Greek language question
The Greek language question was a dispute discussing the question whether the language of the Greek people (Dimotiki
Demotic Greek or dimotiki is the modern vernacular form of the Greek language. The term has been in use since 1818. Demotic refers particularly to the form of the language that evolved naturally from ancient Greek, in opposition to the artificially archaic Katharevousa, which was the official...

) or a cultivated imitation of Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

Katharevousa , is a form of the Greek language conceived in the early 19th century as a compromise between Ancient Greek and the Modern Greek of the time, with a vocabulary largely based on ancient forms, but a much-simplified grammar. Originally, it was widely used both for literary and official...

) should be the official language of the Greek nation. It was a highly controversial topic in the 19th and 20th centuries and was finally resolved in 1976, when Dimotiki was made the official language. The language phenomenon in question—which occurs elsewhere in the world—is called diglossia
In linguistics, diglossia refers to a situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety , a second, highly codified variety is used in certain situations such as literature, formal...

. This term was coined in 1885 by Emmanuel Rhoides
Emmanuel Rhoides
Emmanuel Rhoides was a Greek writer and journalist. He is considered one of the most illustrious and reviving spirits of the Greek letters of his time.Born in Hermoupolis, the capital of the island of Syros, to a family of rich aristocrats...

 and popularized internationally by Ioannis Psycharis
Ioannis Psycharis
Ioannis Psycharis was a French philologist of Greek origin, author and promoter of Demotic Greek.- Biography :...

, a leading participant in the Greek controversy.

Linguistic background of the problem

While Dimotiki was the mother tongue of the Greeks, Katharevousa was an archaic and formal variant that was pronounced like modern Greek, but adopted both lexical and morphological features of ancient Greek that the spoken language had lost over time. Examples of this are:
  • Morphological features: Strict Katharevousa still contained the ancient dative case
    Dative case
    The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

    , many participle
    In linguistics, a participle is a word that shares some characteristics of both verbs and adjectives. It can be used in compound verb tenses or voices , or as a modifier...

    s and various additional tenses and conjugational patterns of verb
    A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

  • Phonological features: Katharevousa contained various spelling pronunciations which did not fit the Modern Greek phonological system. For example, νδρ (Ancient and Demotic /ndr/, Katharevousa /nðr/), φθ, [α]υθ, [ε]υθ (Ancient /pʰtʰ/, Demotic /ft/, Katharevousa /fθ/ ), σθ, ρθρ.
  • Syntactical features: While the language of the people mostly consisted of simple sentences, Katharevousa often applied ancient Greek syntax
    In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

     to form sentences which would appear as educated speech, that is, long and complex.
  • Lexical features: The proponents of the formal language discarded many popular Greek words that the Greek language had obtained from other languages over time, mainly from the Turkish
    Turkish language
    Turkish is a language spoken as a native language by over 83 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. Its speakers are located predominantly in Turkey and Northern Cyprus with smaller groups in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo,...

     and Latin
    Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

     or Italian
    Italian language
    Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

     languages, and either replaced them with ancient Greek words or with neologisms. Similarly, words of ancient Greek origin but by now modern in form were archaicised or replaced by their standard ancient Greek equivalents (like the Ancient Greek ἰχθύς for ψάρι fish or the archaicised εξωκλήσσιον from the modern form ξωκλήσι small chapel).

These differences meant that Katharevousa was only partly intelligible to a Greek without higher education. There was no single Katharevousa. Instead, proponents of the formal language utilized ever-changing variants that never were standardized. These variants were nearly Attic
Attic Greek
Attic Greek is the prestige dialect of Ancient Greek that was spoken in Attica, which includes Athens. Of the ancient dialects, it is the most similar to later Greek, and is the standard form of the language studied in courses of "Ancient Greek". It is sometimes included in Ionic.- Origin and range...

 in extreme cases, but they could also be closer to spoken Greek and could be understood by the majority of the people.

