Istanbul Greek (Rum)”1 emerged as the product of the common Greek (Rum)2 culture together with the Ottomans, Westerners, Levantines and Jews, in short, with peoples who had lived together in Anatolia for centuries. This language has a “special” place in terms of both its pronounciation and the dialectical vocabulary of the Greeks of Istanbul, and differs from the language spoken in Greece.3 It is inevitable for “Istanbul Greek”, as a language which developed in a multicultural environment, not to bear cosmopolitan elements of the languages it both influenced and was influenced by. However, it has been scientifically accepted that this situation added a certain richness to this well-established language.

We can also consider “the historical development of the Greek language” to be a part of the historical process the Greeks underwent. In the period following the conquest of Istanbul (1453), the Ottoman government endeavored to strengthen Istanbul through the contributions of both the Muslim and Christian populations. In this regard, the Greek influx to Istanbul in the post-conquest period is not a coincidence. From the foundation of Greece (1830), Istanbul –after Athens- was considered a national center for the Greeks because both the Greek Patriarchate and the Greek Patriarch were located there, and the Greeks produced and maintained the Hellenic culture in those territories under the auspices of the Ottoman state. In this period, the Greek population in Istanbul was under the influence of all the ideological-social and political currents that prevailed in Greek society.4

Until the population exchange of 1925, Istanbul was the largest cultural center of the Hellenes. While in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Greeks constituted one third of the general population of Istanbul, their number reached 200,000 in the early twentieth century. They dispersed throughout the various districts of Istanbul either as colonies and mostly according to their origins. While the Greeks who came from the Dodecanese Islands settled in Galata, those from Chios or the Peloponnese settled in Tatavla-Kurtuluş, the Greeks coming from Epirus settled in Hagia Yorgi-Edirnekapı, those from the Lesbos Island moved to Kumkapı and the Greeks from the Capadocia-Karaman region moved to Samatya. The Istanbulites settled around the Fener district.5

Thus, in the aforementioned centers of population, the influence of the Greek language spoken in the original territories can be observed. The Patriarchate, as a supreme institution, protected the Greek language from all such influences by developing a particular language for the Church which was compatible with the tradition of the old written language still in use today.

In this context, the type of changes the Hellenic-Greek language has undergone from its beginnings to the present should be mentioned briefly for the sake of clarification. Westerners officialized the public or colloquial language as a result of their settlement of accounts they engaged in with history. This development was experienced by the Italians in the fourteenth century and by the French and the Germans in the sixteenth century, and coincided with the decline of feudalism. Long afterwards, the Greek language became an issue to be resolved, as a result of the contemporary Greek modernization movement and its representatives. The colloquial language spoken by the populace and katharevousa,6 the written language of the literary circles, brought about discussions and disagreements as to which of the languages used by these two groups would become the official language and that of education. This leads the Greek society into a state of chaos which would last for almost two centuries. Between 1750-1821, we can witness variations in the Greek language a) the archaistic (Ancient Hellenic language), b) the mesi odos meaning “the middle way” (katharevusa) and c) the dimotiki as the common language. Each language movement had its own literature and representatives at the time.7

On the whole, although the aristocracy of Istanbul defended katharevusa as the language of education, a good part of the scholars took sides with the exponents of dimotiki.8 The dialect used by the people was developed, especially in terms of vocabulary, with influences of Turkish and of French and Italian in the late nineteenth century.

When the mutual interaction between the Greek and Turkish languages is examined, it can be observed that Greek primarily influenced Turkish in relation to its vocabulary. The results of the Greek language’s influence on Turkish and on dialect was first studied by G. Meyer (1893) and the Turcologist A. Tietze (from 1955 onwards), who were researchers of Balkanic languages. The Greek language’s sphere of influence comprises of an extensive geography and while some Greek words are widespread throughout most of Turkey, some only had influence over a limited area. For example, on the coasts of Asia Minor, Greek words are found in the maritime and fishing vocabulary. Words that entered into Turkish through the influence of Greek are easily identifiable by specialists because these words morphologically show the intonation characteristic of the Greek language.9

The language of “Istanbul Greek” differs grammatically from the language used in Greece in the following ways: 1) The object of some verbs is used in a different way. 2) b, d, g consonants are vocalised differently, and in Istanbul Greek, l, ç and c consonants are vocalized more deeply, similar to their pronounciation in Turkish. 3) Due to its interaction with Turkish, in Istanbul Greek, verbs are put at the end as in Turkish grammar.

