Demotic Greek
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Demotic Greek

Demotic Greek (Greek: , dimotikí glóssa [ðimoti'ci], "language of the people") or dimotiki (Greek: , dimotikí), is the modern vernacular form of the Greek language. The term has been in use since 1818.[1]Demotic refers particularly to the form of the language that evolved naturally from Ancient Greek, in opposition to the artificially archaic (or as such regarded by part of the Greek linguistic community since it first appeared in 1830) Katharevousa, which was the official standard until 1976. The two complemented each other in a typical example of diglossia until the resolution of the Greek language question in favour of Demotic.

Basic features of Demotic

Demotic Greek differs from varieties of Ancient Greek and learned forms inherited from the same in several important ways. Syntactically, it favors parataxis over subordination. It also heavily employs redundancy, such as (small little girl) and ? ? (he went back to sleep again). Somewhat in connection with this, Demotic employs the diminutive with great frequency,[2]:XI to the point that many Demotic forms are in effect neuter diminutives of ancient words, especially irregular ones, e.g. ? or (island) from ancient ? (island).

Greek noun declensions underwent considerable alteration, with irregular and less productive forms being gradually replaced by more regular forms based on the old one: (man) for ancient ?. Another feature was the merging of classical accusative and nominative forms, distinguishing them only by their definite articles, which continued to be declined as in Ancient Greek. This was especially common with nouns of the third declension, such as (hometown, fatherland) which became nominative ? ?, accusative ? in Demotic.[2]:X Another feature of the evolution of Demotic was the near-extinction of the genitive plural, which was revived in Katharevousa and is now productive again in Demotic.[]

A derivative feature of this regularisation of noun forms in Demotic is that the words of most native vocabulary end in a vowel, or in a very restricted set of consonants: s and n (?, ?). Exceptions are foreign loans like ? (bar), and learned forms ? (from Ancient Greek ?, water), and exclamations like ! (ach!, oh!) Many dialects go so far as to append the vowel -e (?) to third-person verb forms: instead of ? (they write). Word-final consonant clusters are also rare, again mainly occurring in learned discourse and via foreign loans: (coal - scientific) and ? (boxing - sport).[3]:8-9

Indirect object is usually expressed by with the accusative where Ancient Greek had for accusative of motion toward; bare is used without the article to express indefiniteness duration of time, or contracted with the definite article for definiteness especially with regard to place where or motion toward; or with the genitive, especially with regard to means or instrument.[2]:X Using one noun with an unmarked accusative article-noun phrase followed by contracted with the definite article of a second noun distinguishes between definite direct and indirect objects, whether real or figurative, e.g. «? ? » or «... » (lit. I put my hand upon the Gospel or the fire, i.e. I swear it's true, I'm sure of it). By contrast, Katharevousa continued to employ the ancestral form, , in place of .[]

The verb system inherited from Ancient Greek gradually evolved, with the old future, perfect and pluperfect tenses gradually disappearing; they were replaced with conjugated forms of the verb (I have) to denote these tenses instead. The future tenses and the subjunctive and optative moods, and eventually the infinitive, were replaced by the modal/tense auxiliaries and used with new simplified and fused future/subjunctive forms.[2]:X In contrast to this, Katharevousa employed older perfective forms and infinitives that had been for the most part lost in the spoken language[], but in other cases it employed the same aorist or perfective forms as the spoken language, but preferred an archaizing form of the present indicative, e.g. for Demotic (I hide), which both have the same aorist form .[2]:XI

Demotic Greek also borrowed a significant number of words from other languages such as Italian and Turkish, something which katharevousa avoided.

Demotic and "Standard Modern Greek"

Demotic is often thought to be the same as the Modern Greek language, but these two terms are not completely synonymous. Although Demotic is a term applied to the naturally evolved colloquial language of the Greeks, the Modern Greek language of today (Standard Modern Greek; ) is more like a fusion of Demotic and Katharevousa. It is not wrong to call the spoken language of today Demotic, but such a terminology ignores the fact that Modern Greek contains--especially in a written or official form--numerous words, grammatical forms and phonetical features that did not exist in colloquial speech and only entered the language through its archaic variety. Besides, even the most archaic forms of Katharevousa were never thought of as Ancient Greek, but were always called "Modern Greek", so that the phrase "Modern Greek" applies to Demotic, Standard Modern Greek, and even Katharevousa.

