Greek diglossia and how it isn’t

By: | Post date: 2009-09-28 | Comments: 28 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
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The term “diglossia” was coined for Greece; in fact, it was coined popularised by Psichari, who was once of the principals in the Greek diglossia wars. But the very fact that there were diglossia wars in Greece means “diglossia” was no longer the right word to describe what was going on in Greece.

Diglossia is the situation where different spheres of social interaction in a community use forms of language which are not merely different registers, with some tweaking, but different linguistic systems completely. There is a High language form, used in writing, formal contexts, literature, education, officialdom, the media; and there is a Low language form, used in speaking, the home, the marketplace. If it’s written down at all, it’s as a transcription, or deviance: it’s not a norm, or something to emulate. Usually the two variants are linguistically related; but they’re not closely related enough to be merely different registers, as they are in English. They’re at least dialects apart.

That describes a lot of linguistic situations in the world. Classical Arabic vs. Colloquial Arabics. High German vs. Swiss German. Most creoles, with the colonial language at one end (the acrolect), and the creole at the other (the basilect). Because the high and low variants are usually linguistically related, there can be a spectrum of variation, rather than two well-defined extremes, and people can play with how high or low they are being.

But the thing about diglossia is, it is a stable arrangement, in which people know which form to use where; where using the wrong form is nonsensical, it’s ludicrous. There’s been a parallel in Greek for the past hundred years, but it hasn’t been Puristic vs. Demotic. It’s been Standard Greek vs. Cypriot. Giving a lecture in Cypriot, or a speech, or having a news article in Cypriot, is unthinkable, it’s nonsense (though the speaker might pop in a dialect word for colouring). But that does not mean Cypriots think their dialect is bad and not worth speaking, even if they occasional say it is. If you speak standard Greek to many a Cypriot, you may be excused as a Greece Greek, a “penpusher” (καλαμαράς, because none but a penpusher would speak standard Greek). If you’re not a penpusher by birth, then you’re a penpusher by affectation, and this engenders hostility. Not everywhere and and all times in Cyprus, but still often enough that the dialect is quite healthy.

Greece in the 20th century was not like that, and it’s hard for contemporary Greeks to appreciate that Greece in the 19th century *was* like that. In the 19th century, the High language was Puristic: it may have been incoherent, it may have been artificial, it may have been unworkable, but noone in 1860 Athens disputed that it was the appropriate language for literature, education, officialdom, or the media. Likewise, there was a Low language, which were the various dialects of the vernacular. It appears that a vernacular Koine was already coalescing around Peloponnesian (and under significant Puristic influence) in Athens, but it was neither stabilised yet, nor was anyone trying to stabilise it. In fact, Chatzidakis, who ran Greek linguistics for decades, was denying there was anything like a Demotic Koine several decades after there clearly was.

Something switched by 1920: by 1920, almost all serious literature was being written in the vernacular, educationalists were starting to advocate at least beginning schooling in the vernacular, there was an attempt to translate the Gospels into the vernacular (which met with riots by university students, and a few deaths), as well as Aeschylus (more riots, this time toppling a government, and closing the National Theatre for the next thirty years). Officialdom did not adopt the vernacular until 1976; and even then, the vernacular they adopted was not the vernacular the early advocates had hoped for. But even by the 1950s, Puristic was a frequent target of derision; and derision is not part of the deal with the High language form in a diglossia. The whole point of a diglossia is that the High variant is… High.

Nor is politicisation part of the deal with diglossia. By the 1950s, with the aftermath of the Greek Civil War, you could tell someone’s political orientation by how they declined nouns in -ις, -εως. (Some of you may have seen this in Browning’s Mediaeval and Modern Greek, and thought it was an exaggeration. It was not.) The 1980s still saw an echo of this, with the Socialists in government using folksy morphology in their just-as-wooden political language; and the Communists had long turned the vernacular meter up to eleven.

The Marxist historian Kordatos is the only instance I’ve seen in print of the future particle θαν, which could be transitional between θενα and θα. It could also be analogy with any number of particles with nu movable (/n/ as liaison), and that’s an analogy joined by ναν for να. As usual in such cases, it’s probably both.

So diglossia in the 20th century had degenerated into a conflict, the Greek Language Question, in which the primacy of Puristic was disputed along party lines. Situations where society is linguistically stratified are not always clean. Italy’s Language Question involves such subtle shading between dialect and standard, a linguist has decided to call it there dilalia, and Norway’s situation is more split on region than it is on ideology, and hardly at all on social register. But that just means 20th century Greece is a spectacularly bad example of diglossia, and it doesn’t tell you how diglossia is meant to work, like contemporary Egypt or Haiti does. Or Cyprus.

It also makes it difficult for contemporaries to picture the world before 1920—especially before 1875—when Greek diglossia was a lot closer to what is happening in Egypt and Cyprus now. It’s hard for us now to believe, as Peter Mackridge wrote in a paper once, that the Communists in the 1910s dismissed the advocacy of the vernacular (Demoticism) as a bourgeois distraction, while Head Demoticist Psichari was a royalist.

I think it was: Mackridge, P. 1990. Katharevousa (c.1800–1974): An Obituary for an Official Language. In Sarafis, M. & Martin, E. (eds), Background to Contemporary Greece. London: Merlin Press. 25–51.

It’s just as hard for us to believe that in the 1840s, Puristic was a tool of modernisation, and was a means to integrate Greece into Western Europe. Well, the Western Europe thing is easy to see; it’s the modernisation though millenium-old datives and infinitives that’s hard to get. It’s hard to believe that people portrayed the vernacular, not merely as uncouth, but as the language of Ottoman servility. Which is why Psichari, in his 1888 manifesto My Voyage (about his first field-trip to Greece) made a point of citing Sapphic Odes in Puristic in honour of Sultan Abdul Hamid. [Link to First Edition, before he whitewashed out all the Constantinopolitan dialect.]

Psichari would have you believe that the switch in the status of Greek diglossia, with conflict over the legitimacy of Puristic, was his doing; and the standard histories of Greek language and literature will tell you the same. Psichari—who after all coined the term “diglossia”—made an extremely influential critique of Puristic, it’s true, and his critique of the incoherence and arbitrariness of Puristic has stood the test of time (with the added benefit of being hilarious.)

Yet the undermining of Puristic did not start in 1888. What started undermining it was that the Ionian islands, which were British until 1864, never got on board with Puristic. As a result, Demotic literature from the Ionian islands enjoyed prestige—not least Solomos’, already revered as the national poet, though some critics did grumble at his folksiness. The first chip in the Athenian edifice of Puristic literature was when the the Academy of Athens allowed the Ionian Islander Valaoritis, in the 1870s, to recite his vernacular verses on Greek National Day.

The authors who wrote Demotic in the 1890s and 1900s grouped around Psichari and respected him—and they inevitably disappointed him, as their language compromised with Puristic in a way he never accepted. But they did not come out of nowhre, he did not conjure them into being himself.

Psichari was a better linguist than an author, and a better historical linguist than a sociolinguist. He approached Demotic with Neogrammarian rigour, proclaiming Ausnahmlosigkeit as “Language admits no compromises!”

OK, I’ll unpack that. Historical linguistics before 1880 couldn’t explain all the sound changes of Germanic, and went with a mellow, hippy, “shit happens” attitude to exceptions. In 1875, the last seemingly inexplicable sound change of Germanic was explained; and the Neogrammarians, the Young Grammarians (Junggramatiker) who followed proclaimed it as an article of faith that There Is No Such Thing As Exceptions (Ausnahmlosigkeit): if you can’t work out why a change has happened, you’re not looking hard enough.

Psichari being a man of his time, and not yet pathologically hating the Germans for killing his son in World War I, he embraced that belief in Ausnahmlosigkeit, and applied it to his Demotic activism. Historical Linguistics worked with normal, predictable language change. Compromise with Puristic would give rise to linguistically odd hybrids, which the Unlettered Folk were clearly having trouble coping with. So compromise was linguistic nonsense.

And if you have a sufficiently narrow view of language, it is nonsense. And “nonsense” is precisely how a typologist has to regard Standard Modern Greek, which has made precisely the kinds of compromise that Psichari dismissed. The phonology of Standard Modern Greek, with its influx of spelling pronunciations from Ancient Greek, is loony tunes: /anðrono/? /asθma/? /efθrafsto/?

The tug of war in -ις -εως between an archaic and a modern declension is similarly absurd, and has all the characteristics of committee design: first archaic singular and plural, then both archaic and modern singular but archaic plural, now modern singular and archaic plural. People laughed at Psichari for having a modern plural in πρότασες “sentences” instead of προτάσεις, switching the third declension to the first—like every other vestige of the third declension has done in the vernacular. But writers in the 17th century vernacular did the same, because they had noone to tell them to compromise with Puristic. And those who laugh forget that ράχες, the Standard Modern Greek for “backs”, also started life in the third declension.

So the plural of an Ancient -ις -εως in Standard Modern Greek is not dictated by the normal laws of language change. It is dictated by snobbery: the elite have “sentences”, the hoi polloi have “backs”. That’s absurd.

But it’s also part of how language rolls, because Psichari’s was much too narrow a view of how language works. Language is also a vehicle for social attitudes, and those social attitudes reflect back on the form of the language. In purely linguistic terms, if Ancient ῥάχεις could become vernacular ράχες, there’s no earthly reason why Ancient προτάσεις shouldn’t become vernacular πρότασες; and Psichari concluded as much at a time when people were advocating you should still say both ῥάχεις and προτάσεις. But for whatever reason, the burghers of Athens decided that was a bridge too far even in their Demotic: ράχες is fine, πρότασες is extremist. Because a real language, spoken in real social contexts, does admit compromise: Puristic could not just be wished away in a puff of smoke. (Just as, for that matter, there aren’t any pure languages, and the Neogrammarians’ contemporaries knew the family tree of languages was a distortion.)

