The 23 to 29 Apolloniuses of Classical Literature

By: | Post date: 2009-10-12 | Comments: 6 Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics
Tags: , ,

I’m parking this posting here for lack of somewhere else to park it. (It’s not strictly language-related, but I’m realising philology posts are probably better pitched here than in The Other Place.)

In my day-job capacity, I’m posting on the fluidity of identity in repositories—how, particularly if you’re relying on computer deduplication of identity, there will always be some tentativeness about who is identified as the same person. Repositories have to deal with that tentativeness, rather than hardcoding identity. This is an issue Wikipedia often comes up against, having to split off one article subject from another.

And I was reminded of the morass of Apolloniuses in Classical literature, particularly among medical authors. There are no less than potentially 13 medical authors we know of called Apollonius, according to the TLG Canon of Greek Authors and Works (3rd ed.). Potentially 13, potentially just 9; f.i.q. “possibly the same person as”, appears several times in the listing:

(Note: links are to the Catalan Wikipedia.)

Our problem in working out who is who is that almost all of them are cited in passing in other medical authors, so we have very little to go on. The Online TLG Canon only represents works published under a distinct author’s name, even if only as Testimonia. So it only refers to two of them, Of Citium and Mys. The other 11 authors also have Testimonia, in Galen and Oribasius and Alexander of Tralles and Aëtius, but they haven’t been published independently.

So the 2009 Online Canon has more limited coverage of types of author than the 1990 Print Canon (though a longer time range). The Print Canon includes all ancient authors we know about. The Online Canon only includes those authors with texts represented in the corpus, and that is determined by an editor publishing text under that author’s name. So if an Apollonius has been cited in Galen, and an editor publishes that citation as a Fragment of Apollonius, Apollonius will have an entry in the Online Canon, and will link to the published text in the corpus. If we only have secondary source material on the Apollonius from Galen, and an editor publishes that material as Testimonia on Apollonius, the Online Canon will still have an entry, because the point of the author entry is to navigate the corpus.

If OTOH an editor has never combed Galen for Apollonius, the Print Canon will still mention the Apollonius as cited in Galen (as a cross-reference), but the Online Canon will not have an entry for him, because it doesn’t have a discrete text for him. That places the Online Canon notion of authors at the mercy of their editorial history; but the Online Canon is documenting edited texts.

The 9–13 medical Apolloniuses in the TLG Canon are joined there by 16 other Apolloniuses in Ancient literature:

The English Wikipedia knows of 16 non-medical Apolloniuses (but five of them are not in the list above), and no less than 21 physicians called Apollonius, since they’re not restricted to medical authors. And Wikipedia is just as aware of the f.i.q. issue. The German Wikipedia’s list has 24 Apolloniuses, and they don’t seem to overlap completely with the English list. The Catalan Wikipedia’s list wins, with 18 medical and 39 non-medical Apolloniuses. And its list is even less clean.

Even adding in places of birth, nicknames, and the genres they wrote in, there is difficulty in differentiating these Apolloniuses. If we had enough metadata on them, after all, instead of passing mentions in Galen, we wouldn’t be seeing all those f.i.q. For 0741 Apollonius and 0739 Apollonius, we’re reduced to distinguishing them by who else they might be confused with. And the medical Apolloniuses may all be obscure (only Of Citium gets his own English Wikipedia page); but the other Apolloniuses include a major Late Epic poet (0001), the founder of Western grammar (0082), a major figure in Roman religious history (0619), a primary source in Homeric scholarship (1168), and an important contributor to the development of 3D geometry (0550). If it wasn’t for places of birth and nicknames, we would not know who we were talking about.

Things are slightly better now with the invention of surnames, and recording years of birth in the Library of Congress record. But only slightly: confusion is certainly still possible. There is now a profusion of identities that people write under in cyberspace; if anything, that’s now making things even worse. But that’s a topic for my day-job blog

The Motley Word

By: | Post date: 2009-10-07 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: , ,

I continue the random miscellanea postings with a website I did not know about, and stumbled on because of a posting I will write next week. The Motley Word (Παρδαλή Λέξη) is a crowdsourced dictionary for Greek dialects, like Urban Dictionary and its Greek counterpart,

The Motley Word has all the poor quality you’d expect of a crowdsourced project without critical mass of participants; they don’t even provide for correction yet. So it’s not going to supplant the Academy’s dialect dictionary, the Historical Dictionary Of Modern Greek, any time soon. Sure.

But that’s harder to say when the Historical Dictionary hasn’t budged past delta in twenty years. (I see there’s at least funding to digitise their holdings.) And the glossaries of mainstream dialects, as opposed to the more distinct variants like Pontic or Tsakonian, have been pretty motley themselves.

More meta-importantly, the Motley Word shows that speakers of the dialects still care, and it’s still a resource. A resource I’m going to make use of soon—here’s a hint, but I haven’t started writing yet, so shhhhh…

So: excellent work! (And thank God noone’s done Tsakonian 🙂

Heracleses of the Crown

By: | Post date: 2009-10-06 | Comments: 16 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: , ,

I don’t want to get into the habit of retweeting what other bloggers say, it was annoying enough when Instapundit and Atrios started doing it. I also don’t want this blog to get *too* Classicist-friendly, because there’s plenty of Modern Greece stuff to talk about that has nothing to do with The Antick Burden. But this novel form commented on at The Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos’ Blog is too interesting not to pass on to Classicists.

(And yes, I get much of my material from Sarantakos. That’s why I keep calling the blog The Magnificent. That, and I like establishing a private language; hence “The Other Place”.)

One of Sarantakos’ concerns is good language use. So he lampoons instances in the press or from politicians of bad language use. What good and bad language use is of course a prescriptive matter—and I have to say, I’m pretty much cured of the anti-prescriptivism of linguistic orthodoxy: prescriptivisms can have their own internal linguistic reality, and they certainly have a social reality. Prescriptivism in Modern Greek is complicated, like the language itself is. It’s no longer about how Attic a form is; now it’s about how vernacular a form is, how glaring a translationism from English it is, or how boneheaded a misapplication of Attic it is.

The “first linguistic gaffe after the elections”, taken across by Sarantakos from a thread from Nikos Ligris in, was a politician’s disparaging reference to two major members of the outgoing government. He called them The Heracleses of the Crown, using an established metaphor referring to the old coat of arms of the Kingdom of Greece:

But the plural of Heracles he used was not the Classical Ἡρακλεῖς. Nor was it the vernacular Ηρακλήδες.

(I’ve already posted on why that is the plural formation for vernacular first-declension nouns. Yes, Heracles is now first declension: the third declension is dead in the vernacular. And yes, that plural *is* historically still third-declension, because the declensions hybridised.)

No, the plural form the politician used was οι Ηρακλειδείς του στέμματος.

Now, Ἡρακλειδεῖς is in no way a plural of Ἡρακλῆς. It is a plural of *Ἡρακλειδεύς, and the -ιδεύς suffix on that word was used in antiquity to denote the offspring of an animal or a family member: ἀετιδεύς “young eagle”, λυκιδεύς “young wolf”, υἱιδεύς “son of a son”, γαμβριδεύς “son of a brother in law”. LSJ has one inanimate diminutive use in an inscription, θυριδεύς “little gate = window frame”, and the most widespread use of the suffix is also diminutive rather than offspring: ἐρωτιδεύς “cupid, depiction of Eros [Cupid] in sculpture or painting”. But there is no Ancient use of the suffix as a patronymic: the Offspring of Heracles are the Heracleidae, Ἡρακλεῖδαι.

It turns out though that the fans of Heracles FC, the oldest football club in Thessalonica, have taken to calling themselves Ηρακλειδείς. Amused by their claims to antiquity, rather than to actually winning championships, fans of Ares FC and PAOK FC have taken to calling them “The Old Ladies” instead.

So we can reconstruct what happened. An Attic plural Ηρακλείς in Modern Greek is hopeless: it is homophonous with the singular Ηρακλής [iraˈklis], and it uses a third declension noone has heard of. (They would especially not have heard of it because this particular declension pattern in -κλῆς is restricted to proper names, and plurals of proper names are rare.) A vernacular plural Ηρακλήδες is still felt undignified: you can use it about your cousins called Heracles, or to express contempt about the Heracleses and Theseuses of legend (and it sounds as clunky as Heracleses does in English); but the fans of Heracles FC would never refer to themselves so commonly.

