Why do I experience a profound feeling when I read and understand old writings of my mother language?

Oh. This is a fascinating question, Kelvin. And Faleminderit to you, shoku!

I don’t get that feeling with Ancient Greek. I don’t get that feeling with Old, Middle, or Early Modern English. I do get a slight feeling of something with Early Modern Greek.

Allow me to speculate.

A lot of it is missing what you haven’t had. With Greek, we have had the glorious 3000 year history of the language pummelled into us. At least in my millieu growing up, that did not inspire yearning and beauty; it inspired annoyance. It was an imposition. To the extent that I like Ancient Greek writing at all, that came much later.

With English, Shakespeare is part of the ether all around you; there’s a joy to reading him, but it’s a joy of art, not of heritage. Beowulf and the Wanderer are recognisably not English; it’s hard to feel they’re in your language. Chaucer… maybe the closest to what you’re describing in English: recognising the echoes of the early version of your language—unfamiliar, because I wasn’t taught Middle English, but familiar, because it is identifiably English.

I felt that connection more strongly with Early Modern Greek; but ideologies of language always play a role in Greeks’ connection to their language. From a Demoticist perspective, with Early Modern Greek you see glimpses of what could have been, if it were not for the pedants: a pristine ideal of the true vernacular language. That’s a myth, of course: there’s no such thing as a pristine language, and the pinnacle of pristineness, the Cretan Renaissance, was a purist Demotic that quite artfully hid its own artifice. But it’s a seductive myth none the less.

My idle speculation—and tell me if you take offence:

Albanian hasn’t had a millennium or two of written tradition. It has maybe a couple of centuries of intense literary production. In Buzuku’s missal, you see a canonical text, with all the weight of 1500 years of religious tradition behind it, in a language you recognise as yours, but which is also archaic and unfamiliar. And you’re no naive reader, Kelvin, from your other answers here: you know Albanian dialect pretty damn well.

So the text feels to you like what you were missing, and what your neighbours have taken for granted. A complex, monumental, literary forebear.

You’re lucky. Because I open the New Testament in Koine, and just think “meh”.

You remind me of the contrast between my visit to London and my visits to Crete.

London is my dominant culture’s home. I went to London, and was agape at seeing the Globe and St Paul’s and St Clement’s and Big Ben. It felt wondrously like coming home. It felt like coming home, because I’d never been there before, yet I recognised so much.

As opposed to how I feel when I actually go home to Crete. “Meh, not this shit again.” 🙂

Why did the Ancient Greek alphabet differentiate between κ (kappa) and ϙ (koppa)?

See: Koppa (letter)

Or, see what I have written on the subject:


The Phoenecian alphabet was adapted for Greek more stupidly than we might think. The greater dumbness occurred with san; but koppa also owes its short tenure to archaic Greeks being slow on the uptake.

Phoenecian had a velar plosive, kap̱ (Hebrew kaf, כ), and a uvular plosive, qôp̱ (Hebrew qof, ק). When the Greeks adopted the Phoenecian alphabet, they took both letters on. Greek does not have a uvular; but the /k/ before back vowels was pronounced slightly retracted, as one would expect: [ḵ]. So the Greeks spent a couple of centuries writing /ko/ and /ku/ as ϙο, ϙυ; this happened throughout Greece (Jeffery 1990:33). Gradually, though, Greeks realised that [ḵ] and [k] are the same phoneme, and should be written as the same letter; while some Doric regions held on to koppa into the fifth century, it did not survive the switch to the Milesian alphabet.

Since koppa does not represent a real phonological distinction, it is only used in transcription of inscriptions, not in linguistic discussion of dialects. It does not appear in lexica, for example.

Are there any dialects of Greek acknowledged to be unintelligible to mainstream Greek within Greece itself?

Now, this is Dimitris Almyrantis asking, so he deserves some politics in his answer!

“Acknowledged”? Well put, because mutual intelligibility is often more about identity politics than about communication. As in the cause célèbre of the PM of Macedonia bringing along an interpreter to his meeting with the PM of Bulgaria.

Greeks acknowledge idioms where anyone else would say “dialect”, and “dialects” where anyone else would say “that’s a different language”. For the same ideological reasons that people on Quora grouse that there’s no such thing as Northern Greek, and that I got harangued once for saying I work on Middle Greek. At least it never got as bad as Turkey, where linguists were discouraged from researching dialects at all.

That said.

Tsakonian is within Greece, and it’s so, so a different language, it’s not funny. Check out Tsakonian song online for an example. (And hang out there, I’ve written some neat stuff in my time.)

Of the other acknowledged “dialects” of Greek: Actual Cypriot, as opposed to Standard Greek with a nasal sing-song accent, is not mutually intelligible. Griko in Italy can be intelligible, though I think the moribund Calabrian variant is much more of a challenge. Pontic is not mutually intelligible, but it can be picked up (as Dimitra Triantafyllidou has); Mariupolitan ditto. [EDIT: Forgot Cappadocian. Way more different than Pontic.]

Cretan is deemed on the borderline of dialect and “idiom” in traditional Greek dialectology. It does less phonologically odd stuff than Cypriot, and Renaissance Cretan is approachable, but I agree with Bob Hannent: the genuine article is going to be a challenge for Standard Greek speakers

Within Greece, what you have left are “idioms”. The mutual intelligibility of those can be overstated.

Northern Greek, with its raising of unstressed /e, o/ to /i, u/, and its deletion of unstressed /i, u/, is not that interesting morphologically or lexically—but yes, phonetically it’s… something else. That’s what happens when you get rid of half your vowels. I presume that’s what you were exposed to in Northern Euboea, Dimitris.

(If you were in Kymi, you were exposed to a relic dialect related to Old Athenian, preserving /u/ for ancient upsilon. If you were anywhere else in Southern Euboea, what you heard was Arvanitika, and it’s no wonder you didn’t understand it.)

The 2004 international conference on Greek Dialectology happened in Lesbos. Someplace in Mytilini town, a local has scrawled some bon mots in the local dialect on the arch outside his café. Lesbos also has a Northern Greek dialect. So you can picture three internationally renowned Greek dialectologists (OK, two plus me), standing outside the café to the merriment of the locals, staring at the bon mots and trying to fill in the vowels.

The maximum meltdown happens in Samothrace, which has stuck with me because I honestly had no idea what the hell was going on when I first encountered it (in a phonetic transcription of WWI POW’s, published by Werner Heisenberg’s dad, August). The grammar of Samothracian I have, annoyingly has no sample texts.

So you’ve got Greek with half the vowels missing, right? OK.

Now take away all the r’s as well.

mavros “black” > mavwus. riɣani “oregano” > jiɣaɲ. anθropos “person” > aθjipus.

There’s a thesis on Samothracian grammar here: ονοματικό και ρηματικό κλιτικό σύστημα. Read the example sentences out loud to yourselves, and tell me you’d understand them…