Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.03.54 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.03.54

Sophie Minon (ed.), Diffusion de l'attique et expansion des 'koinai' dans le Péloponnèse et en Grèce centrale. Actes de la journée internationale de dialectologie grecque du 18 mars 2011, université Paris-Ouest Nanterre. École pratique des hautes études. Science historiques et philologiques, 3; Hautes études du monde gréco-romain, 50.   Genève:  Librairie Droz, 2014.  Pp. x, 222.  ISBN 9782600013734.  CHF 43.65 (pb).  

Reviewed by Panagiotis Filos, University of Ioannina (


Ancient Greek dialectology has been a rather niche subject within the broader context of classical studies excluding perhaps certain fields such as lyric poetry (literature), epigraphy, etc. Traditional linguistic approaches have predominantly been descriptive and/or genetic (e.g., grammatical description, dialect groups, ‘aberrant’ dialects, etc.), while dialectal varieties have often been viewed as abstract linguistic systems that eventually ‘declined’ and gave way to the (Attic-Ionic) koine. Nonetheless, over the past few decades several novel approaches have come to the fore, and dialects are now also examined in terms of interdialectal contact, registers, gender speech, and the like, while their dynamic rather than unidirectional and one-dimensional relationship with the koine (plus the various regional koinai) has also become an all-important subject.

The new collective volume edited by S. Minon, which contains eight papers (in French) originally delivered at an one-day colloquium at the university Paris-Ouest (Nanterre) in March 2011, may well be placed within this new theoretical framework: the overarching topic is the expansion of Doric koinai in the Peloponnese and Central Greece in the post-classical era, in the context of a dynamic but also often antagonistic relationship with both the epichoric idioms and the Attic-Ionic koine to which they eventually gave way in the late Hellenistic and/or early Roman periods.

The volume begins with a short preface by C. Dobias-Lalou followed by S. Minon’s lengthy ‘Introduction’ (1-18) which is divided into two main parts: the former consists a selective, yet informative literature review followed by a short theoretical discussion of the topic of koineization (vs. dialect decline) as well as of some related phenomena and/or concepts; the latter is a short discussion of the individual papers in the volume. Although the editor’s argumentation about the exclusion of other Greek-speaking areas makes sense (e.g. the Attic-Ionic region was directly linked to the koine, while the Greek-speaking East was a heavily bi-/multi-lingual area), it is undoubtedly a pity that other dialectal regions have been left out, e.g. Thessaly, (other parts of) the northern zone of the Greek peninsula, Magna Graecia, etc.; obviously, practical constraints may have weighed in the final decision.1

The first paper by S. Colvin (‘Perceptions synchroniques des dialectes et de la koiné’, 19-28) stands out thematically since it does not focus on some particular dialect. Colvin (re-)examines certain excerpts from ancient texts in order to establish by means of modern linguistic techniques and theories (e.g. proto-language reconstruction, sociolinguistics) the meaning of the koine (and koineization) to ancient authors: for instance, ancient grammarians faced significant difficulties in determining the relationship between the koine and the (literary) dialects, e.g. parent vs. descendant (and vice versa) -though the koine was often also deemed a kind of ‘high’, unmarked variety in an environment of ongoing diglossia; on the other hand, some important modern linguistic notions (e.g. genetic relationship) simply did not even exist back then. One may realize here that this confusion extended beyond the strictly linguistic realm and related too to the crucial issue of identity (local vs. pan-Hellenic) in the post-classical period.

The important paper by E. Crespo (‘Diffusion de l’attique et développement de koinai dans le Péloponnèse (1re moitié du IVe siècle av. J.-C.’, 57-68) focuses on a more general topic too. Crespo offers an interesting comparative analysis of the earliest public texts from the Peloponnese (first half of the 4th century BC) that were not written in the respective local vernacular, which is nowadays considered a ‘violation’ of the so-called ‘Buck’s law’; but cf. also some other well-known cases out of the effect of this law, e.g. inscriptions found in sanctuaries of pan-Hellenic importance, i.e. Olympia, Delphi, Dodona, etc. Two texts written in Attic (high variety) plus another three in an unmarked Doric koina (a supra-dialectal variety) point to an early tendency towards the elimination of local, sub-dialectal features in cases of texts of ‘international’ importance or when the addressee/honorand was an Athenian citizen. Accommodation, by which speakers attempted to minimize differences, hybridization, leveling as well as some other linguistic features and mechanisms seem to have been pivotal in this process. Crespo concludes that Attic features spread unevenly according to communication circumstances each time; ultimately, the new peripheral linguistic convergence(s) (koinai) that emerged among the speakers of different dialectal (sub-)varieties paved the way for the Attic-Ionic koine rather than slowed down its expansion as claimed before by scholars.