And Puristic has worked its influence on a Modern Greek’s linguistic intuition so thoroughly, they can no longer see the absurdities Puristic has imposed on their language. Which makes me dispute Motorcycle Boy’s conclusion from a few posts ago: people *can* speak an artificial language, and not realise it. In some way, after all, any codified literary language is artificial.

The influence of Puristic is pervasive enough to illustrate in the following anecdote. To set the context: the Greek Army was an institution well placed to roll out Puristic to the populace: you had a captive audience, that you barked orders to, that they had to obey. It was the one place where you could convince people that the word for “fire” is not φωτιά “lightness” (or λαμπρόν “bright” in Cyprus, or στιά “hearth” in the Ionian islands), but the Ancient πῦρ.

Psichari of course had a field day with this: the sergeant could bark “fttpt” or “herring”, and the soldier will still shoot; that doesn’t mean you’ve rewired his brain to call “fire” anything but φωτιά (or λαμπρόν or στιά).

As it turns out, my brain has been rewired. Not quite in the way Psichari said, but close.

When King Otto arrived in Greece in 1833, an honour guard of veterans was set up to fire off a 21 gun salute. When the appointed time came, the designated officer walked up, and proudly shouted, in the only form of Greek worthy of the occasion:

OFFICER #1: … Ignis! [Πῦρ!]


OFFICER #1: … Ignis! [Πῦρ!]


OFFICER #1: … Ignis? [Πῦρ;]

VETERANS: … (Who the hell’s this Innis guy he keeps calling out for?) (Nay, nay, you see, he’s addressing his Majesty in his native Barvarian.)

OFFICER #2 (BILINGUAL IN ANCIENT AND MODERN GREEK): [from the crowd] … *FIRE*, damn your hides! [Φωτιά, πανάθεμά σας!]

VETERANS: … Oh! *bang bang bang* (See, told you! That’s Sgt Innis right there.)

When I read this, I thought to myself (in Greek): what does setting things on fire (φωτιά) have to do with shooting guns (πυρά)?

Then I translated both words into English.

Then I was sore amused.

There’s a simple metaphor in many a language between setting things on fire and shooting guns. Hence, gunfire, and fire!. Saying fire! in Ancient Greek at the barracks did not succeed in reviving the ancient Greek word for setting things on fire.

But it did succeed in destroying the metaphoric link: the Ancient Greek word for “fire” is the only word now used for “fire” in a military context—that is, gunfire. The Modern Greek word for “fire” is the only word now used for “fire” in any other context. And modern speakers do a double-take, to realise that gunfire has something to do with burning.

Not what people in 1833 had in mind…


  • John Cowan says:

    I have finally updated the "Diglossia" and "Greek language question" articles in Wikipedia to give Rhoides proper credit.

  • I seem to recall (from reading Ρόδα και Μήλα ages ago) that Pallis used θαν (and ναν) and Psicharis criticised him for that. But the pronunciation of να το δούμε, θα τα πούμε et sim. is clearly [na do], [θa da], at least in my idiolect (native Athenian).

  • opoudjis says:

    @Sarantakos: I now have the volume that the Mackridge essay appeared in. No great surprises actually—your analysis of the situation with Rizospastis was more thorough than his. I'm not sure where my memory of a dramatic contrast between Psichari's and the Communists' politics came from, but this wasn't it. (I'm now suspecting a special issue of the Mantatoforos bulletin, but I thought I'd photocopied all of that.) At any rate, this is what Mackridge had to say about it, p. 35:

    "Ironically enough, the Greek Communist Party was still normally employing katharevousa during this period. Although the inaugural programme of the Socialist Labour Party of Greece (founded in 1918 and changing its name to Communist Party of Greece in 1924) contained a demand for the abolition of the language provision in the Constitution and the introduction of demotic throughout education (Moschonas 1975: lxxiii), the subsequent official texts of the Party make little or no mention of the language question between 1918 and 1928 (ibid., lxxiv)—no doubt because such a problem was unfamiliar to its Soviet steersmen. The official Party newspaper, Rizospastis, was produced in katharevousa until 1927, the same year in which the Party issued its last official document in that language (ibid., lxxiv–lxxvii). This is a powerful indication that—at least until 1927—it was not obvious that one had to be a demoticist in order to be progressive. It was felt that the masses could best be appealed to in a language that had a reputation for seriousness; indeed, for many left-wingers, demoticism was tainted as being a bourgeois movement. Nevertheless, the gradual rapprochement between the Communist Party and the demoticist movement around 1927 may well be connected with the sudden conversion to Marxism in 1926 of one of the leading lights of the Educational Society, Dimitris Glinos."

