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Greek Language Dialects

Greeks of different dialects could speak to and understand each other, with varying degrees of difficulty.

Two dialects that were widely distant from each other might be just barely intelligible to each other. This would change over time.

As the Greeks became more cosmopolitan, coming into wider and more frequent contact with each other and with other nations, the Greek language became more uniform.

The development of literature and song also became a force for standardization, although never to the degree that we have seen for our own language under the influence of the printing press and television.

Attic-Ionic Dialect

Attic-Ionic Dialect group defines a series of closely related dialects spoken by Athenians and the Ionians occupying islands in the Aegean and the coast of modern day Turkey, but also includes several dialects spoken by peoples on the Aegean coast of the Greek mainland. This suggests that the Athenians are culturally related in some way to the Ionian Greeks, and some archaeologists suggest that the Ionians are refugees from Attica who fled during the Dark Age period.

Due to the fact that Ionia and Athens are two of the greatest contributors to Greek cultural development (especially literature) and since they become, over time, the most economically successful, this group of dialects eventually becomes the most pervasive. Most literature surviving from ancient Greece today is in the Attic or Ionic dialects.

Aeolic Dialect

Aeolic Dialect defines the dialects spoken by Greeks occupying the north and central islands of the Aegean, such as Lesbos. Sappho wrote many of her poems in her native Lesbian dialect, which is an Aeolic dialect. But Aeolic includes the dialects spoken by the Boeotians, northern neighbors of Attica, and the Thessalians above them.

Arcado-Cypriot Dialect

Arcado - Cypriot Dialect preserves most closely the language believed to have been spoken by the prehistoric Mycenaeans. This conclusion is based on many similarities with the language of the Linear B tablets.

One of the oddest features of this dialect is that it survives in only three places which are nowhere near each other. The first is Arcadia, the mountainous central region of the Peloponnese. The second is Cyprus, a large island far to the south, near Phoenicia. The third is Pamphylia, an isolated spot on the southern coast of Asia Minor.

Some historians theorize that when Doric-speaking people invaded or migrated into the Peloponnese, some of the native Mycenaeans retreated into the impregnable mountains of Arcadia, while others fled to resettle the distant island of Cyprus and the sheltered region of Pamphylia.

Doric Dialect

Doric Dialect is the largest category of West Greek dialects, including those spoken by all the Greeks of the Peloponnese except the Arcadians, Eleans, and some Achaians. The two most prominent Doric dialects are Argolic, spoken by the Argives of Argos, and Laconian, spoken by the Spartans. But Corinth, Megara, Rhodes, Cyrene, and Crete are all home to different Doric dialects as well.

Koine Dialect

In the wake of Alexander the Great's conquest, and with the rise and popularity of Attic and Ionic trade and literature, these dialects merge, also adopting a few things here and there from other languages and dialects, and become what would be called "Koine" or "Common" Greek. This would become the dominant Greek dialect in the Roman Empire, although traditional Attic remained popular as a literary dialect. The Old Testament was translated into Koine Greek and called the Septuagint, and the original books of the New Testament were written entirely in Koine.

orthodox church in Santorini

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