Examples of Modern Greek features that did not exist in Demotic

The following examples are intended to demonstrate Katharevousa's features in Modern Greek. They were not present in traditional Demotic and only entered the modern language through Katharevousa (sometimes as neologisms), where they are used mostly in writing (for instance, in newspapers), but also orally, especially words and fixed expressions are both understood and actively used also by non-educated speakers. In some cases, the Demotic form is used for literal or practical meanings, while the Katharevousa is used for figurative or specialized meanings: e.g. for the wing or feather of a bird, but for the wing of a building or airplane or arm of an organisation.[2]:180:203

Words and fixed expressions

  • ? (interesting)
  • (at least)
  • ? (he abducted her)
  • ? ... (it is a fact that ...)
  • ? (for now)
  • (figurative, I wash my hands [of him, her, it]); adapted from the Ancient Greek phrase describing Pontius Pilate washing his hands at Matthew 27:24; for actual hand-washing, the Demotic phrase is .[2]:xii

Special dative forms:

  • ? (thank God)
  • ? ... (in the name [of] ...)
  • ? (in cash)
  • (following)
  • (meanwhile)
  • (in ignorance [of])
  • ? (moreover)
  • ? (working, literally on the deed)
  • ? (percent, literally in a hundred)
  • (with [one's] own hands)

Grammatical (morphological) features

  • Adjectives ending in -, -?, - (e.g. ? interesting) or in -, -, - (e.g. thoughtful) - mostly in written language.
  • Declinable aorist participle, e.g. (having delivered), ([having been] born) - mostly in written language.
  • Reduplication in the perfect. E.g. ? (invited), (obsolete)

Phonological features

Modern Greek features many letter combinations that were avoided in classical Demotic:

  • -- (e.g. "misdemeanor"); Demotic preferred -- (e.g. "to err || to be guilty")
  • -- (e.g. ? "building, structure"); Demotic preferred -- [e.g. "(stone)mason"]
  • -- (e.g. ? "falsity, lie"); Demotic preferred -- (e.g. ? "liar")
  • -- (e.g. ? / ? "I was sufficed / satisfied"); Demotic preferred -- (e.g. ?)
  • -- (e.g. (?) "yesterday"); Demotic preferred -- [e.g. (?)]
  • etc.

Native Greek speakers often make mistakes in these "educated" aspects of their language; one can often see mistakes like ? instead of (I've been promoted), /? instead of ? (due to the fact that), ? ? instead of ? (the interesting person), ? instead of ? (the interesting women), ? instead of ? (the vote). However, the educated ones do not make mistakes often.[]

Radical demoticism

One of the most radical proponents of a language that was to be cleansed of all "educated" elements was Giannis Psycharis, who lived in France and gained fame through his work My Voyage ( , 1888). Not only did Psycharis propagate the exclusive use of the naturally grown colloquial language, but he actually opted for simplifying the morphology of Katharevousa forms prescription.[]

For instance, Psycharis proposed to change the form of the neuter noun gen. (=light) into ? (gen. ). Such radical forms had occasional precedent in Renaissance attempts to write in Demotic, and reflected Psycharis' linguistic training as a Neogrammarian, mistrusting the possibility of exceptions in linguistic evolution. Moreover, Psycharis also advocated spelling reform, which would have meant abolishing the six different ways to write the vowel /i/ and all instances of double consonants. Therefore, he wrote his own name as , instead of ?.[]

The standard form of Demotic that developed over the next few decades made more compromises with Katharevousa (as is reflected in the contemporary standard), and despite acrimony between the "psycharist" () radicals and the moderates, the radical strand was ultimately marginalised. When Demotic was made official in 1976, the legislation stated that the Demotic used would be "without extremist and dialectal forms"[4]--the "extremism" being a reference to Psycharis' forms.[]


  1. ^ Babiniotis, Georgios (2002). Lexiko tis neas ellinikis glossas [Dictionary of the new Greek language] (in Greek). Athens. p. 474.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Pring, J.T. The Pocket Oxford Greek Dictionary. (New York: 1965 & 1982; 2000 ed.)
  3. ^ Mackridge, Peter; Philippaki-Warburton, Irene (1997). Greek: a Comprehensive Grammar of the Modern Language. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-41510002-X.
  4. ^ N. 390 Art. 2 (2) ? ? ? [ Concerning the organisation and administration of General Instruction] of 1976-04-30

    ? ? ? ? ? ? ? , , ? ? .

    The Modern Demotic Greek language of the revered writers of the Nation, in such forms as are intelligible in a panhellenic expressive medium by the Greek people, coherent, without dialectal and extremist forms.

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