Greek language question

Greek language question

The Greek language question ( _el. γλωσσικό ζήτημα, short: το γλωσσικό) was a dispute discussing the question whether the language of the Greek people (Dimotiki) or an archaic imitation of Ancient Greek (Katharevousa) should be the official language of the Greek nation. It was a highly controversial topic in the 19th and 20th centuries and was finally resolved in 1976, when Dimotiki was made the official language.

Linguistic background of the problem

While Dimotiki was the mother tongue of the Greeks, Katharevousa was an archaic and formal variant that was pronounced like modern Greek, but adopted both lexical and morphological features of ancient Greek that the spoken language had lost over time. Examples of this are:
*Morphological features: Strict Katharevousa still contained the ancient dative case, many participles and various additional tenses and conjugational patterns of verbs.
*Phonological features: Katharevousa contained various letter combinations which were hard to pronounce, as they did not originally fit the Modern Greek phonological system, e.g. φθ, σθ, ρθρ, ευδ.
*Syntactical features: While the language of the people mostly consisted of simple sentences, Katharevousa often applied ancient Greek Syntax to form sentences which would appear as educated speech, that is, long and complex.
*Lexical features: The proponents of the formal language discarded many popular Greek words that the Greek language had obtained from other languages over time, mainly from the Turkish and Latin or Italian languages, and either replaced them with ancient Greek words or with neologisms. Similarly, words of ancient Greek origin but by now modern in form were archaicised or replaced by their standard ancient Greek equivalents (like the Ancient Greek ἰχθύς for ψάρι "fish" or the archaicised εξωκλήσσιον from the modern form ξωκλήσι "small chapel").

These differences meant that Katharevousa was only partly, intelligible to a Greek without higher education. There was no single Katharevousa. Instead, proponents of the formal language utilized ever-changing variants that never were standardized. These variants were nearly Attic in extreme cases, but they could also be closer to spoken Greek and could be understood by the majority of the people.

Example of the diglossia

For a person who does not speak Greek and whose mother tongue (e.g. English) exhibits no comparable form of diglossia, it is hard to understand the motivation of the Greek language question, as it concerns the coexistence of two - in extreme cases - completely different forms of Greek that greatly exceeds the usual stylistic difference between written and spoken language. [Text of the Holy Synod of Greece regarding an approval for its content. Athens, April 29 1902]

*Katharevousa: :Τὸ ὑποβληθὲν τῇ Ἱερᾷ Συνόδῳ ἐν χειρογράφῳ πόνημα Ὑμῶν ὑπὸ τὸν τίτλον «Βίος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ» παρέπεμψεν αὔτη τῷ προεδρευόντι αὐτῆς Σεβ. Ἀρχιεπισκόπῳ Σύρου, Τήνου καὶ Ἄνδρου κ. Μεθοδίῳ, ὅπως δι' ἐκθέσεως αὐτοῦ ἀναφέρῃ αὐτῇ, ἂν τὸ περιεχόμενον τοῦ πονήματος τούτου εἶναι σύμφωνον πρὸς τὰς παραδόσεις τῆς Ὀρθοδόξου Ἐκκλησίας.

*Dimotiki: :Το πόνημά σας που υποβλήθηκε σε χειρόγραφο στην Ιερά Σύνοδο με τον τίτλο «Βίος Ιησού Χριστού», παραπέμφθηκε στον πρόεδρό της Σεβ. Αρχιεπίσκοπο Σύρου, Τήνου και Άνδρου κ. Μεθόδιο, ώστε με έκθεσή του να της αναφέρει αν το περιεχόμενο του πονήματος αυτού είναι σύμφωνο με τις παραδόσεις της Ορθόδοξης Εκκλησίας.

*Modern English: :Your work which was submitted in manuscript to the Holy Synod under the title "Life of Jesus Christ", was sent by it [the Holy Synod] to its president Archbishop of Syros, Tinos and Andros, so that he may report on whether the content of this work accords with the traditions of the Orthodox Church.

