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Speaking the LanguageBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Cyprus - Speaking the Language
Before the island's division, according to the statistics from 1960, the picture of demographics looked like this:
- A total population of 573,566 citizens
- Greek Cypriots, 77% (441,656)
- Turkish Cypriots, 18.3% (104,942)
- Armenians - Gregorians, 0.6% (3,378)
- Roman Catholics and Maronites, 0.5% (2,752)
After the division of Cyprus, there were many two-way migrations, mostly related to Turkey. Many Turkish Cypriots left the island while many Turkish citizens migrated to Northern Cyprus.
The Republic of Cyprus has two official languages, Greek and Turkish. Cyprus Greek is slightly different from the original language, and has a strong dialect. About 15% of its words are specific to Cyprus. There are also many minorities who speak their own language, such as Armenian, Cypriot Maronites, Arabic and Romani. Where foreign languages are concerned, the research shows that about 76% of Cypriot population speak English, 12% speak French and 5% speak German.
The most famous piece of Cypriot literature is "Cypria", which is an epic poem written by Stasinus, a legendary poet who wrote the entire history of the Trojan War in epic hexameter verse. Epic poetry, also known as the "acritic songs", had a significant role in literature during the Middle Ages. When it comes to modern poets and writers, there are some names worth mentioning, such as Kostas Montis, Michalis Pasiardis and Dimitris Lipertis.
As has already been mentioned, the official languages of Cyprus are Greek and Turkish. After the island's division into two different parts, in the break-away Northern Cyprus, Turkish was proclaimed as the only official language by the 1983 constitution. The majority of the population on this island speaks Cypriot Greek as the everyday tool of communication, while in the northern territory, the majority of Turkish Cypriots speak Cypriot Turkish.The languages that are used for official purposes are Standard Modern Greek and Standard Turkish.
The Cypriot constitution recognizes three religious groups. Two of these groups have their own languages: Armenian as the language of Armenian Cypriots and Cypriot Arabic as the language of Maronite Cypriots. Alongside these two, the language of the Kurbet, the Cypriot Roma, known as Kurbetcha, is also included as a language of this island, even though it is not officially recognized by the constitution. The results of 2011 census of the Republic of Cyprus showed that there were 679,883 native speakers of Greek, 34,814 of English, 24,270 of Romanian, 20,984 of Russian and 18,388 of Bulgarian of a total of 840,407. The two main languages of Cyprus have mutually influenced each other through the history.
Three main languages
Greek was originally brought to Cyprus by Greek settlers during the period between the 12th and 11th centuries BCE. The contemporary Cypriot Greek, which is the mother tongue of Greek Cypriots, evolved from Byzantine Koine, and was also influenced by the languages of the various colonizers of the island. Cypriot Greek is significantly different from Standard Modern Greek, particularly in its phonology, morphology and vocabulary. This language may seem difficult to understand for speakers of other varieties of Greek. Some may even find it unintelligible. Cypriot Greek had a literary tradition that flourished before the Ottoman conquest in 1571.
However, the Standard Modern Greek, known as Katharevousa, has been the main language in Greek Cypriot education since the late 19th century. It is also the main language in Greek media in the country. Even today, Modern Greek continue to exert an influence on Cypriot Greek, making its speakers to switch between the two varieties in formal settings.
Turkish Cypriots were fluent in Cypriot Greek prior to 1974. This means that Cypriot Greek served as the "vernacular lingua franca" of the island before the early 70's. Two minority languages which are covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in Cyprus are Armenian and Cypriot Arabic.
Armenians have inhabited Cyprus since the 6th century AD, but about 9,000 more came from Turkey at the beginning of 20th century, escaping the Armenian Genocide. Most of those migrants moved to other countries. Nowadays, Western Armenian is taught in Armenian schools, also known as Nareg. It is the first language of about 3,000 people of Armenian descent in the Republic of Cyprus. Today, Armenian Cypriots are bilingual in Greek and Armenian. In 2014, it was reported that there are 668 Armenian first-language speakers of a total 1,831 Armenian Cypriots in the Republic of Cyprus.
It is not entirely certain when the Arabic language first made its way to Cyprus. Arabic speakers are known to have emigrated from the Levant during late 12th century AD. Today, people are making a significant effort to revive Cypriot Arabic as a common tongue. It is spoken by an estimated 900 Cypriot Maronites, all over the age of 30. For a long time, Kormakitis was kind of a stronghold of the language, but most Maronites migrated to the southern region and spread out after 1974. This event may have fueled its slow demise. Cypriot Arabic speakers are bilingual in Greek and Cypriot Arabic. This Arabic language, which has existed cut off from other varieties of Arabic for a long time, has been significantly influenced by Cypriot Greek. This means that Greek language had an impact when it comes to syntax, vocabulary and phonology in particular. The language has lost all emphatic consonants and stop voicing opposition. Cypriot Arabic also has some common traits with certain north Syrian and Mesopotamian dialects and sedentary vernaculars spoken on the Levantine coast. This language hasn't been codified, though there are plans to do so in near future. In 2014, it was reported that of all 3,656 Maronite Cypriots in Republic of Cyprus-controlled areas "none declared Cypriot Arabic to be their first language".
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