Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-4nnqn Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-25T08:03:57.544Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

20d - The Greek Language and the Historical Dialects


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

J. B. Hainsworth
University of Oxford
Get access


By 1000 B.C. the general characteristics that mark off Greek from other Indo-European languages had been long developed, and important internal distinctions had emerged by which the major dialectal groups were permanently distinguished from each other. Though an absolute chronology cannot be deduced from linguistic data alone, it is convenient to assume that this date is also approximately that of the establishment of the antecedent forms of the classical dialects in the areas of the homeland, the Asiatic coast, and Cyprus where they are later attested. The evolution of the language proceeded from this time undisturbed by cataclysmic internal movements of peoples. Neither was it seriously disturbed by external influences, even when, after 750 B.C., Greek was carried by colonization far beyond its primitive area. In the colonial regions a few loanwords were acquired (e.g. λιτρα in Sicily, τυραννος in Ionia), but the mass of Semitic and even Anatolian loanwords present in Greek appears to have entered the language during the second millennium. Indigenous non-Greek languages (enclaves of which persisted in Lemnos and East Crete) had made their contribution even earlier. Isolation may retard linguistic change, but does not stop it. The contact of mutually intelligible dialects throughout the Greek-speaking area and the operation of similar pressures upon similar phonetic and grammatical features resulted in a broad evolution, in differing degrees and at different rates of change, in the same general direction. The details are complicated and demand lengthy discussion. No more than an outline is attempted here (section I, below).

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1982

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Allen, W. S. Vox Graeca. The Pronunciation of Classical Greek. Cambridge, 1968
Bartoněk, A. Development of the Long-Vowel System in Ancient Greek Dialects. Prague, 1966
Bartoněk, A. The Classification of the West Greek Dialects about 350 B.C. Prague, 1972
Brandenstein, W. Griechische Sprachwissenschaft I–II. Berlin, 1954–66
Calabrese, R.I grammatici antichi e i dialetti greci’, Atene e Roma NS 12 (1967) 159ffGoogle Scholar
Chadwick, J.Greek and Pre-Greek’, Transactions of the Philological Society 1969, 80ffGoogle Scholar
Chadwick, J.The Dorians’, Parola del Passato 166 (1976) 103ffGoogle Scholar
Chadwick, J.The Greek dialects and Greek prehistory’, Greece and Rome 3 (1956) 38ff (= Kirk, G. S. (ed.) Language and Background of Homer, 108ff, Cambridge, 1964)Google Scholar
Chadwick, J. The Prehistory of the Greek Language. Cambridge, 1964 (= The Cambridge Ancient History 11.2 (new edn. 1975), 805ff)
Chantraine, P. Grammaire homérique. i: Phonetique et morphologie. 3rd edn. Paris, 1958
Coleman, R.The dialect geography of Ancient Greece’, Transactions of the Philological Society 1963, 58ffGoogle Scholar
Cowgill, W. C.Ancient Greek dialectology in the light of Mycenaean’, in Birnbaum, H. and Puhvel, J. (eds.) Ancient Indo-European Dialects, 77ff. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966 Google Scholar
Edwards, G. P. The Language of Hesiod in its Traditional Context. Oxford, 1971
García-Ramón, J. L. Les origines postmycéniennes du groupe dialectal éolien (Suplementos a Minos 6). Salamanca, 1975
Gusmani, R.Isoglosse lessicali Greco-Ittite’, Studi linguistici in onore di V. Pisani, 501ff. Brescia, 1969 Google Scholar
Hainsworth, J. B.Greek views of Greek dialectology’, Transactions of the Philological Society 1967, 62ffGoogle Scholar
Hoffmann, O. and Debrunner, A. Geschichte der griechischen Sprache I–II. Rev. Scherer, A. . Berlin, 1969
Lejeune, M. Phonétique historique du mycénien et du grec ancien. Paris, 1972
Masson, E. Recherches sur les plus anciens emprunts sémitiques en grec. Paris, 1967
Meillet, A. Aperçu d'une histoire de la langue grecque. 3rd edn. Paris, 1930; reprinted 1935…1965
Palmer, L. R.The Language of Homer’, in Wace, A. J. B. and Stubbings, F. H. A Companion to Homer, 75ff. London, 1962 Google Scholar
Pavese, O. P.La lingua della poesia corale come lingua d'una tradizione poetica settentrionale’, Glotta 45 (1967) 164ff; (= Tradizioni e generi poetici della Grecia arcaica, 77ff, Rome, 1972)Google Scholar
Pisani, V. Manuele storico della lingua greca. Brescia, 1973
Porzig, W.Sprachgeographische Untersuchungen zu den altgriechischen Dialekten’, Indogermanische Forschungen 61 (1954) 147ffGoogle Scholar
Risch, E.Altgriechische Dialektgeographie?’, Museum Helveticum 6 (1949) 19ffGoogle Scholar
Risch, E.Die Gliederung der griechischen Dialekte in neuer Sicht’, Museum Helveticum 12 (1955) 61ff (= Kirk, G. S. (ed.) Language and Background of Homer, 90ff, Cambridge, 1964)Google Scholar
Ruipérez, M. S.Desinencias medias primarias indo-europeas’, Emerita 20 (1952) 8ffGoogle Scholar
Schmitt, R. Einführung in die griechischen Dialekte. Darmstadt, 1977
Schwyzer, E. Dialectorum graecarum exempla epigraphica potiora. Leipzig, 1923
Schwyzer, E. Griechische Grammatik I–III. Munich, 1938–53
Szemerényi, O.The Attic “Rückverwandlung”’, Studien zur Spracbwissenschaft und Kulturkunde (Gedenkschrift für W. Bradenstein), 139ff. Innsbruck, 1968 Google Scholar
Szemerényi, O.The Mycenaean and the historical Greek comparative and their Indo-European background’, Studia Mycenaea (Brno, 1968), 25ffGoogle Scholar
Szemerényi, O. Syncope in Greek and Indo-European. Naples, 1964
Thumb, A. Handbuch dergriechischen Dialekte. 1 (rev. Kiekers, E. , 1932); II (rev. Scherer, A. , 1958). Heidelberg
Wathelet, P. Les traits éoliens dans la langue de l'épopée grecque (Incunabula Graeca, 37). Rome, 1970
Wyatt, W. F.The prehistory of the Greek dialects’, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 101 (1970) 557ffGoogle Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats