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Front. Commun., 07 January 2022
Sec. Language Sciences
Volume 6 - 2021 |

A Small Island With Big Differences? Folk Perceptions in the Context of Dialect Levelling and Koineization

  • 1Department of English Studies, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus
  • 2Cyprus Acquisition Team, CAT Lab, Nicosia, Cyprus

This paper presents the results of the first study within a perceptual dialectology framework in the Greek-speaking community in Cyprus. Thirty participants from three age groups of equal size took part in a sociolinguistic interview. As part of the language module component of the interview, they discussed their beliefs about regional variation in Cyprus and completed the so-called ‘draw-a-map task’. All participants were residents of urban areas of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus. The Greek-speaking community in Cyprus is diglossic: Standard Modern Greek is the High variety, while Cypriot Greek—the mother tongue of Greek Cypriots—is the Low variety. The latter is currently undergoing levelling of marked local basilect features and subvarieties. A quantitative analysis of the maps demonstrates that some areas in Cyprus (mainly in the periphery) have a stronger sociolinguistic salience than others. At the same time, the participants’ own way of speaking is perceived as unmarked, neutral and one that enjoys wider acceptance over other regional dialects. This study also shows a clear preference for characterizing a (presumed) dialect area with linguistic characteristics, rather than with evaluative commentary contra many similar studies in the literature and suggests a number of reasons why this may be so. Overall, this research shows how studies on language perception can inform and complement studies on language production in a given community. The participants drew an average of just four regional areas on their maps and viewed the different cities and their districts, or combinations thereof, as the different regional dialect areas they perceive to exist in Cyprus. It is argued in this paper that the small number of areas drawn and the emphasis on urban sites are consistent with regional dialect levelling. Consistent with regional dialect levelling is also the finding that the participants’ linguistic description of regional variation, while mainly accurate, is superficial and lacks detail. Interestingly, many of the participants also seem to be well aware of regional dialect levelling in their community. Other studies in the literature do not really discuss speakers’ awareness of levelling and this should be further explored in future studies.

1 Introduction

With perceptual dialectology—a sub-area of study in folk linguistics—we explore non-linguists’ perceptions of where linguistic variation exists. One of the main ways this is accomplished involves asking participants to draw lines on a map in order to delimit where they believe varieties are different from one another in a specific region (Preston 2013; 1981). This is the so-called ‘draw-a-map’ task which has been utilized in a number of studies all around the world (Al-Rojaie 2020; Bounds 2015; Bucholtz et al., 2007; Cramer 2021; Evans 2013b; Evans, Dunbar, and Chartier 2020; Garrett, Coupland, and Williams 2003; Long and Preston 2002; Montgomery 2007; Preston, 1989; Preston, 1999; Theodoropoulou and Tyler 2014). In addition to the map task, some studies have also analyzed data from interviews (e.g., Montgomery, 2014). Data from perceptual dialectology studies are valuable because they can uncover certain linguistic patterns, stereotypes, and attitudes that speakers have toward the speech of a particular region (Preston 2004; cited in Evans, 2013b, 282). They also add to our understanding of bigger questions about the forces behind language variation and change (Gordon 2013, 227) and contribute to data triangulation in studies of language variation and change by combining perception with production data (Meyerhoff 2016, 442). As Cramer (2021) aptly points out, perceptual dialectology “serves as a framework for connecting perception and production, attempting to present a fuller view of the complex nature of linguistic variation” (2021, 2). Such studies can illuminate which linguistic features are salient to speakers and which ones they tend to disregard, and whether or not their perceptions match data from production studies (Gordon 2013; Theodoropoulou and Tyler 2014).

This paper contributes to the literature in two ways. To start with, it presents the results of the first perceptual dialectological analysis of linguistic variation in Greek-speaking Cyprus. While there are studies on language attitudes in the community (e.g., Ayiomamitou and Fotiou 2021; Fotiou and Ayiomamitou 2021; Papapavlou 1998), there are no studies adopting a perceptual dialectology approach to date in this context. Second, this study adds to a few recent studies in the literature (e.g., Evans 2013b) that investigate perceptions on linguistic variation in small places. Cyprus, which is an island situated in the Eastern Mediterranean, covers an area of just 9,251 km2 (see Figure 1 for a map of Cyprus). Most studies on perceptual dialectology investigate people’s perception of regional variation in very large geographical areas. For example, Theodoropoulou and Tyler (2014), asked their participants to draw a map of the Arab world—which they define as the countries of the Arab League—while Evans et al. (2020) asked residents of Cardiff about their perceptions of English in the United Kingdom. In a similar vein, Long (1999) investigated people’s perception of regional variation in Japan and Preston (1981, 2013) focused on people’s perception of regional variation in the United States. Understandably, the study of people’s perception of geographical variation in relation to large geographical areas such as Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom is likely to result in not very detailed accounts of regional variation due to the size of the place under study. In contrast, investigating people’s perceptions of regional variation at a smaller scale can provide, as Evans (2013b, 269) argues, a more comprehensive and nuanced picture.


FIGURE 1. Map of cyprus source:

In what follows, we set the scene of this study by describing the sociolinguistic situation of the Greek-speaking community of Cyprus with a focus on the research conducted so far in this setting on regional linguistic variation (section 2). We then describe the methodology we adopted in this study (section 3) before we provide the results of our study (section 4) and discuss them (section 5). Finally, we conclude the paper and offer suggestions for future research (section 6).

2 Setting the Scene

The Greek-speaking community of Cyprus has been characterized as a diglossic setting (Rowe and Grohmann 2013). Standard Modern Greek (henceforth SMG) is the sociolinguistically High variety in this setting: It is one of the two official languages of the Republic of Cyprus (the other one being Turkish), it is acquired at school, and it is the variety people (aspire to) use in formal written and oral communication. Cypriot Greek (henceforth CG), which is the mother tongue of Greek Cypriots, is the Low variety, and is used in informal interactions. However, over the past two decades CG has found its way into domains “in which its presence was perhaps unconceivable in the past” (Fotiou and Ayiomamitou 2021, 3), such as the media, the arts (literature, theatre, cinema) and the linguistic landscape of the island. What is more, in spite of official policies, many studies have demonstrated that CG is also used in all levels of education (pre-primary to tertiary) along with SMG (Tsiplakou 2007; Ioannidou 2009; Sophocleous and Ioannidou, 2020).

Older studies of CG conducted in the 1950s and 1960s argued for the presence of geographical dialect zones in Cyprus. For example, Contosopoulos (1969, 105) claimed the existence of eighteen dialect zones, as can be seen on the map in Figure 2. In another study, Newton (1972) provided a detailed description of phonetic variants from 128 villages from around the island and argued for the existence of four main linguistic regions: Central Cyprus, North Paphos, South Paphos and Karpasia. Newton explains that his work was based on a variety of CG which he calls a ‘village dialect’ and that his work was mainly focused on the language of the inhabitants of Mesaoria, the island’s central plain. He also notes that ‘village CG’ is not a homogeneous variety but “a continuum of closely related types of speech linked by a series of independent phonological, morphological and lexical isoglosses (i.e., no obvious ‘bundles’ of isoglosses were found, with the possible exception of those setting off the speech of northern Paphos)” (p. 19). At the same time, he notes the existence of a variety of CG which calls ‘town speech’ (ibid.), and at a later point, he also refers in passing to a ‘local koine’:


FIGURE 2. 18 geographical dialect zones in Cyprus. Source: “Appendix. Local varieties of the Cypriot dialect (after Contosopoulos 1969, 105)” cited in Terkourafi (2005, 372). Reproduced with the permission of John Benjamins Publishing Company.

The dialect of Cypriot Greek described in the body of the present study forms the basis of a ‘local koiné,’ heard commonly, especially on the lips of younger speakers, in villages whose indigenous dialect may differ in various respects from it. (Newton, 1972, 21)

Even though Newton (1972) does not say anything else in his work about the CG koine, one may deduce from what he claims that at the time of his writing variation in CG was not just geographical. On the contrary, it seems that “geographical and sociolinguistic variation were both at play, and variants from the same pool may well have functioned as indices of both geographical provenance and of sociolinguistic status” (Tsiplakou et al., 2006, 10).