(They would have decided that in the phone booth they meet in every Saturday, as an Ares FC fan might put it.)

Confronted with the lack of a useable *and* appropriate plural of Heracles, a Heracles fan a few years ago hit on the pattern of ἀετιδεύς “young eagle”, and started people using Ηρακλειδείς. Ηρακλειδείς is in a third declension just as dead in Modern Greek, but at least somewhat more familiar via Puristic.

  • (As also noted in comments, the colloquial singular of that word is not Ηρακλειδεύς, but Ηρακλειδής. Because the third declension in -ευς is not *that* familiar.)
  • (E-fufutos [as he Englishes himself] says ἀετιδεύς is “familiar to all those who learned about 19th Century France via Puristic writers.” Who was the French Eaglet?)

The Heracleses of the Crown in the coat of arms have always been Ἡρακλεῖς. The politician being interviewed racked his brain for a plural of Heracles—which as we saw, is awkward in Modern Greek. He remembered Heracles FC, made the association between ἐρωτιδεῖς “little cupids” and the little heraldic club-bearers, and blurted out Ηρακλειδείς. Some commenters to the thread admitted that they have done the same.

So, was this a gaffe? There’s a disagreement in the commentary to the post.

Opinion 1 (Nikos Sarantakos, Nikos “Nickel” Ligris): Yes, it’s a malapropism: an attempt to coin a la-de-da Classical plural that ends up stumbling on an unattested word that violates Classical norms, and has nothing to do with Modern Greek at any rate.

Opinion 2 (“Boukanieros”, me, Tasos “TAK” Kaplanis): It’s a new word, and it’s adorable. The analogy with cupids is clear in this particular context, and the Classical norm of it not being attached to proper names is not relevant here.

Opinion 1: What’s so “adorable” about a bastard learnèd form?

Opinion 2: There’s been a lot worse in the Athens press than Ηρακλειδείς. The Heracles FC context makes it attested, at any rate.

Opinion 1: The bastard form Ηρακλειδείς is indeed now attested for the fans (my spellchecker does not underline it!) Can we at least leave alone the established word for the coat of arms?

Opinion 2: But they’re wee little Heracleses on the coat of arms! [You’ll see the vernacular diminutive, Ηρακλάκια, more than once in the thread]

Opinion 1: There’s this notion that as soon as any fool launches some half-baked variant form online, we’ve got to annotate it and put it into our dictionaries, instead of “correcting” it. (There’s those PC scare-quotes again.)

Opinion 2: Yup. [My Anglophone readers are nodding along heartily, but note that the social histories of English and Greek are very different, and distaste for prescriptivism in English does not have the same purchase in Greece.]

The thread is ongoing, although I think people are agreeing to disagree by now. (The thread is now being derailed to talking about the Orwellian names of the new government’s ministries.) I don’t remember this much disagreement in a thread about linguistic gaffes recently, and I think it is because Opinion 1 and Opinion 2 are analysing the form differently.

Opinion 1 considers it a mistaken stab at a plural of Heracles that coins a new word by mistake. Opinion 2 considers it a serendipitous coining of a new word, that can in some contexts stand in as a plural of Heracles.

Opinion 1 considers the coinage illegitimate, as pseudo-archaic Greek in a time when pseudo-archaic Greek is no longer welcome. Opinion 2 shrugs.

Nikos will defend Opinion 1 more cogently than I have done, I suspect, because there is context to notions of correctness in Modern Greek that I’m not fully presenting here…

Deictic force of Hellenistic demonstratives

By: | Post date: 2009-10-06 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: , , ,

Quick note: Ἐν Ἐφέσῳ notices from the linguistics literature that the meaning of demonstratives in Modern Greek depends on their position: αυτό το μπουτάκι “that-one the pork-joint” is more physical deixis (“that pork joint which I’m pointing at”), whereas το μπουτάκι αυτό “the pork-joint that-one” is more discourse deixis (“that pork joint which I mentioned before”).

He considers this may shed light on the use of demonstratives in New Testament Greek—and commenter Carl Conrad notes this is already known of Classical Greek, complete with Smyth reference.

Nastratios in Pagdatia

By: | Post date: 2009-10-05 | Comments: 10 Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek
Tags: , , , ,

A thread last month at the Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos’ Blog, about insulting commentary on a candidate MP from the Muslim minority, got derailed in comments (the way good comment threads do) into a discussion of whether there was any point teaching Ancient Greek in high school in Greece. The reason why Ancient Greek is taught in high school has to do with moral panic, rather than any concern over actually learning the language. That is why the age at which it is taught has become such a football; and the way Ancient Greek is taught is universally condemned.

Indeed, most commenters thought teaching Ancient Greek language at the expense of Ancient Greek literature *as literature* was unacceptable, and teaching Ancient literature in translation, as has occasionally happened, is much preferable. Some commenters conceded the usefulness of Ancient Greek in teaching grammar, but grudgingly. And I’ll stay with this exchange:

Ηλεφούφουτος: … Instruction should not give so much emphasis on reproducing grammatical forms (e.g. what is the 3rd person imperfect of ὑφίημι, or conjugate the verb in the second aorist middle optative.) All that, and syntactic parsing word for word, are fine brain exercises, but that’s now how you’ll learn Ancient Greek.

Μαρία: Who gives a f*ck about reduplication. But for students to recognise that this is a verb, an adjective, at least the parts of speech: that much is necessary. So they must be taught grammar, and you can’t do that with little songs and little poems. Have you forgotten this isn’t a living language?

I’m not contributing to that derailment—although I agreed there it was absurd that the students weren’t being asked questions about the literary values of Antigone. In fact, the recommendations Ηλεφούφουτος was citing included “don’t teach Ancient Greek through Antigone, you’ll ruin Antigone for the kids.” But I’m doing my own derailment, with the notion of little songs and little poems in learning Ancient Greek—that is, of teaching Ancient Greek in the engaging way schoolchildren learn foreign languages.

There is a textbook that does that: Paula Saffire & Catherine Freis. 1999. Ancient Greek Alive. 3rd ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Ancient Greek Alive has students act out skits, it has them doing question and answers with the teacher in Ancient Greek, and it has little stories in the target language, rather than starting with Real Text. In other words, it does what you normally do nowadays when you teach a foreign language. It would never ever be used in Greece, not only because of the profound malaise of Greek education, but because the relation of Greeks to their antiquity has always been too po-faced. It’s the same reason, as I’ve posted in The Other Place, why a Greek will never affectionately parody their national anthem the way the Dutch do; and why a pastiche like Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog will not lead to a Ἱστολογίζει Θουκυδίδης blog or a Λουκιανοῦ Διαδικτυακτοὶ Διάλογοι blog. At least not by a Greek.

(I beg someone to prove me wrong.)

I was reminded of Ancient Greek Alive because the earliest little texts it puts to the student are nothing to do with Ancient Greece. They are translations of tales of Nasrudin. Nasrudin is a comic figure from the Sufi tradition, who has made it into the folklore of many Muslim countries and their neighbours. His humour is somewhat subversive, and delightfully absurdist.

One of the neighbouring peoples Nasrudin’s japes have gone across to are the Modern Greeks. He survives more in Cyprus than in Greece, but his humour has remained proverbial, in “the argument over the blanket” if nothing else—which has become a journalistic cliché. Nikos Pilavios’ Greek Fairy Tale blog (I vaguely remember watching his TV show when I was a kid) has 36 Nasrudin tales, and an article about his own discovery of Nasrudin. Not all the tales are authentic, but authenticity doesn’t mean that much with fairy tales. The journalistic cliché instance of a Nasrudin story, however, has been contributed there by a commenter:

Ενα βράδυ ο Ναστραντίν Χότζας κοιμόταν με την γυναίκα του. Ξαφνικά ξύπνησε από τις φωνές δύο ανθρώπων που καβγάδιζαν κάτω από το παράθυρό του. Σηκώθηκε, τυλίχτηκε στο πάπλωμα και κατέβηκε να δει τι συμβαίνει. Μόλις αυτοί τον είδαν, παράτησαν τον καβγά, άρπαξαν το πάπλωμα και έγιναν καπνός. Οταν η γυναίκα του τον ρώτησε γιατί καβγάδιζαν, της απάντησε: «Ο καβγάς ήταν για το πάπλωμα».
One evening Nastrandin Hodja was sleeping with his wife. Suddenly he woke to the shouting of two men arguing beneath his window. He got up, wrapped himself in his blanket, and went downstairs to see what was happening. As soon as they saw him, they quit arguing, grabbed the blanket and disappeared. When his wife asked him why they were arguing, he answered: “the argument was over the blanket”.

