Modern Greek

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History of the
Greek language

(see also: Greek alphabet)
Proto-Greek (c3000BC)
Mycenaean (c1600BC-1100αBC)
Ancient Greek
Aeolic, Arcadocypriot,
Attic, Doric, Ionic

Koine Greek (from c323 BC)
Medieval Greek (c330-1453)
Modern Greek (from 1453)
Cappadocian, Cypriot,
Demotic, Griko, Katharevousa,
Pontic, Tsakonic, Yevanic

Modern Greek (νεοελληνικά or νεοελληνική γλώσσα, lit. Neo-Hellenic/Neo-Hellenic language) is a dialect family that refers to the fifth stage of the evolution of the Greek language (the first four being Mycenean, Ancient Greek, Post-Classical or Hellenistic Greek and Medieval Greek), and it includes every dialect and idiom of Hellenic speech that exists in the world today. Modern Greek had started taking shape well into the Middle Ages but for convenience linguists place its starting point at the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD. During the middle ages and up until the rebirth of Greek nationalism in the 19th century, Modern Greek was officially known as Romaic (Ρωμαίικα), signifying the language spoken in the Eastern Roman Empire.


The main dialects of Modern Greek are:

  • Demotic (Δημοτική): During the middle ages the vernacular language of most Byzantines, notably in mainland Greece, Asia Minor and Constantinople. Demotic is now the official language of the Hellenic Republic (Greece), and is therefore also referred as the "Koine Modern Greek" (common modern Greek) or less strictly as "Modern Greek". Demotic has a variety of different of sub-branches, which due to their great intelligibility are regarded as idioms of Koine Modern Greek rather than separate dialects. Modern Greek idioms are divided into two main categories, Northern and Southern idioms.
Examples of Northern idioms are Rumelian, Epirote, Thessalian, Macedonian, Thracian.
The Southern category is divided into groups that include idioms from:
  1. Megara, Aegina, Old Athens, Kimi and Mani
  2. Peloponnese (except Mani), Cycladic isles and Crete, Ionian isles, Northern Epirus
  3. Dodecanese and Cyprus.
Demotic has officially been written in monotonic Greek script since 1982.
  • Katharevousa (Καθαρεύουσα): A semi-artificial dialect created 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.
  • Tsakonic (Τσακωνική or Tsakonian): Spoken today only by 10 villages around the city of Sparta in the region of Laconia in Southern Peloponnese. Tsakonic evolved directly from Laconian (ancient Spartan) and therefore descends from the Doric branch of the Greek language. It has no heritage from Hellenistic Koine and is significantly different from all its child dialects (such as Demotic and Pontic).
  • Pontic (Ποντιακή, see Pontic Greek): Originally spoken in the Pontus region of Asia Minor until most of its speakers were displaced to mainland Greece during the great population exchange between Greece and Turkey that followed the Destruction of Smyrna. It hails from Hellenistic and Medieval Koine but preserves characteristics of Ionic since ancient colonisations.
  • Cappadocian (Καππαδοκική or Cappadocian): A dialect close to and of the same fate as Pontic. Hails directly from the Alexandrian and Byzantine tongues, and its speakers settled in mainland Greece during the great population exchanges.
  • Southern Italian (Κατωιταλική or Griko): Spoken by around 15 villages in the regions of Calabria and Apulia. The Southern Italian dialect is the last living trace of Hellenic elements in Southern Italy that once formed Magna Graecia. It hails directly from the Dorian settlers who colonised the area from Sparta and Corinth in 700BC, and therefore hails from the Doric branch of ancient Greek. It has evolved independently from Hellenistic Koine, being thus very different from most Modern Greek dialects, except Tsakonic (also in the Doric dialect branch).

Demotic as Koine (Standard) Modern Greek

Koine Modern Greek (Κοινή Νεοελληνική) refers to the idiom of Demotic that was chosen as the official language of the Hellenic Republic and Cyprus. 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 idioms are the vernacular language of most rural Greece and the Greek diaspora throughout the world. Koine Modern Greek evolves from the Southern Demotic idioms, mainly the ones of Peloponnese.

In short, Koine 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 Koine 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 Athens). 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, the same dual-language status of the late Byzantine Empire was readapted. 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 had assimilated some foreign vocabulary and loan words from various languages such as Latin, Italian, and Turkish, great part of which, was inevitably cleansed after its long-lasting co-existence with Katharevousa.

Evolution from Ancient to Modern Greek

Due to the long history of the Greek language it is hard to point out specific linguistic differences between distant periods such as "ancient" and "modern" Greek. For example the pronunciation of Beta, Gamma and Delta is commonly regarded as an important phonetic difference between Ancient and Modern periods, even though it has pre-existed since the 5th century BC in non-Attic dialects (such as Boetian). The only way to analyse the evolution of Greek until modern times, is to view the language as a whole by examining all its four periods (whose chronological boundaries are symbolic).

The development from Ancient Greek to Modern Greek has affected phonology, morphology and vocabulary.

The main phonological changes occurred during the Hellenistic period, and included:

  • development of the voiceless aspirated stop consonants — theta, phi and chi — to voiceless fricatives
  • development of the voiced stop consonants — delta, beta and gamma — to voiced fricatives
  • simplification of the system of vowels and diphthongs.

The phonological changes were not reflected in the orthography.

The morphological changes affected both nouns and verbs. Some of the changes to the verbs are parallel to those that affected the Romance languages as they developed from Vulgar Latin — for instance the loss of certain historic tense forms and their replacement by new constructions — but the changes to the nouns have been less far-reaching. Greek has never experienced the wholesale loss of word-endings that has for instance made Spanish, French and Italian separate languages from Latin.


  • ΑΡΙΣΤΟΤΕΛΕΙΟ ΠΑΝΕΠΙΣΤΗΜΙΟ ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗΣ, ΙΝΣΤΙΤΟΥΤΟ ΝΕΟΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΩΝ ΣΠΟΥΔΩΝ, Νικόλαος Π. Ανδριωτης - Ιστορία της Ελληνικης γλωσσας. (Nikolaos P. Andriotis, History of the Greek language)
  • Mario Vitti, Histoire de la littérature grecque moderne.