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Modern Greek ( or , 'Neo-Hellenic', historically also known as Ρωμαίικα, 'Romaic') refers to the varieties of Greek spoken in the modern era. The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic modern features of the language had been present centuries earlier- from the third century BC to the tenth century AD. During much of this time, the language existed in a situation of diglossia, with regional spoken dialects existing side by side with learned, archaic written forms. Most notably, during much of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was known in the competing varieties of popular Demotic and learned Katharevousa. Today, Standard Modern Greek, based on Demotic, is the official language of both Greecemarker and Cyprusmarker. Greek is spoken today by approximately 12-15 million people, mainly in Greecemarker and Cyprusmarker, but also by minority and immigrant communities in many other countries.


Greek forms an independent branch of the Indo-European languages. Within Greek, all surviving forms of Modern Greek, except the Tsakonian dialect, are descendants of the common supra-regional (Koine) as it was spoken in late antiquity. As such, they can ultimately be classified as descendants of Attic, the dialect spoken in and around Athensmarker in the classical era. Tsakonian, an isolated dialect spoken today by a dwindling community in the Peloponesemarker, is a descendant of the ancient Doric dialect. Some other dialects have preserved elements of various ancient non-Attic dialects, but Attic Koine is nevertheless regarded by most scholars as the principal source of all of them.

Geographic distribution

Modern Greek is spoken by about 12 million people mainly in Greecemarker and Cyprusmarker. There are also traditional Greek-speaking settlements in the neighboring countries Albaniamarker, Bulgariamarker and Turkeymarker, as well as in several countries in the Black Seamarker area (Ukrainemarker, Russiamarker, Georgiamarker, Armeniamarker) and around the Mediterranean Seamarker (Southern Italy, Egyptmarker). The language is also spoken by emigrant communities in many countries in Western Europe, North America, Australia, as well as in Argentinamarker, Brazilmarker and others. Countries with notable number of speakers of Greek as a foreign language are Serbiamarker, Albaniamarker, Bulgariamarker and Romaniamarker.

Official status

Greek is the official language of Greecemarker where it is spoken by about 99.5% of the population. It is also, alongside Turkish, the official language of Cyprusmarker. Because of the membership of Greece and Cyprus in the European Union, Greek is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. Greek is officially recognised as a minority language in parts of Italymarker, Turkeymarker, Armeniamarker, Ukrainemarker and Albaniamarker.


The main dialects of Modern Greek are:

  • Demotic Greek (Δημοτική): Strictly speaking "Demotic" refers to all popular varieties of Modern Greek which followed a common evolution path from Koine and have retained a high degree of mutual intelligibility to the present day. As shown in Ptochoprodromic and Acritic poems, Demotic Greek was already before the 11th century the vernacular, "Roman" language of the Byzantine Greeks, notably in peninsular Greecemarker, the Greek islands, coastal Asia Minormarker, Constantinoplemarker and Cyprusmarker. Today, a standardised variety of Demotic Greek is the official language of the Hellenic Republicmarker (Greece) and Cyprus, and is referred to as the "Standard Modern Greek", or less strictly simply as "Modern Greek" or "Demotic".

Map showing the distribution of major Modern Greek dialect areas
Map showing important isoglosses between the traditional Modern Greek dialects (c.1900).
  • Purple: Area of "northern vocalism" (/ski'li/ > [skli])
  • Green: Area of palatalisation of /k/ > [ts] (/kiria'ki/ > [tsirja'tsi])
  • Yellow: Area of palatalisation of /k/ > (/kiria'ki/ >
  • Brown: Geminated initial consonants (/ne/ > [nne])
  • Red: Retention of word-final /n/
  • Dark brown: Historical /y/ > /u/

Demotic Greek comprises various regional varieties with minor linguistic differences, mainly in phonology and vocabulary. Due to their high degree of mutual intelligibility, Greek linguists refer to those varieties as "idioms" of a wider "Demotic dialect", known as "Koine Modern Greek" (Koini Neoelliniki - 'common Neo-Hellenic'). Most English-speaking linguistics tend to refer to them as "dialects", emphasising degrees of variation only when necessary. Demotic Greek varieties are divided into two main groups, Northern and Southern:

Examples of Northern dialects are Rumelian, Epirote, Thessalian, Macedonianmarker, Thracian.