Have you noticed what’s happened to the name Nasrudin? It starts in Arabic as نصرالدين naṣr ad-dīn, “Victory of the Faith”, which is a Muslim proper name. In Turkish, it’s Nasreddin Hoca, Teacher Nasreddin. Greek now respectfully transliterates him as Νασρεντίν <Nasrentin>; but spoken Greek had no patience for /sr/ clusters, so traditionally he has been called Ναστραντίν Χότζας, <Nastrantín Chótzas>, with an epenthesis breaking up the /sr/.

I was reminded of Nastrantin, not because of the thread over at Sarantakos’, but because I came up against the name in a different context. I’ve been going through the Prosopographisches Lexikon der Paläologenzeit, the Who’s Who of Late Byzantium; and I’ve found that George Pachymeres mentioned a Nasreddin Mahmud, son of Muzaffer ed-din Yavlak Arslan, who died in the battle of Bapheus in 1302. Because written Greek had no patience for /sr/ clusters either, he is rendered as <Nastrátios>, with the same epenthesis:

Ἁλῆς γὰρ Ἀμούριος σὺν ἀδελφῷ Ναστρατίῳ τῷ παρὰ Ῥωμαίοις ἐπὶ χρόνοις ὁμηρεύσαντι, τοὺς περὶ τὴν Καστάμονα Πέρσας προσεταιρισάμενος, Ῥωμαίους κακῶς ἐποίει.
For Amurios Hales [“Amur” Ali Bey], with his brother Nastratios who had been a hostage with the Romans for years, joined the Persians [Turks] around Kastamon [Kastamonu], and did ill to the Romans. (p. 327 Bekker)

Hold on to that Hellenisation as <Nastratios>, we’ll come back to it. It gets worse in the Palaeologan Prosopography, btw. Ducas mentions a Χατζιαβάτης, Haci Aivat. Not the same person as the Hacivat of Turkish shadow puppetry, but certainly the same Hellenisation in its Greek counterpart.

What possessed Paula Saffire to insert a Sufi jokester into an Ancient Greek textbook? You can read all about it at her website. The notion of a Turkish jokester turning up in an Ancient Greek textbook is, I think you can safely surmise, a notion some Greeks are likely to have issues with: one more reason you won’t see Ancient Greek Alive taken up in Greece. More’s the pity.

So far, I’ve cited Nastrantin in Modern Greek, and a different Nastratios in Byzantine Greek, but I haven’t shown you how Saffire & Freis Greek Nasruddin in the textbook. Here’s his first appearance, p. 28:

ἄνθρωπός τις βούλεται πέμπειν ἐπιστολὴν ταῖς ἀδελφαῖς ταῖς ἐν τῇ Βάγδαδ. ἀλλὰ οὐκ ἐπίσταται γράφειν τὰ γράμματα. αἰτεῖ οὖν Νασρέδδινον τὸν Σοφὸν γράφειν τὴν ἐπιστολήν. ὁ δὲ Νασρέδδινος λέγει αὐτῷ· «ὦ φίλε, οὐκ ἐθέλω γράφειν τὴν ἐπιστολήν. οὐ γάρ ἐστί μοι σχολὴ πορεύεσθαι εἰς τὴν Βάγδαδ.»

ὁ δὲ ἄνθρωπος λέγει «ἀλλὰ οὐκ αἰτῶ σε πορεύεσθαι εἰς τὴν Βάγδαδ. αἰτῶ σε μόνον ἐπιστολὴν γράφειν ταῖς ἀδελφαῖς μου.»

«οἶδα» ἀποκρίνεται ὁ Σοφὸς· «ἀλλὰ ἡ γραφή μου κακή ἐστι καὶ ἀνάγκη ἂν εἴη μοι πορεύεσθαι εἰς τὴν Βάγδαδ καὶ ἀναγινώσκειν αὐταῖς τὴν ἐπιστολήν.»

A man wants to send a letter to his sisters in Baghdad. But he does not know how to write the letters. So he asks Nasreddinos the Sage to write the letter. But Nasreddinos says to him: “Friend, I do not want to write the letter. I don’t have enough time to go to Baghdad.

The man says, “but I’m not asking you to go to Baghdad. I’m only asking you write a letter to my sisters.”

“I know,” the Sage answers. “But my handwriting is bad, and I would have to go to Baghdad myself and read the letter out to them.”

You may have noticed some things wrong. No, they have not taught the aorist yet, so everything is in the present tense; that’s understandable, though it makes the story sound Pontic. (No, not Pontic as in the butt of Greek jokes, but as in the dialect that fails to make any aspect distinctions in the subjunctive.) I’m also not sure that’s how you’d use οἶδα. But no, there’s something wrong with the transliteration.

Not that they failed to use <Nastratios>: it would hardly be fair to ask that of them—although the fact that they, like contemporary Greeks, have patience for /sr/ clusters puts them at odds with what a Greek writer would actually have done.

But what sticks out, as many a Greek will tell you, is Βάγδαδ <Bágdad>. Greeks do not call Baghdad Bagdad /ˈvaɣðað/. They call it Βαγδάτη, <Bagdátē> /vaɣˈðati/. And they will become righteously indignant, as indeed I did when I bought the book. We met Iraqis centuries before the Beef-Eaters—and Theophanes Confessor called them Hērakîtai, Ἡρακῖται. Where do Saffire & Freis get off, ignoring what Greeks call Bagdad, and coming up with their own name? Don’t we matter? Don’t the Byzantines, who dealt with Bagdad, matter?

The sentiment has a certain sense behind it; to call Russians Ῥοῦσσοι instead of Ῥῶσσοι, as they do elsewhere (moving on to an anecdote about Napoleon) does seem a little disrespectful of Constantine Porphyrogenitus.

But I’ve already written a post on how Modern Greek Hellenisations are more antiquarian than Byzantine Hellenisations were. So how did those Byzantines actually call the city?

  • Theophanes Confessor (ix AD): Bágda
  • Apomasar (ix AD): Bagdân
  • Leo Choerosphactes (x AD): Bagdá
  • Constantine Porphyrogenitus (x AD): Bagdád
  • Theophanes Continued (x AD): Bagdá, Bagdád
  • Anna Comnena (xii AD): Bagdâ
  • John Scylitzes (xii AD): Bagdá
  • John Zonaras (xii AD): Bagdâ
  • Digenes Acrites (xiv AD): Bagdâ
  • Laonicus Chalcocondyles (xv AD): Pagdatíē, Pagdátin
  • Vernacular Astrological texts, Delatte: Codices Athenienses (? AD): Bagdádai, Pagdáti

The accentuation Βάγδαδ has never been correct: Saffire & Freis have carried across the Germanic stress position of English /ˈbæɡdæd/, whereas all but the first Greek transliteration reflect the stress of the Arabic بغداد‎ /baɣˈdaːd/.

But it turns out there is nothing Byzantine about the modern feminine form Βαγδάτη. The Byzantine forms are either variants of the feminine Βαγδά, the neuter Παγδάτι, or the quite indeclinable Βαγδάδ, with the hesitation between <b&gt /v/ and <p> /p/ typical of Late Byzantium. (Chalcocondyles’ Homeric rendering of “Bagdadia”, Παγδατίη, is the kind of affectation we’d expect of him.) I couldn’t find out from my quick-and-obvious search when Βαγδάτη was first used, but it doesn’t seem to be have been used by those who met Iraqis centuries before the Beef-Eaters.

Attempts to write Ancient Greek in Modern times, à la Neo-Latin, don’t have a convenient name, through which the Ancient Greek Wikipedia can be banned by the Wikipedia Language Committee (grumble stick-up-their-arses grumble as-if-anyone-uses-Low-Saxon-as-a-primary-language-of-communication grumble grumble). We can’t call them Neo-Greek, Neohellenic is what Modern Greek is called. Neo-Classical goes to Stravinsky—or Puristic. Neo-Attic is too specific, it leaves out the Astronautilia. Neo-Ancient?

