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. 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!
Greek; the official language of Greece
With a history of over 4000 years, the oldest Indo-European language is the Greek Language.
Byzantine, Roman, Hellenistic, Classical, Archaic, and Modern Period are some of the stages into which the Greek language is divided. Throughout the Greek-speaking world, the Ancient Greek alphabet, which is composed of 24 letters- and 5 vowels. Phoenician alphabets were modified and led to the emergence of Greek alphabets.
Both Lower case letters and upper case letters can be found in Greek alphabets. Circumflex, acute, and grave are the three different accent marks used in the Greek language. However, most accent marks are not currently being used anymore, due to the writing reforms of 1982.
Unstressed and stressed vowel sounds are used in the pronunciation of Modern Greek Languages. Moreover, diphthongs are used in the Modern Greek Language, which is the pronunciation of vowel sounds plus the vowels. And as a result, words are pronounced as a single consonant even if they consist of double consonants.
Throughout the Greek-speaking world of the Mediterranean, starting from the ancient Alexandrian period, the most common dialect of Greece written and used was ‘Koine Greek’. The Greek Testament, the Hebrew Old Testament, and the Septuagint are the important texts written using the ‘Koine Greek’.
History of Modern Greek language tells us that there were two different versions of the same language, one written and one spoken, this was known as ‘Diglossia’. For centuries, the Inhabitants of Greece have spoken the demotic language called the ‘Dimotiki’. Another language that was highly influenced by ancient Greek was called ‘Katharevousa’ which was solely used for formal writing.
Hence, educational activities, newspaper columns, and government official documents used the medium of ‘Katharevousa’. Readers needed to be highly educated because many books were written in ‘Katharevousa’. Over time, the use of the language ‘Katharevousa’ was completely eradicated from university education, and because of that, the issue of diglossia was resolved in 1976.
Moving on, 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, French, Italian, Turkish, Russian, Albanian, and English are also spoken by a certain percentage of Greeks. Statistically speaking, the ‘Modern Greek’ language, i.e. the standard Greek dialect, is spoken by 99.5% or 11100000 of the population.
Other Spoken Languages In Greece
Let’s review some of the languages spoken in Greece;
English is understood and spoken by around half the population of Greece. That makes around 51% of the Greek population. English is taught in schools 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, Turkish is spoken by an estimated 128000 people. This is an aftermath of the 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. The people who speak Turkish in Greece are known as Western Thrace Turks. 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, Russain is spoken as a secondary or primary language in Northern Greece and Greek Macedonia. Many Pontic Greeks and Georgians speak Russian as a third or a second language. Moreover, Russian is also spoken as a second language by the older generation of Caucasus Greeks who settled in Central Macedonia, Salonika, and Kilkis.
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 describe their language as Macedonian.
The Sephardic community in Greece spoke Ladino, which is described as the Judeo Spanish language. Around 56% of the population, that live particularly in the city of Thessaloniki, speak this language. After 1948, a lot of jews migrated to Israel, while a large majority of Greece’s Jews were murdered. Due to this event, the population that spoke the Ladino language was reduced. 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 Peloponnese, around 1200 people speak the Tsakonian dialect which is further segmented into 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.
Another regional language that has gone extinct as of now is the Yevanic Greek dialect which was spoken by the Jewish Romaniotes. This dialect can be identified by some elderly Romaniotes in Ioannina. Their number is even less than fifty. Such regional languages are spoken in Greece.
Greece and its Minority Languages
The largest Minority language spoken in Greece is the Albanian language, which is spoken by approximately 450,000 Albanian immigrants, as per the 2001 census. 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 considered as the local or original Greek.
Vlachs or Aromanian are known as the Eastern Romance language and are spoken by 40,000 people in Greece. 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 is also known 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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