By Catherine Tsounis Siolas
The European Union is causing social and economic change. A new Europe is emerging united with English as its universal language. Language maintenance of individual countries will be affected. “Modern Greek will flourish and survive in Europe of the 21st century,” according to Dr. Christophoros Charalambakis, professor of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. As a 2002-2003 Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, I had the unique honor of learning Dr. Charalambakis views on the future of the Modern Greek language. Dr. Charalambakis is one of three full professors of the University of Athens. His progressive views will help Greece play an international role in the field of Linguistics.
Dr. Charalambakis’ office in the philology Department is dominated by oil paintings of El Greco. “The modern Greek is like El Greco,” he said. “He was a man of ideals. He made the tradition of his country worthy as well as the places he lived. Today’s Greek’s ideals are a combination of influences from abroad and at home.”
The professor believes he “understands his country better because of his education abroad. Whoever does not leave his/her country, will not understand his/her culture’s ideals.” He is so right. Living two months in Greece during the Iraq War opened my eyes to how Europeans perceived Americans. I became a more understanding, stronger individual. Hellenic American Union President, Chris Spirou added in a previous interview that “if you can succeed in Athens, you can succeed anywhere.”
The educator is a soft-spoken intellectual of an agricultural background from the island of Crete. “I came from a family of eight children from the village of Ierapetra, outside of Heraklion. My family was farmers. As a child, our food and dairy products were furnished under the Truman Doctrine. My seventh brother worked in Germany and supported me in my academic studies.”
Dr. Charalambakis engaged in post graduate studies at Cologne and Heidelberg University with a scholarship from the German government. In 1976, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Cologne. Dr. Charalambakis was a professor of Linguistics at the University of Crete. Thirteen years ago, he was unanimously selected to be a full professor of Linguistics without a Selection Committee at the University of Athens.
“In 1983, I visited the United States for the first time,” explained Dr. Charalambakis. “I was a visiting researcher at the University of North Dakota. I admire the civilization of America. Whoever does not come to the U.S.A., does not know what the world is about. We owe the United States a great deal. The U.S. acts as a role model. Your country accepts immigrants with love. Without the Greeks of America, Modern Greece would be weaker. I have visited the major cities of Europe. When I visited New York City in 2000, I felt I was a villager.”
The professor speaks fluent English. “German is my second language,” he explained. I learned English twenty years ago for job related reasons, by referring to a German dictionary, How could I participate in an international conference, without knowing English.
Professor Christophoros Charalambakis believes the «European Union has a crisis of self identity. From one point, it wants a multicultural, multilingual society. In reality, the language that will exist will be English, German, Italian, French and Spanish. Other languages are in jeopardy of being overwhelmed. Eventually, the extension of the European Union will lead to only five major languages being utilized. We must face this reality; I support the obligation of every European citizen to be proud of his mother language and learn to speak it perfectly. Learn English as a second language. Knowledge of one of the four leading languages and a minor language of the European Union should be encouraged. This is the obligation of a multi-lingual European.” Dr. Charalambakis, who was educated abroad, exemplifies the new wave of international professors emerging on the scene of the European Union.
Greek grammar is constantly changing with two schools of thought in Thessaloniki and Athens. The professor expressed the idea that “the University of Athens and Thessalonica work together in programs of Modern Greek language. Differences over the use of Katharevousa (puristic Greek) do not exist. In 1977, Demotic Greek became the formal language of instruction. This is now thirty years. Words of Katharevousa origin are used in demotic language.” Dr. Charalambakis publishing an outstanding article on the Internet called “Language Learning As A key To Other Cultures.” Professors use this article in their graduate Education classes. The website is http://www.qub.ac.uk/ALPINE/7_1_1.htm .
Dr. Charalambakis’ pleasant manner aided me in completing my research paper for the Alexander S. Onassis Public Foundation. It was not easy in 2003 and is still difficult to pursue academic studies abroad in the hostile environment created by the Iraq War. Dr. Christoforos Charalambakis of the University of Athens an President Chris Spirou of the Hellenic American Union aided my growth as an educator, with their positive focus on Greek-American relations.