Whatever it’s called, Neo-Ancient Greek when it happens is indebted to Puristic: the Ancient Greek Harry Potter doffs its hat to 19th century dictionaries (and shies away once Demotic turns up in the lexica). The Neo-Ancient Greek Asterix doesn’t doff its hat, admittedly. Then again, the Neo-Ancient Greek Asterix doesn’t have to: it was translated in Greece (ingeniously), and Puristic seeps in there through the soil.

(The linked post notes that Asterikios in Ancient Greek didn’t work well with Grade 7 students, who still struggled with the language—but that it did work when accompanied by the Modern Greek text in parallel. While we’re on the subject: two interviews with the translator of Asterix into Ancient Greek, Fanis Kakridis: #1, #2.)

Saffire & Freis did not doff their hat to Puristic either, in telling tales of Napoleon or Nasrudin—even through they drafted the textbook on a beach in Crete. (Maybe Puristic doesn’t seep through sand.) So their Russians are Ῥοῦσσοι instead of Ῥῶσσοι, because of English Russian, and their Nasrudin is Νασρέδδινος because of Turkish Nasreddin, not Modern Ναστραντίν. (It would have been unreasonable, I admit, to demand of them Mediaeval Ναστράτιος.)

In not writing Βαγδάτη, though, it wasn’t the Byzantines they didn’t doff their hat to, it was Puristic, and by extension Modern Greek. But of course, when Harry Potter uses Puristic words, it isn’t because of love of Coray and Papadiamantis. It’s because that’s where he’s going to get a word for train more compatible with Ancient Greek than the contemporary τρένο. Saffire & Freis had no such compulsion with Modern names.

The failure to epenthesise <Nasréddinos>, I’d still say, is a lack of sensitivity to Ancient Greek as a spoken language, which is ironic given how oral their textbook is. But the extremely unpleasant truth is, an American textbook of Ancient Greek owes Modern Greek speakers even less than it does to Constantine Porphyrogenitus. It doesn’t owe them Βαγδάτη just as it doesn’t owe them iotacism.

Still, if it owes the Hērakîtai anything, it’s not Βάγδαδ. Like Constantine Porphyrogenitus said: it’s Βαγδάδ.

P.S. Saffire has made the mistake of saying on her website: “Surely these are the only Sufi stories in ancient Greek!”

Them’s fighting words:

ἀφικόντος γείτονος ἐπὶ τῆς πύλης Ναστρατίου τοῦ ἱερέως, ἐξέρχεται ὁ ἱερεύς ὑπαντῆσαι αὐτόν.
«δός μοι, ἱερεῦ, τὸν σὸν ὄνον σήμερον», αἰτεῖ ὁ γείτων. «ἔχω γὰρ ἀγαθά φορτία τινα μετακομῆσαι εἰς τὴν ἄλλην πόλιν.»
ὁ μὲν Ναστράτιος οὐ βούλεται δοῦναι τὸ κτῆνος οὕτῳ τούτῳ· ἵνα δὲ μὴ ἄξεστος φανῇ, ἀποκρίνεται·
«σύγγνωθι, ἀλλ’ ἤδη δέδωκα τὸν ὄνον ἑτέρῳ.»
αἴφνης ἀκούεται ὁ ὄνος ὀπίσω τοῦ τείχους τῆς αὐλῆς ὀγκώμενος.
«ἐψεύσθσης μήν μοι ἱερεῦ!» φωνεῖ γείτων. «ἤν, ὀπίσω τοῦ τείχους!»
«ποῦ δαὶ τοῦτά φῃς;» ἀποκρίνεται ὁ ἱερεύς βριμώμενος. «τίνα δὴ μᾶλλον πιστεύσεις, ὄνον ἢ τὸν σὸν ἱερέα;»

A neighbour comes to the gate of Mulla Nasrudin’s yard. The Mulla goes out to meet him outside.
“Would you mind, Mulla,” the neighbour asks, “lending me your donkey today? I have some goods to transport to the next town.”
The Mulla doesn’t feel inclined to lend out the animal to that particular man, however; so, not to seem rude, he answers:
“I’m sorry, but I’ve already lent him to somebody else.”
Suddenly the donkey can be heard braying loudly behind the wall of the yard.
“You lied to me, Mulla!” the neighbour exclaims. “There it is behind that wall!”
“What do you mean?” the Mulla replies indignantly. “Whom would you rather believe, a donkey or your Mulla?” (via Wikipedia)

I welcome chastisement of my Neo-Ancient Greek in comments. Well, chastisement within reason…

[EDIT: I got better than chastisement from William Annis; I got an improvement. In iambics after Babrius. I’d pardon his violation of Porson’s Law, but my command of Ancient Greek is so lacking—let alone metrics—that I cannot but reverently cede the floor to him:]

γείτων τις αὐλῆς ἦλθε Ναστρατίου πύλην,
ὁ δ’ ἐκτὸς ἦλθεν ἀσπάσασθαι γείτονα.
“βούλοι’ ἂν, ἱερεῦ,” δεόμενος ἔφη γείτων,
“τῇδ’ ἡμέρᾳ μοι τὸν ὄνον ἐνδοῦναι τὸν σόν;
εἰς γὰρ πόλιν πρόσοικον ἐμπολὰς οἴσω.”
ἀλλ’ οὔτ’ ὄνον βουλόμενος ἐνδοῦναι κείνῳ,
οὔτ’ εἰκέναι γ’ ἄγροικος, ἠμείφθη λέγων,
“σύγγνοιαν ἴσχ’, ὦ γεῖτον, ἄλλῳ γὰρ πόρον.”
τείχους δ’ ὄπισθ’ ἔκλαγξεν ὄνος εὐθὺς μέγα.
“ἔψευδες ἄρα μοι,” φὰς ἐβόησεν γείτων,
“ὧδε γὰρ ὄνος πάρεστι!” ἱερεὺς δ’ ἤχθετο·
“πῶς οὖν λέγεις,” ἔλεξε, “τίνι δῆτα πείθου;”

Who first coined the term “diglossia”?

By: | Post date: 2009-09-30 | Comments: 7 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: ,

Contra the Common Wisdom of the West which I repeated at the start of last post, “diglossia” was not first used by Psichari. It’s plausible if he did, given how thorough his critique of contemporary Greek diglossia was; but Psichari wasn’t the only person critiquing Greek diglossia.

The first person to use “diglossia” to refer to the phenomenon was Emmanuel Roidis in 1885, as recorded in his Parerga, a collection of his recent newspaper articles (Roidis, Emmanuel. 1885. Πάρεργα. Ed. Stamatopoulos, Dimitrios I. Athens: Ανδρέας Κορομηλάς. p. xvii). I’m grateful to Tasos Kaplanis who corrected the Common Wisdom of the West in a comment last post, and who scanned in the page in question (from a newer edition). As he notes, Psichari used the term in French the following year in his voluminous Essais de grammaire historique néo-grecque, citing Roidis. And that popularised the concept in the West.

The popularisation took some time though. The next early mention Ferguson cites, in his 1959 paper defining diglossia, was William Marçais in 1930, and the usage he cites from Psichari was in 1928. That’s why the Common Wisdom of the West assumed Psichari coined the term: it’s the earliest reference in Ferguson 1959. Psichari was certainly involved in generalising the term beyond Greek, as this paper trail shows. And Pernot, who readers of this blog know I’m a fan of, was involved as well.

Long quote, but there is a long-standing misapprehension to correct, and a Westerner has corrected the Common Wisdom of the West before.

It would seen that the oldest attestation of diglossia, or rather “diglossie”, with the linguistic connotations it currently carries, is to be found in “Essais de grammaire historique néo-grecque” published in 1885 by the French hellenist J. Psichari. Psichari used this term to describe the Greek linguistic situation characterized by the coexistence of katharévousa and démotiki (Prudent, 1981). It also seems that Psichari was the first to extend the use of the term diglossie to refer to the coexistence of two varieties of Arabic, the “spoken” and the “written” ones, and this in an article written in 1928 (id.)

(Naccach, Albert F.H. On Some Implications of the Tadmuraean Aramaic/Arabic Diglossia. Proceedings of the International Conference “Palmyra and the Silk Road”, Palmyra, April 1992. p.2.)

