Carl W. Conrad (
Fri, 1 Nov 1996 20:14:22 -0600

At 4:20 PM -0600 11/1/96, Jack Kilmon wrote:
>Alan Repurk wrote:
>> Hello Greeks of all sizes :)
>> Is there a difference between these two forms ?
> Thayer references Polybius (cf. Arist. probl. 10,38 TOU ANQRWPOU MIA
>FWNH, ALLA DIALEKTOI POLLAI) "The tongue or language PECULIAR to any

Together with the LSJ definitions which Alan gave in full from the Perseus
web site, I think this citation is reasonably clear. But a little thought
about the two words helps too: GLWTTA/GLWSSA is a noun originally meaning
"tongue" and extending into broader senses of "language." DIALEKTOS, on the
other hand, derives from the verb DIALEGOMAI which means "engage in
conversation," "converse with one another." I think that what we have in
Greek, and particularly in Koine Greek, is what we have in English and in
fact in many a modern language that we can point to: North Americans, for
all their differences between tidewater Virginia, Ozarks Missouri &
Arkansas, and standard midwestern radio speech, can understand each other's
spoken English quite well; we have difficulty sometimes in following
British, Irish, or Scottish English if it is spoken too quickly; we have
much greaer difficulty in following (I should say rather that I myself do)
Australian English; the written language of any of these folks presents no
problem to any of these far-flung English speakers in the world. I think
then that this is probably the way we should understand these words in the
Greek: the GLWTTA/GLWSSA tends to be the term for the language as written
and understood by Greek-speakers everywhere--certainly in the Hellenistic
era by all educated Greek-speakers, while DIALEKTOS signals the distinctive
speech of different ethnic Greeks in different areas. My impression too is
that Koine is the name of a DIALEKTOS: hH KOINH DIALEKTOS, and I suspect
that the reason Koine is a eminine adjective is precisely because the noun
GLWTTA/GLWSSA is the noun understood implicitly with hH KOINE DIALEKTOS: it
means "the VERNACULAR language." I would guess too that its development is
rather akin to the standardized British accent developed in the "public"
schools as the standard pronunciation all over England, and akin also to
the standardized midwestern American accent that seems to be the vehicle of
radio and television broadcasting all over North America. Admittedly these
are pretty broad generalizations, but shouldn't we probably understand
GLWTTA/GLWSSA as the general word for "language," DIALEKTOS for the varied
forms of SPOKEN language?

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR