ATHENS – The recent influx of English words into the Greek language was highlighted in an article in The Guardian and the Sunday newspaper The Observer where Professor Georgios Babiniotis, the foremost linguist in Greece and a former education minister, shared his concerns and “pleads for moderation” as the COVID-related “Greekglish” spreads.
“Usually, Professor Georgios Babiniotis would take pride in the fact that the Greek word ‘pandemic’ – previously hardly ever uttered – had become the word on everyone’s lips,” the Guardian reported, adding that “after all, the term that conjures the scourge of our times offers cast-iron proof of the legacy of Europe’s oldest language. Wholly Greek in derivation – pan means all, demos means people – its usage shot up by more than 57,000% last year, according to Oxford English Dictionary lexicographers.”
Prof. Babiniotis “is less mindful of how the language has enriched global vocabulary, and more concerned about the corrosive effects of coronavirus closer to home,” the Guardian reported.
“We have been deluged by new terms and definitions in a very short space of time,” he told the Observer. “Far too many of them are entering spoken and written Greek. On the television you hear phrases such as ‘rapid tests are being conducted via drive-through’ and almost all the words are English. It’s as if suddenly I’m hearing Creole.”
The octogenarian is the author of nine dictionaries, and “is the first to say that language evolves,” the Guardian reported, adding that “the advent of the internet also posed challenges, he concedes, but he has never opposed adding new words that translated and conveyed technological advances.”
“I included them in the Lexicon,” he said of his magisterial 2,500-page dictionary of modern Greek language, the Guardian reported, “But where possible, I also insisted that if they could be replaced by Greek words they should. I came up with the word diadiktyo for the internet and am glad to say it has stuck.”
“Almost no tongue has been spoken as continuously as Greek, used without respite in roughly the same geographical region for 40 centuries,” the Guardian reported, adding that “its influence, as the language of the New Testament and as a vehicle of thought for golden age playwrights, scientists and philosophers, helped it withstand the test of time.”
Babiniotis, however is concerned that English terms may be eroding the resilience of the Greek language, as “in the space of a year, he says, Greeks have had to get their heads, and tongues, around words such as ‘lockdown,’ ‘delivery,’ ‘click away,’ ‘click-and-collect’ and ‘curfew,’” the Guardian reported,
“There has to be some moderation,” Babiniotis told the Observer, noting that “we have a very rich language. As the saying goes, ‘the Greeks must have a word for it.’ Lockdown, for example, could be perfectly easily translated.”
“Ever more shops are carrying English-language signage as a way, I’m afraid, of having greater sales and outreach. Instead of artopoieio, Greek for bakery, we’re seeing shops calling themselves ‘bread factories’ while barbers are now ‘hairdressers.’ Next we’ll have ‘hair stylists!’ It won’t stop,” Babiniotis told the Observer.
Controversy over the Greek language is not a new phenomenon with arguments going back to the 1st century BC over reviving the “pure” Attic Greek of the Golden Age, continuing “through 400 years of Ottoman rule, [and] becoming especially explosive in the run up to the war of independence in 1821,” the Guardian reported, noting that “the struggle over whether purist Greek, or katharevousa, officially inducted as the language of the state after the revolution, should prevail over demotiki, the commonly spoken vernacular, raged until 1976 when demotic officially replaced it.”
“For Greeks, language has always been a sensitive issue,” Babiniotis told the Observer, “I know what I say troubles some, but it is the duty of a linguist to speak out.”
Babiniotis is not alone in his concerns, and Facebook groups have sprung up against the “emergence of ‘Greenglish’ – Greek written with English letters – as an unofficial e-language since the arrival of the internet,” the Guardian reported.
Susanna Tsouvala at the Polyglot Bookstore, which specializes in foreign language textbooks in central Athens said, “A lot of youngsters use it to message one another because they think it’s easier. Spelling’s easier and they don’t have to use the accents required in Greek, but ultimately it’s going to be our language’s loss,” the Guardian reported.
“For many, book publishers have become the last line of defense,” the Guardian reported, noting that “at Patakis, one of the country’s most established publishers, inclusion of foreign words in any work is carefully monitored.”
Elena Pataki of the family-run publishing company said, “Books are guardians of the language. We recently published a business book about family-owned enterprises and made a conscious choice to limit references to foreign terms,” the Guardian reported.
She also sees Babiniotis’ point, “Why should Greeks in their 90s have to understand English to go and shop? The pandemic has produced a global language for a global problem. My hope is when this is over, we’ll hit delete and forget all these words,” the Guardian reported.