Merci infiniment, French government, for putting Prudent’s paper online. This tells most of the story you need to know, though not the initial bit with Roidis:

If we are to believe Jardel & Valdman (1979), the term diglossia should be attributed to the Greek Hellenist Jean Psichari, who had popularised it in an article in Mercure de France in 1928. Tracking that reference (laconically mentioned by Ferguson in 1959), we go back to 1885, the date when the same Psichari published his Essais de grammaire historique néo-grecque, in which he says that he has taken the word diglossia from a certain Mr Roidis, who had published an article in the newspaper Acropolis a few months before. In dealing with the question of the evolution of Modern Greek, and the difficulty of reconstructing certain stages of the language, Psichari mentions twice (in 633 pages!) the “strange diglossia Greece is suffering from” [étrange diglossie dont souffre la Grèce].

It was left to Psichari’s student Hubert Pernot to give the first consistent definition of the term. In his Grammarire grecque moderne of 1897, he dedicates his entire introduction to explaining the sociolinguistic situation prevalent in the country of Homer. Reprising the political and linguistic history of Greece, Pernot explains how this “strange diglossia” came about: on the one hand a “scholastic, scholarly or purist” language (Katharevousa), a primarily written language, but also spoken in official ceremonies and “some very infequent pedants”. On the other hand the current or vulgar Greek (Demotic or Romaic), which is not taught at all, but is the only language in true use.

Twenty years later, Pernot refined his argument in the preface of his Grammaire du grec (langue officielle), which he authored with Camille Polack (1918):

“Diglossia”, or the duality of languages, is the main hurdle not only for foreigners learning Modern Greek, but also for Greeks, from their primary education.

[Goes on about children having to learn “a double lexical and grammatical system, doubtless related, but clearly distinct, and few of whose elements are interchangeable.” Pernot acknowledged debt to Psichari]

Psichari’s article in the 1928 Mercure de France went to a different audience than Pernot’s preface and introduction. […] Finally, because he extended diglossia to other Mediterranean domains, fixing its Asiatic origin and speculating on the future of such linguistic duality.

[…] Diglossia does not consist solely of using a double vocabulary […] Diglossia relates to the entire grammatical system. There are two ways of declining, two ways of conjugating, two ways of pronouncing; in a word, there are two languages, the spoken and the written, like one would say of Vulgar and Literary Arabic.

[Psichari’s racism, “it’s all the Asiatics’ fault”]

Beyond the antagonism of systems and groups which he describes humorously [NN: Yup, that’s Psichari alright], our innovator is concerned to relativise the declarations of traditional philology (“Descartes’ French is gibberish compared to Old French. You could say the same about 1928 French compared to 1830 French”, p. 78), in order to explain the notion of transitional language states and constant change. He also touches on the thorny problem of “mixed languages”, which he integrates like Dauzat into the ordinary dynamics of language change. Finally we note a solid reflection on the literary problem of diglossia, with reference to Italian, Provençal, French and other societies.

[Then William Marçais uses the word “diglossia” in 1930 about Arabic, with no mention of Roidis, Psichari or Pernot, and with no italics or scare quotes]

(Prudent, L.-F., 1981. Diglossie et interlecte. Languages, vol. 61, pp. 13-38. Here pp. 15-16)

So, Roidis, then Psichari in passing, then Pernot more formally, then Psichari explicitly to a general audience and including Arabic, then Marçais applying it to Arabic, then Ferguson.

There are some catches in giving priority to Roidis though. First, Roidis was not the first to coin the word διγλωσσία “two-tongued-ness” at all; that honour belongs (as far as I can tell) to the Didache, a 1st Century Christian text (also cited in the Epistle of Barnabas). Not that the Didache is talking about diglossia or bilingualism. It’s speaking about talking in forked tongues; the BDAG definition of the word is “doubleness of speech that conceals true intentions by deceitful words, duplicity, insincerity”:

Οὐκ ἔσῃ διγνώμων οὐδὲ δίγλωσσος· παγὶς γὰρ θανάτου ἡ διγλωσσία.
You shall not be double-minded nor double-tongued [diglossos], for to be double-tongued [diglossia] is a snare of death. (Didache 2:4)

(If the diglossia wars were still raging in Greece, someone could have taken this up as a motto…)

Trapp’s Byzantine dictonary also records it as used by the Abbot Isaias (no, I don’t know either), and in the Opuscula of Eustathius of Thessalonica (as διγλωττία), in the same meaning.

So as often happened in 19th Century Greek, a term that was coined some time in Hellenistic Greek was re-coined later on, which a somewhat different meaning. Like καπνιστήριο “smoke place”, which meant a steam bath a couple of millennia before it meant a smoking room. (And of course that doesn’t prove as much continuity of the Greek language as some would claim, which is why the bold etymologist does not say “καπνιστήριο, From Hellenistic καπνιστήριον” but “καπνιστήριο, Calque of French salon de fumer; cf. Hellenistic καπνιστήριον.”) The Didache was first published in 1883, so Roidis may have come across it and reused the term.

But he needn’t have. In Modern Greek, διγλωσσία “two-language-ness” is the obvious way of saying “bilingualism”, so the word would have been easily reinvented to mean that. That’s “bilingualism”, as in the state of an individual using two languages, rather than a society stratifying them. Diglossias require bilingualism to work, but they’re not the same thing. (As you can imagine, this ambiguity has led to some confusion in Greek linguistics, and occasional differentiation between “personal διγλωσσία” and “societal διγλωσσία”.)

Now, Roidis is describing diglossia alright, as you’ll see; but his first use of the term διγλωσσία still arguably means “bilingualism”, as what individuals do rather than what a society does. It’s a diglossia-conditioned bilingualism, to be sure, but it’s not the way we now use “diglossia”. Roidis’ second use of the term on the same page *does* refer to what a society does; but he’s arguing that Demotic was not yielding to Puristic, and remained a separate language. The way that has happened is diglossia, and what he has just described is diglossia; but the term in that context means just “bilinguality, the existence of two discrete languages.” In fact, that’s how Pernot defined diglossia as well.

I suspect that in leaving the word untranslated as diglossie, Psichari was helping along its reinterpretation from an individual to a societal phenomenon: it was not mere bilingualisme. In fact, that nuance was presumably why he left it untranslated. The concept is there in Roidis, but the reanalysis to an explicitly social phenomenon is probably Psichari’s (“the strange diglossia of Greece”, not “of Greeks”), and more so his student Pernot’s.

Judge for yourselves though. Roidis has as mordant a tongue as Psichari did—though he was still writing in Puristic, as everyone had to in Athens in 1885, so the tenor is different. (There’s a simple reason Psichari was bold enough to write prose in Demotic, as has long been noted: he did not live in Greece.)

Some people regurgitate ad nauseam the notion that the spoken language is “progressing along with” the written language—that is, it is being archaised; and they bring up as evidence parliamentarians, public prosecutors, lawyers and preachers who speak in monologue. These people would be much more convincing, if they were kind enough to inform us what language those orators speak when they make merry with friends, when they endure the pains of surgery, when they scold a child breaking a glass, when they farewell an expiring relative, when they are trod on the street by a careless pedestrian, when they kneel before a woman or when they babble in a dream. This is not at all a matter of one language for the common people and another language for scholars. This is [diglossia] bilingualism in the same people, who have a living language through which they express all their sentiments and passions—but who are condemned to use another language in writing or speechifying, a language in which it is quite impossible to express any sentiment and any passion.

Whatever viewpoint one examines the issue under, one always ends up with [diglossia] bilinguality. Those unwilling to admit that the written language is different from the spoken must nonetheless accept the split into a language of monologue and a language of dialogue, a language of emotion and a language of passionlessness [ataraxia], each having its own lexicon and a rather different grammar. According to Shakespeare it is evidence of strong emotion if one forgets to put on his tie and breeches; but to judge the psychological state of the modern-day Greek, a more certain indication is whether they use or omit reduplication.

