Ionic Greek
Ἰωνικὴ διάλεκτος
RegionCircum-Aegean, Magna Graecia
Erac. 1000–300 BC
Early form
Greek alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Distribution of Greek dialects in Greece in the classical period.[1]
Distribution of Greek dialects in Magna Graecia (Southern Italy and Sicily) in the classical period.

Ionic Greek (Ancient Greek: Ἑλληνικὴ Ἰωνική, romanizedHellēnikḗ Iōnikḗ) was a subdialect of the Attic–Ionic or Eastern dialect group of Ancient Greek.


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The Ionic dialect appears to have originally spread from the Greek mainland across the Aegean at the time of the Dorian invasions, around the 11th century BC during the early Greek Dark Ages.

By the end of Archaic Greece and early Classical Greece in the 5th century BC, the central west coast of Asia Minor, along with the islands of Chios and Samos, formed the heartland of Ionia proper. The Ionic dialect was also spoken on islands across the central Aegean and on the large island of Euboea north of Athens. The dialect was soon spread by Ionian colonization to areas in the northern Aegean, the Black Sea, and the western Mediterranean, including Magna Graecia in Sicily and Italy.

The Ionic dialect is generally divided into two major time periods, Old Ionic (or Old Ionian) and New Ionic (or New Ionian). The transition between the two is not clearly defined, but 600 BC is a good approximation.

The works of Homer (The Iliad, The Odyssey, and the Homeric Hymns) and of Hesiod were written in a literary dialect called Homeric Greek or Epic Greek, which largely comprises Old Ionic, with some borrowings from the neighboring Aeolic dialect to the north. The poet Archilochus wrote in late Old Ionic.

The most famous New Ionic authors are Anacreon, Theognis, Herodotus, Hippocrates, and, in Roman times, Aretaeus, Arrian, and the Lucianic or Pseudo-Lucianic On the Syrian Goddess.

Ionic acquired prestige among Greek speakers because of its association with the language used by both Homer and Herodotus and the close linguistic relationship with the Attic dialect as spoken in Athens. This was further enhanced by the writing reform implemented in Athens in 403 BC, whereby the old Attic alphabet was replaced by the Ionic alphabet, as used by the city of Miletus. This alphabet eventually became the standard Greek alphabet, its use becoming uniform during the Koine era. It was also the alphabet used in the Christian Gospels and the book of Acts.

Ionic subdialects

Map of the Ionian Greek dialects
Map of the Ionian Greek dialects

On the basis of inscriptions three subdialects of Ionic may be discerned:[2]

1. Western Ionic, the dialect of Euboea and Oropos;

2. Ionic of the Cycladic Islands (Central or Cycladic Ionic);

3. Eastern Ionic, the dialect of the west coast of Asia Minor.

Eastern Ionic stands apart from both other dialects because it lost at a very early time the /h/ sound (psilosis) (Herodotos should therefore properly be called Erodotos). The /w/ sound (digamma) is also completely absent from Eastern Ionic, but was sometimes retained in Western and Cycladic Ionic. Also pronouns that begin with /hop-/ in Western and Cycladic Ionic (ὅπου where, ὅπως how), begin with ok- (conventionally written hok-) in Eastern Ionic (ὅκου/ὄκου, ὅκως/ὄκως).

Western Ionic differs from Cycladic and Eastern Ionic by the sounds -tt- and -rr- where the other two have -ss- and -rs- (τέτταρες vs. τέσσαρες, four; θάρρος vs. θάρσος, bravery). Western Ionic also stands apart by using the form ξένος (xenos, foreigner, guest), where the other two use ξεῖνος (xeinos).[3]

Cycladic Ionic may be further subdivided: Keos, Naxos, and Amorgos retained a difference between two /æ/ sounds, namely original /æ/ (written as Ε), and /æ/ evolved from /ā/ (written as Η); for example ΜΗΤΕΡ = μήτηρ < μάτηρ, mother. On the other Cycladic Islands this distinction was not made, Η and Ε were used there interchangeably.[4]

Within Eastern Ionic, Herodotus recognized four subgroups (Histories, I.142), three of them apparently influenced by a neighbouring language:

a. The dialect of Miletus, Myus, and Priene, and their colonies, influenced by Carian;

b. The Ionic of Ephesos, Kolophon, Lebedos, Teos, Klazomenai, and Phokaia, and their colonies, influenced by Lydian;

c. The dialect of Chios and Erythrai and their colonies, influenced by Aeolic Greek;

d. The dialect of Samos and its colonies.

Differences between these four groups are not clearly visible from inscriptions, probably because inscriptions were usually ordered by a high social group that everywhere spoke the same kind of "civilized Ionic". However, local speech by the "man in the street" must have shown differences. An inkling of this may be witnessed in the language of Ephesian "beggar poet" Hipponax, who often used local slang (νικύρτας, σάβαυνις: terms of abuse; χλούνης, thief; κασωρικός, whorish) and Lydian loanwords (πάλμυς, king).[5]



Proto-Greek ā > Ionic ē; in Doric, Aeolic, ā remains; in Attic, ā after e, i, r, but ē elsewhere.[6]

Proto-Greek e, o > East/Central Ionic ei, ou:[note 1] compensatory lengthening after loss of w in the sequences enw-, erw-, onw-, orw-. In Attic and West Ionic, e, o are not lengthened.[7] (“East” refers to the Ionic of Anatolia, “Central” refers to the Ionic of the Cyclades, and “West” refers to the Ionic of Euboea.)

East Ionic generally removes initial aspiration (Proto-Greek hV- > Ionic V-).[9]

Ionic contracts less often than Attic.[10]


Proto-Greek *kʷ before o > Attic, West/Central Ionic p, some East Ionic k.

Proto-Greek *ťť > East/Central Ionic ss, West Ionic, Attic tt.[11] This Ionic feature made it into Koine Greek.


Word order


See also


  1. ^ Among Greek dialects, Ionic was the fondest of long vowels and was thus considered especially suited to solo singing; the more austere, broad-sounding Doric was preferred in choral singing.


  1. ^ Roger D. Woodard (2008), "Greek dialects", in: The Ancient Languages of Europe, ed. R. D. Woodard, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 51.
  2. ^ Thumb, Albert; Scherer, A. (1959). Handbuch der griechischen Dialekte (2 ed.). Heidelberg: Carl Winter. p. II, 247.
  3. ^ Thumb & Scherer (1959), pp. 247, 264-265.
  4. ^ Thumb & Scherer (1959), pp. 251-252.
  5. ^ Hoffmann, O.; Scherer, A. (1969). Geschichte der griechischen Sprache. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co. p. I, 55.
  6. ^ Smyth, par. 30 and note, 31: long a in Attic and other dialects
  7. ^ Smyth, par. 37 note: Ionic compensatory lengthening after loss of w
  8. ^ κόρη. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  9. ^ Smyth, par. 9 note: early loss of rough breathing in Ionic of Asia Minor
  10. ^ Smyth, par. 59 note: contraction in dialects
  11. ^ Smyth, par. 112, 78: ky, khy > tt; = ss in non-Attic dialects
  12. ^ Athenaeus Deipnosophists 10 425c


Further reading