Monday, October 12, 2015
Koine Greek: What's The "Koine" Part Mean?
We use the term 'koiné' to indicate any of the strata of the hellenistic language: common, superior (official or literary) and its Atticist colouring. The names 'koiné" or "hellenistic language" are used in the same sense; previous limitation of the word "koiné" to the normally used educated or written language is arbitrary. But the use of this generic term, as O. Hoffmann states, does not involve wiping out any of the differences between the various strata of the hellenistic language. The spoken koiné has not been preserved anywhere in a pure state, but down to the most vulgar papyrus it was subject to some degree of standardization through the medium of writing. However, in comparison with an artificial literary work (which tries to be Attic, and only by carelessness takes on traces of the contemporary popular language), a spontaneous private letter on papyrus comes to be like 'spoken koiné." The name "koiné" is therefore given to that form of internationally used Greek which developed gradually from Attic from the 4th century BCE. Koiné is the Greek language of the hellenistic and early Roman period (ἡ κοινὴ διάλεκτος is equivalent to ἑλληνισμός), and is a response to the pressure for differentiation and political unification shown in similarities of cultus, and in the ability of speakers of different dialects to understand one another. What we would today call, in the words of I.R. Alfageme, "a combination of isoglosses which affect all Greek dialects,' was understood by the Greeks themselves as the 'common dialect' of all, or koiné; that is, a linguistic standard which imposed itself, finally eliminating almost entirely the old dialects by a broad process of 'creolization' of the less stable languages or pidgins.
To be somewhat more specific, it may be said that Attic and koiné are partly synonymous, although it would perhaps be preferable to keep the name koiné for the period from 323 BCE, that is, for the language which the Macedonians spread through the East. In this way one may distinguish between hellenistic Greek (hellenistic koiné), koiné and Attic; the first is Greek until 323 BCE; koiné is Attic outside the Attica; and Attic is the language spoken in Attica during the 5th and following centuries, insofar as it remained distinct from hellenistic koiné.
The concept of "koiné" was not clearly fixed in antiquity. Apologies Dyscolus, Herodian and others understood "koiné" as the primitive language which, in their view, formed the basis of the four dialects Aeolian, Doric, Ionian and Attic. The common language of their time (as distinct from the literary language) was called by Herodianus ἡ (κοινὴ) συνήθεια ἡ νυνὶ συνήθεια, that is, "the (general, present-day) custom'; for the term koiné, the periphrasis ᾗ πάντες χρώμεθα, "which we all use," or ἡ ἐκ τῶν τεττάρων συνεστῶσα "the one [language] made up of the four"; "Atticism" then degraded the "general" language to "common," base or vulgar, the Atticist Moeris sometimes distinguishes ἑλληνικόν and κοινόν (both in distinction to ἀττικόν) in such a way that the former indicates the post-classical literary language, and the latter the vulgar language of the period.
Clement of Alexandria is the first Greek writer to witness to koiné as a fifth dialect: φασὶ δὲ οἱ Ἕλληνες διαλέκτους εἶναι τὰς παρὰ σφίσι πέντε· Ἀτρίδα, Ἰάδα, Δωρίδα, Αἰολίδα, καὶ πέμπτην τὴν κοινήν. Clement of Alexandria, however, does not mean by "dialect" what we mean, and we cannot share his view that koiné is a dialect on the same level as Doric and the others