Οἱ κατακόρως ἀναμασσῶντες ὄτι συμπροοδεύει, ἤτοι ἐξαρχαΐζεται, μετὰ τῆς γραπτῆς, καὶ ἡ λαλουμένη, καὶ ὡς παράδειγμα φέροντες βουλευτάς, εἰσαγγελεῖς, δικηγόρους καὶ ἱεροκύρηκας μονολογοῦντας, ἤθελον εἶναι πολὺ πειστικώτεροι, ἂν ηὐδόκουν νὰ πληροφορήσωσιν ἡμᾶς τίνα οἱ ρήτορες οὗτοι λαλοῦσι γλῶσσαν συνευθυμοῦντες μετὰ φίλων, ὑπομένοντες τοὺς πόνους χειρουργικῆς ἐγχειρήσεως, ἐπιπλήττοντες παῖδα θραύσαντα ποτήριον, ἀποχαιρετῶντες ἐκπνέοντα συγγενῆ, πατοῦμενοι καθ’ ὁδὸν ὑπὸ ἀπροσέκτου διαβάτου, γονατίζοντες ἐνώπιον γυναικὸς ἢ παραληροῦντες ἐν νείρῳ. Οὐδόλως ἐνταῦθα πρόκειται περὶ γλώσσης τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ γλώσσης τῶν λογίων, ἀλλᾶ περὶ διγλωσσίας τῶν αὐτῶν ἀνθρώπων, τῶν ἐχόντων γλώσσαν ζωντανήν, δι’ ἧς ἐκφράζουσι πάντα αὐτῶν τὰ αἰσθήματα καὶ τὰ πάθη, καὶ καταδικαζομένων νὰ μεταχειρίζωνται γράφοντες ἢ ἀγορεύοντες ἄλλην τινά, δι’ ἧς εἶναι ἀπολύτως ἀδύνατος ἡ ἔκφρασις παντὸς αἰσθήματος καὶ παντὸς πάθους.

Ὑφ’ οἱανδήποτε καὶ ἂν ἐξετάσῃ τις τὸ ζήτημα ἔποψιν, πάντοτε εἰς τὴν διγλωσσίαν καταντᾷ. Οἱ μὴ θέλοντες νὰ ὁμολογήσωσιν ὅτι ἄλλη εἶναι ἡ γραφομένη καὶ ἄλλη ἡ ὁμιλουμένη, πρέπει ἐξ ἅπαντος νὰ παραδεχθῶσι τὴν διχοτόμησιν εἰς γλῶσσαν μονολόγου και γλῶσσαν διαλόγου, εἰς γλῶσσαν συγκινήσεως καὶ γλῶσσαν ἀταραξίας, ἐχούσας ἰδιαίτερον ἑκάστη λεξικὸν καὶ ἔτι μᾶλλον διαφέρουσαν γραμματικήν. Κατὰ τὸν Σαιξπεῖρον τεκμήριον σφοδρᾶς συγκινήσεως εἶναι τὸ νὰ λησμονῇ τις ἐνδυόμενος τὸν λαιμοδέτην αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰς περικνημίδας· πρὸς ἐκτίμησιν ὅμως τῆς ψυχικῆς καταστάσεως τοῦ σήμερον Ἕλληνος φαίνεται πολὺ ἀσφαλέστερον γνώρισμα ἡ χρῆσις ἢ παράλειψις τοῦ ἀναδιπλασιασμοῦ.

(Some nice syntax there: “Under whichever i may examine j someone the issue j viewpoint i“, “if they had good will that they should inform us which i the orators j these j do speak language i“. Well, old hat if you’re a Classicist, but that’s the point: we don’t speak in Classical syntax. Or German syntax, which Puristic was as indebted to.)

So, assembled wisdom of the internets and loyal readership: how shall we fix the Wikipedia citation for “diglossia”? Who coined the word diglossia as we now understand it—Roidis, Psichari, Pernot, or Ferguson?

Greek diglossia and how it isn’t

By: | Post date: 2009-09-28 | Comments: 30 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: ,

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…

Maronite Arabic in Cyprus

By: | Post date: 2009-09-24 | Comments: 6 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek, Other Languages
Tags: ,

Cyprus, though quirks of history, has been more sanguine about linguistic diversity than Greece has been. I remember my Cypriot father’s shrugged “yeah, there were some Armenians too, and a village of Maronites“, vs my Cretan mother’s astonished retelling of her first encounter with her sister’s new (Arvanite) in-laws: “And all of a sudden… they started speaking another language!”

I’d like to think (though I have no reason to) that this sanguine attitude is helped by how far the local variants in Cyprus have diverged from the metropoles, precisely because Cyprus is so far away. You’d be hard to put to say that the basilect of Cypriot Greek is mutually intelligible with Standard Greek. Cypriot Turkish (or as some would have it, Gibrizlija) has also travelled far from Standard Turkish, and there is apparent typological convergence between the two. The Classicists here will know that Cyprus was a late holdout for the pre-Hellenic Eteocypriot, and for the most archaic dialect of Greek around after that.

H/t Language Hat, for his note of Bulbul Lameem Souag @ Jabal al-Lughat’s posting on the Maronite Arabic spoken in Cyprus (see also Wikipedia). With a link to a teacher’s site to help preserve the language (with a level of Government support that, through reasons of quirks of history, is unthinkable in Greece.)

The cute thing about the posting is the remark by Bulbul that (not unlike Greek and, I suspect, Turkish) this Cypriot variant is the most deviant form of Arabic he has ever heard:

My scale (1-10, lowest to highest intelligibility): if Levantine Arabic is 10 and Moroccan Arabic is 8, Chadic is 6, Nigerian is 5. Cypriot Arabic is 2. It’s pretty difficult to even read, perhaps on par with the basilect of some English-based creoles.

He goes on to note that “Consequently, Borg postulates a sort-of Syrian-Anatolian koine as the direct ancestor of CMA. … Contrary to popular opinion, CMA doesn’t really show any particular affinity with Lebanese dialects of Arabic, but shows evidence of Aramaic adstratum or even substratum.”

I’m afraid I can’t say much intelligent about this, but I pass it on. There must be something in the water in that island…

Kozani: a stab at etymology

By: | Post date: 2009-09-22 | Comments: 18 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: , ,

Language Hat asks in comments to the previous post about the Wikipedia etymologies of Kozani:

According to prevailing opinion, the name comes from the village of Epirus Kósdiani, the origin of settlers of Kozani in 1392. The settlement was first named Kózdiani, which then, it was changed into Kóziani, and in the end into Kozáni.[2]

The name “Kozani” probably may also derive from the South Slavic kožani < koža ‘skin (goatskin)’.[3] The name of the city in South Slavic languages is Кожани (Kožani).

Am I wrong in thinking the Slavic etymology makes much more sense than the first one, with its strained reshapings? (We won’t even get into what “probably may also” is supposed to mean.)

As often happens in Wikipedia, it’s two opinions barely reconciled together on the same page. Now, Googling is no surrogate for actually knowing Slavonic (or Albanian), but let’s see how I can help. (Damn you, Language Hat, I was supposed to be doing my taxes!)

The “Hellenic” etymology is sourced from the website of the city of Kozani, which as you’d expect wouldn’t be eager to point to the parallel with that language. (Kozani prefecture turns out to be the furthest spread south of Slavonic in Modern times, with Greek and Slavonic villages mixed.)

[Non-Greeks will notice that I speak vaguely of Slavonic, when we all know *which* Slavonic language I’m talking about. But I’m not feeling like getting into needless argy-bargy with those of my readers who don’t want to call it “Macedonian”; and since I’m talking about 1400 and not 1950, I may just get away with it…]

The thing is, Kozdiani may not look like Кожани, but it doesn’t look particularly Hellenic either. Is there any way Kozdiani could originate from the same Slavonic form as Kožani? Although given it’s Epirus (Northern Epirus, as it turns out), and given the names of the other villages cited below, Albanian is more promising as an etymology.

This is what the Kozani city website has to say:

In 1392 colonists from Premeti, Bithikukio, and Kozdiani of Epirus {Përmet and Vithkuq, Albania}, fled chased away by Muslim Albanians to the region north of Selitsa {Selitsa, now Eratyra, Greece}, which is to this day called Old Kozdiani, and subsequently migrated eastwards, encountering the Christian settlement of Kalyvia. {The quite Hellenically named “Huts”; I’ve found one near Konitsa, on the Greek side of the border.}

The inhabitants of Kalyvia did not reject them, but they obliged them to build their houses further east. The new inhabitants called the region Tzamouria {i.e. Çamëria), preserving the name of their old region.

