Greek diglossia and the “language question” through history and literature

This post will delve into the evolution of diglossia in the Greek language, the use of two very different forms of the same language for different purposes. This is a phenomenon that has its roots in Ancient Greece (800 B.C. to 500 B.C) and grew in form during the Byzantine Empire (395 A.D. to 1453). An increased gap between spoken and written Greek developed over time because of this phenomenon and raised the “language question” of what form of Greek the Greek people should use. The dichotomy between the two evolutions of the Greek language is a result of the distinction between educated readers and the general public, the foreign influences that made the language adapt, clinging to the glory of the Ancient Greek past, and the language being directly related to Christianity and social reformation.

Oral tradition was the main form of Ancient Greek expression and it was only later on that works of literature such as Homer were written down. The predominant dialects of the time were Attic (central Greece) and Ionic (outskirts and islands) which gradually evolved into “Koine” (common, shared). Koine Greek, also known as Alexandrian dialect, or common Attic, was the common supra-regional form of Greek spoken and written during the Hellenistic period, the Roman Empire, and the early Byzantine Empire, or late antiquity. It spread to massive proportions under Alexander the Great, as it was adapted as a second language by most of the ancient world during his reign. This was the first step towards dichotomy as educated readers longed for the classical period and an Attic dialect more closely related to Ancient Greek.

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