Cretans - Orientation

Identification. The Cretans, overwhelmingly Greek Orthodox Christians, speak dialect forms of Modern Greek and inhabit the island of Crete, which is midway between the Greek mainland and Libya. Unofficially, the country dwellers are divided into plains folk ( kambites or katomerites ) and mountain dwellers ( aorites or anomerites ).

Location. Crete is located between 34° and 36° N and 23° and 27° E. There is a rainy season from October through March, with hot summer days at around 26° to 38° C at mid' day. Winter snows fall in the more mountainous areas; the Messara Plain, with relatively high winter rainfall and a dry summer, is especially fertile, but many areas of higher ground are rocky and deforested.

Demography. In 1981 the official population of Crete was 502,165. The three largest towns accounted for 32 percent of this figure (Iraklio, 101,634; Khania, 47,388; Rethimno, 17,736). While most rural communities have suffered continual demographic depletion since the early 1960s, mostly through emigration to West Germany and to Athens and Iraklio, a few highland communities on Psiloritis have actually increased in size because this trend has been offset by a high birthrate. Jewish communities in the main towns, small before World War II, were destroyed by the Germans; a small Catholic presence survives in Iraklio. The Armenian population, much of it composed of Asia Minor refugees, largely departed for Soviet Armenia in the late 1940s. There are a few Jehovah's Witnesses. Among the Greek Orthodox is a significant though scattered number of Old Calendrists (Paleoimeroloyites) who reject the adoption of the Gregorian calendar and celebrate religious holidays accordingly. No Muslims are left; after the compulsory population exchanges that followed the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), the significant but already depleted Muslim population (which had been about 36 percent of a total population of 279,165 in 1881) departed and was replaced by a far greater number of Orthodox Christian refugees from Asia Minor; this population increased by about 15 percent between 1913 and 1928, as against 20 percent in the previous thirty-two years. The refugees, although formally assimilated into the larger population, still retain a discernible identity and are treated by some indigenous Cretans with dislike.

Linguistic Affiliation. An early form of Greek appears in the later fifteenth century B.C. , using the Linear B syllabary. Some pre-Hellenic toponyms still persist. Greek inscriptions appear again in the Archaic period and suggest the Persistence of a pre-Dorian (Eteocretan) population until as late as the third century B.C. Some scholars believe that the modern Cretan dialects betray evidence of Doric derivation. While Cretan is clearly closer to Cypriot or Dodecanesian than to standard Greek, which it influenced through its literary renaissance under Venetian rule, it has retained a number of archaic syntactic forms and has borrowed heavily from the lexical stocks of both Venetian (Italian) and Turkish. City dwellers speak a more standardized form of Greek, and the local dialects, having no formal status in the educational system or the media, are increasingly yielding to social Pressure and official indifference. The Greek alphabet, used even for dialect publications (mostly of folklore or local literature), does not represent all local phonological features successfully.

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