Example of the diglossia

For a person who does not speak Greek and whose mother tongue (e.g. English) exhibits no comparable form of diglossia, it is hard to understand the motivation of the Greek language question, as it concerns the coexistence of two—in extreme cases—completely different forms of Greek that greatly exceeds the usual stylistic difference between written and spoken language. It might be compared rather to situations such as a similar language question in medieval Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 between formal Latin and demotic Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, which was resolved in favor of the latter in 1290.
  • Katharevousa:
Τὸ ὑποβληθὲν τῇ Ἱερᾷ Συνόδῳ ἐν χειρογράφῳ πόνημα Ὑμῶν ὑπὸ τὸν τίτλον «Βίος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ» παρέπεμψεν αὔτη τῷ προεδρευόντι αὐτῆς Σεβ. Ἀρχιεπισκόπῳ Σύρου, Τήνου καὶ Ἄνδρου κ. Μεθοδίῳ, ὅπως δι' ἐκθέσεως αὐτοῦ ἀναφέρῃ αὐτῇ, ἂν τὸ περιεχόμενον τοῦ πονήματος τούτου εἶναι σύμφωνον πρὸς τὰς παραδόσεις τῆς Ὀρθοδόξου Ἐκκλησίας.

To hipovlithèn tí Hiera Sinóðo en xirográfo pónima Imón hipo ton títlon «Víos Iisú Xristú» parépempsen áfti tó proeðrevónti aftís Sev. Arxiepiskópo Síru, Tínu ke Anðru k. Methoðío, ópos ði' ekthéseos aftú anaféri aftí, an to periexómenon tú ponímatos tútu íne símfonon pros tas paraðósis tís Orthoðóksu Ekklisías.

  • Dimotiki:
Το πόνημά σας που υποβλήθηκε σε χειρόγραφο στην Ιερά Σύνοδο με τον τίτλο «Βίος Ιησού Χριστού» παραπέμφθηκε στον πρόεδρό της Σεβ. Αρχιεπίσκοπο Σύρου, Τήνου και Άνδρου κ. Μεθόδιο, ώστε με έκθεσή του να της αναφέρει αν το περιεχόμενο του πονήματος αυτού είναι σύμφωνο με τις παραδόσεις της Ορθόδοξης Εκκλησίας.

To pónimá sas pu ipovlíthike se xirógrafo stin Ierá Sínoðo me ton títlo «Víos Iisú Xristú», parapémfthike ston próeðro tis Sev. Arxiepískopo Síru, Tínu ke Anðru k. Methóðio, oste me ékthesí tu na tis anaféri an to periexómeno tu ponímatos aftú íne símfono me tis paraðósis tis Orthóðoksis Ekklisías.

  • Modern English:
Your work which was submitted in manuscript to the Holy Synod under the title "Life of Jesus Christ", was sent by it [the Holy Synod] to Methodios, its President Archbishop of Syros, Tinos and Andros, so that he may report on whether the content of this work accords with the traditions of the Orthodox Church.

Prerevolutionary discussions

The discussion began at the end of the 18th century, as Eugenios Voulgaris
Eugenios Voulgaris
Eugenios Voulgaris or Boulgaris or Vulgares was a Greek Orthodox educator, and bishop of Kherson . Writing copiously on theology, philosophy and the sciences, he disseminated western European thought throughout the Greek and eastern Christian world, and was a leading contributor to the Modern...

 (1716–1806), Lambros Photiadis, St. Kommitas and Neophytos Doukas
Neophytos Doukas
Neophytos Doukas was a Greek priest and scholar, author of a large number of books and translations from ancient Greek works, and one of the most important personalities of modern Greek Enlightenment during the Ottoman occupation of Greece...

, who were proponents of a more archaic language, and Voulgaris's students Iosipos Moisiodax (1725–1800) and Dimitrios Katartzis (ca. 1725-1807), who proposed a simpler language, began to voice their opinions. This discussion later became crucial when it was to be decided which one should be the single language of the modern Greek state, which was yet to be founded. Adamantios Korais
Adamantios Korais
Adamantios Korais or Coraïs was a humanist scholar credited with laying the foundations of Modern Greek literature and a major figure in the Greek Enlightenment. His activities paved the way for the Greek War of Independence and emergence of a purified form of the Greek language, known as...

 (1748–1833) influenced the further discussion a lot. While being a supporter of the language of the people, Korais sought to cleanse it from elements that he considered to be too "vulgar" and eventually invented Katharevousa
Katharevousa , is a form of the Greek language conceived in the early 19th century as a compromise between Ancient Greek and the Modern Greek of the time, with a vocabulary largely based on ancient forms, but a much-simplified grammar. Originally, it was widely used both for literary and official...

. After a prolonged War of Independence
Greek War of Independence
The Greek War of Independence, also known as the Greek Revolution was a successful war of independence waged by the Greek revolutionaries between...