    (Moschonas, E. 1975. Ένας αιώνας δημοτικισμού. Κοινωνικές και πολιτικές προσεγγίσεις. In Pallis, A., Προύσος. Athens. xii–cxxi. I'm assuming this is the preface to an edition of Pallis, in the Ερμής series of pocketbook reeditions of classics.)

    I've reread the rest of the essay, and recommend it: once it gets past the historical details, its analysis of the politics behind Puristic, and the counter-purism of the Demoticists, is excellent, and I believe it moulded my thinking on the issue.

  • opoudjis says:

    @Peter, opening up links in new windows: I only ever open links in new tabs, and people loathe popups. I may have a straw poll.

    @Peter, new Horrocks edition: no doubt the new edition will be informed by the work of the Grammar of Medieval Greek Project he's led with David Holton. They are supposed to be running out of funding this year, but the latest news report is they're still on track to producing a formal grammar.

    @Peter, multiple levels of Greek: I'd forgotten about that Mirambel analysis. The count of registers between Puristic and Demotic would probably have been open-ended, since people did not speak either the basilect or the acrolect in cities. That's something frequently true of diglossias: they're leaky.

    @TAK, Horrocks forcing exaggerated division between Written and Oral Greek: I haven't read the grammar recently, but that's a recurring ideological blindness of all histories of Greek, presenting the spoken language as a pristine ideal which the written macaronic texts block our access to. In reality, of course, Greek diglossia has *always* been leaky, because of the prestige of the written word. I have an ill-informed speculation of an instance on this blog.

    There's a clearer instance in Cyprus: in at least one (sub)dialect of Cypriot, as Brian Newton reported, the only instance where Standard /θ/ did *not* go to /x/ was /θeos/, "God". I trust it is obvious why. (Holler if it isn't, I'm leaving it as an exercise for the reader.)

    @Peter, Thomson & Browning: I didn't know what they had in common: I guessed "Scottish?" I Googled it, and now I do know. I had no idea.

    OK, OK, I'll tell the rest of you. Both were Marxists.

    This concludes this evening's miscellaneous updates.

  • opoudjis says:

    @Peter, responding to yours of 2009-09-29 (I've had other things on):

    How Solomos would have spelled [ksenitja]: refer my unloved posting on the spelling of these infernal nominalisations, the "correct" spelling is ξενιτειά, but with its non-Classical accentuation, and a century before Demotic spelling was normalised, "correct" wouldn't have counted for much. And if I'm to judge from this pic of a Solomos manuscript from the Greek Wikipedia, his spelling was too far removed from the modern norm for us to be concerned.

    The true metric of Google 🙂 has 41,000 ξενιτιά vs. 56,000 ξενιτειά. The Triantafyllides Institute dictionary has ξενιτιά, Babiniotis' dictionary has ξενιτειά, and Babiniotis notes that the "school spelling" (i.e. that prescribed by Triantafyllidis himself) is ξενιτιά. That's consistent with the general trend in Modern spelling, and the politics of the two dictionaries: the prescribed principle is, when in any doubt at all, go with the simpler spelling.

    (The doubt is here introduced by the vernacular [ja] for Classical /i.a/ ~ /ei.a/. For loans straight from Classical Greek, -εία is still used.)

    (ε)ψές "last night" is a portmanteau of χτες (Classical ἐχθές) "yesterday" and ὀψέ "in the evening, late". It is striking because it has not made it to Standard Modern Greek. It has however made it to the Cypriot version of Standard Modern Greek. (Note: *not* Cypriot dialect, but the variant of Standard Modern Greek used in Cyprus, which is only faintly affected by the local dialect. So you'll see it in Cypriot newspapers.)

  • Peter says:

    From Margaret Alexiou's After Antiquity: Greek Language, Myth, and Metaphor, Chapter 1: "Greek Polyglossia: Historical Perspectives," page 38:

    These differences ["Ferguson's definition [of diglossia] is schematic in three respects: The first difference is linguistic. . . . The second difference is cultural. . . . The third difference is politica. . . ."] render it doubtful whether the Greek case has ever been one of "diglossia" as defined by Ferguson and unlikely that either K [Katharevousa] or D[Demotic] will prevail with absolute consistency. The two forms cannot be divided into watertight compartments, each with a separate set of syntactic, morphological. and lexical structures. There are too many shades of each and a great deal of interpenetration in the spoken and written forms. Some sixty years ago, the French scholar André Mirambel distinguished five categories of modern Greek, or "états de langues": katharevousa; μικτή "mixed Greek"; καθομιλουμένη "mixed, everyday spoken Greek"; standard demotic; and μαλλιαρή "hairy", or ultra-demotic, affected by long-haired intellectuals. To these should be added the influence of Ancient Greek, taught in secondary schools for up to eight hours a week until 1981; New Testament Greek, used in church; and the major dialects still spoken. There are fixed categories. Today, such "hairy demoticisms" as φτυχιό (πτυχεῖο) "diploma" have disappeared, while "mixed" and "everyday" Greek reflect shades and fluctuations between K and D. Intermediate forms provide the basis of the SMG used by urban Greeks with moderate levels of education.

