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Top Dialects of the Greek Language

The history of Greece is a widely studied topic in Western history, and with good reason: Greece has left an important historical, cultural, and linguistic legacy to the rest of the world. Indeed, in English, many of our words feature Greek roots; we inadvertently use Greek when we talk about polygons or phobias.

Though the Greek language has evolved significantly since ancient times, the modern version of the language within present-day Greece does not have very much regional variation. Still, there are some important dialects to know, whether you’re studying Greek or you’re just interested in the language.

Image via Alun Salt / flickr

1. Demotic

Demotic Greek refers to the modern spoken form of the Greek language, and literally means “language of the people”. Indeed, nearly all of Greece’s 11 million inhabitants speak Demotic Greek, and if you’re learning spoken Greek, it’s likely that you’re learning this variety as well.

Demotic Greek is similar -- though not identical -- to Standard Modern Greek, which was declared the official language of Greece in 1976. Before that time,, the archaic Katharevousa variety -- which is nowadays used only in certain churches -- was the country’s official language.

2. Standard Modern

Given that Demotic Greek is spoken by nearly all of Greece’s inhabitants, it is often considered to be the same as Standard Modern Greek. However, the officially mandated version of the language -- Standard Modern Greek -- differs a bit from Demotic Greek. Specifically, Standard Modern Greek is a fusion between Demotic Greek and the archaic Katharevousa forms. Still, Standard Modern Greek is taught in schools, and is used in media such as newspapers.

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3. Pontic

Pontic Greek refers to the dialect that is spoken in the Pontus region to the south of the Black Sea. Though this region is in Turkey, it is inhabited largely by Greeks nowadays, and has historically been a Greek territory.

Compared to Demotic Greek, Pontic Greek retains many archaic features of the language that have since evolved within Greece. For example, many Pontic Greek letters preserve Ancient Greek pronunciations, rather than newer pronunciations that have evolved in dialects found in mainland Greece.

4. Outlying Dialects

As mentioned above, the Greek language does not feature very much dialectical variation within Greece. However, isolated communities retain very strong dialects, which are often so different from other forms of Greek that they are considered to be different languages. Some of these include Tsakonian, which is spoken in a small mountainous region in the Peloponnese peninsula, and Griko, a diaspora dialect spoken in Southern Italy.

Many languages like Arabic, Chinese, or Spanish have significant regional differences, and it can be hard or impossible to understand speakers of different dialects. Luckily for those studying Greek, simply learning the Demotic form of the language is sufficient to communicate with the vast majority of Greek speakers. Still, learning Greek is no easy feat. So don’t go at it alone: consider taking tailor-made Greek courses taught by a native speaker to guide you along in the process. Contact us to learn more about our flexible course and package options.