The Southern category is divided into groups that include variety groups from:
#Megaramarker, Aeginamarker, Athensmarker, Cyme (Old Athenian) and Mani Peninsula (Maniot)
#Peloponnesemarker (except Mani), Cycladesmarker and Cretemarker, Ionian Islandsmarker, Northern Epirus, Smyrnamarker and Constantinoplemarker
#Dodecanese and Cyprus.

Demotic Greek has officially been taught in monotonic Greek script since 1982. Polytonic script remains popular in intellectual circles.

  • Katharevousa (Καθαρεύουσα): A semi-artificial sociolect promoted in the 19th century at the foundation of the modern Greek state, as a compromise between Classical Greek and modern Demotic. It was the official language of modern Greece until 1976. Katharevousa is written in polytonic Greek script. Also, while Demotic Greek contains loanwords from Turkish, Italian, Latin, and other languages, these have for the most part been purged from Katharevousa. See also Greek language question.

  • Pontic (Ποντιακά): Originally spoken in the Pontus region of Asia Minormarker until most of its speakers were displaced to mainland Greece during the great population exchange between Greece and Turkey that followed the Destruction of Smyrnamarker. It hails from Hellenistic and Medieval Koine but preserves characteristics of Ionic since ancient colonisations. Pontic evolved as a separate dialect from Demotic Greek as a result of the region's isolation from the Greek mainstream that followed the Battle of Manzikertmarker.

  • Cappadocian (Καππαδοκικά): A dialect close to and of the same fate as Pontic. Hails directly from the Alexandrian dialect, and its speakers settled in mainland Greece during the great population exchanges.

  • Southern Italian or Italiot (Κατωιταλιώτικα ): Comprising both Calabrian and Griko varietes, it is spoken by around 15 villages in the regions of Calabria and Apuliamarker. The Southern Italian dialect is the last living trace of Hellenic elements in Southern Italy that once formed Magna Graecia. Its origins can be traced to the Dorian Greek settlers who colonised the area from Spartamarker and Corinthmarker in 700 BC. However, it has received significant Koine Greek influence through Byzantine Greek colonisers who re-introduced Greek language to the region, starting with Justinian's conquest of Italymarker in late antiquity and continuing through the Middle Ages. Griko and Demotic are mutually intelligible to some extent, but the former shares some common characteristics with Tsakonian.

  • Yevanic: A recently extinct language of Romaniote Jews. The language was already in decline for centuries until most of its speakers were killed in the Holocaust. Afterward, the language was mostly kept by remaining Romaniote emigrants to Israelmarker, where it was displaced by Modern Hebrew.

  • Tsakonian (Τσακωνικά): Spoken in its full form today only in a small number of villages around the town of Leonidionmarker in the region of Arcadiamarker in Southern Peloponnesemarker, but partially spoken further afield in the area. Tsakonian evolved directly from Laconian (ancient Spartan) and therefore descends from the Doric branch of the Greek language. It has limited input from Hellenistic Koine and is significantly different from and not mutually intelligible with other Greek varieties (such as Demotic Greek and Pontic). Some linguists consider it a separate language because of this.

Demotic as Koiné (Standard) Modern Greek

Koiné Modern Greek (Κοινή Νεοελληνική) refers to the form of Demotic that was chosen as the official language of the Hellenic Republicmarker and Cyprusmarker. In English it is usually referred to as Standard Modern Greek. In its pure form it is spoken mainly in the urban parts of Greece, while its various regional varieties are the vernacular language of most rural Greece and the Greek Diaspora throughout the world. Koiné Modern Greek evolves from the Southern Demotic dialects, mainly the ones of Peloponnesemarker.

In short, Koiné Modern Greek is the natural continuation of Koine Greek, an ancient Greek dialect (known also as the "Alexandrian language") which came into existence after the conquests of Alexander the Great and the Hellenization of the known world. Hellenistic Koiné had assimilated many elements from various different Greek dialects (such as Ionic, Doric and Aeolic) but its nucleus had always been Attic (the dialect of Athensmarker). Hellenistic Koine had been spoken in several different forms in the region of Greece and the Greek speaking world during the entire Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, until it took the shape of Demotic in the Middle Ages.

After Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829, the same dual-language status of the late Byzantine Empire was re-adapted. The vernacular speech was Demotic (a term similar to "popular") and the official state dialect was Katharevousa ("purified"). Demotic was the language of daily use, and the latter was an archaic form (closer to Attic), used for official documents, literature, newscasting and other formal purposes. In 1976 Katharevousa was replaced by Demotic as the official language of the Greek state.During its long history the Greek language assimilated vocabulary from various languages such as Latin, Italian, and Ottoman Turkish, a substantial part of which lapsed during its long-lasting co-existence with Katharevousa.


