Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Πας μη Έλλην Βάρβαρος*

*'Pas mi Ellin varvaros' = 'Every non-Greek is a barbarian'. This is to be understood as uncivilised, inarticulate and unreasoning. Charmed, I'm sure.

I mentioned earlier the Greek love of bigging up the Greek language at the expense of other tongues. This is the sort of thing you get used to reading and hearing if you live in Greece for any length of time:

‘Greek is the basis of ALL the world’s languages.’ You mean like Chinese, Japanese, Lardil, Kivunjo…?

‘It is the oldest language in the world.’ Sorry, no. You can only say when a language is first attested in written form, and this is not the same as saying it's the oldest. Sumerian and Egyptian developed writing systems first, both appearing about 3200 BC and predating written Greek by some fifteen hundred years. Looking for the 'oldest language' is a waste of time anyway. This is linguist Larry Trask in an interview in The Guardian, June 26th, 2003: "There are no dividing lines. The speakers in every generation can understand their own parents and their own children without difficulty. In fact, the speakers in every generation could understand the speech of quite a few generations back, and quite a few generations forward, if they could hear it. You are separated from Chaucer's Middle English, and from King Alfred's Old English, by a series of generations all of whom could understand earlier and later speech. Once the time gap becomes suitably large, of course, comprehension becomes increasingly difficult, and it eventually declines to just about zero. But there are no breaks, no discontinuities. Those boundaries, like the 1500 dividing line between Middle English and Early Modern English, are arbitrary. There was never a moment when people stopped talking Middle English."

‘It is the most complicated language in the world.’ Why don't you have a shot at learning Inuktitut, and get back to me? Bear in mind that even if you find Inuktitut grammar fiendishly complicated, any two year old Inuit finds it easy as breathing. Complication is in the eye of the outsider.

‘The Greek alphabet, recited, is an encrypted prayer to the sun.’ Yeah, yeah.

‘You can say things in Greek that cannot be said in English.’ That is only because you don’t know enough English.

‘Learning Ancient Greek will make you a better, more generous and humane person.’ This is the view of one Panagiotis Zachariou (of whom it was once said 'who?') an irrepressible proponent of the superiority of Greek over other languages in the pages of Greek ELT News. Reflection on the content of what you read in any language has the potential to improve the mind and sweeten the soul, but the language in itself could never do that. You can be a classicist and a cunt, and you can be unlettered and have a heart of gold.


A few years ago at dinner in Plaka I was arguing with member of the company I’ll call Kostas about daft folk etymologies, which abound in Greece. He had just given me in all seriousness a megillah about the derivation of the noun θάλασσα (thalassa), Modern Greek for ‘sea’. It went as follows:

1. The sea is forever changing
2. The sea is salty
3. Salt changes (the flavour of) things
4. Salt is αλάτι (alati) or άλας (alas) in Katharevousa
5. 'To change' is αλλάζω (allazo)
6. The future iterative form ‘I shall change’ is ‘θα αλλάζω’ (tha allazo)
7. This sounds a bit like θάλασσα (thalassa) if you stretch and pull the pronunciation a tad.
8. So there.

I thought this was bollocks and said so. (Retsina can make you very outspoken) For one thing, the ancients in Athens didn’t say ‘θάλασσα’ but ‘θάλαττα’ (thalatta) and the modal particle θα, (tha) translated above as ‘shall’, is not found in Greek until the Middle Ages. It’s a telescoping of θέλω να (thelo na) = ‘I want to’, a pattern seen also in neighbouring Albanian where ‘do të’ also means ‘I want to’ and is used in same way as the Greek θα. Moreover, words are not coined by committees, musing over this and that pretty conceit before exclaiming ‘OK, done! Let’s call it that, then!’ Imagine it, a group of sages sitting in an olive grove, gravely debating and weighing the possible labels for all things:

‘What term, άραγε, were most meet for the liquid element, that big blue sloshy affair that starts where the sand ends?’

‘If a man dip his finger therein, shall his finger not as a consequence taste of salt?’

‘It is undoubtedly so’

‘May we not say, therefore, that it is the virtue of this liquid to bring about a marked change in the taste of whatsoever be dipped therein?’

‘Most assuredly’

‘And is it not the nature of this liquid to rise and to fall, and ever of itself to be changing, even as it changes that which might be dipped in it? Were not then ‘thalassa’ the only correct term?

‘It is most marvellous! That’s that one thrashed out. OK, then, moving on. What about those white fluffy-looking things floating in the other blue thing we decided we’d call ‘ouranos’ the other week?’

They’d be at it yet, most things still unnamed.

This mockery did not please Kostas, as no foreigner who is not, as he put it, ‘steeped in the language’ gets to voice a contrary opinion without provoking a sulk. I was not wholly sure about the non-appearance of θα before the Middle Ages – but Kostas couldn’t prove me wrong and was pissed off that my reaction to his explanation was one of scorn rather than dumbstruck admiration.


Another one is the debate over the origin of ‘OK’, which many Greeks are certain derives from ΄Ολα Καλά (Ola Kala) meaning ‘all’s well’. There are dozens of theories about this and I couldn’t care less which is true. I would just like the supporters of a Greek derivation to explain how it could come about that people in early 19th century Boston began to use the initial letters of a Greek phrase to mean everything was under control. They never do. You don’t need to explain what you know in your blood, you see.


Anonymous said...

The title of this piece is quite interesting in these troubled times in Greece. To say that anyone who is not Greek is "barbarian" takes on a completely new outlook in view of the rioting taking place in the country right now! Who are the " barbarians" exactly ?????


Bo said...

How I laughed!
I know I sound like a philologist here (as I am), but *futures are very worrying*. I often wonder what the inserted sigma and, outside the active, inserted 'thes' are in ancient Gk. (luo, I release; luso, I shall release). No idea what the correct answer is. But in Latin, the -bo, -bis, -bit endings of the future in conjugations 1 and 2 look suspiciously like some modal form of the ancestral verb 'to be' tacked onto the present stem.
And in Breton, they use the inherited present subjunctive as a future.

Have you ever read my thing on 'My departure from TDN'? My own struggles with this sort of demented folk-etymology.

Word verification: oudefele (Turkish) - the tassel on a fez.

vilges suola said...

Bo, yes, I read your thing on leaving TDN quite a while ago. Would not be surprised to find that that Nimue woman was an Australian Greek (Hush my mouth) That whole thing of 'I'm right, and they are all against me because they feel threatened by my insights' is soooo familiar.

Mac, heard BBC correspondent today say 'street demonstrating is almost a right of passage for young Greeks'. Quite so, but this is something else. Any problems in Kalamata?

Sarah McKellen of McKellen-Messiniaki Properties said...

We are very civilized in Kalamata. The youth came out to demonstrate very quietly. The only damage I have seen is some red paint splashed on the front of the police station on the N. Eisodos!

I live with a Greek who still trys, after 15 years of living together, to get me to believe that everything came from the Greek language and Ancient Greek civilization - yeah yeah

Anonymous said...

Interesting read. The term "barbarian," by the way, originally stems from the sound "bar-bar" that reached Greek ears when foreigners spoke, "blah, blah" per se; Which justifies purist Greeks who label non-speakers of Greek as "barbarians". The term came to mean one who is uncivilized and violent much later than its original coinage.Having resided in Greece for more than twenty years and grown fluent in this wonderful tongue, I now realise that I too was a barbarian once. There are notions that cannot be touched in any other western language, that are easily accessible to anyone who delves in Hellenomathea. It took me years to grasp the full meaning of the word "anerastos" for instance. What is a household word in Greek, explaining sexually frustrated behaviour among the loveless and sexless, it took volumes for Freud to elaborate on and explain to us westerners.
There is still so much to learn, however,about our Greek roots, and this can only be done if one becomes a conscious speaker of Greek. I will end my verbose comment with a quote by Henry James Main: "Except for the blind forces of nature, there is nothing that moves in this world (the West) that is not Greek in its origin."
A fellow semi-barbarian

Vilges Suola said...

