Monday, August 24, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Greece

If you've been paying attention to the news lately, then you've undoubtedly been hearing a lot about Greece, its economic crisis, and the refugee crisis that is occurring at its borders. Instead of focusing on all of this disheartening news, today we're going to focus on the linguistic diversity of the land is generally considered to be the cradle of Western civilization.

The Official Language

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, Greece.
Unsurprisingly, Greek is the sole official language of Greece. In fact, the Greek language is spoken by over 99% of the country's nearly 11 million inhabitants, almost always as a native language.

While most Greeks speak the linguistic variety known as Modern Greek, there are several other dialects that are used throughout the country. Many of these dialects, including Cappadocian Greek and Yevanic Greek, which was used by Romaniote Jews, are extinct or nearly extinct.

However, there are about 400,000 native speakers of Pontic Greek, which is primarily spoken in northern Greece. Since Pontic Greek is not mutually intelligible with Modern Greek, it is considered to be a separate language instead of a dialect.

Minority Languages

Despite the linguistic dominance of the Greek language, the Ethnologue lists over a dozen other living languages in Greece. Most of these languages are minority languages spoken by the large numbers of immigrants that have come to the country over the years.

The most prominent minority language in Greece is Albanian, which is the native language of nearly 500,000 people living in Greece. As of the country's last census, over 4% of the Greek population consisted of Albanian citizens.

Another important minority language is Turkish, which boasts over 120,000 native speakers in Greece. Most of the country's Turkish speakers live in the northeastern region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace.

Finally, there are under 100,000 speakers of several other European languages, namely Bulgarian, Romanian, and the various Romani languages. In terms of foreign languages, Greeks tend to learn the ever popular EFIGS languages: English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish.