Hellenic languages

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Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Anatolia and the Black Sea region
Linguistic classification Indo-European
Proto-language Proto-Greek
ISO 639-5 grk
Linguasphere 56= (phylozone)
Glottolog gree1276

Hellenic is the branch of the Indo-European language family whose principal member is Greek. [2] In most classifications, Hellenic consists of Greek alone, [3] [4] but some linguists use the term Hellenic to refer to a group consisting of Greek proper and other varieties thought to be related but different enough to be separate languages, either among ancient neighbouring languages [5] or among modern spoken dialects. [6]


Greek and ancient Macedonian

A family under the name "Hellenic" has been suggested to group together Greek proper and the ancient Macedonian language, which is barely attested and whose degree of relatedness to Greek is not well known. The suggestion of a "Hellenic" group with two branches, in this context, represents the idea that Macedonian was not simply a dialect within Greek but a "sibling language" outside the group of Greek varieties proper. [5] [7] Other approaches include Macedonian as a dialect of Greek proper [8] [9] or as an unclassified Paleo-Balkan language. [10]

Modern Hellenic languages

In addition, some linguists use the term "Hellenic" to refer to modern Greek in a narrow sense together with certain other, divergent modern varieties deemed separate languages on the basis of a lack of mutual intelligibility. [11] Separate language status is most often posited for Tsakonian, [11] which is thought to be uniquely a descendant of Doric rather than Attic Greek, followed by Pontic and Cappadocian Greek of Anatolia. [12] The Griko or Italiot varieties of southern Italy are also not readily intelligible to speakers of standard Greek. [13] Separate status is sometimes also argued for Cypriot, though this is not as easily justified. [14] In contrast, Yevanic (Jewish Greek) is mutually intelligible with standard Greek but is sometimes considered a separate language for ethnic and cultural reasons. [14] Greek linguistics traditionally treats all of these as dialects of a single language. [3] [15] [16]

Language tree


Standard Modern Greek


Cypriot Greek

Cappadocian Greek


Crimean Greek (Mariupolitan)

Romano-Greek (a mixed language)

Italiot Greek  

Griko (Doric-influenced)

Calabrian Greek


Arcadocypriot †; related to Mycenaean?)




Tsakonian (Doric-influenced Koine?; critically endangered)

(?) Ancient Macedonian


Hellenic constitutes a branch of the Indo-European language family. The ancient languages that might have been most closely related to it, ancient Macedonian, [17] (either an ancient Greek dialect or a separate Hellenic language) and Phrygian, [18] are not documented well enough to permit detailed comparison. Among Indo-European branches with living descendants, Greek is often argued to have the closest genetic ties with Armenian [19] (see also Graeco-Armenian) and Indo-Iranian languages (see Graeco-Aryan). [20] [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

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The term dialect is used in two distinct ways to refer to two different types of linguistic phenomena:

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A dialect continuum or dialect chain is a spread of language varieties spoken across some geographical area such that neighboring varieties differ only slightly, but the differences accumulate over distance so that widely separated varieties may not be mutually intelligible. This is a typical occurrence with widely spread languages and language families around the world, when these languages did not spread recently. Some prominent examples include the Indo-Aryan languages across large parts of India, varieties of Arabic across north Africa and southwest Asia, the Chinese languages or dialects, and subgroups of the Romance, Germanic and Slavic families in Europe. Leonard Bloomfield used the name dialect area. Charles F. Hockett used the term L-complex.

Phrygian language Dialect of Indo-European language spoken by the Phrygians

The Phrygian language was the Indo-European language of the Phrygians, spoken in Anatolia, during classical antiquity.

Isogloss geographic boundaries between where linguistic features are used

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  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Graeco-Phrygian". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. In other contexts, "Hellenic" and "Greek" are generally synonyms.
  3. 1 2 Browning (1983), Medieval and Modern Greek, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Joseph, Brian D. and Irene Philippaki-Warburton (1987): Modern Greek. London: Routledge, p. 1.
  5. 1 2 B. Joseph (2001): "Ancient Greek". In: J. Garry et al. (eds.) Facts about the World's Major Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present. (Online Paper)
  6. David Dalby. The Linguasphere Register of the World's Languages and Speech Communities (1999/2000, Linguasphere Press). Pp. 449-450.
  7. LinguistList, Ancient Macedonian
  8. Roisman, Worthington, 2010, "A Companion to Ancient Macedonia", Chapter 5: Johannes Engels, "Macedonians and Greeks", p. 95:"This (i.e. Pella curse tablet) has been judged to be the most important ancient testimony to substantiate that Macedonian was a north-western Greek and mainly a Doric dialect".
  9. Dosuna, J. Méndez (2012). "Ancient Macedonian as a Greek dialect: A critical survey on recent work (Greek, English, French, German text)". In Giannakis, Georgios K. (ed.). Ancient Macedonia: Language, History, Culture. Centre for Greek Language. p. 145. ISBN   978-960-7779-52-6.
  10. For a survey of different views, see Brixhe C., Panayotou A. (1994), "Le Macédonien", in Bader, F. (ed.), Langues indo-européennes, Paris:CNRS éditions, 1994, pp 205–220.
  11. 1 2 Salminen, Tapani (2007). "Europe and North Asia". In Moseley, Christopher (ed.). Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages. London: Routledge. pp. 211–284.
  12. Ethnologue: Family tree for Greek.
  13. N. Nicholas (1999), The Story of Pu: The Grammaticalisation in Space and Time of a Modern Greek Complementiser. PhD Dissertation, University of Melbourne. p. 482f. (PDF)
  14. 1 2 Joseph, Brian; Tserdanelis, Georgios (2003). "Modern Greek". In Roelcke, Thorsten (ed.). Variationstypologie: Ein sprachtypologisches Handbuch der europäischen Sprachen. Berlin: de Gruyter. p. 836.
  15. G. Horrocks (1997), Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers. London: Longman.
  16. P. Trudgill (2002), Ausbau Sociolinguistics and Identity in Greece, in: P. Trudgill, Sociolinguistic Variation and Change, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  17. Roger D. Woodard. "Introduction," The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages, ed. Roger D. Woodard (2004, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-18), pp. 12-14.
    Benjamin W. Fortson. Indo-European Language and Culture. Blackwell, 2004, p. 405.
  18. Johannes Friedrich. Extinct Languages. Philosophical Library, 1957, pp. 146-147.
    Claude Brixhe. "Phrygian," The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages, ed. Roger D. Woodard, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 777-788), p. 780.
    Benjamin W. Fortson. Indo-European Language and Culture. Blackwell, 2004, p. 403.
  19. James Clackson. Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 11-12.
  20. Benjamin W. Fortson. Indo-European Language and Culture. Blackwell, 2004, p. 181.
  21. Henry M. Hoenigswald, "Greek," The Indo-European Languages, ed. Anna Giacalone Ramat and Paolo Ramat (Routledge, 1998 pp. 228-260), p. 228.
    BBC: Languages across Europe: Greek