Friday, May 21, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Alexandra Georgakopoulou, Michael Silk (ed.), Standard Languages and Language Standards: Greek, Past and Present. Farnham/Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009. Pp. xxviii, 367. ISBN 9780754664376. $124.95.
Reviewed by Panagiotis Filos, University of Ioannina


This collective volume is an anthology of seventeen essays (plus a lengthy Introduction) grown out of the main body of papers presented in the 'Logos Conference' in London (9-11 September 2004). The volume subject is 'language standardization in Greek', but the individual papers cover in fact a wide range of topics: formation of the koine, diglossia, the Greek 'language question', the modern Greek dialects, modern Greek literary language, Standard Modern Greek (SMG), SMG orthography standardization, etc. The overwhelming majority of the papers focus on modern Greek, but given the keen interest of most BMCR readers in the classical period, I will place particular emphasis on the papers pertaining to ancient Greek (cf. Parts I-II); my reference to the other papers will inevitably be briefer than desired because of space limitations.

A thorough 'Introduction' by A. Georgakopoulou introduces the reader to the contents of the volume and, more importantly, provides the basic thematic interconnection between the special(ized) subjects of the individual papers. The main body of the volume is divided into three parts: Part I, 'Establishing a Standard'; Part II, 'Standardization Practices'; Part III, 'Ideologies and Contestations'. The book division according to certain thematic criteria is reasonable, but some readers will inevitably find themselves skimming through the book to locate papers and/or topics that essentially refer to the same (broader) subject and/or period.

The first paper by M. Silk ('The invention of Greek: Macedonians, poets and others') consists of a stimulating discussion of the establishment of the koine as the first 'superdialectal' version of Greek, which eventually brought about and/or accelerated the decline of the Greek dialects. Silk offers a condensed overview of the development of ancient Greek, viewed primarily from the standpoint of literary language: from Homer's Kunstsprache, which comprised elements from various dialects and of different periods, through the establishment of the dialectal literary standards out of the many other local sub-varieties, cf. the epigraphic evidence , into the ultimate domination of Attic as the Greek literary and political language in the classical period. In a somewhat modified, less strict form, 'Great Attic' gradually took over the Greek world and thanks to its adoption by the Macedonians (in administration), it developed into the backbone of Hellenistic koine.1 Silk makes a remarkably strong case against the koine 'monopoly' by highlighting the negative impact of dialect loss on Greek literature. In this (literary) framework, Atticism is interpreted as also a backlash against the koine since the latter essentially remained the language of administration and religion. Obviously, both the koine and Atticism were complex phenomena but Silk's account essentially aims to focus on their repercussions in the literary field.

The next, equally interesting, paper by S. Colvin ('The Greek koine and the logic of a standard language') focuses on the formation of the koine too; but this time, language standardization is examined primarily in relation to the notion of 'language identity', namely the concept of language held by the speakers of the koine themselves. For this reason, Colvin examines a series of correlated issues: language standardization vs. linguistic diversity (cf. the numerous ancient Greek dialects), similarities and differences of the koine to the so-called 'Mycenaean koine' and the Homeric Kunstsprache; in a more general framework, the koine standardization is compared to post-classical Latin (vs. the Romance vernaculars) and classical Arabic (vs. the local Arabic vernaculars). Colvin concludes that in the new (political-institutional) environment of the Hellenistic world, koine 'as an abstract norm based on a written tradition' served not only as an instrument of ethnic and linguistic identification as Greek, but also as means of affiliation with Greek paideia in a broader context.

With the next two studies we traverse several centuries to reach the modern period , yet the 'standardization vs. education' theme remains pivotal here too. The first paper, by G. Kritikos ('Primary education in a non-standard language as a tool of social and national integration: the case of vernacular Greek, 1923-30') discusses the introduction of demotic Greek to primary education in 1929 in order to incorporate the thousands of Greek-Orthodox refugees from non-urban Asia Minor, many of whom had only a limited command of Greek. By contrast, katharevousa was preserved in secondary education since it served the elite socio-political ideology and prevented the massive upward movement of lower-class students.