Today, regional variation on the island is mainly noted in segmental and suprasegmental phonology (Terkourafi 2005, 326), and there has been a shift from a geographical dialect continuum to a register continuum (Papapavlou and Sophocleous, 2009; Tsiplakou, 2014; Tsiplakou and Armostis, 2020). CG is also undergoing levelling of marked local basilect features and subvarieties (Kerswill 2003) and a CG koine is developing (Terkourafi 2005; Karyolemou 2008; Tsiplakou and Kontoyiorgi 2016; Karmellou 2017; Tsiplakou and Armostis 2020). At the same time, features of older local basilects that are still used post-levelling appear to operate as indexicals of lower registers (Papapavlou and Sophocleous, 2009; Tsiplakou et al., 2006, cited in Tsiplakou and Armostis, 2020).

The koine has been formed based on the language of the Mesaoria region (Newton, 1972, 21), which is the island’s central plain, but other varieties have also contributed to its formation (Karyolemou, 2008, p. 451). This koine is sometimes referred to as an urban variety (Davy, Ioannou, and Panayotou 1996; Terkourafi 2005; Savva 2016), but Karyolemou (2008) clarifies that this is so in order to highlight the fact that it was first developed in urban centers. As she explains, it is now spreading towards rural areas, and it has ceased to be a characteristic of urban space. Nevertheless, with only a handful of studies on the speech of people living in rural areas (Christodoulou 2015; Tsiplakou and Kontoyiorgi 2016; Karmellou 2017), we are not aware of the extent of this spread.

A pivotal factor contributing to the formation of the koine was the Turkish invasion of 1974 because it resulted in the forced movement of one third of the Greek Cypriot population from the northern part of the island to the south and the subsequent de facto partition of the island (Terkourafi 2005; Tsiplakou 2014). In fact, as a result of the invasion one can assume that “abrupt levelling must have taken place within the space of one generation, as sudden dense contact among populations from different areas of the island must have induced speakers to shed identifiably local, basilectal variants for the purposes of mutual intelligibility” (Tsiplakou, Armostis, and Evripidou 2016, 11).

Evidently, it was not just the forced population movement that has played its part in the formation of the koine (Terkourafi 2005). Other factors that have contributed to its formation have been easing of transportation, development of telecommunications as well as economic and infrastructural changes (Tsiplakou, Armostis, and Evripidou 2016, 11) combined with people’s development of weak social ties with various (loose-knit) social networks (Terkourafi, 2005; Karyolemou, 2008). As Terkourafi (2005, 330) explains:

Weak network ties in modern Cypriot society are intimately connected with various processes of demographic growth, urbanization and industrialization, whose first beginnings are placed in the period between the two world wars. Demographic growth between the two censuses of 1881 and 1921 shows a steady population increase in urban as well as in rural areas. After 1921, overpopulation combined with a drop in agricultural prices prompted large sections of the population to emigrate to the towns […]. These processes accelerated after World War II, with the years 1939–1960 marking the fastest rate of urban migration […].

By the early 1960s, just over one third of the population lived in urban areas (Karyolemou 2008), while in the latest census of 2011 it was recorded that 67% of Greek Cypriots live in urban areas (CYSTAT 2015, 16). Finally, another factor that has contributed to processes of levelling and koineization in the community is a sharp increase in literacy in the High variety (i.e., SMG) (Hadjioannou, Tsiplakou, and Kappler 2011; Tsiplakou and Kontoyiorgi 2016). The High variety is acquired at school and, in Cyprus, attending primary school became obligatory in 1962, while attending lower secondary education became obligatory in 1985 (Persianis and Polyviou, 1992). As an indication of the sharp increase in literacy, in 1911 73.21% of the population were illiterate (Polidorou 1995), while today 98.7% of the population over the age of 15 is literate (CYSTAT, 2015, 21).

As noted above, there has been a shift from a geographical dialect continuum to a register continuum in this community. As Figure 3 illustrates, the CG koine resides in an intermediate sociolinguistic space in this continuum according to Themistocleous and Tsiplakou (2013, 448)—this register has been characterized by speakers as ‘tidied-up’ or ‘polite’ Cypriot Greek. At one end of this continuum, we have ‘peasantry’, which is also called by speakers ‘heavy Cypriot’ and sometimes just ‘Cypriot’. This is the lowest register which exhibits use of basilectal features. At the other end of the continuum, we find SMG as it is spoken in Cyprus—this variety has been called Cypriot Standard Greek (Arvaniti 2006). It is a variety “with Cypriot phonetic (segmental and suprasegmental) features but (felt to be) identical to Standard Greek in other respects” (Themistocleous and Tsiplakou 2013, 448).


FIGURE 3. The CG register continuum as described in Themistocleous and Tsiplakou (2013).

Previous studies have noted that many speakers are aware of the different registers within CG (Tsiplakou et al., 2006; Papapavlou and Sophocleous, 2009) and they employ different emic terms to refer to them. As we will see later in this paper, this observation is confirmed with data from the present study. An example:

Example 1:

Personally, I prefer it […] when someone speaks High Cypriot; in other words, not the kind of speech suitable for when one is in the fields […]. Something akin to what we are using right now […]. (Participant 19)

Further, many speakers are also aware of the fact that there was regional variation on the island in the past. However, most, and especially those born after 1974, are not able to identify the different regional dialects or note their salient features (Pastella, 2005; cited in Tsiplakou et al., 2006, 26). In fact, while they may argue that they are able to recognize a regional idiom, the only impressionistic criterion they put forward is intonation (Tsiplakou et al., 2006, 26) as well as the fact that some words are pronounced differently in other regional idioms (Terkourafi, 2005, 326). These observations are also confirmed by the data of our study.

While people’s perceptions on regional variation in Cyprus have been noted in a handful of studies in the literature, there is no study to date that specifically focuses on examining people’s perception of regional variation in Cyprus. This study aims to fill this gap in the literature by studying the perceptions of thirty Greek Cypriots that live in the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia. In particular, it aims to answer to following research questions:

RQ1. What dialect regions do Nicosia residents perceive to exist in Cyprus? Which ones have a strong geolinguistic salience?

RQ2. What kind of characteristics do they attribute to each region?

RQ3. Which regional dialect has a wide social acceptability over the others?

RQ4. Are speakers aware of dialect levelling processes in their community?

RQ5. What implications may the findings have for research on language variation and change?

3 Methods and Participants

This study is part of a larger project which examines the linguistic performance and attitudes of Greek Cypriots who live in Nicosia. The main tool used in this project is the sociolinguistic interview in the original Labovian sense. Since we understand that “there is no such thing as unobserved language data” (Schilling 2013, 128), we have taken a number of steps in an effort to overcome what Labov (1972, 61) calls the ‘Observer’s Paradox’ and ensure that our participants did not aim to use a standard form (i.e., SMG) during their interviews but used the vernacular instead as much as possible. That is why, apart from trying to engage them in narratives of personal experience (Labov 1972), we have also decided to recruit only participants the interviewer (first author) was familiar with.

In an earlier study conducted in this setting, familiarity with the interviewer was one of the variables that affected how participants spoke during their interview. More specifically, it was one of the factors that contributed to generating more standard-like forms in their interviews (Tsiplakou, Armostis, and Evripidou 2016). This is something we wanted to avoid in our study. The recruitment of participants was conducted by adopting a judgement sampling technique. A judgement sampling technique involves recruiting participants according to a predefined set of criteria—in this case their age, sex and familiarity with the interviewer. It should be noted here that a judgement sample is the preferred type of sample in most sociolinguistic studies (Wardhaugh and Fuller 2015) and the minimum number of participants in each category created for the purposes of a study is five.

