones.
Greece and its Minority Languages
As per the 2001 census, approximately 450,000 Albanian immigrants speak the Albanian language, making it the largest minority language spoken in Greece. Moreover, either by immigration, marriage, or ancestry, more than one million Greeks have Albanian descent.
The Greece Muslim minority, which is approximately around 128380, speaks the Turkish language called the Western Thrace Dialect.
Many people who identify themselves as Bulgarians, Macedonian, or Greek, speak the Macedonian Slavic dialect. They also identify themselves as Dopii as they speak the Dopia dialect, which is the local or original Greek.
Approximately 40,000 people in Greece speak Vlachs or Aromanian, an Eastern Romance language. In addition to that, around 3000 speakers in Macedonia and Greece speak Romanian, which is another popular Romance language.
On the other hand, about 2000-8000 speakers in Greece speak the ‘Ladino’, which has another name as the ‘Judeo-Spanish Language’.
Conclusively, we can proclaim that Greece is a land where the diversity of languages prevails, and this may be surprising to a lot of people. However, if one ponders upon different aspects, he may conclude that since Western thought, architecture, philosophy, and art have originated from Greece, the diversity in languages does make a lot of sense.
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