P. Bortone's study ('Greek with no models, history or standard: Muslim Pontic Greek') is an illuminating account of a little-known Greek dialect called Romayka, still spoken by Muslims of Turkish identity but partly Greek descent on the Black Sea shore of modern-day Turkey, i.e. the Trabzon/Trebizond area. Bortone uses the dialectal material to discuss standardization issues and other linguistic matters from a wider perspective, for instance the effects on Pontic from SMG and Turkish, bilingualism and purism, dialect vs. language. The last part of the paper is a useful synopsis of the principal linguistic features of Romayka; the general reader must note however that some of the listed 'archaic'/'odd' features are not unique to Romayka, but may well appear in other Greek idiom(s) or dialect(s) too.2

Part II is devoted almost exclusively to papers on modern Greek. The only exception is the paper by C. Strobel ('The lexica of the Second Sophistic: safeguarding Atticism'), which takes us back to the time of the Second Sophistic, i.e. the second century AD and the works of the Atticist lexicographers. The first part offers a sketchy but informative account of the socio-political, cultural and linguistic conditions in which Atticism emerged; the phenomenon is interpreted as an attempt by educated Greeks (in a broader sense) of the Roman Empire to confirm their Greekness by (re-)connecting with the glorious past of classical Athens. In the second part, Strobel examines in more detail the works of three major 'lexicographers' of Atticism -- Phrynichus, Moeris, Pollux -- who represent a case of 'top-down' standardization.

C. Thoma ('Grammatical metaphor and the function of participles in high-register versions of the Life of Aesop') discusses (within the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics) the use of participles in both early modern Greek narrative discourse (ca. 14th-17th centuries) and current modern Greek scientific discourse. Some parallelisms to the use of the participles in ancient Greek will be of interest to a broader readership.

The following two papers, by D. Ricks and A. Hirst respectively, provide stimulating accounts of the problem of orthographic standardization and of the linguistic ideologies behind it in the edition of modern Greek literary texts. For his part, Ricks ('Orthographic standardization of the modern Greek classics: gain and loss') examines the problem of orthographic standardization in the case of some 'classical' modern Greek authors (Solomos, Cavafy, Papadiamantis, Makriyannis) and demonstrates the different reasons for their orthographic 'idiosyncrasies': a 'limited' command of written Greek, personal views, etc. On the other hand, Hirst ('Correcting the courtroom cat: editorial assaults on Cavafy's poetry') opts to focus on the spelling oddities of Cavafy's self-published poems to point to some interesting examples of unwarranted, 'standardization-friendly' editing by later editors/publishers. Both papers will interest people keen on critical editions in general.

The last three papers examine special topics of modern Greek standardization practices. A. Tseronis and A. Iordanidou ('Modern Greek dictionaries and the ideology of standardization') provide an overview of the current lexicographical work on SMG, which reveals the pros and cons of each of the four recent dictionaries of SMG, and ultimately points to their different attitudes to SMG. D. Karoulla-Vrikki ('Greek in Cyprus: identity oscillations and language planning') examines aspects of the Greek Cypriot language policy between 1960 and 1997, i.e. the oscillation between a Hellenocentric policy promoting Greek, esp. SMG, and a Cyprocentric policy that aims to preserve English in three main fields, judiciary, administrative and educational. Conflicts of identity linked to socio-political developments, and obvious practical necessities have been the two main factors behind the gradual shift. Finally, J. Androutsopoulos (' "Greeklish": transliteration practice and discourse in the context of computer-mediated digraphia') examines Greek digraphia on the Internet, namely the parallel use of the Greek and (versions of the) Latin alphabets (standardization 'from below'), initially out of technological necessity, but later for other reasons too, including ideology.

Part III opens with a balanced account ('A tradition of anomaly: towards the regularization of the Greek language') of the Greek 'language question', namely a brief narration of the long and bumpy course towards the establishment of SMG as the official language of Greece, written by a most authoritative scholar, the veteran demoticist E. Kriaras. The last part of this short paper is reserved for an appeal for greater orthographic simplification within the boundaries of Greek etymology.

The next paper, by P. Mackridge ('Mothers and daughters, roots and branches: modern Greek perceptions of the relationship between the ancient and modern languages'), reviews the attitudes of the modern Greeks of the last 250 years (particularly 1750-1900) to the relationship between modern and ancient Greek. The first part examines the different terms used traditionally for the modern Greek language (ελληνικά, ρωμαίικα, Νεοελληνική, γραικικά, etc.) whereas the second part is dedicated to the similes and expressions used by Greek literati of the 19th-20th centuries to describe the relationship between ancient and modern Greek, e.g. 'mother-daughter', 'reveterated edifice', 'coinage', 'fallow fields', and more recently, the 'root and branch' simile. Mackridge's own favourite 'river' simile represents his reasonable predilection for the treatment of the Greek language as an ever-changing linguistic system (but cf. the impact of diglossia too) like any other living language, e.g. English.