For our study, we needed to recruit 30 people in total since we created three different age groups and had to recruit 10 people for each age category, five females and five males. Our sample is balanced in terms of participants’ sex and age (Table 1). The participants were all residents of the city of Nicosia and our study can be replicated in the future with participants from other cities in Cyprus so as to compare and contrast the perceptions of people from different cities in this island.


TABLE 1. The participants of this study.

As part of the language module of the sociolinguistic interview, our participants were presented with the map in Figure 4, which was designed by the authors for the purposes of this study. Following Garrett et al. (2003, 93), the participants were told to draw lines on the map in order to demarcate the geographical areas that, according to their own opinion and experience, depict the main regions within Cyprus were different dialects/ways of speaking are present. In other words, they were told to complete the so-called ‘draw-a-map task’ which, as explained in the introduction above, is one of the main tools through which people’s perceptions of spatial variation are examined within the field of perceptual dialectology (see e.g., Preston, 2013, and sources cited in the introduction of this paper). Our participants were also asked to label each area they drew, that is, give it a name of their choice. During the first interviews we conducted, we realized that this was a confusing question because there are no names ascribed for different regional dialects in Cyprus like there are in other countries, such as Germany or the United Kingdom, for example. Since the question confused our participants, we eventually stopped asking it.1 Subsequently, they were asked to justify their answers by naming the linguistic features they know of that each area uses differently. Finally, they were asked to name the area whose dialect has a wide social acceptability over the others, according to their opinion.


FIGURE 4. Map used in the ‘draw-a-map’ task.

The map has no other information on it apart from black dots which stand for the main cities of the island of Cyprus corresponding to the six districts. It thus marks the districts of Cyprus without providing their names. As Preston points out, the kind of information researchers note on the map, such as state or district lines, major rivers and mountains, affects the kind of answers participants give Preston (1989, 25). That is why we decided to provide as little information as possible on the maps; hence we refrained from drawing the lines delimiting the districts and we did not provide their names either. One may argue that even the existence of the black dots could have affected our participants’ responses. We believe that not to be the case. Our experience with the participants during the interview was that many of them would comment on the places that they believe depict the presence of regional dialects before being shown the map—so the map did not really affect their responses. On top of that, many were relieved when they saw that the map had some marking on it because they found it easier to complete the task. Finally, as will become evident later in this paper, some participants marked areas on the map that had nothing to do with the marked cities on the map.

Our argument that it was better to provide as little information as possible on the maps finds support in the literature. In a similar study in the United Kingdom, Montgomery (2007) reports that results from perceptual dialect maps incorporating city location dots compared to those that did not showed no difference in the rate of frequency of a dialect area being indicated. That is, respondents marked the same regions on the map regardless of the type of map they were presented with (see Braber, 2015 for exactly the same observation). On top of that, Montgomery (2007) also notes that when presented with the maps with no dots, many of his participants complained that it made the task unnecessarily difficult (see also Preston 1989, 25). Further, in Evans et al. (2020, 3), regions that did not have cities marked on the map were marked by a high proportion of respondents, which suggests that their responses were not influenced by the markings on the map.

As noted above, the ‘draw-a-map’ task was part of the language module of a sociolinguistic interview. Before the participants were presented with the task, they had already responded to a series of questions on language, see Supplementary Material for the list of questions the participants were asked. One of these concerned regional variation in Cyprus and usually generated interesting discussions. The question was more often than not phrased in the form of “Can you understand that someone is from Nicosia just from the way they speak?” and sometimes in the form of “Can you understand from the way they speak where someone comes from?”. In response to the question, respondents would describe the areas where they believe people speak differently from them. Interestingly, when they would then be presented with the map, not all of them marked the same regions they had previously commented upon when answering the question. In fact, in an extreme case, one participant pointed out areas where people talk differently during the interview, but then refused to do the task claiming that the differences were not salient enough to be illustrated as different regional idioms on the map.

The fact that the ‘draw-a-map’ task was part of a recorded interview provided us with the opportunity to analyze both the results of the task as well as the participants’ metalinguistic comments made before and during the task, not just those they had written down on the map. The data generated by the task as well as the interview were analyzed in a variety of ways, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in order to answer the research questions. To answer RQ1 we calculated the areas drawn on each map and the recognition rate for each area following a methodology described in Montgomery (2016, 163). We first counted the lines drawn representing perceptual dialect areas on each respondent’s map. The percentage recognition rate was calculated by dividing the number of the lines drawn by 30 (the total number of participants) and then multiplying the result by 100 (see Dialect Drawn Areas). Then we examined and categorized the characteristics and evaluations of the different dialect areas offered by our participants following a coding system used in Long (1999) and Montgomery (2007) so as to address RQ2 (see Dialect Areas Characteristics and Evaluations).

The following procedure was followed in order to examine the characteristics and evaluations of the different dialect areas offered by our participants so as to address the second research question of the study. Upon examining the transcripts, we noted what the participants said about each region they mentioned both during the map task and prior, when they were asked to talk about regional variation in Cyprus in the course of the interview. In other words, we examined the comments the participants made both before and during the map task, irrespective of which areas they eventually decided to mark on the map. For example, participant 1 marked Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol as one area on the map, but during their interview they also noted some characteristics they think are unique to Limassol. Following Long (1999) and Montgomery (2007), we categorized the characteristics and evaluations of the dialect areas that the participants provided in the following way:

3.1 Non-Linguistic Characteristics

1) Attributes (e.g., rough, peasant, correct, funny, worthy of ridicule; we also marked whether the attributes were positive or negative)

2) Comprehensibility (e.g., hard to understand, clear)

3) Classification/Comparison (e.g., similar to x, more Cypriot, closer to SMG)

3.2 Linguistic Characteristics:

4) Paralinguistic (fast-talking, loud)

5) Phonetic (excluding prosodic characteristics)

6) Prosodic (accent, intonation)

7) Lexical (specific lexical differences)

When coding the data, some comments were classified in more than one category. For example, when referring to Kokkinochoria, participant 6 said the followingː.

Example 2:

Eh, here it is [a] lighter [dialect], that is, they say [eçi c en ɟe çi]. It is closer to SMG.

This comment has one attribute (lighter), one linguistic feature [use of (ç) instead of (ʃ), a variable discussed later in this section] and one comparison (closer to SMG).

To address RQ3, we examined our participants’ responses to one of the questions that they were asked as part of the draw-a-map task’ outlined above, namely the question they were asked regarding the area whose dialect has a wide social acceptability over the others, according to their opinion. Finally, in order to answer RQ4 and RQ5, a more qualitative approach was followed. We examined selected maps more closely and focused on selected excerpts from the interviews (see An Analysis of Selected Maps). While many studies of perceptual dialectology opt for a large sample and then (digitally) combine all the maps to create one composite map, our small sample, and the fact that the interviews were recorded allow for a more in-depth qualitative analysis of the data. For the purposes of this paper, we examined the maps drawn by the participants in an effort to see whether there were any noticeable trends in the way they drew the maps. After examining their responses to the ‘draw-a-map’ task we noted three general trends: participants who refused to draw the map, those who drew a map of the past, and those who drew a map of how they perceive the current regional variation to be. The fact that this task was part of a recorded interview allowed us to have on record our participants’ justifications of their choices which have also been taken into account in the analysis of our data.

What is more, a smaller sample of data also ensured that attention was paid to all responses even to those that would be disregarded as outliers in a study with a larger dataset. As Evans (2013a) notes, in many cases when analyzing such data researchers are more likely to exclude the respondents who chose not to complete the ‘draw-a-map’ task and consider them as outliers, disregarding in this way valuable data. In An Analysis of Selected Maps we discuss the three different trends noted in our dataset and illustrate them with examples both of the maps drawn by the participants as well as with example of their metalinguistic commentary. We show that even the data collected from those participants that did not complete the task are important to our analysis.

