Classical dialects by amount of contemporary texts

By Kallistos, in 'Ancient Greek', Aug 11, 2018.

  1. Kallistos New Member

    Χαίρετε!

    I've been searching on the internet for a study that lists all classical dialects (I'm mostly interested in 600-100 BC) together with the amount of surviving texts that were written when the dialect was still alive. So simply just a name + word count list. I've found nothing. Have anyone seen similar, or could someone help in finding it? I suspect that there might be academic papers on this, but those papers are mostly not publicly accessible.

    Ἐπαινῶ
  2. Iáson Cívis Illústris

    • Civis Illustris
    Xαῖρε! It's a great idea, but any such attempt would be marred by considerable technical difficulties:
    1. What do you count as a dialect?
    Do you count large-scale groupings separately (eg. Attic-Ionic, West Greek, Aeolic... etc.) or the smaller groupings (eg. East Ionic, Attic, Arcadian, Cypriot... etc.) or the dialect of each particular place (since every individual city most likely had a slightly different dialect: Miletan, Corcyran... etc.)? How do we distinguish dialects which may have been clear to ancient Greeks but are not to us (cf Hdt 1.142, which gives evidence for variation within East Ionic which does not show up in inscriptions)? How do you deal with the way that dialects changed and merged (600-100 sees the birth and spread of the koine, with its own problems of definition and subdivision)? What about the differences between literary and epigraphic dialects (and how far they reflect actual speech)? How far do our manuscripts of literary works reflect dialect features, and how far have they been distorted by transmission?

    2. What do you count as a text?
    There are inscriptions, fragmentary inscriptions, quoted texts, papyrus fragments, and, of course, the literature in manuscripts. Often a poem survives only in a single word, quoted for some reason in another author ('Sappho uses the word 'X', which means...').

    What you would find is, very roughly, that there is an overwhelming amount of Attic and koine, quite a lot of Ionic, and scraps of other stuff. Not that there wasn't literature in the other dialects, but it didn't survive that well (in terms of quantity and quality of transmission).
  3. Iáson Cívis Illústris

    • Civis Illustris
    (Well, maybe 'scraps' is a bit disingenous in referring to eg. the entire works of Pindar or Theokritos. But in terms of volume, they simply can't come near to that of Plato/Aiskhines/Demosthenes put together...)
  4. Hemo Rusticus The Lizard King

    • Civis Illustris
    Be assured that neither have we.

    As Jason εἴρηκε, and you probably know already, not a few of the once-venerable dialects like Elean remain largely as scraps of graffiti. Apart from pointing you to Buck's Dialects, I'm afraid I can't offer much help.
  5. Kallistos New Member

    Thanks Láson for your answer.

    The smallest possible, because then there's still a way to merge multiple ones together when needed.

    I'm only interested in those variations, which show a difference in either grammar, vocabulary or literary style.

    I supposed that how currently the Greek dialects are divided already reflects the time when it was used. If the current academic naming of the dialects is ambiguous, then we could do the following: we could select reference points in space and time (e.g.: city and century), which are very characteristic in grammar, vocabulary and literary style. Then someone with a lot of experience could compare all other texts with the reference points, and express the similarity with a score from 1 to 10.

    If literary and epigraphic styles can show differences at a given location and time, then we would need two separate lists for them.

    The question of not authentic texts is problematic, because that usually can't be proven. If there's proof for big changes in a text in terms of grammar, vocabulary or style, then it can be excluded from the examination.

    I think quotations should be excluded, because it happens often that the grammar is bended. But I'm mostly interested in literature.

    Yes, thank you, the reason I was looking for a list like that, is to match my interests with pragmatism in learning the language. To select one of the dialects with the highest amount of sources, which also has some works that are interesting to me.
    So mostly Attic and Ionic literary works survived? That's sad to hear. And I bet that from the above time frame (600-100 BC) , most of them are from 100.
    Many thanks, I'll look up the differences between Attic and Ionic.
  6. Iáson Cívis Illústris

    • Civis Illustris
    In terms of learning the language, most people start with the Attic of Demosthenes, Plato etc. There's a lot of material there, and it also became a prestigious literary language that later ages would look back to and emulate. Hence you get a lot of 'Atticising' literature, written much later but with similar vocabulary and grammar.

    In terms of available texts to learn with, they are ample for Attic Greek. There's also a large amount of Ionic prose in the form of Herodotos' Histories, which are both long and varied in content.

    The Greek Septuagint and New Testament alone provide ample Koine material.

    Of course, there's also Homeric Greek, an artificial poetic dialect in which most hexameter is written. It's maybe not the best place to start though, as it is filled with different grammatical forms from different times and dialects, as well as some that are purely made up to fit the metre. The same might be said of the choral 'Doric' dialect of Pindar.

    Another problem (if you're starting from scratch) is textbooks. I've never seen a textbook which starts with Ionic, for example. This is to some extent down to the historical priorities of the subject. People interested in Classical literature tend to start with Attic so they can read Plato, Demosthenes, Aristophanes, etc., whilst people interested in theology and reading the Bible in Greek tend to start with Koine for the Biblical material. Homer is also prestigious but for the reasons mentioned above no one really starts off with it. As for your chances of finding a textbook starting from scratch for, say, Pamphylian, they are pretty much zero.

    To be honest, none of this is that much of a problem; the dialects don't differ an enormous amount, and once you know, say, Attic and the various sound changes which separate it from the other dialects, they are more or less comprehensible.


    Not especially. There are plenty of texts from the 'Classical period' (Plato, for example, and the Attic orators); most Greek tragedy is 5th-4th century. And there's also a fair bit of Hellenistic literature, eg. Apollonius' Argonautica. But not a lot from the second century.

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