Demotic Greek

Not to be confused with Demotic (Egyptian).

Demotic Greek (Greek: δημοτική [γλώσσα] [ðimotiˈci], "[language] of the people") or dimotiki 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 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 μικρό κοριτσάκι (small little child) and ξανακοιμήθηκε πάλι (he went back to sleep again). Somewhat in connexion 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. νήσι(ον) (island) from ancient ἡ νήσος (island, an irregular noun that had feminine gender but masculine declension).

Greek noun declensions underwent considerable alteration, with irregular and less productive forms being gradually replaced by more regular forms based on the old one: άντρας (man) for ancient ἄνηρ. 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 πατρίς (hometown, fatherland) which became nominative η πατρίδα, accusative τη πατρίδα 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 (ς, ν). Exceptions are foreign loans like μπαρ (bar), and learned forms ύδωρ (from Ancient Greek ὕδωρ, water), and exlamations like αχ! (ach!, oh!) Many dialects go so far as to append the vowel -e (ε) to third-person verb forms: γράφουνε instead of γράφουν (they write). Word-final consonant clusters are also rare, again mainly occurring in learned discourse and via foreign loans: άνθραξ (coal – scientific) and μποξ (boxing – sport).[3]:8–9

Indirect object is usually expressed by σε with the accusative where Ancient Greek had εἰς for accusative of motion toward; bare σε is used without the article to express indefiniteness duration of time, or contracted with the definite article for definiteness especially in regards to place where or motion toward; or with the genitive, especially in regards to means or instrument.[2]:X Using one noun with an unmarked accusative article-noun phrase followed by σε contracted with the definite article of a second noun distinguishes between definite direct and indirect objects, whether real or figurative, e.g. «βάζω το χέρι μου στο ευαγγέλιο» or «...στη φωτιά» (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, εἰς, place of σε.

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 έχω (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 θα and να 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. κρύπτω for Demotic κρύβω (I hide), which both have the same aorist form έκρυψα.[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; Νεοελληνική Κοινή) 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. φτερό for the wing or feather of a bird, but πτέρυξ for the wing of a building or airplane or arm of an organisation.[2]:180:203

Words and fixed expressions

Especially dative forms:

Grammatical (morphological) features

Phonological features

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

Native Greek speakers often make mistakes in these "educated" aspects of their language; one can often see mistakes like προήχθη instead of προήχθην (I've been promoted), λόγου του ότι/λόγο το ότι instead of λόγω του ότι (due to the fact that), τον ενδιαφέρον άνθρωπο instead of τον ενδιαφέροντα άνθρωπο (the interesting person), οι ενδιαφέροντες γυναίκες instead of οι ενδιαφέρουσες γυναίκες (the interesting women), ο ψήφος instead of η ψήφος (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 (Το ταξίδι μου, 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 το φως gen. του φωτός (=light) into το φώτο (gen. του φώτου). 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 Γιάνης, instead of Γιάννης.

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" (ψυχαρικοί) 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. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 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) Περὶ ὀργανόσεως καὶ διοκήσεως τῆς Γενικῆς Ἐκπαιδεύσεως [ Concerning the organisation and administration of General Instruction] of 1976-04-30
    Ὠς νεοελληνικὴ γλῶσσα νοῖεται ἡ διαμορφοθεῖσα εἰς πανελλήνιον ἐκφραστικὸν ὂργανον ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ Λαοῦ καὶ τῶν δοκίμων συγγραφέων τοῦ Ἒθνους Δημοτική, συντεταγμένη, ἄνευ ἰδιματικῶν καὶ ἀκροτητῶν. 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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