4 Results

4.1 Dialect Drawn Areas

This section aims to answer the first research question of this work, namely, which dialect regions Nicosia residents perceive to exist in Cyprus and which ones are the most salient. In total, 122 lines were drawn, and 25 different areas were noted by 30 participants. This means an average of four areas drawn per participant. Since a similar study in this context has not been done before, we cannot compare these numbers. However, these figures can be an indication that the speakers do not believe there to be dense regional variation in Cyprus and many different areas where people speak differently from one another.

It is clear from Table 2 that the district of Paphos is the most salient dialect area at an 83% recognition rate, followed by the district of Ammochostos together with the area of Kokkinochoria at a 57% recognition rate. Kokkinochoria (which literally means ‘red villages’) is a cluster of villages named after the red color of their soil. Most of them belong to the Ammochostos district and a few belong to the district of Larnaca. The reason Ammochostos and Kokkinochoria are grouped together here is because participants would more often than not make reference to certain red villages when discussing the Ammochostos district.


TABLE 2. Dialect areas and their salience.

Following Ammochostos and Kokkinochoria comes Limassol—the second largest city in Cyprus—at a 50% recognition rate. Then, at a 43% recognition rate we witness the occupied area of Cyprus. The latter was usually marked as the area that the participants knew nothing about. Nicosia was marked as a distinct area by only a third of the participants, while Larnaca was done so by just under a quarter. Finally, one fifth of the participants marked the Troodos Mountains, which is the largest mountain range in Cyprus, and the villages of that area as a distinct area. The remaining areas are either combinations of the aforementioned areas or specific villages in the occupied area of Cyprus. Overall, more than half of the identified areas were noted by just one or two participants. In other words, the recognition rate of these areas was minimal. In what follows, we examine and comment upon the characteristics and evaluations of the dialect areas offered by the participants.

4.2 Dialect Areas Characteristics and Evaluations

This section aims to answer RQ2 and RQ3 of our work. To start with RQ2, which aims to reveal the kind of characteristics the participants of this study attributed to each region, Tables 3 and 4 illustrate a clear preference for characterizing a (presumed) dialect area with linguistic characteristics. This may be partly an outcome of the question the participants were asked, namely, to justify their answers by naming the linguistic features they know of that each area uses differently. However, even before doing the map task, when participants were asked to talk about regional variation on the island, most would focus on (presumed) linguistic differences and only occasionally would make evaluative comments. Let us look at an example from participant 20:


TABLE 3. Linguistic characteristics.


TABLE 4. Non-linguistic characteristics.

Example 3:

Interviewer: Can you understand from the way they speak where someone comes from?

Participant: Some people, yes. People from Paphos and Morfou.

Interviewer: What is it that distinguishes someone that comes from Paphos?

Participant: The way they talk; the accent is unique in Paphos. People from Morfou talk as if they are singing, it is more poetic, a drawling manner of speaking.

Thus, overall, we can claim that in this study people refrained from making a lot of evaluative comments and focused more on the linguistic characteristics they believe distinguish the different regional idioms. This is in line with some studies in the literature such as Long (1999) and Evans et al. (2020), but it contrasts with many others (Bounds 2015; Bucholtz et al., 2007; Garrett, Coupland, and Williams 2003; Montgomery 2007; Montgomery 2016; Preston 2010b). For example, it contrasts with observations made by Preston (2010b) about perceptual dialectology research in the US, where ideas of correctness and pleasantness seem to guide people’s descriptions of regional speech areas. It also contrasts with data in Bounds (2015) in their study of perceptual dialectology in Poland. Bounds (2015) highlights that when labelling the areas their respondents marked on the map using linguistic features was the least popular option; they would make more evaluative comments rather than comments about linguistic characteristics.

As researchers we should be aware of the effects the questions we ask have on the data we collect. For example, in Bounds (2015) participants made more evaluative comments rather than linguistic ones and a closer look at the instructions these people were given perhaps explains why. They were never explicitly asked to name any linguistic characteristics that differentiate the areas they marked on the map. Instead, they were asked to state how they call those areas, the people living there and their way of speaking (p. 44). The effect of the types of questions we ask is also acknowledged by Evans et al. (2020, 5–6). They explain how the evaluative labels used in their study which were mainly in the form of ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ a variety must be an outcome of the questionnaire where participants were asked to state for all the marked regions on their maps if they ‘liked them or not’. Of course, as Evans et al. (2020, 5–6) note, the respondents could have elaborated on their choices and provide more evaluative labels for the regional dialects they noted, but they chose not to. The responses we get from participants may also be an outcome of the kinds of participants one asks. For example, Garrett et al. (2003), whose methodology we adopted for the ‘draw-a-map’ task, note that in their study the evaluative comments are a lot more frequent than comments on linguistic characteristics. However, Garrett et al.’s participants were all secondary school teachers and perhaps this has something to do with this. Finally, as Evans et al. (2020) note for their study, the lack of evaluative comments may be also an outcome of the social desirability bias. This may be true for our study, too, since the participants completed the task as a part of a recorded interview and knew the fieldworker quite well.

We will now focus our discussion on the first three areas (Paphos, Kokkinochoria, Limassol) when it comes to the linguistic characteristics ascribed to them, since it is clear that many participants in our sample assigned linguistic characteristics to these areas. It is also clear that each dialect area has a particular type of linguistic characteristic that distinguishes it: Paphos is characterized by prosodic differences, Kokkinochoria by phonetic ones and Limassol by lexical ones. To what extent are the participants accurate in their descriptions?

To start with Paphos, our participants mainly commented on how people there drawl their voices, speak as if they are singing or how their accent is different and heavier than in other places in Cyprus. Some examples:

Examples 4–7:

When they speak in Paphos, they sing. (Participant 15)

They drawl their voice a bit, towards the end of each sentence. (Participant 27)

The way they speak, their accent, is unique. (Participant 20)

There is a special accent in Paphos which might be heavier than others. (Participant 30)

The dialect of this area of Cyprus has not recently been studied with one notable exception, the study by Christodoulou (2015) who focused on the Northwest Paphos dialect area. The author collected and analyzed data from semi-structured interviews with 70 speakers of both sexes, all born before 1950. His participants were permanent residents of villages in Northwest Paphos and had only finished primary school. The study showed that the regional variety of Northwest Paphos is still spoken by the elderly, but even these people use variants from the CG koine together with the local variants. If the elderly use CG koine variants, this shows that the regional dialect is under pressure from the CG koine (Christodoulou 2015).

In his description of the Northwest Paphos sub-variety, Christodoulou (2015) explains that there is a special intonation contour that is still a characteristic of that area and which is easily recognizable by speakers of other subvarieties. In fact, this special intonation contour has been noted to be a characteristic not only of Northwest Paphos but of both Paphos in general and Tilliria. This special intonation contour was also noted in an earlier work by Bagiakakos (1973, cited in Christodoulou, 2015, 43), who noted that it existed in four dialect areas: Northwest Paphos, Central Paphos, North Paphos and Tilliria (all marked in dark grey on the map in Figure 5). It basically distinguished that part of the country from most of the rest of Cyprus.2


FIGURE 5. Special intonation contour in Cyprus. Source: map designed by Christodoulou (2015, 45) with data from Bagiakakos (1973). Reproduced with the permission of Charalambos Christodoulou.

So, there is truth behind participants’ comments about the way people in Paphos speak. However, the idea that all speakers in Paphos drawl their voices and speak as if they are singing is also a well-known stereotype on the island. While we currently do not have data from studies on the language of the people in Paphos (apart from Christodoulou, 2015), according to our observations, not everyone exhibits that special intonation contour when they speak—at least not to the same extent or to the point that is being noted by everyone. As an illustration, participant 16 noted the following:

Example 8:

I know there are differences, but I don’t really recognize them. […] if someone wants to hide from where they come from, they are able to do so. I have this colleague; some people comment on how she drawls her voice. I don’t notice it.