Hi, glad you found it interesting. However, your statement that 'there are notions that cannot be touched in any other western language, that are easily accessible to anyone who delves in Hellenomathea' is one I cannot possibly agree with. If a language has a single term that another has not got, it's quite a stretch to claim that the concept is unavailable to speakers of the second language. Sexually frustrated behaviour among the loveless is surely a human universal, and something any sensitive person is able to diagnose and discuss, even if their language doesn't have a single word for it. Word counts are irrelevant - it's what you do with the words you've got that matters.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I chanced upon this blog as I was searching the web under “Panagiotis Zachariou,” having met him and attended one of his philosophical lectures in Chania, where I also purchased his bilingual book entitled ΑΡΜΟΣΚΟΠΩΝΤΑΣ (Harmoscopesis). Although your phlegm "(of whom it was once said 'who?')" could be justified on your being annoyed by whatever it was that he published in ELT News, I can assure you he is well known locally and even hailed by Athens University Professor of philosophy Constantine Voudouris as an original thinker of our times. I am still reading the book (a compilation of philosophy, poetry and his own artwork) and I must admit that he makes some valid, yet unsettling, points when he contrasts Hellenism to the Western world in his article “The Life Course of Greek Civilization and the Premature Aging of the West”. Reading this page I can understand that many Greeks make themselves vulnerable to being stereotyped as hoarders of language and history the world over as many of them are overly pompous have-beens, but speaking to a person like Zachariou, enervating as it is when he discloses truths many of us shy from, I sense that there is continuity of a cultural-linguistic legacy amongst Greek intelligentsia all but absent in the West. I believe Henry Miller discerned this in his book “The Colossus of Marousi”

Vilges Suola said...

Hi Rob, many thanks for your comments.

I have not read any of P.Z.'s stuff since 2001, so it may be he has sharpened up his arguments since then. Certainly they couldn't have got sloppier, or his treatment of dissenters more dismissive and arrogant. It is not surprising that he is well-known locally and hailed by Athens University, really, is it? Local celebrity isn't difficult to achieve if you say all the right stuff.

'Cultural linguistic legacy' is what academics DO, doesn't matter if they are Greeks, Celticists, students of the various stages of English or Romance philologists. There is absolutely no absence of this in the West - why do you say otherwise?

I read 'The Colossus of Marousi' about 20 years ago. I remember Miller quoted Katsimbalis as saying 'you don't know how to make verbs in English!' Miller seems to have fallen for this as if it were an insightful comment. Actually, it's a bloody stupid statement which owes more to chauvinism than it does to linguistics.

What are 'the truths many of us shy from'? I'm genuinely curious.

Best wishes


Anonymous said...

Hi again, Vilges (or is it Steve?),
I can see what you mean by P.Z’s treatment of dissenters being ‘arrogant’, for that is his general tone when dealing with polemics. He does come on as a conceited, offensive bloke until you get to know him. Maybe this is due to his Special Forces background and his obsession with extreme sports.It makes for a unique combination of a warrior gone egghead! However, judging from his articles published locally and various magazines throughout the country, (my Greek wife reads everything he writes) I can assure you that this aggressive tone is indiscriminately leveled at his contemporary Greeks as well as the West. In a nutshell, he likens the world west of Greece to a six year old, force-fed by its Roman tutor to adopt the behaviour of a middle aged man, thus robbing it of its adolescent and youth stages of self development.
He goes on to state that “just as one who has had the impulses of childhood and the self discovery of adolescent sexuality suppressed (hence the complete absence of a European equivalent to the Greek verb ερωτεύομαι ‘to fall in love’ as ‘Semi-barbarian’ attests) inevitably resorts to anomalous behaviour in later life, so has the West thrown itself into such gluttony to fill its primary void, that it is doomed to suffer the plight of Erysichthon” – a mythological king whose unchecked consumption led to his devouring himself, cursed by Demeter (mother Earth).
Although every human populace at some point broke off from barbarism and moved toward civilization, we cannot deny that Zachariou has a point when he stresses that civilization was “forced” on the west, whereas conditions enabled it to “brew” in Greece. He equates the Archaic Age to Greek childhood, the Classical Age to adolescence and youth, Hellenistic Times to middle age and Byzantine times to crippling old age (You can imagine the church does not like him, in keeping with Kazantzakis). He goes on to say that at present Greece is suffering from all the symptoms of senility, amnesia and the dementia accompanying a dying organism. (I must admit, that the declining birthrate in the country and the demoralization inflicted upon this once traditional society by the western mass media is killing off Hellenism in its birthplace.)
Through his metaphorical approach to history he goes on to state that the Romans (the first westerners to come in touch with the Greeks) were cultural-linguistically traversing early childhood when they met up with the Hellenistic Greeks. He therefore likens the Roman to “a child suddenly finding itself in a playground for fifty year-olds. The precocious little Latin tried to emulate the behaviour of the Greek he admired. However, devoid the maturity that can only come with the passing of time, the little Roman turned the theatre into a coliseum blood theatre, the philosophical symposium into a vomit-inducing banquet, the City State into an all-consuming empire, the involved free citizen into a regimented subject and Eros into Sex…” Don’t know about you Vilges, but all this does painfully ring of our world today, does it not?
As for language, it must also be admitted that Modern Greek, boasting over 90% of the same vocabulary used by Homer and Pericles, certainly has an advantage over all other European languages whose warp and woof is essentially Greek. Your Lathophobic Aphasia title, for instance, not to mention its derivatives is in everyday vogue amongst Greeks, whilst we employ such terms to sound sophisticated and quasi-scientific; and that only after consulting etymological dictionaries.This vindicates Zachariou when he says "The plasticity of the Greek language affords its user greater immediacy to meanings within its lexis than the westerner, who, when forced to grapple with high concepts,is forced to coin new words mostly through Greek and Latin roots."
In one of his articles entitled “The Terrorism of –ism” he also deals with “chauvinism” and other ism–suffixed totem and taboo words, loosely used by the media-trained masses to discredit truths in a politically correct fashion. I’ll post it to you if my wife Thaleia, gets it in electronic form.
Thanks for lending an ear to all this in your blogspot, for as I am very interested in anything Greek, I enjoy tackling the subject.
All the best