The first Turkish words that entered the Greek language were identified in the works of the historians of the conquest, and most of these were place names. After the foundation of the Greek state in 1830, the language spoken in Greece was largely purified of Turkish words. In the Greek language used in Greece today, the words still remaining from the interaction with Turkish are either a) words about the culinary culture, such as köfte (meatball), imambayıldı (a traditional aubergine dish), kadayıf (a kind of dessert), which are also found in the Balkan languages or b) words related to the Anatolian culture, such as cami (mosque), derviş (dervish), nargile (nargileh), minder (mat), etc.

In local dialects, such as Pontus and Capadocia Greek, an increase in the number of Turkish words was observed. Since some Greek peoples of Asia Minor origin had to speak Turkish in regions like Kayseri and Konya, as required by the conditions of the period, the Greek language was not spoken but represented the religious identity of the Greeks in those regions. Hundreds of religious publications printed for this Greek population from the sixteenth century were published in the Greek alphabet but in the local dialect of Turkish, known as the dialect of “Karaman”.

Besides, in the “Istanbul Greek” language, some Turkish words and phrases have been preferred over their Greek equivalents:

ayşekadın fasulye (string bean), akide (sugar candy), akşamcılık (habitual intoxication), aktarma (transfer), aldırma (never mind), alçı (plasterwork), adet (item), antikacı (antique dealer), aptal (stupid), aralık (gap), azmak (to run rampant), aydınlık (light - noun), badanacı (whitewasher), balıketi (plump), banka (bank), basma (chintz), battaniye (blanket), bayır (ridge), becerikli (high-handed), bilet (ticket), biletçi (ticket seller), binmek (to get on, to ride), bohça (bundle), borsa (stock market), bunak (senile), börek (pastry), canım (dear), cici (popsy), ciğerim (my liver as a phrase of endearment), cüce (dwarf), çayır (lawn), çalı fasulyesi (french bean), çam (pine), çanak-çömlek (pots and pans), çançan (rattle), çardak (pergola), çatana (steam boat), çımacı (dockman), çokbilmiş (wisenheimer), çorbacı (soup cooker), çocuk (child), çökmek (to fall in), dalmak (to dive), dereotu (dill), dolma (stuffed vegetable), dolmuş (shared taxi), drahoma (dowry), düdüklü (pressure cooker), dut (mulberry), ergen (teenager), fatura (bill), fiyaka (blazon), heves (enthusiasm), hafif (light), haki (khaki), han (inn), havuz (pool), hayırsız (unfaithful), hizmet (service), ikindi (mid-afternoon), işkembe (tripe), kapucu (porter), karakol (police station), karnıyarık (an aubergine dish), kart (card or a pejorative phrase used for the aged), karyola (bedstead), kasap (butcher), kase (bowl), kaysı (apricot), kepaze (vile), kepenk (shutter), kibar (gentle), kına (henna), kıtır (crispy), kocaman (enormous), kok kömürü (coaking coal), kudurmak (to go mad or to become rabid), kunduracı (shoemaker), kuyumcu (goldsmith), kütük (bilet), lale (tulip), leblebi (roasted chickpea), leş (carcass), lokanta (lunchroom), loca (lodge), mahalle (neighbourhood), makara (bobin), malebi (custard), mavi (blue), mezelik (appetizer), mısır (corn), minder (mattress), miskin (sluggish), motor (engine), muameleci (treater), muhtar (village headman), musluk (plug), nalet (damned), nane (mint), nikah (wedlock), nüfus (population), palavra (lie, rubbish), pasaport (passport), patırdı (brulyie), patlıcan (aubergine), perde (curtain), perçem (fringe), peşkir (towel), pişman (regretful), rende (grater), rüşvet (bribe), saka (joke), saloz (silly), sapa (remote), sara (epilepsy), sarılık (hepatitis), sedye (sedan chair), senet (bill), serseri (rambler), sefertası (mess kit), sigorta (insurance, assurance), simit (bagel), sütçü (milkman/woman), şaşmak (to be amazed), şipşak (snapshot), şişko (fatty), tamah (avarice), tapon (shoddy), tapu (deed), tepeleme (topfull), tembel (lazy), top (ball), uydurma (fabrication), virane (ruin, wreck), yavrum (my little one), zor (difficult), yoğurtçu (yoghurt maker), etc.10