    Note 5 of Chapter 1:

    The term "polyglossia" is adapted from Bakhtin (1981; 1986) to include the following subcategories in Greek: heteroglossia refers to use of a language by nonnative speakers, (e.g., koine Greek in the eastern Hellenistic kingdoms); diglossia, to the official coexistence of two forms of the same language, one of which may regarded as "high," the other as "low" (e.g., modern Greek—henceforth MG in notes and tables—from c. 1830 to 1976); bilingualism, to widespread use of two languages by the community (e.g., knowledge of Italian and Greek on Venetian Crete); multilingualism, to widespread use of more than two languages (e.g., Greek, Syriac, and Hebrew in the southeastern regions of the early Byzantine empire). Polyglossia therefore indicates multiple linguistic forms of diverse origins, sometimes referred to as aglossia (Alexiou 1982, 156).

    Like father (George Thomson), like daughter (Margaret Alexiou), eh, boys? How wonderful that he passed his love of the Greek language on to his daughter.

    P.S. N, the above excerpts were taken from so I don't think I am violating any copyright laws. I hope not. . . . then again, I,m a rebel 😉

    P.P.S. Trivia: Besides their love of the Greek language, what do the late Greek scholars George Thomson and Robert Browning have in common?

  • opoudjis says:

    This will be interesting. Just because Cypriots tells you "we're not in a diglossia" doesn't mean they're not in a diglossia—Roidis said as much to his readers. But I'm not sure I follow you here. At any rate, I'll read up on what papers I have on the Cypriot language situation too.

    We overlap in North America by maybe a few hours! Oh well, I'll see you in Cyprus once I'm 50, I guess. 🙂

  • TAK says:

    Nick, I will be in Canada for the MGSA conference till 18/10. When I come back we can schedule a post on Cypriot Greek – your comments resemble mine when I arrived here in 2004. More than 5 years later I have (or had to have) a more relaxed attitude on this matter cause Cypriots themselves see things differently (and insisting on "diglossia" makes me feel like a colonial penpusher who knows what's right and wrong and tries to enlighten and civilize the local ignorant "savages"… Needless to say that this is not valid either for me or for them). So, let's leave it here for now and talk about it again in 3 weeks or so.

  • opoudjis says:

    Update to folks:
    * Have almost finished new post on history of the word "diglossia", just need to check a dictionary at home.
    * Will respond to Nikos properly when I have the missing pages of Mackridge.
    * Will respond to Peter when I have finished comparing those two XML schemata.
    * Discussion at En Ephesôi continues, and I agree with the host there that why prescription succeeds or fails is a topic worth more investigation.
    * The Cambridge dictionary will be radically new in lexicography, but it has limited coverage—which is not a problem, I admit; here's my account of my visit to them.
    * Have discovered a Byzantine Hellenisation of the name Nasreddin, which amuses me (this explains why); that will be a post, but at The Other Place.
    * That said, Hellenisteukontos readers, please leave your linguistics comments here, not there.

    This concludes today's updates.

  • TAK says:

    @Nick: "It's a good book, isn't it!"

    It is a very good book with one major problem: he draws an unjustifiably "clear" line between oral and written.

    An updated edition with more than 200 pp. is more than welcome! Thanks to Peter for the info.

  • Peter says:

    According to, Horrocks's updated edition (207 pp. more than the 1st ed.!) will be available by 2010.

    Is 2010 not the year that the radically new Cambridge Ancient Greek – English lexicon goes to the presses?

    Let's hope so. I am curious to see if the ϝ is given letter status as proposed by the great Greek scholar John Chadwick in his book Lexicographica Graeca.

    P.S. An astute post on William Safire at by—who else?—LH himself!

  • Peter says:

    "Hoi polloi" is treated in English as an unanalyzable compound, and that is as it should be.

    Thank you, LH.

    P.S. Good eye on the "Ausnahmslosigkeit." 😉

  • Language says:

    If I may "quibble," too, N, is it necessary to repeat the definite article, "the hoi polloi"?

    There is no repetition; English is not Greek. I have written about this here; executive summary: To speak English correctly, you don't need to know any other languages.

  • opoudjis says:

    @Nikos: update: I *know* it's on p. 35, because Google Books for that page talks about the founding of the Socialist Party in 1918, and its renaming to the Communist Party in 1924. I'm sure Mackridge went on to say how the Communists were indifferent to Demoticism back then. But I only photocopied the paper from p. 42 on! I've ordered the book from another university; let's hope it doesn't get lost in transit this time.

    @William: It's a good book, isn't it! I had no idea about the update; then again, I've managed to be completely unplugged from the scene…

  • Wm says:

    Horrocks's 2nd updated edition will be soon available

    Not soon enough!

  • Peter says:

    How do I rue the night (and part of the day)?

