short dialect discussion.

We can discuss this briefly tonight (if the group chooses) but I thought I’d send a pre-chat note.

Appendix K of our text has a good, brief overview of the 4 main dialects as they are understood.  I also found a great summary online at

Language and dialects were certainly part of how Greeks defined the other.  It’s worth noting that the term barbarian in Greek literally describes someone who spoke a non-Greek language.  The Greeks assumed they were just muttering nonsense, which sounded like bar, bar, bar, bar…and so, barbar-ians.  My own view is that dialects, like differences in clothing, hair length, diet, and so on were used as needed to emphasize like and dislike between people.  If you were at a happy marriage ceremony, the “sameness” gets attention and everyone uses toasts they’re sure the visitors will recognize.  If, on the other hand, the husband from the other village has killed the gift-wife, burned the fields, and eaten the goats, well then no one can BELIEVE that he uses THAT dialect, even if it is the same one they liked before.   Could Persian language and customs be treated the same way?

A few key points:
Greek and Macedonian are both in the Indo-European language family, a branch dated by most to about 4500 BCE.  Scholars debate their relationship to each other.  Indo-European is a scholarly reconstruction based on linguistic tendencies and theories, not texts.  (It is testable in some ways, don’t get me wrong, but there is no Rosetta Stone with IE.)
Persian is also part of the Indo-European language family, but unintelligible to a Greek speaker.
Early Greek writing dates to about 14th century BCE and consists of
Mycenaean texts (linear B):  talks mostly of cows, grain, trade, inventories although recent scholarship has addressed culture, kingship, and even religion in the texts.
Cypriot texts (linear A): not yet deciphered because the sample set is very small
Spoken Greek dialects were not mutually unintelligible.  Despite the differences, Greek speakers could understand each other.
All the dialects were written with the same Greek alphabet (borrowed from the Phoenicians who traded throughout the ancient world).  This is the one Herodotus used

08. April 2008 by Arrian
Categories: Commentary, Herodotus | Tags: | Comments Off on short dialect discussion.