, the modern Greek state was founded in 1830; the first capital was Nafplio
Nafplio is a seaport town in the Peloponnese in Greece that has expanded up the hillsides near the north end of the Argolic Gulf. The town was the first capital of modern Greece, from the start of the Greek Revolution in 1821 until 1834. Nafplio is now the capital of the peripheral unit of...

 and, from 1834 onwards, Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...


Katharevousa officially adopted

Katharevousa , is a form of the Greek language conceived in the early 19th century as a compromise between Ancient Greek and the Modern Greek of the time, with a vocabulary largely based on ancient forms, but a much-simplified grammar. Originally, it was widely used both for literary and official...

 was made the official language of the state, since the "unpolished" language of the people was not thought of as able to fit the needs of a modern state. The phanariots, were a group of conservative and educated nobles who supported the archaic language and were the most important critics of the language of the people. Panagiotis Soutsos
Panagiotis Soutsos
Panagiotis Soutsos , was a Greek newspaper editor, journalist, author, and poet of the romantic school, born in Constantinople . He was an admirer of the ancient Greek tradition, while he used an archaic language in his works...

, who wrote in an increasingly archaic and formal language and should later become one of the most important figures in Athenic romanticism, embraced phanariotic tradition like his brother Alexandros, and, in 1853, he opted for the abolition of Katharevousa and the reintroduction of pure ancient Greek.

Language question becomes widespread

By 1900, the discussion had become a matter of public interest. Proponents of Katharevousa denounced proponents of Dimotiki as "μαλλιαροί" (hairy, furry), "αγελαίοι" (gregarious, social, vulgar) and "χυδαϊσταί" (speakers of slang, plebeians, vulgarians), while the proponents of Dimotiki called their enemies "γλωσσαμύντορες" (defenders of language, purists), "σκοταδιστές" (obscurantists, or more or less: the ones living in spiritual darkness), "αρχαιόπληκτοι" (ancient-maniacs), "μακαρονισταί" (imitators of archaic languages, macaronic people) or "συντηρητικοί" (conservatives). The educational system was in an alarming state and completely ineffective: The children were completely unable to express themselves in the unfamiliar formal language, which severely harmed their speech acquisition instead of educating them.

Transition to Dimotiki

At the beginning of the 20th century, it was only due to the girls' school of Volos
Volos is a coastal port city in Thessaly situated midway on the Greek mainland, about 326 km north of Athens and 215 km south of Thessaloniki...

 that a shift away from the Katharevousa began: Libertarian pedagogue Alexandros Delmouzos implemented the use of the Dimotiki as the language of instruction in the school and thereby achieved considerable improvement in test scores and pupil satisfaction. In spite of this success, clerics and conservatives condemned the reform and protested so vehemently against the school that it was closed.

Orthodox Bishop Fan Noli, who translated into Dimotiki works of Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as "the father of prose drama" and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre...

, emphasized the necessity for a people's language and recalled in his memoirs that because of Katharevousa "there were humorous scenes in a comedy and it happened that no one laughed."

By 1917 the Dimotiki had been successfully introduced into primary schools; but again, it was repeatedly replaced with Katharevousa, and Katharevousa still reigned supreme in higher education and in the state and army establishment. The death knell for Katharevousa was effectively rung by its most fanatical supporters in decades: the highly unpopular Greek military junta of 1967–1974, who again banned the use of Dimotiki in the schools and denounced its users as communists. On April 30, 1976 Constantine Karamanlis
Constantine Karamanlis
Konstantínos G. Karamanlís , commonly anglicised to Constantine Karamanlis or Caramanlis, was a four-time Prime Minister, the 3rd and 5th President of the Third Hellenic Republic and a towering figure of Greek politics whose political career spanned much of the latter half of the 20th century.-...

' first post-junta government finally banned Katharevousa from use in schools and, only a few months later, passed a law concerning the use of the Dimotiki in official texts and documents, which weakened diglossia. Typical of the complicated Greek situation, that law itself was still written in Katharevousa. The end for the official use of Katharevousa came in 1982, when the government of Andreas Papandreou
Andreas Papandreou
Andreas G. Papandreou ; 5 February 1919 – 23 June 1996) was a Greek economist, a socialist politician and a dominant figure in Greek politics. The son of Georgios Papandreou, Andreas was a Harvard-trained academic...

abolished the polytonic writing system.

Further reading

  • Carabott, Philip. 1993. Politics, orthodoxy, and the language question in Greece: the Gospel Riots of 1901. Journal of Mediterranean Studies, 3(1):117-138. University of Malta. ISSN: 10163476.
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