Vilges Suola said...

Hi Rob

I chose ‘lathophobic aphasia’ as a blog title because I’m a language teacher and I have always thought it a particularly ridiculous piece of pretentious jargon! It was coined in the seventies by Earl Stevick, who could just as easily have called it 'being silenced by the fear of error'. Everybody knew perfectly well what he was getting at. Now if I understand some out-of-the-way specialist jargon because I speak Greek, do I somehow understand it LESS than a Greek does because Greek is not my first language? Any Greek (or speaker of Greek) would decode ‘lathophobic aphasia’ with no problem, because, well, it’s a coinage based on Greek. So what PZ is saying when he writes ‘The plasticity of the Greek language affords its user greater immediacy to meanings within its lexis than the westerner’ boils down to ‘Greeks understand words coined from their own language, and non-Greek speakers don’t.’ Well, what a surprise!


Anonymous said...

Why Steve, I would have thought your being an English teacher you would have understood the whole sentence, including its relative clause: “…the westerner, who, when forced to grapple with high concepts, is forced to coin new words mostly through Greek and Latin roots." Or maybe you are just being selective… for your command of English is at least commendable. Isn’t it sad that our prematurely aged world, as Zachariou puts it, did not enjoy the privilege to self-ferment linguistically enough to render the Greek language obsolete in English? Who knows? We may have even coined “Peopleholdecy” instead of “Democracy” or “connexia” (oops! Latin root) instead of “Harmony”, etc. We may thus have bid good riddance to all these irritating pompous Greeks reminding us of our inadequacies. For that matter we could have produced beautiful statues of our own to adorn our museums with.
Seriously Steve - granted, our mongrel tongue is one of the world’s swiftest tools of communication and has invaded all corners of the globe, but any way you look at it, it is lacking in soul, for it does not warm the heart as other, more indigenous languages like Greek. In my opinion, the soul of these Greek and Latin words borrowed into English is available only to the speakers of these languages where their derivatives abound in daily life (although in the case of Latin to Italian it is more difficult).
Greeks are in love with their language in a way we can never be with ours. And they do not flaunt it exclusively to foreigners either. I have chanced upon interminable discussions amongst non-specialist Greeks over the historical roots of their words. Their very language is a laboratory of thought. The more Greek I learn during my twelve-year sojourn here, the more I realize how impoverished the west is. It is no wonder classicists the world over yearn for a Greek renaissance. The other day for instance, I was trying to translate the word βίωμα as in βιωματικός ποιητής (empirical poet), although the dictionary offers «experience», believe me it hardly suffices to fulfill its powerful meaning.
Let’s not complain, though. We westerners can boast greater materialistic production, greater economies, greater organizations and so on. Greece is devoid all that and plagued by so much more, but let’s give credit to where credit is due. When it comes to light, language and culture, it is at least one up on us.
Over to you with a question. What does the word "hybrid" mean to you? Try this without consulting a dictionary.
Χαιρετώ σε

Vilges Suola said...

