How different do dialects of the same language feel to you?

By: | Post date: 2017-05-09 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Modern Greek

I was brought up in Crete. I read Cretan Renaissance literature as an adult, and was taken aback at the notion that the kinds of conceit you might find in Shakespeare (common Italian antecedents) were being expressed in the language my grandmother used to yell at her chickens.

Greece is a country run on the French model of centralisation. The State did not regard Greek dialect with the hostility it regarded minority languages, but it certainly did not encourage them as competitors to Standard Greek. And dialect speakers internalised that prejudice. When I tried to speak more dialectally while visiting the home country, my aunt scolded me, a scholar, talking like a villager.

Why yes, aunt. A scholar in Greek dialectology.

Dialects feel different because of their social connotations, of course, rather than anything linguistically inherent. I’m biased to prefer islander over mainland Greek dialects, because islander dialects are more familiar to me. (My parents are speakers of the two major instances of islander dialects, Cretan and Cypriot.)

But I’ve already told the anecdote here of my aunt from Thessaly: on the one hand, she commented how much more pleasant Cretan or Cypriot sounded to her, whereas her native dialect “stunk of the sheep pen”. On the other hand, a few days later, we had Cypriot TV on, and she turned to me and remarked how hard it was for her to take Cypriots seriously, the way they talked.

To me as a biased source, mainlander dialects sound rustic and quaint, and islander dialects sound rustic and heroic. To judge from vaudeville stereotypes of course, islander dialects sound just as quaint to Athenians.

Answered 2017-05-09 · Upvoted by

Logan R. Kearsley, MA in Linguistics from BYU, 8 years working in research for language pedagogy.


  • John Cowan says:

    Of course your aunt was quoting T. H. White:

    “Please,” asked the Wart, “where are you taking us?”

    “Why, to Robin ‘ood, seemingly. An’t you sharp enough to guess that also, Measter Art?”

    The giant gave him a sly peep out of the corner of his eye at this, for he knew that he had set the boys two problems at once—first, what was Robin’s real name, and second, how did Little John come to know the Wart’s?

    The Wart fixed on the second question first. “How did you know my name?”

    “Ah,” said Little John. “Us knowed.”

    “Does Robin ‘ood know we are coming?”

    “Nay, my duck, a young scholard like thee should speak his name scholarly.”

    “Well, what is his name?” cried the boy, between exasperation and being out of breath from running to keep up. “You said ‘ood.”

    “So it is ‘ood, my duck. Robin ‘ood, like the ‘oods you’m running through. And a grand fine name it is.”

    “Robin Wood!”

    “Aye, Robin ‘ood. What else should un be, seeing as he rules ’em. […]”

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