Nowadays the region is called Tzambra. {[dzamurˈja] > [dzamˈrja] by high unstressed vowel deletion > [dzamˈbra] > [ˈdzambra]}. They called the rocky hill over Tzambra Skrika or Skirka (Sk’rka), which means a rocky elevation.

Though there are different opinions of where the city name came from, the dominant opinion is that these colonists from Epirus called the new settlement Kósdiani, which then became Kóziani, and later scholars [i.e. in Puristic Greek] transformed it to Kozáni.

A few years later families from Servia {town in Greece} and Drepano move to Kosdiani, augmenting it.

From another site: “People speculate that the name Kozani is due to either the place of origin of its first inhabitants, Kosdiani or Kostiani in Epirus, or their main occupation of tanning: “coza” in Epirot means goatskin.” Tellingly, coza is given in Latin script, which you’d be unlikely to do if “Epirot” here meant “the Greek dialect of Epirus”.

The account derives from a 1924 history of Kozani, cited at this blog:

The name of the folklore group (Kóziani), stressed on the antepenult, shows a hardy genuineness, like the hulls of Sk’rka (Slavic: rocky protuberance; Albanian: hill). And given the opportunity: the definitive interpretation of the name of the city is stilll under research. I’m opening up the History of Kozani by P. Lioufis, Athens 1924.

  • The first inhabitants of the region one day saw … a she-goat running through the trees, and called the village Kózani or Kóziani; for kóza means a she-goat, and kózia a skin in “Bulgarian”.
  • Above the town of Selitsa (Eratyra) there is a region in its mountains called Kóziani, or rather Old Kóziani, where those pursued from Northern Epirus first settled, from the villages there of Kosdiani and Bithikukion. (The latter exists to this day.) Then they came to the region of Paliospita where the Kasmirtzidis Society have their establishment, as do many other settlers in the area, genuine or not.
  • The Turks called the town Kózana, from Koz (“walnut”, or Kákhta in pure Kozani dialect) and Ana “mother”, for the multitude of walnuts there.

And here’s a map of Përmet, Vithkuq, Kalyvia, Selitsa (now Eratyra, near Askion), Kozani, and Servia:

View Kozani in a larger map
At least one site says that the original Kozdiani was destroyed, which is consistent with Lioufis’ wording

So what do we make of all this?

  • The Turkish is a folk etymology, and nothing wrong with that.
  • Kozáni may be named for Kózdiani, but it’s quite possible that both are named for the Slavonic for “goat”; Lioufis certainly assumed so.
  • Kózdiani is in Northern Epirus, i.e. modern Southern Albania; Albanian and Slavonic are both possibilities for etymology, and Albanian and Slavonic would both have been trading words anyway (as appears to be the case with “Sk’rka”)
  • Tzamouria i.e. Çamëria is the name of Southern Albania, although we don’t know from this whether we actually have a record of the area around Kozani being called that at the time—which would confirm migration from Southern Albania—or whether this was Lioufis’ etymology of modern Tzambra. All of the Tzamouriá > Tzámbra etymology is plausible, except for the stress shift.
  • I’d like to know more about Lioufis’s sources, because the Greek Wikipedia article then adds that the first written reference to Kozani is in a firman of 1528.
  • I think 1392 is a little early for religious conflict in the Western Balkans—the reference is to τουρκαλβανοί, Muslim Albanians not τούρκοι. But I could be wrong. *shrug*
  • “The inhabitants to Kalyvia did not reject them, but” they kicked them out anyway.
  • I’m not at all convinced that the stress shift of Kóziani to Kozáni is a learnèd thing. Sure Kóziani violates ancient accentutation (because Κόζιανη looks like being stressed four syllables from the end—until you realise it’s [], but Ancient Greek did not have ι as [j]). But I’d have expected a learned form to go with Kozíanon, rather than preserve the feminine gender. And as Don Hat correctly noted, phonologically the shift from Kósdiani to Kozáni does seem a little forced.
  • So the derivation of Kozáni from Kósdiani has problems. But as it turns out, both Kozáni and Kósdiani seem to have a Slavonic origin anyway, so it’s a distinction that doesn’t matter.

So, that’s what googling tells me. If anyone actually knows any Albanian, Macedonian [there, I said it], or Greek dialect and can contribute, you’ll be doing the world a favour. Particularly if they can explain the accentuation of Kozáni.

Linguashmucks: Motorcycle Boy 1, Purity of Greek 0

By: | Post date: 2009-09-22 | Comments: 14 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: , ,

Enough teasing: at last, here is the translation of Motorcycle Boy’s post “Linguashmucks” (Οι Γλωσσοκόπανοι).

To lead in: my friend Diana, of the blog Surprised By Time (bringing the Mediaeval Peloponnese to life) forwarded me a link, and suggested I blog about it. The link was to an article in the Athens press (here in its Englished version), on a research project about high school students’ use of SMS spellings in their written work. It’s a phenomenon happening throughout the Western World, as the mode of literacy is changing. No shortage of instances in English: here’s a random instance from Zambia. And throughout the world, people make their woebegone conclusions about how it signals the End of Western Civilisation.

But in Greece, mobile phones were late to take up Greek characters; and SMS and Chat are still often the domain of ad hoc transliteration of Greek into ASCII, Greeklish—which had previously flourished in the 1990s, as Greek script was hard to get online at all. So SMS Greek intruding into schoolchildren’s assignments is even more ideologically loaded in Greece than elsewhere. And the attendant rhetoric on the End of Western Civilisation is even more unbalanced.

The Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos’ blog had noticed the rhetoric too; and derided it in a post called Τα γκρίκλις φταίνε (και) για την Άλωση!: “Greeklish is to blame for the Fall of Constantinople, too!” (The link is the Byzantine manuscript use of abbreviations, not a million miles away from SMS.) In the ever-informative discussion threads that Team Fortier manage there, someone linked to a discussion board where one of the original researchers had posted. And who’da thunk it: the researchers did not say the things the Athens press said they did. Journalists distorting scholarly research: you heard it here first, folks.

Because Nikos Sarantakos had covered the topic, and because SMS spelling panic is a commonplace thing in the world, I begged off posting. But in far-off Ulaan Bataar, a motorcyclist also noticed the rhetoric around the research project…

… so a week later, Nikos put a miscellanea posting up, including this:

Χάρηκα επίσης το άρθρο “Γλωσσοκόπανοι” στο ιστολόγιο Λευκός Θόρυβος και, γιατί να το κρύψω, το ζήλεψα λιγάκι.
I also enjoyed the posting “Linguashmucks” at the blog White Noise; and why hide it, I was somewhat envious of it.

Me too. Enough that I thought I should share in English. The posting is hilarious, and apposite in its righteous fury.

I’m inclined to quibble with some of its points, and I hope we can have a discussion through it here; but I don’t want to detract from any of its awesomeness. Except for the dig at Esperanto, but that’s something that’s worth talking through too: Esperanto is not dead, but how does it live?

And the answer is not denaskismo, the notion that Esperanto is only a real language if it has native speakers. That’s offensive to the overwhelming majority of Esperantists who aren’t; in fact, the link randomly googled above is the first instance I’ve found of a native speaker of Esperanto who’s stuck around—most of them (George Soros is only the most famous) want nothing to do with Esperanto.

And we could also bring up, as imposed dead languages “from above”, Classical Arabic and Hebrew; but it’s not clear how imposed they are, and how dead they are. The more interesting thing to consider, I think, is, could Puristic Greek have ever succeeded in displacing Demotic completely, or in maintaining its diglossia like Classical Arabic has—and if not, what was its fatal flaw? I have my suspicions, but I think they can wait for a future post. For now, I defer to the gentleman on the bike from Mongolia…

[I’ll try not to annotate, but the reference to “Kostopoulos’ publications” are contemporary “lifestyle” magazines (starting with recently revived Klik), who wear their fashionableness on their sleeve by frequent codeswitching to English. The Fat Man is the current prime minister.]

I was reading this someplace the other day: there was a survey done, apparently, by the Department for Kindergarten Teachers of the University of Western Macedonia, on High School students in Kozani. It showed that many of them write in Greeklish even in their school assignments. Comments on the results followed closely by various concerned citizens, worried about the extinction of Greek spelling and the consequences for the Greek language. I had a good laugh; that happens to me every time the results of some research undergo analysis by the clueless.