A series of radical sound shifts, which the Greek language underwent mainly during the period of Koine, has led to a phonological system in Modern Greek that is significantly different from that of Ancient Greek. Instead of the rich vowel system of Ancient Greek, with its four vowel-height levels, length distinction, and multiple diphthongs, Modern Greek has a very simple system of five vowels. This came about through a series of mergers, especially towards /i/ (iotacism). In the consonants, Modern Greek has two series of fricatives in lieu of the Ancient Greek voiced and aspirated voiceless plosives. Modern Greek has not preserved length distinctions, either in the vowels or in the consonants.

Writing system

Modern Greek is written in the Greek alphabet, which has (24) letters, each with a capital and lowercase (small) form. The letter sigma additionally has a special final form. There are two diacritical symbols, the acute accent which indicates stress and the diaeresis marking a vowel letter as not being part of a digraph. Greek has a mixed historical and phonemic orthography, where historical spellings are used if their pronunciation matches modern usage. The correspondence between consonant phonemes and graphemes is largely unique,Exceptions include the spelling of /z/, which may be spelled <σ> or <ζ> and the pronunciation of <ντ>, which may be pronounced /nt/, /nd/, or /d/. but several of the vowel phonemes can be spelled in multiple ways.</ζ></σ> <σ><ζ>Thus reading is easy but spelling is difficult.</ζ></σ>

A number of diacritical signs were used until 1982, when they were officially dropped from Greek spelling as no longer corresponding to the modern pronunciation of the language. See monotonic orthography for the simplified modern set, and polytonic orthography for the traditional set. Monotonic orthography is today used in official usage, in schools and for most purposes of everyday writing in Greece. Polytonic orthography, besides being used for older varieties of Greek, is still used in book printing, especially for academic and belletristic purposes, and in everyday use by some conservative writers and elderly people. The Greek Orthodox Church continues to use polytonic and the late Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece have requested the reintroduction of polytonic as the official script.

The Greek vowel letters with their pronunciation are: <α> , <ε> , <η> , <ι> , <ο> , <υ> , <ω> .</ω></υ></ο></ι></η></ε></α> <α><ε><η><ι><ο><υ><ω>There are also vowel digraphs which are phonetically monophthongal: <αι> , <ει> , <οι> , <ου> , <υι> .</υι></ου></οι></ει></αι></ω></υ></ο></ι></η></ε></α> <α><ε><η><ι><ο><υ><ω><αι><ει><οι><ου><υι>The three digraphs <αυ>, <ευ> and <ηυ> are pronounced , and except when followed by voiced consonants or vowels, in which case they are pronounced , and respectively.</ηυ></ευ></αυ></υι></ου></οι></ει></αι></ω></υ></ο></ι></η></ε></α>

Modern Greek has also four diphthongs: <αη> (or <άη>) , <αϊ> (or <άι>) , <οη> (or <όη>) and <οϊ> (or <όι>) (diphthongs can better be transcribed using the IPA non-syllabic diacritic under instead of the approximant ).</όι></οϊ></όη></οη></άι></αϊ></άη></αη>

The Greek letters <β> and <δ> are pronounced and respectively.</δ></β> <β><δ>The letter <γ> is generally pronounced , but before the mid or close front vowels, it is pronounced (or and in some dialects, notably those of Crete and the Mani).</γ></δ></β> <β><δ><γ>Μoreover, before the mid or close back vowels, tends to be pronounced further back than a prototypical velar, between a velar and an uvular (transcribed ).</γ></δ></β>