    That's how!

    Excellent post, as usual, damn you, N. 🙂 I am now compelled to reread Horrocks's Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers, Chapter 17: "The 'language question' and its resolution."

    (Note: Horrocks's 2nd updated edition will be soon available)

    As a result, Demotic literature from the Ionian islands enjoyed prestige—not least Solomos', already revered as the national poet, though some critics did grumble at his folksiness.

    Την είδα τη Ξανθούλα,
    την είδα ψες αργά
    που μπήκε στη βαρκούλα
    να πάει στη ξενιτειά.

    What can I say . . . παιδί του Ελληνικού δημοτικού. The mention of Solomos's name just springs this lovely (and, yes, folksy) poem to mind. I don't remember, though, the spelling of ξενιτειά. Did Solomos write -τειά or -τιά? Should be the former (ξενιτεύω), no?

    (Did you guys notice ψες?)

    If I may "quibble," too, N, is it necessary to repeat the definite article, "the hoi polloi"?

    "Ausnahmlosigkeit" should be Ausnahmslosigkeit"

    lol . . . I have no clue what "Ausnahmslosigkeit"
    means, but I must have stared a good five minutes, if not more!, at the above words before I was able to see the difference: "-ml-" and "-msl-." I must say, German (and Latin) is hard on these eyes. You're forgiven, N. 😉

    @Godfather: Could I stop posting interesting stuff? I have to write a report comparing two XML schemata, instead of thinking up new blog posts like this. 🙂

    It would be nice that when we click on a link another window would open instead of being redirected to another site. It's just a suggestion, N, and only if you have the time, of course . . . like after you finish your report comparing two XML schemata. 😉



  • opoudjis says:

    Ἐν Ἐφέσῳ links to this post in the context of another possibly artificial language change—gender-inclusive language, in the context of Bible translation. That artificial change, he contends (and so would I) has succeeded. And artificiality is not why changes succeed or fail…

  • opoudjis says:

    Roidis is known to the more assiduous readers of this blog from the puzzle Nikos Sarantakos posed for me here on his Pope Joan.

    The misapprehension that Psichari coined "diglossia" is not limited to Wikipedia 🙂 — this author mentions Psichari in the 1920s and Marçais in the 1930s as having used it before, though he doesn't claim they coined it. (This guys does, though with a "perhaps".) Ferguson's paper cites both, though as the first link notes, he doesn't say where the word "diglossia" came from. People who knew Ferguson's bibliography but not Psichari's just assumed Psichari coined it.

    The update to the Wikipedia pages on Psichari and Diglossia will have to wait till this evening. 🙂

    I got my surrealists starting with E- mixed up. Thank you for correcting me. This is yet more proof that I really no longer know what I'm talking about. 🙁

    I avoided talking about the leadup to Puristic as we know it, and of course Koraes' Puristic was very different to Kontos'; that's indeed part of the problem with the incoherence of Puristic, that it allowed both moderate and archaising forms while still being artificial, so people had no real reference point. I think the extreme archaisers got marginalised by the 1910s (?), but by then Demotic had entered the picture.

    And the three levels of Koraes' time are interesting as well, but I really do not know anything of the period, so I can't post about it. (Apart from the observation that Koraes' version of Puristic can be quite pleasant to read.)

    I also didn't get into the even earlier stages of diglossia, though Bill W in another thread also noted the antecedents. ("Since Alexander", Bill? Nah, I'd give the Atticist reaction a couple more centuries…) They are indeed interesting; the hypercorrections of Byzantines in their learnèd language actually drive some of my posts. The best summary I know of is: Browning, R. 1978. The Language of Byzantine Literature. In Vryonis, S.J. Jr. (ed.), The past in Medieval and Modern Greece. Malibu: Undena. 103–133. (Snippet Only in Google Books.)

    When you've finished your papers… do you feel like a guest posting on Cypriot diglossia? 🙂

    There'll be more when I actually read your Roidis links, but I am at work! ("Would you please stop posting such interesting comments?" 🙂

  • TAK says:

    Just two quick corrections:

    Diglossia was coined by E. Roidis not Psycharis in the Prologue of his Parerga of 1885; you may read the relevant part here (I have underlined the word). Psycharis acknowledges Roidis as the inventor of the term, but it was indeed Psycharis who brought it to international attention (Psycharis first mentions it in his Grammaire (1886), which was written in the international language of the time, thus facilitating access by international readers. And let us not forget that Psycharis anyhow had access to the French, and by extension, international scholarly public of his time, since he was the son-in-law of Ernest Renan).

    Diglossia is the right term to be used for the Greek language, but it is not (and should not) be restricted to the Language Question of the late 18th-20th c. It can be traced back to the appearance of Atticism and I would say that it is valid from the 2nd c. AD (at the latest) with the Alexandrian Grammarians Herodian and Phrynichus of Bithynia (wikipedia's got it wrong: it's 2nd AD not BC) and the rhetoricians Herodes Atticus and Aelius Aristides till 1976 (again at the latest, cause as you correctly describe it, the situation from the 1870's till 1976 was much more complicated than just puristic vs. demotic). The Language Question was the last phase in a looong procedure.