Likewise, idioms that became rooted in the language of “Istanbul Greek” generally entered into the language in the form of translations from Turkish idioms. For example, idioms like “turp gibi olmak” (be sound as a barrel, the equivalent to “be as sound as a radish” in Turkish), telefon açmak (to ring up someone, the equivalent to “opening a phone to someone”), sigara içmek (smoking, the equivalent to “drinking a cigarette”), para yatırmak (to invest in), expressions of telling the time –e.g. half, quarter- açık film (bawdy film, the equivalent to “open film”), yerliler (“natives” used for Turks), ne biçim şey (used for impropriety) are used in the same form and meaning as they are used in Turkish, though they have Greek equivalents.11

Another result of the interaction between the Turkish and Greek languages are the slang words used in contemporary Turkish, such as izmarid (mendole), izmarid (cigarette stub), ispinoz (snowboard)-geveze (babbler), anafor (whirlpool)-caba (gratis), kumaş (fabric), davacis (claimant)-pezevenk (pimp), rüşvet (bribe), hayvan (animal), etc.

The recent increase in the number of people who learn Turkish in Greece and Greek in Turkey has led to a certain increase in the number of source books and of translations in both languages. For instance, Herkül Millas’s study entitled Türkçe-Yunanca Ortak Kelimeler, Deyimler ve Atasözleri (Common Turkish-Greek Words, Idioms and Proverbs – with Their Greek Pronounciation)12 is a very important work consisting of more than 4,700 shared words and more than 1,275 shared idioms and proverbs.

However, when it comes to the language of “Istanbul Greek,” interactional linguistics went a long way in gradually including other languages. Together with numerous words used by Istanbulite Levantines, some words of Italian and French origin influenced the Greek language and are still used today.

Numerous words entered Greek through the influence of French, like abajur (floor lamp), antre (entranceway), apartman (apartment), asit borik (boric acid), bere (beret), bisiklet (bicycle), depo (depot), ekose (tartan), fötr (felt hat), gişe (ticket office), jurfiks (jarfix), kasa (safe box), kasiyer (cashier), kürdan (toothpick), konfor (comfort), konje (conge), koridor (corridor), lizöz (bed jacket), pardösü (overcoat), pasaj (passage), santimetre (centimeter), soket (socket), şofben (geyser), tansiyon (blood pressure), triko (tricot), vandöz (vanadious), etc. Similarly, there are words which entered Greek through the influence of the Levantines, such as ampul (bulb), artist, biskoto (biskota), garanti (guarantee), iskonto (discount), kabare (cabaret), kapetanios (captain), maron (maroon), okazion (occassion), porta, rapor (report), skala (scale), vazo (vase), etc.

Of course, “change” is something inevitable within the historical process. When the Greek language of today is viewed from this aspect, it is observed that the Greek minority of Istanbul has undergone a considerable demographic change (in the name of survival) for the last two decades.13 The Greek Orthodox, who migrated to Istanbul from Hatay and whose mother tongue is primarily Arabic, are trying to integrate into the Greek community of the city. As for the ways in which this demographic change will influence the ethnic and national character of the community, it will become evident in the future. However, this development has inevitable negative effects in terms of language, and these negative effects increase with every passing year within the limited opportunities provided for the new generation of Greeks. When the conditions in the minority schools that provide education in Greek are added,14 this situation contributes to the increasing losses day by day in the language. Moreover, the limitations of school books, which were good until recent years, also negatively affected this situation. That is to say, the language books sent from Greece by the government (on condition of reciprocity) are above the language level of minority school students. As a precaution against this, importance has been given to “pre-nursery education”. Furthermore, parallel education has started to be provided during the first three grades of elementary school.15 Yet these solutions are hardly adequate for an educational mobilization, though they provide a certain support to language education.

The representatives of the active period of Greek literature in the 1940s and 1950s are Panayot Abacı’s journal Pirsos (Meşale), Aleksandros Hatzopulos’s journal Tehni as well as figures like Aleksandros Baras, Petros Hronas, Haralambos Vayios, Kostas Yerasimu, Mario Vitti, Mayia Drosu, Al. Alyannaki, Ar. Klodia, D. Papakonstandinu and Menelaos Mavridis.

Today’s Greeks are also signing up to numerous studies, either in Greek or Turkish in both countries, which are concerned with Greek society and their language. Novels, stories, poems, translations, studies (written in many fields ranging from art history to cuisine culture) and religious publications of the clergy are all important products of individual effort and success.

Istos Publications, founded in 2012 by a group of young scholars and academics, is the first Greek publishing house founded in Istanbul in almost fifty years. Istos acts with the purpose of enliving the Greek cultural life of Istanbul by publishing novels, translations and studies about the contemporary and bygone Greek community.