The letters <θ>, <φ> and <χ> are pronounced , and respectively.</χ></φ></θ> <θ><φ><χ>The letter <χ>, before mid or close front vowels, is pronounced (or and in some dialects, notably those of Crete and the Mani) and before the mid or close back vowels, tends to be pronounced as a postvelar .</χ></χ></φ></θ> <θ><φ><χ><χ>The letter <ξ> stands for and <ψ> stands for .</ψ></ξ></χ></χ></φ></θ> <θ><φ><χ><χ><ξ><ψ>The digraphs <γγ> and <γκ> are generally pronounced in everyday speech, but are pronounced before the front vowels and and tend to be pronounced before the back and .</γκ></γγ></ψ></ξ></χ></χ></φ></θ> <θ><φ><χ><χ><ξ><ψ><γγ><γκ>When these digraphs are preceded by a vowel, they are pronounced in formal speech ( before the front vowels and and before the back and ).</γκ></γγ></ψ></ξ></χ></χ></φ></θ> <θ><φ><χ><χ><ξ><ψ><γγ><γκ>The digraph <γγ> may be pronounced in some words ( before front vowels and before back ones).</γγ></γκ></γγ></ψ></ξ></χ></χ></φ></θ> <θ><φ><χ><χ><ξ><ψ><γγ><γκ><γγ>The pronunciation for the digraph <γκ> is extremely rare, but could be heard in literary and scholarly words or when reading ancient texts (by a few readers); whereas retains its "original" pronunciation only in the trigraph <γκτ> where <τ> prevents the sonorization of <κ> by <γ> (hence ).</γ></κ></τ></γκτ></γκ></γγ></γκ></γγ></ψ></ξ></χ></χ></φ></θ>


Modern Greek is still largely a synthetic language. It is one of only two Indo-European languages that has retained a synthetic passive, the other being Albanian (the North Germanic passive is a recent innovation based on a grammaticalized reflexive pronoun). Noticeable changes in grammar (compared to classical Greek) include the loss of the dative case, the optative mood, the infinitive, the dual number, and the participles (except the past participle); the adoption of the gerund; the reduction in the number of noun declensions, and the number of distinct forms in each declension; the adoption of the modal particle (a contraction of > > > ) to denote future and conditional tenses; the introduction of auxiliary verb forms for certain tenses; the extension to the future tense of the aspectual distinction between present/imperfect and aorist; the loss of the third person imperative, and the simplification of the system of grammatical prefixes, such as augmentation and reduplication. Some of these features are shared with other languages spoken in the Balkan peninsula (see Balkan linguistic union), although not others, such as the postposed article.

Because of the influence of Katharevousa, however, Demotic is not commonly used in its purest form, and archaisms are still widely used, especially in writing and in more formal speech, as well as in some everyday expressions, such as the dative ('OK', literally 'in order') or the third person imperative ! ('long live!').


Some common words and phrases

  • Greek (man): <Έλληνας> .</Έλληνας>
  • Greek (woman): <Ελληνίδα> .</Ελληνίδα>
  • Greek (language): <Ελληνικά> .</Ελληνικά>
  • good morning: <καλημέρα> .</καλημέρα>
  • good evening: <καλησπέρα> .</καλησπέρα>
  • good night: <καληνύχτα> .</καληνύχτα>
  • good-bye: <χαίρετε> (formal); <αντίο> (semi-formal); <γεια σου=""> or <γεια σας=""> (informal).</γεια></γεια></αντίο></χαίρετε>
  • please: <παρακαλώ> .</παρακαλώ>
  • sorry: <συγγνώμη> .</συγγνώμη>
  • thank you: <ευχαριστώ> .</ευχαριστώ>
  • that: <αυτό> , <(ε)κείνο> .</(ε)κείνο></αυτό>
  • this: <αυτό> , <(ε)τούτο> .</(ε)τούτο></αυτό>
  • yes: <ναι> .</ναι>
  • no: <όχι> .</όχι>
  • generic toast: <εις υγείαν!=""> (literally "to health") or more colloquially: <γεια μας!=""> (literally "our health").</γεια></εις>
  • juice: <χυμός> .</χυμός>
  • water: <νερό> .</νερό>
  • wine: <κρασί> .</κρασί>


  1. 1. Encyclopedia of Modern Greek Literature By Bruce Merry 2. Academic American Encyclopedia By Grolier Incorporated 3.The New International Encyclopædia edited by Daniel Coit Gilman, Harry Thurston Peck, Frank Moore Colby 4. Academic American Encyclopedia By Grolier Incorporated 5. After Antiquity By Margaret Alexiou
  2. Based on: Brian Newton: The Generative Interpretation of Dialect. A Study of Modern Greek Phonology, Cambridge 1972, ISBN 0521084970
  3. Map based on: Peter Trudgill: Modern Greek dialects. A preliminary Classification, in: Journal of Greek Linguistics 4 (2003), p. 54-64 pdf
  4. cf. Iotacism
  5. G. Th. Pavlidis and V. Giannouli, "Spelling Errors Accurately Differentiate USA-Speakers from Greek Dyslexics: Ιmplications for Causality and Treatment" in R.M. Joshi et al. (eds) Literacy Acquisition: The Role of Phonology, Morphology and Orthography. Washington, 2003. ISBN 1586033603


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