    What you missed in your analysis is that it has never been simply the Puristic vs. the Demotic; it was Attic(izing) vs. Demotic and Puristic was proposed as the middle way. Katharevousa was artificial from the start and that's where it lost the game. Koraes may have intended for rather moderate "embellishments" of the spoken language on the basis of (ancient) Attic Greek, but by the 1880s you had people like Konstantinos Kontos, Professor at the University of Athens, who demanded, to put it in Roidis's words, that Greek speakers "each and every day would chop off some living member of their language and replace it with a stinking Attic cadaver" (I paraphrased it; you may read the original text, again from his Prolegomena in Parerga here). Roidis again provides a telling example: Kontos demanded to use "αψ αναχάζομαι" (!!!) instead of οπισθοδρομώ, and it was exactly this sort of exaggerations that led Katharevousa to complete discredit and abandonment.

    In fact, I find it surprising that it has even produced some great literature in the 19th c. But again it was the moderate Purists like Roidis, Vizyenos and Papadiamantis who produced it. In the 20th c. you have the case of the Surrealist Andreas Embeirikos (not Nikos Engonopoulos) and this is my second correction and I leave it here for now.

    You are quite right about Cyprus, but this will open up a long discussion that I have to leave for some other time.

  • Very interesting.
    If people are curious to read Psichari's My Voyage, I recently uploaded it at my webpage (unfortunately the 2nd edition) although I haven't checked the digitized product.

    What I am looking for, in vain so far, is the Sotiriades translation of Aeschylus that triggered the whole Oresteiaka mess.

    Now, I am curious to read what exactly Mackridge says about communists and demoticists in the '10s. For one thing, technically there were no communists in the '10s. The party was founded in 1918 as Socialist Labour Party (SEKE) and initially (albeit for a very brief time) it entered the 2nd International. It only joined the 3rd International sometimes in 1921, and previously its members called themselves 'Socialists'. For another thing, although Rizospastis was initially (and for many years) written in a simplified Puristic (no datives, for instance) they nevertheless defended the Language Reform of Venizelos in 1918 and they bitterly criticised the restoration of puristic in 1921 when the Demotic textbooks were burnt. It is true that Noumas had been nagging (in a friendly tone) the Socialists about their use of Puristic. Note that Noumas was quite close to the Socialists. Some of its mainstays, like Paroritis, were members of the Party. Paroritis was also writing in Rizospastis, the party organ. Also, Psichari quarrelled with Noumas and finally abnegated them because of the writings of a German Communist, Steinmetz, in Noumas pages.

    To sum it up, it seems to me that Rizospastis didn't use Demotic because of inertia: most of the journalists were schooled in the Puristic, so they didn't feel at ease writing Demotic. As an aside, G. Philaretos, the initial founder of Rizospastis, back in 1908 when it was merely a republican paper, conceded the title of the newspaper to Petsopoulos in 1917 on the express request that the paper would continue to be written in Puristic (Petsopoulos printed the letter on the first page, adding: "how can one fight for the people and not fight for the Demotic?"). Petsopoulos probably thought he was already using Demotic, although he was merely using a light form of Puristic.

    But I have already written a lot, so I won't try to find where Lapathiotis (not a Hairy one, in fact he resented Psichari) is using ναν or θαν, or ηλεχτρικό.

  • opoudjis says:

    I think the quote on Communists and Royalists being on counterintuitive sides of the Language Question in the 1910s is in the pages of the Mackridge paper missing from Google Preview (yes, I could go to the garage and check, but won't).

    But p. 35 has what I was trying to say above about "dying in the opposite direction": "Having been reduced for most of the last few decades to being a purely administrative language (Kanzleisprache), katharevousa has now all but vanished".

  • opoudjis says:

    @Godfather: Could I stop posting interesting stuff? I have to write a report comparing two XML schemata, instead of thinking up new blog posts like this. 🙂

    And papers still matter more. I'm not saying that just out of false humility: I've written papers, and I've written blog posts, and I know which ones are more thought out…

    Of course, I'm saying that because I got pwn'd about the optative in Galen. 🙂

  • opoudjis says:

    The further complications of Puristic, which I didn't get into here and may later, are that

    (a) there was a spectrum of variation between Puristic and Demotic (but the same holds for Haitian), and of course Standard Modern Greek is not pure Demotic.

    (b) Self-defeatingly, Puristic defined itself in opposition to Demotic; as Browning's example of arvila "army boot" shows, if a Puristic term actually did get taken up in the vernacular, Puristic had to adopt a different word, so it would not sound like the vernacular. (For arvila, they switched inflections to arvilos.)

