What are the differences between standard modern Greek and the Griko dialect?

I am delighted to be A2A’d this question.

There has been long-running, nationalistically driven, and tedious argument about how old the Greek dialects spoken in Southern Italy are, with to and fro from Italian linguists and Greek linguists, and with the great Romanist Gerhard Rohlfs kinda weighing in on the Greek side.

There is a significant difference between the Griko of Calabria, and the Griko of Salento. The Griko of Calabria, which is moribund, is much more obviously archaic: it has many more fossilised bits of Ancient Greek which only make sense if it was continuously spoken in place. The Calabrian Mafia’s heartland is in Greek-speaking territory, and its name, ‘Ndrangheta, sounds like something straight out of Sparta: Andragathia, “Manly Virtue”.

Salentino Griko, on the other hand, which is much healthier, is closer to Modern Greek both grammatically and lexically. My own pet theory is that Calabrian Greek is a continuation of Magna Graecia, while Salentine Greek reflects resettlement from Greece in Byzantine times. I’m not seeing much to refute that.

As for differences: if you picture Shakespearean English spoken in a Vaudeville Italian accent, you’ll be reasonably close.

  • Salentine Greek, at least, is just about mutually intelligible, though with a fair bit of difficulty.
  • A lot of the difficulty will be around the massive amount of vocabulary taken from Italian (and Calabrian/Salentino dialect)
  • Some of the difficulty will also be because Griko has become aligned to Italian phonotactics. No final -s anywhere. In most villages, no consonants alien to the Romance dialects: [θ, x, ɣ, ð] gone. Clusters alien to the Romance dialects gone: [ks] > [ts], for instance. Geminates all over the place (like in Cypriot, but unlike all other dialects of Modern Greek), and in fact the characteristic /ll/ > /ɖɖ/ of the Romance dialects.
  • The grammar is certainly archaic: the infinitive survives to a similar extent with Mediaeval Greek, after modals (telo pai ‘I want to go’ instead of θelo na pao ‘I want that I should go’). Participles are much more used as well.

Let me try out a parallel text. The Salentine lament on migration “My Man’s Gone Away” (Andra mu pai) was a hit in Greece in the 70s—which means it was mutually intelligible enough. To try and explain what’s going on, I’ll italicise the Italian words (which in fact Italian linguists routinely do), and I’ll boldface words that Greeks won’t recognise as too archaic. I’ll then give a calque into pseudo-Modern Greek (and bracketted Italian), so you can see the differences.

Klama (Andramu pai)

Telo na mbriakeftò.. na mi’ ppensefso,
na klafso ce na jelaso telo artevrài;
ma mali rràggia evò e’ nna kantaliso,
sto fengo e’ nna fonaso: o andramu pai!

θelo na meθiso (ubriacare), na mi skeftome (pensare)
na klapso ke na ɣelaso θelo tora to vraði
me meɣali orɣi (rabbia) eɣo θe na traɣuðiso (cantare)
sto feŋɡari θe na fonakso o andras mu pai.

I want to get drunk, not to think,
to cry and laugh is what I want tonight.
I will sing with great rage
I will shout to the moon: my husband is gone!

Fsunnìsete, fsunnìsete, jinèke!
Dellàste ettù na klàfsete ma mena!
Mìnamo manechè-mma, diàike o A’ Vrizie
Ce e antròpi ste‘ mas pane ess‘ena ss’ena!

ksipnisete, ksipnisete, ɣinekes!
elate eðo na klapsete me mena!
miname monaxes mas, ðiavike o ai vritsios
ke i anθropi stekun mas pane eks ena se ena

Wake up, wake up, women!
Come here and cry with me!
We have been left alone, the feast of St Britius has passed
And our men are leaving, one by one.

E antròpi ste‘ mas pane, ste’ ttaràssune!
N’arti kalì ‘us torùme ettù s’ena chrono!
è’ tui e zoì-mma? è’ tui e zoì, Kristè-mu?
Mas pa’ ‘cì sti Germania klèonta ma pono!

i anθropi stekun mas pane, stekun tarasune
na arti kali tus θorume eðo se ena xrono.
ine tuti i zoi mas, ine tuti i zoi, xriste mu?
mas pane eki sti ɣermania kleondas me pono

Our men are leaving on us, they’re going.
If things go well, we will see them back here in a year.
Is this our life? Is this a life, Christ?
They are going over there to Germany, crying with pain.

