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Greek and Cypriot Dialects: Distinct Varieties of the Same Language

Greek Cypriot Dialects
The Cypriot dialect retains many features of Ancient Greek and is considered to be a dialect of Koine Greek. Credit: Oleg Kr/ CC BY NC ND 2.0

Greek and Greek Cypriot dialects are distinct varieties of the Greek language that has evolved over the millennia.

They share a common linguistic heritage, but they have developed distinctive features over time due to historical, geographical, and cultural factors. These differences are evident in various aspects of language, including pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and syntax.

Greek Cypriot is the dialect spoken by Cypriots living in Cyprus and abroad. It is estimated that the Greek Cypriot dialect is spoken by more than seven hundred thousand people in Cyprus and several hundred thousand abroad.

In Cypriot schools, people are taught standard Greek, including standard Greek pronunciations, grammar and spelling. But if you listen to what people say, you’ll notice that listening to Cypriots speak and listening to Greeks speak is very different, to the point that a person speaking standard Greek might have difficulty understanding someone speaking Cypriot Greek.

Even though it is considered a Greek dialect, the distance from mainland Greece and the isolation from the rest of the Greek-speaking world led to various linguistic characteristics distinct from standard Modern Greek.

Cyprus was cut off from the rest of the Greek-speaking world from the 7th to the 10th century AD due to Arab attacks.

It was reintegrated into the Byzantine Empire in 962 to be isolated again in 1191 when it fell to the hands of the Crusaders.

The Cypriot dialect retains many features of Ancient Greek and is considered to be a dialect of Koine Greek. Although Cyprus has endured foreign influences, the Cypriot dialect has remained not only Greek but Ancient Greek at the core.

Differences between Greek and Cypriot dialects

  • Cypriot Greek has a richer consonant inventory than Standard Modern Greek, including geminate consonants (e.g., σσ, ρρ) and palato-alveolar consonants (e.g., σ, ζ).
  • Cypriot Greek has a more complex vowel system than Standard Modern Greek, with distinctions in length and quality that are not present in the mainland dialect.
  • Stress patterns in Cypriot Greek often differ from Standard Modern Greek, leading to variations in word pronunciation
  • Cypriot Greek has a unique way of forming the past tense, using a suffix -ε- that is absent in Standard Modern Greek.
  • Cypriot Greek has a rich collection of idiomatic expressions and proverbs that reflect the island’s culture and history.

As one outsider who lived for years in both Greece and Cyprus observed, writing in, Cypriot Greek is a lot harsher and thicker. Most notably with consonants.

“Things like the “SH” and “CH” sounds, which are missing from normal Greek, are scattered throughout Cypriot Greek. There are even whole new words, like “μιλώ” (mi-LOH – I speak) and “θωρώ” (thoh-ROH – I see) which are completely Cypriot Greek words. When put alongside a large number of borrowed or altered words, it can make Cypriot Greek sound more foreign than it really is.”

Cypriot dialect will continue to evolve

A Greek living in Cyprus noted the differences and described them in the following way:

“What I realized while speaking the dialect was that modern-day spoken Cypriot is so close to Ancient Greek. One could even say that modern-day Cypriot Greek could be closer to Ancient Greek than modern Greek itself. Resemblances are found in almost all aspects of the dialect.

“There are lexical and grammatical similarities. In some cases, Cypriot words are exactly the same as Ancient Greek words.”

In a recent essay by Antonis Pastellopoulos, a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Warwick, argues that the Greek Cypriot dialect is gaining ground on the Mediterranean island.

More and more Cypriots are using their local dialect on the internet, music, television, and movies.

“As the dialect is neither officially codified nor taught in formal education, it appears to me that it will continue to evolve from the bottom-up, entrenching itself further and further unto contemporary Cypriot reality,” he says.

“It is after all during our contemporary times, rather than the previous century – rich as it was in its poetry and folk traditions – that writing, performing, and singing in the Greek Cypriot dialect has become widespread to a seemingly unprecedented degree, a process that appears only to be accelerating, rather than stopping,” the Cypriot academic notes.

Related: Learning the Greek Cypriot Dialect With Online Tutor

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