Hi Rob,

I know what 'hybrid' means in modern English (a cross between two species) and that the word derives from Greek 'hubris' meaning overweening pride that shames its perpetrator. The Greek origin is utterly irrelevant to the contemporary English meaning (See 'Etymological fallacy' on wikipedia) Words are borrowed from language to language, and their meanings change, since words are just tokens for meaning. The meaning does not inhere in the 'original' word. (Who knows what the original meaning was anyway?) To seek a 'true meaning' or 'original meaning' is a waste of time.

'…the westerner, who, when forced to grapple with high concepts, is forced to coin new words mostly through Greek and Latin roots.' Is there not something unbearably patronising here? We poor sods 'grapple' with 'high concepts' - does this mean Greeks do not need to 'grapple'? Western writers in the Middle Ages and Renaissance used Greek and Latin as linguae francae, which explains the use of Greek and Latin roots. German has, nevertheless, been very good at avoiding Latin and Greekisms and it has not prevented Goethe et. al. from producing some pretty meaty stuff.

As for the stuff about English being a mongrel tongue that does not warm the heart, well, this is falling in with Zachariou's (and the Greeks') chief failing, total subjectivity. Personally I DO respond to English, powerfully, and to say that it is lacking in soul is, forgive me, utterly bizarre. How much English literature do you read? How many local varieties and dialects do you know of? Nothing impoverished here, quite the reverse!

People use and create language, it is not the other way around. Anyone who seriously sets out to study English (or French, or German, or Albanian, or Hindi, or Arabic...)soon realises the extent of the task before him if he is realistic. Languages are WITHOUT EXCEPTION quite extraordinarily complex assemblages of sound, pitch and meaning, with layer upon layer of nuance conveyed by vocabulary and intonation. Mastering ANY language is a lifetime's work.

Sorry for the lecture, and for the haphazzard presentation of these responses. I really do find Zachariou's ideas on language profoundly irritating, because he prefers thε self-congratulatory shit he spiels about Greek to serious and objective consideration of language as a phenomenon, which ought to compel his awe rather than his contempt.

Σε χαιρετώ


Anonymous said...

Χαίρε, Στεφανοφόρε, Στέφανε, Στεφανάκο, Στεφανάκι, Στεφανούλι που είσαι τόσο δα γλυκάκι και γλυκούλι, (Try to do that with a name or adjective in english!)

“To seek a 'true meaning' or 'original meaning' is a waste of time?” PLEASE TAKE THAT BACK!!!, or you run the risk of vindicating misalbionic Zachariou in referring to us Anglophones as the epitomes of the term “Barbarian.” And I can see why he would be right, since according to Greek thought “true meanings” are enshrined within the titan goddess Mnemosyne herself (Μνήμη = Memory, as in mnemonics), mother of the Muses (as in music, museum, to muse and to amuse) and therefore the cornerstone of civilization. The value placed on true meanings by the Greek intelligentsia is even attested by the Athenian philosopher Antisthenes, 450 BC, who held: “Αρχή σοφίας, ονομάτων επίσκεψις» - The principle of wisdom lies in the study of words. (It seems Zack is in good company here.)

By the way, “hybrid is an unnatural cross between two species” (English dictionaries skip the “unnatural” part). Its root being "hubris", the word implies that man commits sacrilege when he intervenes in the natural process of things and thus commits hubris - punishable by the gods! In other words, “Do not mess with Mother Nature”. As you know, hybrids (like mules) are generally sterile; they cannot reproduce. As more and more hybrids are displacing fertile plants and vegetables, the world will eventually be at the mercy of the large firms which monopolize hybridic seeds, for farmers will not be able to produce their own! Not to mention all the chemicals that go into the process… And if that is not enough punishment, then what is? So maybe it is not "a waste of time" to look for the etymon - truth in a word. Greek makes this truth more accessible, does it not?