S. Minon’s contribution (‘Les mutations des alphabets péloponnésiens au contact de l’alphabet attique ionisé (ca 450-350 av. J.-C.)’, 29-55) represents a primarily epigraphic-paleographic approach to the famous sub-dialectal dichotomy of the ancient Argolid, although it does not lack linguistic content altogether (cf. also Nieto Izquierdo’s paper below): on the one hand, Argos, Mycenae and the hinterland, and on the other, Epidaurus and its surrounding coastal area. Minon demonstrates through a detailed comparison that Epidaurus adopted earlier, though gradually, the Ionic (Milesian) alphabet while Argos moved at a slower pace despite its closer political relationship with Athens (Athens introduced the Milesian alphabet officially in 403/2 BC). Nonetheless, by the mid-4th century BC all of the Argolid had fully adopted the (Attic-)Ionic alphabet, a development which undoubtedly facilitated the expansion of the Attic-Ionic koine too. Geography, politics, economics and other extralinguistic factors obviously played a key role in this process, which is a fact we ought to take note of more frequently.2

E. Nieto Izquierdo (‘La diffusion de la koiné en Argolide au IVe siècle: les premières étapes’, 69-86) discusses the early stages of the expansion of the koine into both sub-dialectal areas of the Argolid in the 4th century BC. Some well-known research principles established by C. Brixhe, e.g. the need to distinguish characteristics shared by more than one dialects from unique (mono-)dialectal traits and adopted koine (plus other) features, have been employed for the purpose of this study as well. The analysis, which includes the examination of artificial forms, namely hybrids, but also hyperkoineisms, especially in Epidaurus (e.g. Νικώνους instead of Nίκωνος), and conversely hyperdialectalisms, particularly in Argos (e.g. τελώμενος instead of τελούμενος), points to an earlier and more intense diffusion of the koine in the coastal zone of Epidaurus.

The next chapter by L. Dubois (‘Dialecte et langues communes en Arcadie, à l’époque hellénistique’, 87-96) focuses on a non-Doric dialect, i.e. Arcadian. The author re-examines select epigraphic material from various Arcadian cities, especially Tegea, in order to demonstrate how Arcadian gave way from the late 4th/early 3rd to the 1st century BC to a Doric koina (especially in the context of the Achaean League) before the latter succumbed in its turn to the koine (1st century AD).

M. Douthe (‘La koina du Nord-Ouest: nature et développement’, 97-115) revisits the controversy over the existence and precise linguistic nature of the so-called North-West koina on the basis of two corpora of epigraphic texts from Delphi (4th-3rd centuries BC). Although the size and the nature of the epigraphic corpora hardly allow any firm conclusions, it appears that the so-called North-West koina was a primarily written, though not artificial variety (note its two main features: ἐν + acc., athematic dat. pl. ending -οις) which co-existed with the Attic-Ionic koine in a bidialectal environment. Certain socio- and extra-linguistic factors must be taken into account, although it is difficult to establish any of these factors firmly due to poor documentation. Last but not least, it appears that the supposed pivotal role of the Aetolian League in the establishment of a North-West koina as the equivalent linguistic medium of the Attic-Ionic koine, which was promoted by their Macedonian rivals, has been rather overstated.

N. Lanérès (‘Le messénien: un dialecte introuvable ?’, 117-139) offers a very interesting account of Messenian, a lesser known severe Doric variety that was closely related to Laconian; but cf. two important differences in Messenian: retention of intervocalic /s/ and lack of any change <θ> → <σ> (/ts/→ /s/ or perhaps an aspirate stop turning into a fricative, at least at a first stage). The turbulent history of Messenia and its speakers (wars against Sparta in the archaic period followed by subjugation and exile to Naupaktos in the mid-5th century BC, and finally return shortly after the Battle at Leuktra in 371 BC) creates a complicated, yet fascinating linguistic picture. Messenian is poorly attested, especially before the 4th century BC, but an analysis of its successive chronological stages shows that by the 2nd century BC a Doric koina (with predominantly Doric mitior features) took the place of Messenian; but this variety too was pushed aside by the Attic-Ionic koine by the end of the 1st century AD.