Apart from the special intonation contour that our participants commented on, they also noted some lexical, phonetic, and paralinguistic features that characterize the speech of this area. In particular, some people commented on how people in Paphos use different words but usually only gave one example to support their opinion, two people commented on how some consonants are deleted in intervocalic contexts (see Christodoulou, 2015) for a discussion on this phenomenon), and some comments were made on how people from Paphos speak louder and faster than others.

As far as the variety spoken in Kokkinochoria is concerned, the most frequently noted linguistic characteristic is phonetic, with the local variant [ç] being used instead of the koine [ʃ] before the front vowels [i] and [e] in certain words. This is an interesting example of variation because the local variant happens to coincide with the SMG one. Using [ç] instead of [ʃ] can be a cause of ridicule from people outside the Kokkinochoria community because it is assumed that Kokkinochoria speakers aim to use the standard variant (of the High variety, that is), while the rest of their speech is oddly in CG. Previous studies have shown that despite the fact that [ç] coincides with the SMG variant, it is considered marked, basilectal and the indexical par excellence of the local variety (Tsiplakou and Armostis 2020). The following comments are particularly revealing and confirm this observation:

Example 9:

Their dialect is more peasanty, they use words that we won’t use, and while they use that peasanty dialect they would say [eçi]; it sounds really odd. (Participant 21)

This variation is very well known to the point that people use a specific phrase to refer to it: έχει κι εν κι έχει [eçi c en ɟe çi] (‘it has, and it hasn’t’); a phrase that repeats the word έχει [eçi] twice to mark that this is how this word is pronounced in this community. The following example makes use of the phrase:

Example 10:

For some reason, even though they speak heavily, it is very funny, they say [eçi], they don’t say [eʃi]. They might use the heaviest words and they would say [eçi c en ɟe çi]. (Participant 1)

This study has also shown that there are speakers outside the community who do not consider this variant to be marked or basilectal. On the contrary, because it coincides with the SMG variant, they consider the variety spoken in Kokkinochoria as a ‘lighter’ variety which is closer to SMG (see also Analysis of selected maps), and they do not make fun of it.

Example 11:

In Ammochostos, there is a lighter Cypriot Greek dialect, they say [eçi c en ɟe çi]. (Participant 6)

The area of Kokkinochoria is one of the eighteen geographical dialect zones that was noted by Contosopoulos (1969, 105) (see Figure 2, area 17). The local variant [ç] is not the only local linguistic feature that is used in the speech of this area, but, as this study shows, it is the one that is most commented upon. For many of our participants (i.e., people from Nicosia), and perhaps for Greek Cypriots all around the island in general, [ç] has a strong sociolinguistic salience.3 The fact that it is thought to be an SMG variant and it is used alongside CG variants, some of which are basilectal, contributes to its salience because its use goes against people expectations when they first encounter it. According to Jaeger and Weatherholtz (2016, p. 2), “variants that are unexpected given the listener’s prior expectations about linguistic variables […] should be more salient in the moment they are experienced” (emphasis in the original). With additional exposure the surprisal evoked the first time one is exposed to the variant declines, but the association formed between the variant and a specific lect or social group increases (ibid, p.3). The use of the phrase [eçi c en ɟe çi] in this case to refer to how the people in this community talk shows how strong this association is. The local variant [ç] has become enregistered (Agha 2007; Johnstone 2016) with the way people in Kokkinochoria speak. The association of the local variant with this community is so strong that it has become stereotypical. Many Cypriots nowadays believe that people in Kokkinochoria use a mixture of SMG and ‘heavy’ CG. Part of this stereotype about this community is the belief—which was expressed by some of our participants—that these speakers also use another SMG variant in their speech, namely [c] instead of [tʃ] before the front vowels [i] and [e]. Interestingly, the CG variant is considered a trademark of the CG accent (Tsiplakou 2009). Let us look at two examples of that claim:

Example 12:

In Protaras I can understand them from the use of [ce]; They don’t say [tʃe]. All the words they use are Cypriot, but they say [ce]. (Participant 22)

In the above comment, the participant seems to be confident in their claim, since they imply that they have heard people use that in Protaras. Protaras is a touristic place which is very popular with people from Nicosia, so there is no reason to doubt that this speaker has had contact with people there. In contrast to the above claim, the following claim is hedged and acknowledged perhaps as a rumor and a stereotype:

Example 13:

Eh OK, we have these jokes with which we make fun of them [ce en ɟe mboro ce en ɟe ʝinete ce exo ce cenɟes], but to tell you the truth I haven’t really heard that being used to a great extent. (Participant 28)

Like the phrase [eçi c en ɟe çi], the phrase [ce en ɟe mboro ce en ɟe ʝinete ce exo ce cenɟes] (‘and I can’t, I can’t make it and I have aches and pains’) makes use of another repeated phoneme, namely [c], which is used here to refer to the belief that people in Kokkinochoria use [c] instead of [tʃ]. It is a well-known fact that in some cases our perceptions of a place and its language are not based on experience but “grounded in information fragments or no information at all” (Bounds 2015, 35). People do sometimes resort to stereotypes and preconceived ideas about other speakers and their speech (ibid., 34), and this is what examples 12 and 13 illustrate here.

Besides the aforementioned phonetic differences, our participants also claimed that there are also some prosodic, lexical, and paralinguistic differences in the speech of this area of Cyprus. Some people commented on how the accent is different, others claimed that some words are different but gave one or no examples at all to support their claim while a couple said that people in this area speak louder and faster.

Recent studies in this community have revealed that levelling of the local variants is underway with the CG koine variants being favored by educated, younger, female speakers. One of the variables that was examined concerned [ç] ∼ [ʃ] before the front vowels [i] and [e]. It was shown that in words such as [ʃiʎːa] (‘thousand’) and [ʃerin] (‘hand’) which include the CG koine variant [i.e., (ʃ)] are preferred by the speakers and that the local variant is losing ground (Tsiplakou and Kontoyiorgi 2016). However, forms of the verb [ˈexo] ‘have’ such as [ˈeçi] (‘have3sg.pres’) and [ˈiçen] (‘have3sg.past’) resist processes of levelling. Hence, according to Tsiplakou and Kontoyiorgi (2016), these forms are perceived as a shibboleth of the local accent.

Regarding the variety spoken in Limassol, many participants noted that the differences it exhibits are lexical: People either use different words for the same thing or pronounce specific words differently. So we find [o mitʃis] instead of [o filos mu] and [i mitʃʰːa] instead of [i fili mu] (my boyfriend/my girlfriend), [tʃilistri] instead of [tsuliθra] (slide), [kurvula] instead of [kulumbra] (κohlrabi), [ʃalua] instead of [motora] (motorbike), [kola] instead of [porta] (goal), [kolatʃis] instead of [portaris] (goalkeeper), [tʃʰːanda] instead of [tsʰːenda] (handbag), [krepʰːa] instead of [krepa] (crepe), and [paketʰːo] instead of [pakʰːetʰːo]. Apart from these lexical differences, a few participants also noted that people in Limassol drawl their voices and speak as if they are singing while one participant noted that they speak very fast, and people cannot understand them.

Finally, the answer to RQ3 of our study is that for the majority of our participants, the variety spoken in Nicosia has a wide social acceptability and is considered a neutral variety with no features to characterize it—only two linguistic characteristics were mentioned for Nicosia. It is considered to be the norm and a variety that is believed to enjoy prestige at the expense of others. Let us look at some examples:

Examples 14–16:

I think people in Nicosia try to speak more correct Greek and this has to do with their mentality perhaps as people living in the capital, a more business-oriented centre; I don’t know, I might be wrong, but this is what I make of it. (Participant 10)

The variety spoken in Nicosia is the norm, it is a Greek one; we live in Nicosia and we speak more politely and it is a more accepted form of speech. (Participant 15)

There’s nothing characteristic of the way people in Nicosia speak. (Participant 2)

In some cases, participants would also mention the varieties spoken in Larnaca and/or Limassol along with that of Nicosia as the ones that are widely accepted and enjoy prestige. In other words, it is certainly the varieties spoken in the periphery of the island that are not considered prestigious for these speakers.

