[lg policy] Bryn Mawr Classical Review: 'language standardization in Greek'

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 22 13:16:50 UTC 2010

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

 Friday, May 21, 2010

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'

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

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,

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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