Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the region of Macedonia. It is a cosmopolitan and multicultural city with a rich and diverse linguistic heritage. In this blog post, we will explore the languages and dialects spoken in Thessaloniki, both historically and currently, and how they reflect the city’s cultural and social identity.
The official language: Greek
The official language of Greece is Greek, spoken by 99% of the population. Greek is an Indo-European language that belongs to the Hellenic branch. It has a long and continuous history of written records, dating back to the 15th century BC. Greek has several dialects, which can be classified into four main groups: Ancient Greek, Koine Greek, Medieval Greek and Modern Greek.
Modern Greek is the current form of the language, which emerged after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century AD. It has two main varieties: Demotic Greek and Katharevousa Greek. Demotic Greek is the vernacular form of the language, used in everyday speech and writing. Katharevousa Greek is a more formal and archaic form of the language, used for official purposes and literary works until the 1970s. Since then, Demotic Greek has been established as the standard form of Modern Greek.
Modern Greek has several regional dialects, which differ in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. The most common dialects are: Cretan, Cypriot, Pontic, Maniot, Thracian, Tsakonian and Yevanic. The dialect spoken in Thessaloniki is mainly based on the Northern Greek dialects, which are influenced by Slavic languages. However, due to the city’s diverse population and history, Thessaloniki also has elements from other dialects, such as Cappadocian, Macedonian and Turkish.
The minority languages: Turkish, Slavic and others
In addition to Greek, Thessaloniki also has a number of minority languages that are spoken by various ethnic and religious groups. These languages have been influenced by the city’s historical events, such as the Ottoman rule, the Balkan Wars, the Population Exchange and the World Wars.
One of the most prominent minority languages in Thessaloniki is Turkish, spoken by the Muslim minority of Thrace and some immigrants from Turkey. Turkish is a Turkic language that belongs to the Altaic family. It has a complex grammatical system that features agglutination and vowel harmony. Turkish was widely spoken in Thessaloniki during the Ottoman period (1430-1912), when it was the administrative and cultural language of the empire. However, after the Population Exchange of 1923, most of the Turkish-speaking population was relocated to Turkey or other countries.
Another minority language in Thessaloniki is Slavic, spoken by some descendants of Slavic-speaking refugees who settled in Macedonia after the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and World War I (1914-1918). Slavic is a branch of Indo-European languages that includes several languages such as Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian. The Slavic language spoken in Thessaloniki is mainly based on Bulgarian or Macedonian dialects, but it also has influences from Greek and Turkish. The Slavic speakers in Thessaloniki are often referred to as Pomaks or Torbeshi.
Other minority languages spoken in Thessaloniki include Albanian, Romani, Armenian and Ladino. Albanian is an Indo-European language that belongs to its own branch. It is spoken by some immigrants from Albania or Kosovo who came to Greece after the 1990s. Romani is an Indo-Aryan language that belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch. It is spoken by some members of the Roma community who live in various parts of Greece. Armenian is an Indo-European language that belongs to its own branch. It is spoken by some descendants of Armenian refugees who fled from Turkey during the Armenian Genocide (1915-1923). Ladino is a Romance language that belongs to the Ibero-Romance branch. It is spoken by some members of the Sephardic Jewish community who trace their origins to Spain or Portugal.
The foreign languages: English, French and others
Besides the official and minority languages, Thessaloniki also has a number of foreign languages that are learned and used by its inhabitants for various purposes. These languages reflect the city’s openness to the world and its participation in international affairs.
The most common foreign language learned by Greeks is English, spoken by 51% of the population. English is a Germanic language that belongs to the Indo-European family. It is widely used as a lingua franca in many domains, such as education, business, tourism, media and culture. English is taught as a compulsory subject in Greek schools from an early age, and many Greeks also attend private language courses or use online resources to improve their skills.
The second most common foreign language learned by Greeks is German, spoken by 9% of the population. German is a Germanic language that belongs to the Indo-European family. It is mainly used for economic and academic reasons, as Germany is one of Greece’s main trade partners and a popular destination for Greek students and researchers. German is also taught as an optional subject in some Greek schools, and many Greeks also attend Goethe-Institut courses or use online resources to learn the language.
The third most common foreign language learned by Greeks is French, spoken by 8.5% of the population. French is a Romance language that belongs to the Indo-European family. It is mainly used for cultural and diplomatic reasons, as France has a long-standing relationship with Greece and supports its interests in the European Union and other international organizations. French is also taught as an optional subject in some Greek schools, and many Greeks also attend Alliance Française courses or use online resources to learn the language.
Other foreign languages learned by Greeks include Italian, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese. Italian is a Romance language that belongs to the Indo-European family. It is spoken by 8% of the population, mainly for cultural and historical reasons, as Italy and Greece share many common elements in their art, music, cuisine and lifestyle. Spanish is a Romance language that belongs to the Indo-European family. It is spoken by 2% of the population, mainly for cultural and economic reasons, as Spain and Greece have similar challenges and opportunities in the European context. Russian is a Slavic language that belongs to the Indo-European family. It is spoken by 1% of the population, mainly for personal or professional reasons, as Russia has a significant presence and influence in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Arabic is a Semitic language that belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family. It is spoken by 0.5% of the population, mainly for religious or business reasons, as Arabic is the language of Islam and of many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Chinese is a Sino-Tibetan language that belongs to its own family. It is spoken by 0.1% of the population, mainly for educational or economic reasons, as China is an emerging global power and a potential partner for Greece.
Thessaloniki is a city of languages, where different linguistic communities coexist and interact with each other. The languages spoken in Thessaloniki reflect its rich and diverse history, culture and identity, as well as its current challenges and opportunities in the globalized world. Learning more about these languages can help us appreciate the city’s uniqueness and diversity, as well as its role and potential in regional and international affairs.
- Languages of Greece – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Greece
- Old Church Slavonic language | Britannica https://www.britannica.com/topic/Old-Church-Slavonic-language
- Languages – The World Factbook https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/field/languages/
- Languages of Slovenia – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Slovenia