“…does this mean Greeks do not need to 'grapple'?” you ask.
On the contrary, they grappled with meanings long before us and had the time to take it all in and produce such diction the world had never or will never outdo in clarity. As for German, granted it has a plasticity resembling Greek, and I highly respect it. Why even its syntax is similar, but take the Latin and the Greek root words and notions out of Goethe’s German and you might just as well be reading Tarzan. Did you know that 18th and 19th century Germans were so obsessed with Greek, in particular, that they ended up being the best lexicographers of the language?

Although Germanic in its roots, English, like Latin, somehow lost the ability to form compounds the way that Greek and German does. And you must admit that inflection and gender do colour a language nicely.

As for my appreciation of English, I need not elaborate. My love of the language is self-evident in the way I write it. Being a native speaker of English and an avid student of Greek makes me all the more objective in comparing the two languages. And yes, I deeply appreciate our literary heritage from Chaucer to T.S. Eliot and beyond, but any way I turn it I, like the irritating Greeks you mockingly lash at, find the Hellenic language generally superior to ours.

Concerning Zachariou, I agree, as I earlier mentioned, that he can be quite annoying the way he voices his opinion. I have seen this in his texts. What drives him, though, is not so much his contempt for English (being a bilingual himself) as his disdain for the cultural void of the English speaking world and its Erysichthonian influence on the planet.

Thank you for bearing with me.

Έρρωσθε φίλτατε

Vilges Suola said...

Hi Rob,

What a pity these posts are stuck in the bottom drawer of the blog where hardly anyone will access them.

I think ‘mockingly lash at’ overstates the case a bit. I was sending up those received ideas about language parroted by Greeks who have heard they are linguistically superior to the rest of us but are not quite sure how. (One I didn’t work in there was ‘Greek has so many strange sounds that we can pronounce any other language easily.’) I’m more scathing about Zachariou’s stuff in ELT News because of its arrogance and subjectivity, and because he would not engage with objections to what he said. After one of his pieces was published around 2003, several letters objecting to his pronouncements were published the following month (including one from me.) We awaited Zach’s refutation. When it came, it was remarkable for its refusal to engage with anything those letters had brought up. As someone subsequently pointed out (this one ran and ran…) Mr Z’s approach to debate was to mention an objection, jeer loudly, chuck in a handful of Greek words then move on and repeat the procedure. If we misunderstood him, which is possible, the fact that everyone misunderstood him suggests that what he had to say was less than crystal clear.

In one letter Mr. Z claimed that Greeks somehow have more immediate access to meaning than the rest of us because of the way the Greek language creates words. For example ‘σύζυγος’, is ‘by far superior semantically’ to the English words husband, wife and spouse as it means ‘one bound in the same yoke’. Some words for the same relationship: husband (originally one who tends animals and crops, therefore one who nurtures) Mann (= ‘man’ in German) shok (= ‘companion’ in Albanian) I could say, truthfully, that the idea of being bound in a yoke for life with someone else strikes me as extremely unpleasant, but that is missing the point. The terms are simply tokens that represent the same concept with different sound symbols, using different associations. Zach’s ‘semantic superiority’ is very much in the eye of the beholder.

One of his pieces was about love. You know, we English speakers do not know how to love, because we have only the one word, whereas Greek has four, αγάπη, έρως, φιλία, στόργη. As an illustration of the resultant Western lovelessness he cited the censorious reaction of some American ladies when Zach kissed his son, and of some British louts in Crete when Z. put an arm round a male friend who was feeling down. In an earlier piece he had said ‘speakers of Greek are the only ones who have immediate access to the meaning of speech, the only ones who can truly feel what they say’ and that the rest of us are really only ‘like dogs [who] also respond to mono-syllabic or bi-syllabic sounds’. It doesn’t seem to strike him that that sentence is dripping with arrogance and contempt rather than αγάπη and φιλία. The thesaurus on this laptop offers the following words in the lexical field of love (sounds like a Barbara Cartland novel) adoration, affection, ardor, amorousness, attachment, caring, concern, cherishing, compassion, devotion, fancy, favor, fondness, liking, love, lust, passion, tenderness. I don’t believe for a moment that the fact that some of these are of Latin origin makes the concepts inaccessible to English minds. Nor do I believe that this list of 18 words makes English superior to Greek, or that any language is superior to any other. This article and ones it links to say all this better than I can: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1087 I also like this send-up by Prof. Geoffrey Pullum of Zacharoulean-type ideas on language as Zach seemed to be expressing them circa 2003: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002504.html. And a list of articles dealing with the same ideas is here: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1081