Example 17:

What I consider to be widely accepted is the variety in Nicosia and Larnaca. These are the varieties at the center; the further away you move from the center, and that holds in any country, the way they speak is less accepted. The way they speak in the capital is more widely accepted. (Participant 28)

Karyolemou (2008) also notes that there are many (linguistic) jokes about speakers that live in the periphery (Paphos and Kokkinochoria) in which the language of these speakers is ridiculed and viewed in a negative light.

4.3 An Analysis of Selected Maps

In order to address RQ4 and RQ5 we take a closer look at the maps drawn by our participants. As explained earlier, we noted three trends when it came to drawing the maps: participants who refused to do so, those who drew a map of the past, and those who drew a map of how they perceive the current regional variation to be. In this section, we illustrate these three trends with examples from our dataset.

To start with, four participants (13%) refused to draw the map. Two of them (both born before 1974) did so because they compared the linguistic situation of today with that of the past, and they now believe that the differences are minimal. The other two were in their 20s and while they claim that there are some differences these are not salient enough. Let us see how one participant justified her decision not to draw the map.

Example 18ː

I can’t divide the map because of the mixing of the people that occurred after the invasion and because now people relocate to other places because of work or marriage more easily. People might talk differently at first and then they change, like I did. There are no lines. You may hear someone say something and think they might come from a certain place. People from the Ammochostos district say [çelo] instead of [θelo] (‘I want’), so when I hear this, I understand that this person comes from there. But it is not the case that all people from there say this. In Limassol, they say [tʃʰːanda] (‘bag’) [instead of (tsʰːenda)], but this doesn’t mean that all people from Limassol say this. (Participant 17, our emphasis)

This participant has a very good metalinguistic awareness of the state of regional variation nowadays in Cyprus. They know that there is regional variation, but they also understand that some local variants are no longer used by all speakers of a specific area. For example, the choice of koine [θ] over local [x]/[ç], e.g., in [θelo] vs. [çelo] ‘I want’ or [θoro] vs. [xoro] ‘I see’ seems to be gaining ground in Kokkinochoria as shown in Tsiplakou and Kontoyiorgi (2016, 461), while it is indeed true from our observations in the community that not all speakers in Limassol say [tʃʰːanda] instead of [tsʰːenda]. Participant 17 is also aware that the invasion and other causes of people’s movement on the island are the driving force behind the mixing and levelling that is taking place.

Another 13%—who, unsurprisingly, were people from the third age group—drew a map of the past. These people argued that today the differences they would notice in the past are no longer there. When drawing the map in Figure 6, participant 14 explained that “times have now changed, what I describe here was true before the invasion”. It is only when it comes to the area of Paphos that this participant was not sure whether there are differences evident even today. In another case, participant 11 drew another map of the past (see Figure 7) and noted the following.


FIGURE 6. Map drawn by participant 14.


FIGURE 7. Map drawn by participant 11.

Example 19ː

There are certainly some differences today, but with the continuous movements of the population the differences are constantly decreasing. Right now, I believe that the vast majority of the population speaks the language of the main cities of the island. This language is the synthesis and development of the various sub-varieties of the CG dialect. I believe that with time because of the constant movement of people, the percentage of people who use and accept it will rise.

This is another participant who shows excellent metalinguistic awareness both of levelling that is currently taking place as well as of the emergence of the CG koine. They may not call the latter as such, but they are certainly aware that it exists and that it is gaining ground.

The remainder of the participants (73%) drew the regional dialect areas they think are different now. In what follows, we discuss some examples from which it will become clear that for the vast majority of respondents regional variation in Cyprus today is city-based or centered on clusters of different districts joined together. Further, it will be shown that Paphos is an area that is linguistically distinct for almost all speakers. Finally, the participants concentrate on certain linguistic features that they seem to find characteristic in each region, while in some cases it is clear that they perpetuate some stereotypical features of each region, or they claim that there are linguistic differences but are unable to exemplify them.

On the map in Figure 8 we see that participant 6 believes that ‘normal’ speech is found in the central areas of Cyprus, not in the periphery. When it comes to the district of Paphos, its variety is considered to be ‘heavier’ and include words our participant claims would never say. Interestingly, they claim that this variety is not intelligible to them even though they admit that they never really heard these people talking. In other words, they perpetuate stereotypes, not linguistic facts. Another interesting point to make about the map below is how the district of Ammochostos is viewed because of the use of [ç] instead of [ʃ]. It is considered a lighter CG dialect, closer to SMG. As noted in the previous section, there are speakers who characterize this variety in a positive rather than a negative way.


FIGURE 8. Map drawn by participant 6.

The map designed by participant 1 in Figure 9 is similar to participant 6’s map in some respects. Participant 1 also thinks that the central part of Cyprus has a calmer and normal accent, whereas in Paphos people speak differently (louder and faster, they change verbs and get rid of consonants). However, unlike participant 6, they think the variety spoken in what they mark as the third area exhibits a heavier accent and is “funny” due to the use of [ç].


FIGURE 9. Map drawn by participant 1.

As shown in Figure 10, participant 5’s map is a more interesting one. They make quite a few comments about regional variation in Cyprus but give no examples whatsoever in their description of the map. An interesting remark they make is about the area of Troodos. They have nothing to say about the linguistic characteristics of the variety they claim is spoken in the area, but they are confident that because the living conditions are rough this must be projected onto the language these people speak. This clearly shows how people’s mental constructs of a place in relation to its language may have nothing to do with the language at all but with how people perceive its speakers to be, live and behave (Preston 2010a).


FIGURE 10. Map drawn by participant 5.

It is also very interesting to see how they make sense of the fact that in certain areas of the Ammochostos district (Kokkinochoria) people use [ç] instead of [ʃ]. The city of Ammochostos is under Turkish rule as is most of the Ammochostos district. Only a part of the Ammochostos district is under the control of the Republic of Cyprus (see the area of the Famagusta district south of the UN buffer zone in Figure 1). Prior to the war of 1974, the city of Ammochostos was a well-known tourist destination, considered to be a developed and modern city at the time. Participant 5, who is 25 years old, has no way of knowing the kind of CG that was spoken in Ammochostos then. Despite that, they believe that occupied Ammochostos must have been close to Nicosia linguistically—where, according to them, the variety spoken is more Greek-like—since it was a modern city in 1974. Hence, the variety they used was a “clear/pure Greek one”. Again, we see here the link between one’s perception of a place and its people with their perception of the way these people speak. Now, according to this participant, the free part of Ammochostos is different now because its speakers are away from the center. For them, this must be the reason why they use CG, but they still use some variants that are Greek-like [i.e., (ç) instead of (ʃ)]. They refer to that variety as a “pseudo-Greek variety”, since its speakers “tend to speak like a pen-pusher4 and use Cypriot at the same time.” It is interesting that while there are some negative connotations in their description of this variety (shown by the word pseudo), they later evaluate this variety positively: “a cocktail of Cypriot with a Greek accent, a more correct form of Cypriot.”

To sum up, some people refused to draw the map because they do not think there are that many differences in how people from different areas speak in Cyprus or they do not regard any such differences to be salient. Others also shared that view and decided to draw a map of the past instead. When it comes to those participants who did draw a map, there is a tendency to view the different cities and districts, or combinations thereof, as the areas where there is regional variation. Finally, participants’ linguistic description of regional variation lacks detail; it is superficial which confirms previous claims about this in the literature (Terkourafi 2005; Tsiplakou et al., 2006).

5 Discussion

In this section we answer the research questions we put forward in section 1 which we repeat here:

RQ1. What dialect regions do Nicosia residents perceive to exist in Cyprus? Which ones have a strong geolinguistic salience?

RQ2. What kind of characteristics do they attribute to each region?

RQ3. Which regional dialect has a wide social acceptability over the others?

RQ4. Are speakers aware of dialect levelling processes in their community?

RQ5. What implications may the findings have for research on language variation and change?

