To accent or not? A soc.culture.greek debate
between Nikos Sarantakos
and 'Viron' ('Byron')
On Mon, 07 Dec 1998 11:00:41 +0200, Viron
>Nikos Sarantakos wrote:
>> Breathings and accents were introduced by Alexandrian
>> grammarians to facilitate the learning of Greek by
>> non-indigenous Greek populations -in mainland Greece
>> accents were actually **not widely used** until 10th c. AD
>How would this facilitate the learning of Greek ? Would it be easier if there
>weren't any accents ? I think that they were "xountikoi", what do you think ?
Ancient Greek had long and short vowels etc. For the native Greeks,
accents&breathings were not necessary, for they knew (it was their
mother tongue) how to pronounce it. Non-indigenous Greeks,
in Egypt or Syria, who only learnt Greek as adults, did not possess
that intimate knowledge, so the accents were necessary for
learning purposes -remember, Greek were as important as
English are today.
In mainland Greece accents were not necessary and that is
why they were not used until much later.
However, in the meantime, long and short vowels ceased to
be audible (all vowels became short, that is) and rough
breathing ceased to exist.
>> Nowadays, the suppression of accents also serves the
>> purpose of facilitating the learning of Greek by Greek
>> populations from exUSSR. In other words, it serves
>> a good national cause.
>You forgot the Albanians, the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Bulgarians, the Fyromians
>and the rest of the nationalities that come here to serve a good national cause.
This is snide irony, but there is a good cause of teaching Greek to
Pontics from ex-USSR (Greeks from Albania generally know the
tongue). Unless you believe that they are only useful to Greece
as weight-lifting champions. I, on the contrary, believe that they
won't offer what they can unless they are able to speak and write
>The use of accents cannot be seen without seing the broader problem of the
>Greek education system. We have established "demotiki" as the official
>language taught at schools but the funny thing is that we are also obliged
>to teach the students of words and expressions that have no "demotiki" roots
>but come from kathareyoysa or Ancient Greek.
No, sir, I disagree here. Demotiki is free to use the vast treasures
of ancient and later Greek and to borrow freely words -when it comes
to *words*, there are no barriers. Therein lies its immense richness
and expressive power. If the morphology of the word is
non-compliant to demotiki grammar, there are two solutions, either
grin and bear it or change the word slightly so as to conform (mind
you, this is done subconsciously by the users of the language, not
by diktats!) On the other hand, "katharevousa" was unable to integrate
common demotiki words (even the words auti, kota, makaroni etc.)
and this was one of the reasons of its demise.
>And it is sad to realise that the new generation cannot express themselves,
>they have a great lack of vocabulary and they do not have any language
>discipline. If you deprive "demotiki" from the words and expressions that
>come from kathareyoysa and Ancient Greek and which cannot be justified with
>the "demotiki" grammar and syntax rules, then you have a very poor language
>serving just the basic needs of communicating. Please note that I refer
>to the "demotiki" actually being taught at schools nowadays.
Yep, but the same is true if you deprive, say, English of all the
French/Norman/etc. and Latin vocabulary and you stick to the
Then, I fail to see which words and expressions come from
katharevousa (as opposed to Ancient Greek) (*). There are no
such animals. Katharevousa never was a real language, for
it never was spoken.
Since you talk about "expressions", it is highly significative that
katharevousa has almost *no native idiomatic or proverbial
expressions*. By native I mean expressions that were not
borrowed by the ancient Greek neither by French or the demotiki.
If you disagree, please provide some examples.
Look now: the ancient Greeks spoke and wrote the same
language. The dichotomy between spoken and written
language began in the Hellenistic era, when everyone spoke
Koine and its later evolution but they wrote in Attic. This
Atticism is a scourge in our language and it has taken its
toll for some 20 centuries! Thanks to the Evangiles and
some other (few) texts we have some evidence of the spoken
Greek of that era, and all evidence (add the material from
inscriptions, papyri and the like) show that *all the major
grammatic phenomena* of modern demotiki language
had actually made their initial incipient appearance very early,
perhaps even before 1st c. BCE. Our century is the first
time, after 20 centuries, when the Greek language spoken is
more or less the one actually taught. Isn't that fascinating?
(*) Note also that very many demotiki
and dialectal words come directly from ancient Greek,
*without* the mediation of Katharevousa!
>I also use the language without accents, I used to and if I try to use them
>now I would certainly make mistakes. But I must say - as another fellow poster
>said - I am very fortunate that I have learned this "type" of language.
>At least, I feel somehow linked to my roots.
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