New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Those who worry about global culture injuring the Greek language irreparably might have felt a rush hearing the MC, diplomat Dr. Spyridon Aktipis’positive prologue to Dr. Anastasia Giannakidou’s lecture, THE GREEK LANGUAGE: A LIVING BRIDGE THROUGH on February 20. The talk, he said, “reveals precisely how the Greek language has proven a
living instrument throughout centuries, capable of evolving and incorporating linguistic elements of other languages and cultures without any sign of fear. This has been the resiliency of our language and this is the reason why still Greek literature and poetry thrive.”
THE GREEK LANGUAGE: A LIVING BRIDGE THROUGH HISTORY, in celebration of National Greek Language Day, hosted by the Embassy of Greece in Washington DC and the University of Chicago Division of the Humanities, Center for Hellenic Studies, was the first in what is hoped to be a sustainable partnership between these entities. Dr. Giannakidou is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Chicago and Director of its Center for Hellenic Studies.
Her Excellency Ambassador Alexandra Papadopoulou stated, “It was an honor for the Embassy to partner with the prestigious University of Chicago and its new Center for Hellenic Studies and I look forward to our continued collaboration.” The Ambassador noted being heartened by the number of viewers interested in hearing about the unique features of Greek civilization. She expressed her hope of visiting Chicago when travel is possible.
“Language is the main component of our culture,” she said, “Without it we cannot communicate, we cannot form relationships we cannot form communities, we cannot formulate thoughts, concepts, ideas. We Greek speakers are very proud of our language. It is one of the oldest written languages in the world, but mainly because it
is the language of Homer, the language of the Bible the language of politics, philosophy, medicine, the theatre. It has a history of 3,000 years. A language that went through enormous evolution, is so rich, so nuanced that even today science has preferred the Greek language to formulate new notions and ideas.”
Ambassador Papadopoulou pointed out that the Greek language reflects the long history of the Greek people, but also reflects “so many other cultures that happened to go to that “unique geographical location on the convergent point of continents, of so many civilizations, of so many points of view.”
Before giving the floor to Professor Giannakidou, Dr. Aktipis described the Center. Created in 2019, it aspires to become a forum for researchers of many aspects of the Hellenic world, such as language, art, history, thought, culture. “The Center does not regard Greece as simply a geographical area, or political entity,” he said about its approach, “but as a diversified space, which has through time and geography produced and continues to produce ideas that can engage, inform and also inspire contributions in a multitude of research areas and, of course, audiences.” The study of the Hellenic diaspora is one of the Center’s main fields of interest, he said, “Ultimately, the Center aims to make known the largely unknown up today, varied Greek experiences and identities that exist in the world today.”
Professor Giannakidou warmly thanked Dr. Aktipis and Ambassador Papadopoulou for their kind words and thanked two of her associates for their help and observed that it is exciting that ZOOM allows the bringing together of “Greeks and people interested in Greek civilization and language from all over the world, from multiple continents, and multiple time zones.” “We’re here to celebrate the Greek language and I wanted us to do this by traveling through the language through the historian spaces of Greek civilization because as Madame Ambassador said very eloquently, ‘with the language comes the culture’ and the two are inextricably linked, and it’s very difficult to understand Greek-ness and the Greek experience in the world without understanding language and vice versa.”
Professor Giannakidou began with definitions, a very useful description and linguistic and semantic understanding of the word Greek. Due to space limitation we refer to the chart of definitions she showed: Greek, Ελληνας: current national and ethnic designation relating to the country of Greece and the Greek diaspora. Γραικος, Ρωμιος: past designations of Greek identity.Ρωμιoς: (from ‘Roman’): designation during the Byzantine (323-1453 AD) and Ottoman (1453-1821) periods. Hellenic: cultural linguistic and ethnic designation, applying across time to refer to Greeks and Greek identity.Modern Greek: Greek identity after the War of Independence (1821-1830).
She then named the 3 foundations of Hellenic identity: the Greek language (3500 years of recorded history), Ancient Greece, and Orthodox Byzantium. She said, “Thankfully, the Greek language is acknowledged by linguists as one of the world’s most important languages.” The ancient Greeks were great explorers and navigators. One was Ευθυμéνης ο Mασσαλιωτης, in 5th century BC, whocrossed Gibraltar and travelled south, reaching the Niger river.
Professor Giannakidou broke down the continuous, unbroken tradition of the Greek language into three phases with their time frames but noted that the distinctions are somewhat arbitrary because texts from the 10th century can be understood today and that the boundary after the 6th century is quite fluid: Ancient Greek (1400-300 BC); Alexandrian Koine 300 BC-600 A.D); Medieval Greek (600-18th century AD) and Modern Greek (Νεα Ελληνικη) (18th century-now).
“Greek Language Day is celebrated on February 9, because Dionysios Solomos—our national poet born in Zakynthos—who wrote our national anthem, died on February 9, 1857,” she said showing a 1996 postage stamp bearing his portrait, “which illustrates shows how important it was for him—and this reflects the view of many who fostered the Greek War of Independence and fought for freedom, how important the Greek language was to them. The quote on the stamp translates as: ‘I have nothing else in my mind apart from freedom and language.’ So, these two elements are inextricably linked in the thoughts of our national poet. And for good reason: Greekness and Greek language are the defining element and the necessary prerequisite for freedom.”
Professor Anastasia Giannakidou’s Greek Language discussion will be continued.
Professor Anastasia Giannakidou studied Classical philology, linguistics and philosophy of language, receiving her first degree at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, and her PhD from the University ofGroningen, in the Netherlands. She has done comparative work on Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, Basque, Korean and Mandarin, has written multiple books and papers, and is currently preparing a new book for the University of Chicago Press on Language, Truth, and Our Understanding of Reality.