In response to RQ1, our participants identified 25 different areas with an average of four areas noted by each participant. Paphos is the area with the strongest geolinguistic salience with a recognition rate of 83%. This is not surprising given that comments on how people from Paphos speak differently from the rest of Cyprus are very frequent amongst Cypriots (Tsiplakou et al., 2006). The identification of Paphos as a separate regional dialect area and its strong geolinguistic salience is not only the result of certain (para)linguistic features that are characteristic of the area; it has a lot to do with stereotypical perceptions of this area as one that is remote, isolated, and away from the center.5 Other areas that have a strong geolinguistic salience—but not as strong as that of Paphos—are the Ammochostos/Kokkinochoria area and Limassol with a 57% and 50% recognition rate, respectively.

The three areas that have a strong geolinguistic salience are also the ones that have been discussed the most when it comes to the linguistic and non-linguistic features that characterize their regional dialect. To answer RQ2, it is clear from Tables 3 and 4 that our participants mentioned more linguistic features to characterize these areas than non-linguistic ones. Overall, it is believed that the regional dialect of Paphos is mainly characterized by prosodic differences, the area of Ammochostos/Kokkinochoria by phonetic ones, with a clear emphasis on two variants [ç] and [c], and Limassol by lexical differences. Most of the linguistic features mentioned for these areas are indeed used at least by some speakers that live there. A notable exception is the claim that people in the Ammochostos/Kokkinochoria area use [c] instead of [tʃ] before [i] and [e] when using CG. This is, in other words, a false stereotype. Interestingly, some participants claim that they have even heard people in those areas using [c] before [i] and [e] instead of [tʃ] which clearly shows that “stereotypes may be strong enough to overcome linguistic evidence” (Preston 1993, 182). The claim that [c] is used in that community’s lect is a great example of how the folk make sense of linguistic variation that does not make sense to them otherwise. As explained before in this paper, the confusion originates from the use of [ç] instead of [ʃ] before [i] and [e] in that community which is understood as an effort by those speakers to use SMG and not as variation within CG. The false claim that these speakers also use [c]—another SMG variant—instead of [tʃ] is a way to make sense of this “paradoxical” situation: it reinforces that claim that these speakers somehow aim to/want to use SMG but fail to do so. In other words, for this narrative to make sense, the use of [c] is added to the perceptual linguistic repertoire of these speakers.

In response to RQ2, our participants refrained from making evaluative comments and labelling the regional varieties and their speakers negatively, with a few exceptions (see Table 4). In Evans et al.’s (2020)f study where this phenomenon was also observed—contra many studies in the literature some of which were set in the same setting as that of Evans et al.’s (2020) study—the authors acknowledge that “more evaluative labels […] were expected” (p. 5) and conclude that “further research is needed to understand this finding” (p. 6). As it has been acknowledged in this paper, this finding may be partly the outcome of the kinds of questions our participants were asked and of the effect of the social desirability bias (see also Evans et al., 2020). The lack of many evaluative comments may also have to do with the fact that for many of the participants the differences noted for each dialect area were not many or salient for them. One exception is the phonetic differences noted for the Ammochostos/Kokkinochoria area which when evaluated where mostly evaluated in a negative light (as strange and funny). The lexical differences noted for Limassol, on the other hand, were noted as mere differences; they were not viewed in a negative light. More studies are needed in this context in order to further understand this finding and make fruitful comparisons.

RQ3 was a question that our participants were asked directly towards the end of their interview. The majority of them stated that they consider the regional dialect of the central part of Cyprus to be more widely accepted than that of the periphery, with the variety of Nicosia, and sometimes the areas or cities next to it, considered by many to be a more prestigious and widely accepted form of speech. Interestingly, only one third of the participants think that their own city constitutes a distinct dialect area and most participants consider their way of speaking to be neutral without certain linguistic features that characterize it (see Table 3). The two findings are not unrelated since the perceived absence of marked features can be seen as an indication that the variety of the central area of Cyprus is considered to be the standard and accepted one (Milroy 2001), also see Neises (2013) for a similar finding.

In response to RQ4, i.e., whether speakers are aware of dialect levelling processes in their community, the results of this study indicate that many of the participants are consciously aware of what Kerswill (2003) and Torgersen and Paul (2004) call regional dialect levelling, which refers to the “the levelling of differences among what was at first a conglomeration of varieties, often leading to a new variety characterized by the absence of localized forms” as the “outcome of various partly geographically-based language change processes” (Kerswill 2003, 224).6 These are the participants who refused to draw the map because they do not think there are that many differences nowadays in how people from different areas speak or they do not regard such differences to be salient and the participants who drew a map of the past because this is when they believe differences existed. Many participants also showed how well aware they are of regional levelling in Cyprus through their metalinguistic commentary, examples of which have already been provided (see 20 and 21). More examples follow below.

Examples 20–21:

Even though I don’t realize it when people talk to me, I believe there are differences, it is just that I don’t notice them. […]. Look, (pause) I am not sure, I am not sure really. Eh, I think that these differences were much more salient in the past. Now people move around, communication is easier and more frequent, and I think these lines [the ones the participant drew on the map] have faded. (Participant 7)

Now it has become one. Years ago, Menelaos Christodoulou would cycle around Paphos and find old people to document their accent. Now even in the last village on the map people listen to the TV, the radio, talk with one another, communicate and travel; they are forced to adapt. So, you can’t tell from where someone comes from today. (Participant 31)

The above examples show that these participants not only know that regional dialect differences have diminished in today’s CG, but they are also aware of some of the reasons why. Finally, the fact that participants drew an average of just four areas on their maps can also be seen as evidence of their awareness that there is no longer dense regional variation on the island.

It is worth nothing that a few participants also demonstrated that they are also aware of the process of levelling as defined in the narrow sense by Kerswill (2003) and Torgersen and Paul (2004), see footnote 8. The two examples below are particularly interesting.

Examples 22 and 23:

I think the way people speak in Nicosia is the most neutral one. It may be because many people from all other districts live in Nicosia, and there is this mixing. You get used to how other people talk. That is, when everyone else says [tsʰːanda] [tsʰːanda] [tsʰːanda] (‘handbag’)7, you will find yourself in an awkward position if you keep saying [tʃʰːanda]. When everyone else says [eʃi] (has), you can’t keep saying [eçi] (has). When everyone else says things differently from you, the difference becomes marked, salient. (Participant 16)

When I was living in the village8 I would speak more peasantry-like. For example, instead of [eɣo] I would say [eʝoni] and instead of [esi] I would say [esuni]. When I moved [back] to [the city] I continued using [eʝoni] and [esuni] and people would ask: “Where did she come from?” Eventually I also started using [eɣo] and [esi] instead of [eʝoni] and [esuni]. But at the beginning [before I changed] they would make fun of me [because] I came from a village. (Participant 6)

Participant 16 talks about how others (here people from Limassol and the area of Kokkinochoria) need to change and accommodate their way of speaking when relocating to Nicosia because through their interactions with other speakers the local variants they use become salient and marked. Participant 6 explains what it feels like when one uses a local variant that is a cause of ridicule by other speakers: one eventually needs to accommodate to how the majority speaks if they do not want other people to comment on and make fun of how they speak.

The final question to address in this paper (RQ5) concerns the implications of the findings of this study for research on language variation and change. To start with, some of the findings of and observations made in this study give support to the claim that CG is undergoing levelling of marked local basilect features and subvarieties. This shows how studies on perception can be used along study on production to study the same phenomenon and inform one another. This is, for example, shown by the fact that participants who completed the ‘draw-a-map’ task tended to view the different cities and districts, or combinations thereof, as the areas where there is regional variation. The emphasis on urban sites is in line with many recent studies in the literature (Al-Rojaie, 2020; Evans, 2013b; Evans et al., 2020; Montgomery, 2007; Montgomery, 2016). Montgomery (2007, 2016) who also found that the identification of city-based names for dialect regions to be frequent in his study of perceptions of English in the United Kingdom, notes that this is a relatively new phenomenon in British perceptual dialect geography and suggests that this city-based dialect awareness is consistent with regional dialect levelling. Moreover, the participants’ linguistic description of regional variation lacks detail; it is superficial [see Bounds (2015) and Burbano-Elizondo (2008) for similar observations]. The fact that many speakers could not clearly describe the features of the perceived subvarieties they reported, could not give examples, or gave only a couple is, as Themistocleous and Tsiplakou (2013, 448) argue, a “very good indirect evidence for levelling” (see also Tsiplakou et al., 2006).

