The Cretan dialect (Greek: κρητική διάλεκτος), is a Greek dialect spoken in Crete and by the Cretan diaspora. The Cretan dialect is spoken by the majority of the Cretan Greeks on the island of Crete, as well as by several thousands of Cretans who have settled in major Greek cities, notably in Athens. The dialect continues to be used by Cretans in the major centres of the Greek diaspora, mainly in the United States, Australia, and Germany. In addition, the descendants of many Cretan Muslims who left the island during the 19th and early 20th century continue to use it today.
Like all other modern Greek dialects except Tsakonian and, to some extent, Griko, Cretan evolved from Koine. Its structure and vocabulary have preserved some features that distinguish it from standard Greek, owing to the distance of Crete from other main Greek centres.
Cretan Greek also shows influences from other languages. The conquest of Crete by the Andalusian Moors in 824 left behind mainly toponyms. However, Venetian influence proved to be stronger since the island remained under Venetian control for nearly five centuries. To this day, many toponyms, names, and other local words stem from the Venetian language of early modern times, which came to reinforce the Latin influence from antiquity and the early Byzantine Empire. Following the Ottoman conquest of 1669, Turkish words entered the vocabulary of Cretans as well. Borrowings, as usual, are mainly lexical; Arabic, Turkish, and Venetian had little or no effect on grammar and syntax. With the beginning of the 20th century and the evolution of technology and tourism, English, French, and German terms are widely used.
Erotokritos is undoubtedly the masterpiece of the Cretan literature, and a supreme achievement of modern Greek literature. It is a romantic work written around 1600 by Vitsentzos Kornaros (1553-1613). In over 10,000 lines of rhyming fifteen-syllable couplets, the poet relates the trials and tribulations suffered by two young lovers, Erotokritos and Aretousa, daughter of Heracles, King of Athens. It was a tale that enjoyed enormous popularity among its Greek readership.
Many Greek authors have integrated Cretan literary elements in their respective works. Among these authors were Nikos Kazantzakis who was known for his literary contributions mainly written in standard Greek. This paradigm, overall, has helped Kazantzakis to write significant works such as Zorba the Greek and thus establish for himself recognition in various international circles. His Captain Michalis – set in 19th-century Crete – is notable for using many Cretan Greek words and idioms, the book’s popularity making them widely known to other Greeks.