Tracing the Greek Cypriot Dialect: From Marginality to Elevated Visibility

This unreal country

Still frame from ‘Fragility of Language’, (Nefeli Kentoni, 2020)

By Antonis Pastellopoulos

“A language is a dialect with an army and a navy”. This anonymous, yet famous statement, popularized by linguist Max Weinreich, emphasizes the arbitrariness of the distinction between languages and dialects, drawing our attention towards the political processes behind the decision to codify a particular vernacular into formal language, while condemning other linguistic variants into the subcategory of either the dialect, or the idiom. In Cyprus, the local vernaculars accumulated neither armies nor navies, despite the fact that at least one of them, what we refer to today as the Greek Cypriot dialect, had become the lingua franca of the island by the end of the 19th century, further accumulating its own written literature, while remaining incomprehensible to the mainland Greek speaker. There is ample evidence to support the view that the Greek Cypriot dialect could have…

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