E. Gazi's study ('Constructing a science of language: linguistics and politics in twentieth-century Greece') is an interesting survey of G. Hatzidakis' shifting views of the Greek 'language question' as it moved from pro-demotic to pro-katharevousa. Gazi argues that Hatzidakis' change of heart in the late 19th-early 20th century can be accounted for by his gradual identification with the 'elite socio-political ideology'; obviously, the complex historical and socio-political circumstances of his time ('Great Idea', the identification of some demoticists with socialist ideas, esp. after 1917, etc.) were of paramount importance too.

The following two papers focus on meta-linguistic discourse and provide, inter alia, dispassionate accounts of some recent developments in SMG after the official resolution of the 'language question' in 1976. The first paper by S. Moschonas ('"Language issues" after the "language question": on the modern standards of Standard Modern Greek') provides, inter alia, a very interesting overview of the major topics of (public) discussion on SMG in Greek newspaper and magazine articles in the period 1976-2001, especially 1990-2001. On the other hand, D. Goutsos ('Competing ideologies and post-diglossia Greek: analysing the discourse of contemporary "myth-breakers" ') argues soberly that part of the recent professional meta-linguistic 'anti-purist' discourse is characterized by an oppositional polarization to the arguments of the 'purists', often contrasting their opponents' assumed attachment to 'myth' and 'ideology' to their own self-proclaimed use of 'history' and 'science'.

The very last paper, by R. Beaton, connects the two main historical periods of Greek under examination in this volume ('Korais and the Second Sophistic: the Hellenistic novel as paradigm for a modern literary language'). Beaton embarks on a close reading of certain parts of Korais' preface to the edition of Heliodorus' Aethiopica (1804) in an attempt to show that Korais' linguistic 'middle way' between archaizers and vernacularists in modern Greek, language and literature alike, was not as 'conservative' and 'rigid' as usually assumed; what Korais proposed in fact was the use of contemporary Greek in an 'embellished' form, following the example set by Heliodorus in antiquity, and also found in the literary language of major contemporary European novelists (French, Italian, English, etc.).

The volume is well-produced, with very few misspellings or other editorial problems. A comprehensive list of bibliographical references would have been useful and could have saved the volume from a very few missing or misspelt references, for instance, (J.N.) Kazazis (2007) - a chapter from A.-F. Christidis (2007). A History of Ancient Greek, Cambridge - is missing from the bibliography of the first paper (Silk); similarly G. Horrocks (1997), Greek. A History of the Language and Its Speakers, London, is missing from Strobel's references. Note also a misspelt title (three times in two different papers: pp. 183, 259, 274): J. Aitchison (1981/1991), Language Change: Progress or Decay?, London/Cambridge (2nd ed.). In conclusion, this is an important volume, which contains papers by many well-known scholars of ancient and modern Greek. Obviously, not all papers will appeal equally to the readers, and some of the views may not meet with full approval; nevertheless, the book will be very useful to everyone interested in the history of the Greek language, especially on topics relating to language standardization and 'diglossia', in both the koine and modern Greek.


1.   Silk (pp. 20-21) opts to leave open the hotly debated issue of the identity of the ancient Macedonian language; but note the discovery of the so-called 'Pella curse tablet' (see L. Dubois (1995), 'Une tablette de malédiction de Pella: s' agit-il du premier texte macédonien ?', REG 108: 190-97), which has prompted several more scholars in recent years to consider ancient Macedonian as a predominantly 'NW Greek'(-like) dialect. In addition, see M. B. Hatzopoulos (1999), 'Le Macédonien: nouvelles données et théories nouvelles' in Ancient Macedonia, VI International Symposium, Thessaloniki: 225-39; A. Panayotou (2007), 'The position of the Macedonian dialect', in A.-F. Christidis (ed.), A History of Ancient Greek: 433-458; J. L. O' Neil (2007), 'Doric elements in Macedonian inscriptions', Glotta 82: 192-210.
2.   For instance, the verb τηρώ means 'to look (at)' not only in Romayka, but also in several other modern Greek dialects/idioms, as Bortone himself implies, e.g. in Cretan, Epirotan, etc. The same applies --despite any small semantic, phonetic or other differences-- to words like ανθόγαλα, ξυνόγαλα, σύγ[γ]αμβρος, the VO order for verb (in indicative/subjunctive ) + object ('weak' personal pronoun), e.g. Cypriot λαλεί του (vs. SMG του λέει, i.e. OV) '(s)he tells him'; etc. For a short overview of the modern Greek dialects, see N. G. Kontosopoulos (2006), Dialects and Idioms of Modern Greek, Athens, 4th ed. (in Greek); cf. also Ch. Tzitzilis (ed.) (forthcoming), The Modern Greek dialects, 2 vols, Thessaloniki.

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