Finally, the importance of the contribution of newspapers to the language and its development should also be considered. Today, in Istanbul, the Apoyevmatini and İho newspapers represent the journalism of the Greek minority. Although Mihalis Vasiliadis, the editor of the Apoyevmatini newspaper, ensured the continuity of the newspaper through public support after announcing in 2012 that the newspaper would close for economic reasons, the threat of closure will continue as long as the demographic conditions of the Greek minority in Istanbul do not change.

The Greek community and their language, “Istanbul Greek,” still resist contemporary conditions in their survival. Positive developments in recent years are promising for the future in every respect, and the Greek people want to exist as socially integrated and productive individuals by taking every opportunity to keep their language and their schools alive, modeled on international standards.


1 Greek: The language which is currently spoken by peoples of Greek origin, living in Muslim countries outside the territories of Greece.

2 “The Greek community of Turkey is a national minority which comprises of peoples of several ethnic origins dating from the late nineteenth century, but in which Hellenic identity is as strong as that of Orthodoxy. Even though they were identified as a religious minority at the Treaty of Lausanne, the Greeks of Turkey are actually a national minority. Although a large part of Turkish Greeks regard themselves as different from the Greeks of Greece in many respects, they still consider them as their fellow citizens and they regard their own community as part of the Hellenic nation.” Dimostenis Yağcıoğlu, “‘The Rums’ Saçmalığı”, Azınlıkça, 2009, no. 44.

3 Similarly, there was a certain level of interaction with other peoples who lived in Turkish-speaking territories and with their languages or dialects.

4 Kornilia Çevik Bayvertyan, To Zitima tis Glossas stin Konstantinoupoli-Logos kai Antilogos stin Efimerida Tahidromos (1898-1908) [İstanbul’da Dil Meselesi/Tahidromos Gazetesinde Tez ve Antitezler (1898-1908) / The Qustion of Language in Istanbul-Theses and Antitheses from Tahidromos Newspaper], Athens: Politis, 2012.

5 Herkül Millas, İstoria tis Ellinikis Glossas [Yunan Dil Tarihi, İstanbul Lehçesi / History of Greek Language, The Istanbul Dialect], Athens: ELIA, 1999, pp. 204-205.

6 Katharevusa: The simplified version of the archaistic language.

7 Rigas (1757-1798), Dimitrios Katarcis (1730-1807), Grigorios Konstandas (1758-1844), Athanasios Hristopulos (1772-1847) and Ioannes Vilaras (1771-1823) can be counted as representatives of the spoken language. Adamandios Korais (1748-1833), an exponent of the spoken language, is among the prominent figures who contributed to neo-Hellenic philology with his path-breaking works and studies. According to Korais, a “middle way” should be followed in the question of language. What was meant by the phrase was to avoid the extremities of the archaistic language represented by the Fanariots Ecole and the Patriarchate, while basically maintaining the same language tradition (see. K.Th. Dimaras, Neoellinikos Diafotismos [Çağdaş Yunan Aydınlanması-Contemporary Greek Enlightenment], Athens 1938).

8 Dialect (dimotiki): Considered the official language of Greece in 1976, the version of Greek language, which is a simplified version of Ancient Greek and a developed version of the archaistic-old Hellenic language. It was mainly actualized as a spoken language used in oral communication. It led to major social controversies from the late 19th century to the early 20th century because it was regarded as the “language of the ignorant” by both the exponents of the old language and by those of katharevusa. For the provision of education in public language and the inclusion of dimotiki and of folk literature in the curriculum, see Bayvertyan, To Zitima tis Glossas stin Konstantinupoli.

9 Haralambos Simyonidis, İstoria tis Ellinikis Glossas [Yunan Dil Tarihi, Yunanca-Türkçe Dil Etkileşimi (History of Greek Language, Greek-Turkish Lingual Interaction], Athens: ELIA, 1999, pp. 176-177.

10 Maria Harisiadu, Kath’Hmas Anatoli, Ta Politika [Anadolu’muz, İstanbul Rumcası (Our Anatolia: Istanbul Greek Language)], Athens 1907.

11 Harisiadu, Kath’Hmas Anatoli.

12 Istanbul: İstos Yayın, 2012.

13 The Greek population in Istanbul is approximatly 4000 people at present (including the Arabic speaking Orthodox community).

14 Weekly Greek language lessons have been reduced to an average of 5, though a few decades ago, the course hours were about 6-8 (together with those of elective courses).

15 Students who perform poorly in language courses are taught in a different class, so that they are provided with an education in line with their language requirements.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.