Linguistically speaking, are Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian different languages or dialects of a modern Norse language?

There’s one hiccup which I’m surprised other respondents have not brought up, Habib le toubib.

There are two standard languages of Norway, and a mess of dialects in between.

Norway used to be ruled by the Danish. The official language of Norway at the time it gained independence, Bokmål (“Book Language”), has been uncharitably described as Danish with a Norwegian accent. That was pretty much the language of Oslo. Given how bizarre Danish accents are (as others have pointed out), that makes Danish with a Norwegian accent quite different from Danish with a Danish accent.

But Norwegians resented their official language being Danish with a Norwegian accent. So Ivar Aasen, one of their language activists, went out to the fjords, recorded the West Norwegian dialects that were the furthest away from the hated Danish with a Norwegian accent of Oslo, mooshed them together, and came up with Nynorsk (“Neo-Norse”). So there are now two official languages of Norway.

Nynorsk advocates will still occasionally snarl that Bokmål is “Dano-Norwegian” (or if they’re being particularly bolshie, “Danish”; I red-lined that out of a colleague’s PhD thesis once). In practice: Bokmål has moved further away from Danish with time, and with some gentle nudging from the government. 10% or so of Norwegians claim to use Nynorsk, but in reality just speak their local West Norwegian dialect.

Are Bokmål and Danish dialects of a modern Dano-Norwegian language, then? Only if you’re being uncharitable and a Nynorsk activist. 🙂

Instead of creating Pinyin, why didn’t the CCP use IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)?

Practical Roman alphabets do need to stick as close to ASCII as possible. Particularly before computerised typography, getting hold of letters outside the Latin-1 and Latin-2 repertoire (letters and standard diacritics) was painful, and you’d avoid it if you could.

So if you had a choice between

tʰiantɕʰi pu xao


Tianqi bu hao

… well, really, that’s not much of a choice at all, is it. Practicality is going to overrule the universality of the IPA, by far: once everyone agrees that <q> corresponds to /tɕʰ/, there’s no reason you have to stock up on those extra odd letters again. Linguists working with Chinese can certainly remember that much.

There was fine print in the history of Pinyin, involving previous transliterations and the initial attempt at a Cyrillic based transcription; but really, this was an issue of practicality, no less than Albanian picking <x> and <xh> for /dz/ and /dʒ/.

In fact, the only practical orthography that in any way significantly depends on the IPA is the Africa Alphabet and its successor the African reference alphabet, which is used for several African languages. And that involved inventing uppercase versions of a lot of IPA letters, because the IPA had never been used in a practical as opposed to scholarly function before 1928. Hence:


So yes, there is a capital schwa and a capital esh. Who knew!

How did the pre-Persian Semitic peoples of the Levant, Assyrian and Babylonian call the Greeks?

As OP clearly knows (by his “pre-Persian” restriction), the main Semitic name for Greeks, Yunan, derives from Persian contact with Ionian Greeks.

We know that the Hittites used the term Achiyawa to refer to what we reasonably guess were the Achaeans; that’s contact dating from Mycenaean times.

From Greek Contact with the Levant and Mesopotamia in the first half of the first millennium BC: a view from the East by Amelie Kuhrt, University College London – Academia.edu, it looks like Assyrians in the 7th century BC were already referring to Ionians. (See also Ionians.) I’d be surprised if the Babylonians knew the Greeks at all before then.

The really interesting question is what did the Phoenecians call the Greeks, before the Ionians settled Asia Minor. I’m not finding it online, and you know, there may well not have been an established term. If the Phoenecians had one, I’d have thought it’d have shown up in Wikipedia.

Do letters exist?

Phonemes exist. That’s one of the key findings of 20th century linguistics.

Where do they exist? In the Noosphere I guess; but they are mental constructs which underlie not only our articulation of language, but also our mental organisation and understanding of language. So unlike a lot that is in the noosphere, they do have a psychological, measurable reality.

Letters (Graphemes) are a means of capturing phonemes in writing. They’re some arbitrariness to them, but they definitely have referents with psychological reality. So they are signs, and they have as much existence as any sign in the world—that is, as much existence as numbers or words do.