This example clearly shows that both the formal language and the language of the people exhibit features that make them fit different occasions: The former is capable of producing a much more formal atmosphere and sincerity while the latter is the natural, spoken language of the people which is optimal for both oral and written, plain communication. The fact that the situation of diglossia had not been perceived as a problem for centuries shows that a coexistence of two varieties of speech which are restricted to separate domains need not necessarily be a bad thing. Only when one of the two parties tried to discredit the other and to impose some ideals on the other by force did the linguistic phenomenon become a problem for society.

Historical development

Pre-revolutionary discussions

The discussion began at the end of the 18th century, as Eugenios Voulgaris (1716–1806), Lambros Photiadis, St. Kommitas and N. Dukas, who were proponents of a more archaic language, and Voulgaris's students Iosipos Moisiodax (1725–1800) and Dimitrios Katartzis (ca. 1725-1807), who proposed a simpler language, began to voice their opinions. This discussion later became crucial when it was to be decided which one should be the single language of the modern Greek state, which was yet to be founded. Adamantios Korais (1748–1833) influenced the further discussion a lot. While being a supporter of the language of the people, Korais sought to cleanse it from elements that he considered to be too "vulgar" and eventually invented Katharevousa. After a prolonged War of Independence, the modern Greek state was founded in 1830; the first capital was Nafplio and, from 1834 onwards, Athens.

Official adaptation of Katharevousa

Katharevousa was made the official language of the state, since the "unpolished" language of the people was not thought of as able to fit the needs of a modern state. [ M. Alexiou (1982), p. 186: “ [the Katharevousa] was eventually established as the official language of the Greek State in 1834.”] The phanariots, were a group of conservative and educated nobles who supported the archaic language and were the most important critics of the language of the people. Panagiotis Soutsos, who wrote in an increasingly archaic and formal language and should later become one of the most important figures in Athenic romanticism, embraced phanariotic tradition like his brother Alexandros, and, in 1853, he opted for the abolition of Katharevousa and the reintroduction of pure ancient Greek. [Karvounis (2002), p. 16 and Alexiou (1982), p. 187]

Language question becomes widespread

By 1900, the discussion had become a matter of public interest. Proponents of Katharevousa denounced proponents of Dimotiki as "μαλλιαροί" ("hairy, furry"), "αγελαίοι" ("gregarious, social, vulgar") and "χυδαϊσταί" ("speakers of slang, plebeians, vulgarians"), while the proponents of Dimotiki called their enemies "γλωσσαμύντορες" ("defenders of language, purists"), "σκοταδιστές" ("darkies", "dark people", or more or less: "the ones living in spiritual darkness"), "αρχαιόπληκτοι" ("archaics", "ancient-maniacs"), "μακαρονισταί" ("imitators of archaic languages", "spaghetti people") or "συντηρητικοί" ("conservatives"). [Babiniotis (2002), p. 427 and Karvounis (2002), p. 16] The educational system was in an alarming state and completely ineffective: The children were completely unable to express themselves in the unfamiliar formal language, which severely harmed their speech acquisition instead of educating them.

Transition to Dimotiki

In the beginning of the 20th century, it was with only the girls' school of Volos that a shift away from the Katharevousa began: Libertarian pedagogue Alexandros Delmouzos established the Dimotiki as the teaching language and was able to achieve considerable improvement in marks and more content students. Still, clerics and conservatives condemned such practices and protested against the school in such a sharp way that it was closed. [Frankoudaki, Anna (Άννα Φρανκουδάκι): "Ο εκπαιδευτικός δημοτικισμός και ο γλωσσικός συμβιβασμός του 1911", Ioannina, 1977, p. 39] In 1917, the Dimotiki had been successfully introduced into primary schools; but even there it was repeatedly replaced again with Katharevousa. Only on April 30, 1976 was the era of linguistic purism ended in Greece when Constantine Karamanlis' government banned Katharevousa Fact|date=September 2008 from use in schools and, only a few months later, passed a law concerning the use of the Dimotiki in official texts and documents, which effectively terminated the diglossia. Ironically, the law in question was formulated in Katharevousa.

Comparison to other politicised language issues

Received pronunciation in British English is considered more pure by some people, and it could be seen as analogous to "katharevousa", while a regional dialect could be seen as analogous to "demotic".

ee also

* Greek diacritics
* Katharevousa

References


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