You say : ‘Although Germanic in its roots, English, like Latin, somehow lost the ability to form compounds the way that Greek and German does. And you must admit that inflection and gender do colour a language nicely.’ I don’t get this. What is so special about compounds? English does them well enough: "Representations of odor plume flux are accentuated deep within the moth brain". Odor plume flux = time variation in airborne smells. (How have we lived without knowing that?) Inuktitut collapses into single words what in English and Greek would be whole sentences. (This is probably what gave rise to the old chestnut about Eskimos having nine, forty-seven or six hundred and fifty five words for snow.) And where does this leave uninflected, genderless languages such as Chinese or Thai?

Anonymous said...

You just wish you were Greek. Apart from being a nationality , being Greek means much more than you think.

Vilges Suola said...

@ Anonymous, how many times have I heard that one, do you think? I could have included it in the blog post as another example of the self-aggrandising twaddle I was sending up. Despite my love of Greece, I have no desire whatever to be Greek, or any regret that I'm not.

theialina said...

άστον, δεν βγάζεις άκρη...

Vilges Suola said...

Who, him or me?

theialina said...

Him, of course! Nobody can deal with this aspect of greek mentality. Although you have practiced enough with your Saudi students.
(as for "siga ton polyelaio", it actually means 'it's not worth it')

Vilges Suola said...

This sense of superiority some Greeks have on the basis of nothing more than reflected glory from the ancients is so frustrating - like they themselves need do nothing more than sit on their ass and be effortlessly great because they were born Greek.

Re the polyelaio idiom - could it also mean something like 'who cares?''So what?'

theialina said...

You are right. And it's getting worse, as our socioeconomic situation deteriorates.

Re. Not really. It's used in order to deflate praise or professed enthusiasm.
eg- Tι ωραίος ο καινούριος γκόμενος της Σούλας!
- Μμμ, σιγά τον πολυέλαιο...
(wrinkled nose and downturned mouth add a lot)

Vilges Suola said...

Really? It's getting worse? Aman! Actually it's a kind of inferiority complex, isn't it? A Greek friend of mine once said it was the mentality of poor kids pretending to be princes and princesses.

Thanks for the correction and the example. Sounds like the closest equivalent would be the Scottish habit of muttering 'Aye. Right.' with totally flat intonation.

theialina said...


Αν έχεις το κουράγιο. Εγώ δεν το άντεξα.

Vilges Suola said...

Me neither. I stuck it for about three minutes before deciding I'd heard it all before - just a compilation of cliches and received ideas from someone who doesn't know the first thing about language and hasn't an ounce of critical thinking skills.

Anonymous said...

You said, "This sense of superiority some Greeks have on the basis of nothing more than reflected glory from the ancients is so frustrating - like they themselves need do nothing more than sit on their ass and be effortlessly great because they were born Greek."

What is even more frustrating, Vilges, is a Greek like Zachariou who embodies in the present all that many of you admire about Greece's glorious past. I, like Rob, chanced upon this blog looking for references to Zachariou; not regarding his book, but his recent victories in local cycling competitions. Owning a house in Vamos, Crete, I was dumbfounded to see a middle-ager, albeit in great physical shape, standing in the victor's podium flanked by blokes in their twenties and thirties. The man not only has wit and a pen that has obviously cut you deep enough to make slanderous reference to him, but also, recently, at the age of 54 he is beating men half his age in time trials and 100k endurance races.And all this with only one year involvement in the sport.Such spirit is to be envied. And if it's Greek, all the more so.So please, spare the biased generalizations about Greeks resting in the laurels of their golden past and not producing in the present. Besides, there have always been worthy Hellenes as there have been contemptuous Greeklings in this land that you say you love.

Vilges Suola said...

@Anon, thanks for the comment. I have made no slanderous references to Zachariou or anybody else. I disagree strongly with some ideas about language that he expressed some ten years ago, that is all, and I was not alone. If all of us who expressed contrary opinions about P.Z.'s ideas in 2003 got the wrong end of the stick, then he obviously was less than clear about what he meant. I don't see how his cycling victories have any bearing on any of his linguistic ideas, or whether I see eye to eye with him on those. I disagree with quite a few other people's ideas on matters to do with language and the teaching of language, and of course they disagree with me, as is their right.