    (c) Tied to (b), Puristic did not have a well-defined norm: there was much variation in how archaic it could be. That hurt Puristic: it made it hard to learn well, especially since there were not enough prestigious models of Puristic writing, once literature abandoned it. And the incoherence gave Demoticists, starting with Psichari, a very easy target.

    I think it's that inconsistency and incoherence which made Puristic vulnerable, rather than merely the fact it was "dead". That, and the fact there was still a detectable continuum between Puristic and Demotic, so people could slosh in both directions, and efface the division. If schools taught Platonic Greek in Erasmian pronunciation—as a completely foreign and coherent language, it might actually have had a better chance.

    Still, 170 years is not at all bad for a linguistic Frankenstein that died unlamented.

  • opoudjis says:

    @John: It was not dead wrong of Ferguson to count Greek, no; I am doing my adorable exaggeration bit. But Greek diglossia by 1959 was certainly uncharacteristic of diglossia, which is why I'm calling it a bad illustration. To wit:

    * Not only lots of L poetry: *no* H literature at all. Seriously. The only exceptions since 1900 were Engonopoulos, who was a surrealist so was being deliberately wierd; and Cavafy's ecletic use of language, which was on its own plane anyway.
    * Note: 1900's very soon after Psichari's 1888 manifesto, which is why I'm claiming it was actually Valaoritis who set things in motion. And the point of that is not that Poets Make The Language, in some romantic notion of how Ausbau happens, but that Poets give the language prestige, which the L variant normally lacks.
    * No context in which you could actually read out from the menu "I'd like a glass of oinos", without being laughed at. That's not true of Bern or Nicosia or Port-au-Prince.
    * Frequent public questioning of the prestige of the H variety.
    * Frequent elevation of the L variety (which is where literature comes in.) Without literature as backup, the H variety is limited to the State, the news media, and school. Some prestige flows from these, but ultimately not enough.
    * Politicisation of diglossia, which again is not characteristic. The combination of politicisation and questioned prestige made it easier to do away with Puristic after 1975. The histories will tell you that Puristic was abolished because it was tainted by associated with the Colonels' Regime. A functioning diglossia would not allow its H variety to be tainted by association with any regime, though.

    So it was diglossia, but no longer a working one. My polemic is actually partly aimed at Greeks, who may assume that other diglossias have the characteristics of late Greek diglossia—the political overtones, the incoherent H register, the lack of H literature. I think it comes as a surprise to Greeks that Cyprus is experiencing diglossia: not least because they're accustomed to thinking of the H variant as "the bad guy", and in Cyprus the H variant *is* Standard Greek. I think it also comes as a surprise to Greeks that 1860 diglossia was a lot closer to the diglossic norm.

    That said, of course, diglossias can be unstable like Greek's was. (I had no idea Haiti is starting to unravel too, but I guess it makes sense.) Languages die by having the domains they're used in gradually shrink; what was a language used in the public sphere is gradually reduced to the hearth, what was written ends purely oral. Puristic Greek in late Greek diglossia was dying in the opposite direction. It was more written than spoken, and was banished from social use more and more, reduced to only the most public spheres. Menus, lectures, news reports.

  • TAK says:

    Nick, could you please stop posting interesting stuff?! I have a paper to finish…
    There are so many things that I want to comment on in this post and I still haven't finished with the previous one about Kozani: I found Lioufis!
    What I cannot find is the spare time needed for all this… But I will make it somehow.

  • opoudjis says:

    @Hat: I despair of me, I really do. I even googled the word to make sure I didn't commit the atrocity I originally intended, of putting an umlaut on it. I should have been clued in by the low result count, but I must have just assumed noone talks about Junggramatiker online…

  • Language says:

    A great post, but I have my usual annoying copyeditor's quibble: "Ausnahmlosigkeit" should be Ausnahmslosigkeit.

  • John Cowan says:

    A great anecdote, and I love the subtlety of "native Barvarian".

    But you are rocking my world here, and not in a good way. What do you mean, "spectacularly bad example of diglossia"? Are you claiming that Ferguson was dead wrong in 1959 to use Greek as one of his four defining examples of the concept, along with Haitian Creole, Egyptian Arabic, and Swiss German? He does note that Greek is unusual in having lots of L poetry, but otherwise it's just as salient as the other four (Swiss German is unusual in having no dominant L variety, for that matter).

    As a kid fascinated by linguistics, I remember reading in some book or other an example which turns out to be straight from Ferguson: "In Greek the H word for 'wine' is inos, the L word is krasi. The menu will have inos written on it, but the diner will ask the waiter for krasi." Now it seems to me that in 1959, if diglossia is functioning at the level of restaurant menus, it's still functioning tout court, even if there are a bunch of people who want to (and ultimately do) dismantle it, as is perhaps beginning to happen in Haiti.

    (You could argue, I guess, that French restaurant menus in anglophone countries constitute the last survival of Norman/Saxon diglossia in English, with the Norman French replaced by Standard French. But then I would have to beat you severely.)

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