The final paper by A. Alonso Déniz (‘L’esprit du temps: koiné, dialecte et hyperdialecte dans les inscriptions agonistiques du sanctuaire d’Artémis Orthia à Sparte’, 141-168) is a fresh look at votive inscriptions from the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia in Sparta, particularly those from the 2nd-3rd centuries AD written in a unique ‘neo-Laconian’ Doric idiom: on the one hand, there are clear influences from the koine (in the form of hybrid, hyperdialectal and even pseudo-Laconian forms), and on the other, one may note the characteristic rhotacism of late Laconian (e.g. συνέφηβορ). According to the author, these inscriptions generally point to an actual idiom characterized by the revival of certain old Laconian features (too) rather than to an artificial variety; in other words, contemporary and archaic features from a local variety (‘lower register’) were used as idiomatic ‘markers’ for reasons pertaining to speakers’ identity concerns.3

Abstracts in both French and English as well as a select comprehensive bibliography (in addition to the references listed at the end of each paper) and several helpful indices can be found at the end of the book. In general, the book has been edited meticulously and published professionally while the number of mistakes and various other infelicities has been kept to a minimum despite the obvious difficulties arising from the complex nature of the dialectal material. A very short list of minor corrections (main text) is provided here: p. 112: ταυτῆςταύτης; p. 125: progressive → régressive; p. 124: ὄτανὅταν; p. 128, fn. 37: 1st pl. διδόμενδίδομεν; p.164: ΛακῶνωνΛακώνων (twice).4

In conclusion, this book, which follows in the footsteps of the five well-known collective volumes on the koine by C. Brixhe and R. Hodot (editors) between 1993 and 2004, will be of genuine interest to all specialists in ancient Greek linguistics, but also to those classicists in general who may work on dialectal material. But above all, it will intrigue and interest everyone keen on discovering the dynamic nature of ancient Greek dialectology, which extended far beyond the artificially monolithic picture of some traditional scholarly views of modern times.5


1.   For koineization in the Greek-speaking world, see V. Bubenik (1989). Hellenistic and Roman Greece as a Sociolinguistic Area. Amsterdam-Philadelphia. For Sicily, in particular, see O. Tribulato (ed.) (2012). Language and Linguistic Contact in Ancient Sicily. Cambridge: 191-288. For Macedonia (and Chalkidike), see C. Brixhe & A. Panayotou (1988). ‘L’atticisation de la Macédoine: l’une des sources de la koiné’. Verbum 11.3-4: 245-260; A. Panayotou (1990). ‘Des dialectes à la koiné: l’exemple de la Chalcidique’. ΠΟΙΚΙΛΑ, ΜΕΛΕΤΗΜΑΤΑ 10. Αthens: 191-228.
2.   Note also A. Morpurgo Davies (1993). ‘Geography, history and dialect: the case of Oropos’, in E. Crespo et al. (eds.), Dialectologica Graeca. Madrid: 261-279.
3.   Note the contemporary movement of Atticism which was also (partly) related to speakers/writers’ identity concerns. On the other hand, the findings of W. Labovs famous sociolinguistic study on Martha’s Vineyard (island off Massachusetts, US) in the 1960’s may also be of some relevance here: younger locals of a certain socio-economic background employed features of the idiom of the elderly, e.g. in the pronunciation of certain diphthongs, in an attempt to differentiate linguistically from ‘foreigners’, especially tourists.
4.   The otherwise interesting table on pp. 35-36, which tabulates various epichoric Greek alphabets from the latter part of the 5th century BC, has unfortunately been split between two different pages, although it could otherwise have been fitted into just one page.
5.   C. Brixhe (ed.), La Koiné grecque antique I (1993), La Koiné grecque antique II (1996), La Koiné grecque antique III (1998); R. Hodot (ed.), La Koiné grecque antique IV (2001), La Koiné grecque antique V (2004). Nancy (-Paris).

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