6 Conclusion and Suggestions for Future Research

Studies on language perception can inform work on language production and contribute to the research of language variation and change in fruitful ways (Preston 1993; Gordon 2013; Meyerhoff 2016; Cramer 2021). This study has shown that many participants are aware of regional dialect levelling in their community, and a few are even aware of the more specific process of levelling and accommodation as the mechanism behind it. If it is indeed true that due to the invasion, “abrupt levelling must have taken place within the space of one generation” (Tsiplakou et al., 2016, 11), then it is not surprising that people born before 1974 are aware of regional dialect levelling. Yet, interestingly this study has also shown that some younger speakers are also aware of regional dialect levelling in Cyprus. Other studies in the literature do not really discuss speakers’ awareness of regional dialect levelling in a given community. Perhaps future studies can examine this aspect of linguistic perception in order to understand under which circumstances speakers are aware that regional dialect levelling is underway in a community. For example, it might be possible that the size of the community and the size of the area under study plays a role. Future studies of small communities and small geographical areas within a perceptual dialectology framework should be conducted in order to examine the role that the size of the community and place plays.

It has also been shown that, while the participants’ linguistic description of the dialect areas they perceive to exist in Cyprus was not rich or supported with many different examples, it was mainly accurate. In other words, people’s perceptions of linguistic variation in Cyprus seem to be generally correct despite the presence of a few false stereotypes surfacing in some speakers’ metalinguistic commentary. This study has also shown that research on perception can inform claims made by language studies on production, since some of the findings of the present study can give credit to the claim that CG is undergoing levelling of marked local basilect features and subvarieties. Of course, given the small sample studied here, further research with more speakers from other areas of Cyprus is needed to confirm these findings.

Overall, it can be argued that this study has shown the need to conduct more research on language perception in this community. As it has been noted at the beginning of this paper, a CG koine is developing in this community. This variety is based on the variety of the Mesaoria region—the island’s central plain—and it has been argued that it enjoys prestige amongst Greek Cypriots. People in Nicosia seem to ascribe some type of prestige to their language and generally to the language of the central parts of Cyprus. It is unclear whether they do so because they just value their own way of speaking or because their variety is more or less what the CG koine is based on. Studying whether people from other regions in Cyprus share the view that the language of the central parts of Cyprus is more widely accepted and prestigious than that of the periphery will help us answer this question. If it is shown that people in other areas tend to find their own way of speaking more accepted than others’, this will be an indication of people’s value of local speech and identity which may act as resistance to the processes behind regional dialect levelling.

Finally, it has been argued in the literature that features of older local basilects that are still used post-levelling in the community appear to operate as indexicals of lower registers (Papapavlou and Sophocleous, 2009; Tsiplakou et al., 2006, cited in Tsiplakou and Armostis, 2020; see also discussion of example 1 in Tsiplakou and Armostis, 2020, 373). While this is indeed true, it is clear from some of the data in the present study that geographical space is also important in people’s perception of linguistic variation on the island. More specifically, some (basilectal) features clearly index specific regional varieties and specific places in Cyprus [e.g., (ç) before (i) and (e) as a stereotypical characteristic of the Kokkinochoria region and a special intonation contour as a stereotypical characteristic of Paphos], while the use of basilectal features can indicate that someone comes from a rural area, as shown in example 23. It is clear that more research on language perception is needed in this community to fully understand the current sociolinguistic situation and to uncover the social meanings and indexical values of certain linguistic features.

Data Availability Statement

The raw data supporting the conclusion of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Ethics Statement

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by the Cyprus National Bioethics Committee. The patients/participants provided their written informed consent to participate in this study. Written informed consent was obtained from the individual(s) for the publication of any potentially identifiable images or data included in this article.

Author Contributions

Both authors contributed to the design of this study. CF recruited the participants and conducted the interviews and their analysis. Both authors worked on the interpretation of the findings. CF drafted the manuscript prepared for the original submission and KKG reviewed and revised the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This research is part of the POST-DOC/0718/0022 project which is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Republic of Cyprus through the Research and Innovation Foundation.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.


We would like to thank all the participants who took part in this study as well as the three reviewers for their constructive feedback.

Supplementary Material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at:


1One reviewer rightly wonders whether we did not conduct a pilot study in order to avoid this. We did conduct three interviews—one for each age group—in order to test the questions involved in all the modules of our sociolinguistic interviews. Unfortunately, it did not become clear to us during that stage that this question was confusing to our participants.

2The areas in light grey are those of Marathasa and Pistilla, which also displayed special intonation contour but of a different kind (Christodoulou, 2015, p. 43).

3Following Llamas et al. (2016, 2), we define salience as “that property of a spoken form which causes listeners to respond to the form in such a way as to indicate that it encodes information about the (presumed) social characteristics and/or geographical origins of the speaker, alongside the linguistic functions that the form simultaneously fulfils […].” The concept of salience has been defined in various ways in the literature and it is beyond the scope of this paper to contribute to this discussion. The interested reader can consult the related literature (e.g., Trudgill, 1986; Auer et al., 1998; Kerswill and Williams, 2002; MacLeod, 2015).

4In this context, the term ‘pen-pusher’ refers to a Greek person that comes from Greece while the phrase ‘to speak like a pen-pusher’ means to emulate SMG both in terms of morphosyntax and phonetics (Tsiplakou 2014).

5According to a well-known local joke to travel to Paphos one needs to show some form of identification since the district of Paphos is so far away from the rest of Cyprus that it belongs to another country. The highway which connects Limassol—the nearest city—with Paphos features two two-lane 950 m tunnels which are the only road tunnels currently in Cyprus. Many Cypriots jokily refer to the tunnels as the link that had to be built to connect Paphos with the rest of Cyprus.

6Kerswill (2003) and Torgersen and Kerswill (2004) make a distinction between levelling and regional dialect levelling. The former is “defined more narrowly as the reduction of the number of variants following speaker accommodation through face-to-face interaction—a definition focusing on the social psychological mechanism behind the levelling outcome and resulting from contact” (Torgersen and Paul, 2004, 26). In this sense, levelling “is closely related to (indeed, results from) the social psychological mechanism of speech accommodation […], by which (provided mutual good will is present) interlocutors will tend to converge linguistically” (Kerswill 2003, 223). In this narrower sense, levelling is involved in regional dialect levelling along with the process of geographical diffusion and other non-contact, extra-linguistic factors including language attitudes and ideology (Torgersen and Paul, 2004).

7This is how the word handbag is pronounced in Nicosia along with another pronunciation, namely [tsʰːenda]. The same word is pronounced as [tʃʰːanda] by many people in Limassol.

8The participant was born in an area in the city of Nicosia but spent a part of her childhood in a village that lies approximately 15 km south of the city of Nicosia before moving back again to the same area where she was born.


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Keywords: perceptual dialectology, folk linguistics, levelling, koineization, Cypriot Greek

Citation: Fotiou C and Grohmann KK (2022) A Small Island With Big Differences? Folk Perceptions in the Context of Dialect Levelling and Koineization. Front. Commun. 6:770088. doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2021.770088

Received: 03 September 2021; Accepted: 26 November 2021;
Published: 07 January 2022.

Edited by:

Mila Vulchanova, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway

Reviewed by:

Giuliana Giusti, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy
Paolo Lorusso, University of Florence, Italy
Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes, University of the Balearic Islands, Spain

Copyright © 2022 Fotiou and Grohmann. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Constantina Fotiou,