Now, if you don’t get the joke, pull up a seat, and let me remind you of a thing or two about the Immortal Greek Tongue. Who knows, we might have a laugh together.

So, we here in this country of stones have been cursed, to have had some utter loafers live here before us. These loafers didn’t know what else to do with their time, so they sat around and came up with philosophies. And any number of related sciences, too. As if it wasn’t bad enough that they came up with those philosophies, the bastards went and left behind some written texts—just so they could torment their descendants with them. These written texts were later taken up by Civilised Humanity, to their great admiration. (Insert exclamation point here.) Of course, Civilised Humanity then burnt most of those texts, in case they fell into the hands of unsuspecting serfs and gave them any curious notions. The ancient texts that weren’t burned were copied by pious monks, with the appropriate level of care to ensure there were no deviations from Christian morality. (And if there were any, then so much the worse for the deviations.) This bunch of stuff more or less passed on to Modern Greece as “Ancient Greek Literature”. And they turned our brains to chicken wire with it in High School, because it was compulsory to teach it to us from the original. (Original my ass.)

At any rate, There’s two things you should keep from this story:

  1. The pathological relationship of Greek citizens with the Ancient texts: texts they flipped off in school, and flip out on in middle age.
  2. The hysterical idealisation of the Ancient Greek language, because many of its words are used in modern Western science.

As the years went by, the Ancients died: wise they may have been, but they were not immortal. Then some Roman overlords came over to this country of stones, and the locals rushed to suck up to them. So much so, they even declared the Romans to be Continuators of Hellenic Antiquity, and they worship the Two-Headed Eagle to his day, considering it to be “Greek heritage”! Don’t talk to me about the European Union and all that crap: the Greeks had already worked that all out from the time of the Byzantine Empire! Lord have mercy, that’s how far ahead we were as a people!

As you know, then came the Turks, who we civilised as we do, even though we were their subjects. We would have accepted them too as Continuators of Ancient Greece (like we did the Byzantines), if the Europeans hadn’t poked their noses in, and set us straight. (Acting out of pure altruism, and motivated by their admiration for Ancient Greece. Of course.)

In a word, the spoken language of Greek territory has been through a myriad changes, like any living language in the world has. And when the Greek State was established, it ended up looking like a mutant puppy with two heads. Why so? Because, presumably in an attempt to efface the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Greek citizenry of the time, some people decided that “we don’t give a shit what you speak among yourselves, but the language of the country shall be ONE, and DIFFERENT.” A language also known as Puristic. In which some foreign-trained intellectuals (also known as “scissor-arses”) created a language which had NOT PREVIOUSLY EXISTED. And they imposed it. In school, in church, in public discourse and the public domain, as a language to impress on people and to oppress them with. Something even worse than Papa Stalin: he might have forbidden local languages, but at least he was replacing them with a LIVING language.

We know that dead languages are maintained exclusively in museum exhibits, and we know that languages created “from above” have never been alive (see the failed experiment of Esperanto). That’s why Puristic disappeared, leaving behind it some pensioner teachers, some uneducated politicians who keep using phrases like εις την παράταξή μας “in our side of politics” (the correct grammar is εις την παράταξίν μας), and some journalists with a bogus sense of decorum, admiring themselves for saying κατά παρέκκλιση “as a deviation”. You know what I’m talking about.

But it remains true that Modern Greece has never acquired a uniform language. Nor did it get uniform spelling, syntax, or anything of the sort. We transitioned from “wooden” Puristic to “Demotic Enhanced”, then we ended up with “Plain Demotic”, but we’re still trying to work out if you spell “train” as τρένο or τραίνο.

And while:

  • Greek teachers presume to do a linguist’s job, imposing arbitrary grammatical rules;
  • authors write however the mood takes them, either using local dialect, or following the vernacular of their suburb, or even inventing a language of their own;
  • the State communicates in a farrago of Demoticising Puristic;
  • the Church stays faithful to Old School Puristic—

the citizens of the country speak their own language. Which makes sense, right?

Language (any language) is, first and foremost, an instrument used to achieve communication (so the sender of a message understands the same thing as its receiver). At the next level, language is a semotic object of study, and its analysis a scientific undertaking. Why do we use the second person plural when we’re trying to be polite? Why do we use the word εξουσία [lit. “being out, being allowed”] where English power, or αυθεντία [lit. “being-in-oneself”] to describe what others call authority? And many other interesting questions like that, ranging from the classification of the vowels in a word, to accentuation, intonation, and so on.

Now, set aside the scientific side of the issue, and let’s look at the practical side. The practical side tells us that people choose to use the most descriptive, and lexically most economical utterance, to make themselves understood in daily life. When daily life is transfigured into artistic creation, what is lexically most economical is displaced by what is poetically apposite. So the two following cases are equally possible:

Case A:

Jimbo: Chief, gi’s a number eight, would ya?
Chief: Yer arms fallen awf, ‘ave they?
Jimbo: Aw, carn boss, I’m arse-deep in the chassis here!

Case B:

Jim, the wastrel, emerged from beneath the disentrailed car soaking with sweat.
“Could you give me a French key number eight?” he begged the workshop boss.
The Boss scratched himself languidly, turned another page in the sports section, and did not even deign to look at his tortured employee.
“You can good and fetch it yourself: I’m not your servant!” he spat.
Jim, the wastrel, sighed, feeling the full weight of the car pressing on him. It would be no use to remind the Boss of the awkwardness of his position: no Boss has ever understood the awkward position of their employee. He choked back his sobs and started to extricate himself from the car.

You can see from the foregoing the linguistic richness of an artistic work (or the linguistic onanism of the author, according to their talent), in contrast with the plain usage of language (strictly utilitarian usage, to put it like Soti Triantaphyllou), when it is used for primal communication.

But the trick is, that primal communication is what evolves language. The need for quick communication, as precise as is feasible, creates new words, expressions, and so on. And to achieve that, it grabs whatever it can find. I repeat: a living language grabs whatever it can find.

The first “percussive drill for home use” is imported into the country. People choose to call it /blakendeker/, because of its brand name. They do the same with “vehicles with a four-wheeled drive”, calling them /dzip/.

The first “personal electronic computer” comes in, and people decide to substitute that mile-long phrase with the initialism established in English, /pisi/. They do the same with /dividi/.

On other occasions, people hellenise French words, creatine /kuzina/, or they transform English infinitives, creating words like /parkaro/, /kularo/, etc.

That’s what people do. Throughout the world, at all times. They reconfigure, they deconstruct, they transform language at their convenience. FOR their convenience.

And that’s what the kids in the survey are doing, making an asset of the absence of Greek characters on their mobile phones and in their /tsat rum/ (or should I say “chambers of internet communication”?) They are creating new circumstances for communication: it’s as simple as that.

Does that put Greek teachers out? Well we never liked Greek teachers.

Does that annoy Hellenomaniacs? Well we never had much time for necrophiliacs.

Does that infuriate intellectuals? Well we never saw them eager to get off the throne of their language fetish.

Because museum rooms may be beautiful but they are not liveable, especially for living organisms—like language.

Two notes in closing.

1. The meaning of the direction the language is taking, which I’ve already noted, is yet to be analysed. But not by me: I’m simply observing the “new” language, though I am not taking any part in its formation.

2. The use of foreign words or expressions in our vernacular (as I’ve described it) is different from the La-de-da pretentious wannabe elitism, which has clustered around the publications of the neurotic jumped-up peasant Kostopoulos, and dictates that Greek words should be replaced with their English equivalents. (There was a similar phenomenon in the ’50s and ’60s with French words.) I can accept (if grudgingly) the dominance of English-language culture, which dictates that “I worship thee!” gets replaced with /respek/, and “we’ll talk” with /sii ja/. But I feel nauseous at crap like what I heard the other day, during The Fat Man’s interview at the Thessalonica International Fair: the Prime Minister is looking around to find the journalist, Tony Boy tells him “on your right side, Sir”, and the idiot journalist takes it upon himself to enlighten The Fat Man in turn, with the startling sentence: “over here, Sir, on the right /korner/.” I don’t feel nauseous because I’m obsessed with the Greek language, but because I loathe puffballs who picture themselves as Mr Halifax, Lord Intendant of Buckingham.

Here endeth the lesson.

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