Angel said...

«Αποδεδειγμένα σε κάθε περίοδο της εξέλιξής του ο δυτικοευρωπαϊκός πολιτισμόςπροσπάθησε να απελευθερώσει τον εαυτόν του από τους Έλληνες.

Η προσπάθεια αυτή είναι διαποτισμένη από βαθύτατη δυσαρέσκεια, διότι οτιδήποτε κι αν δημιουργούσαν (οι Δυτικοευρωπαίοι), φαινομενικά πρωτότυπο και άξιο θαυμασμού, έχανε χρώμα και ζωή στη σύγκριση του με το Ελληνικό μοντέλο, συρρικνωνότανε, κατέληγε να μοιάζει με φθηνό αντίγραφο, με καρικατούρα.

Έτσι ξανά και ξανά μια οργή ποτισμένη με μίσος ξεσπάει εναντίον των Ελλήνων, εναντίον αυτού του μικρού και αλαζονικού έθνους που είχε το νεύρο να ονομάσει βαρβαρικό (για κάθε εποχή) ότι δεν είχε δημιουργηθεί στο έδαφος του.

Μα ποιοι, επιτέλους είναι αυτοί των οποίων η ιστορική αίγλη υπήρξε τόσο εφήμερη, οι θεσμοί τους τόσο περιορισμένοι, τα ήθη τους αμφίβολα έως απαράδεκτα και οι οποίοι απαιτούν μια εξαίρετη θέση ανάμεσα στα έθνη, μια θέση πάνω από το πλήθος;

Κανένας από τους επανεμφανιζόμενους εχθρούς τους δεν είχε την τύχη να ανακαλύψει το κώνειο, με το οποίο θα μπορούσαμε μια για πάντα να απαλλαγούμε απ΄ αυτούς.
Όλα τα δηλητήρια του φθόνου, της ύβρεως, του μίσους έχουν αποδειχθεί ανεπαρκή να διαταράξουν την υπέροχη ομορφιά τους!

Έτσι οι άνθρωποι συνεχίζουν να νιώθουν ντροπή και φόβο απέναντι στους Έλληνες.

Βέβαια, που και που, Κάποιος εμφανίζεται που αναγνωρίζει ακέραια την αλήθεια που δίδασκε ότι οι Έλληνες είναι ηνίοχοι κάθε επερχόμενου πολιτισμού και σχεδόν πάντα τόσο τα άρματα όσο και τα άλογα των επερχόμενων πολιτισμών είναι πολύ χαμηλής ποιότητας σε σχέση με τους ηνίοχους (Έλληνες), οι οποίοι τελικά αθλούνται οδηγώντας το άρμα στην άβυσσο, την οποία αυτοί ξεπερνούν με αχίλλειο πήδημα.»

Friedrch Nietzsche

(«Η Γένεση της Τραγωδίας», κεφ. XV, 1872)

Vilges Suola said...

I allowed this chunk of Nietsche to pass the spam filter because I think I know who posted it. However, I prefer to hear the opinions of the poster rather than this kind of unanalysed appeal to authority.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Nietsche certainly sums it up quite astutely! It explains everything and gives credence to "ΠΑΣ ΜΗ ΕΛΛΗΝ ΒΑΡΒΑΡΟΣ". Bow to your tamers, therefore, lest the chip fall off your shoulders...

Vilges Suola said...

'Bow to your tamers, therefore, lest the chip fall off your shoulders' Bowing would surely cause any chip on the shoulder to fall off... WTF are you on about?

Torn Halves said...

Just come across your blog via Mura Nava and am impressed. Writing that drips like fat from the roasting αρνακι.

And struck by your reference to Panagiotis Zachariou. Back in the happy days before everything here in Greece went down the plughole we wrote some long rebuttals for ELT News in reply to Panagiotis' philological provocations. Just wondered now if he has survived, and came across this entertaining page about him, describing himself as a philosopher-athlete, and pointing out that the root of the Greek word for god is a verb meaning "to run". Panagiotis Zachariou runs, therefore...


Vilges Suola said...

Thanks for stopping by! Last time I was in Greece about 4 years ago I saw that PZ had contributed another piece to ELT news but didn't read it. Will have a look at the link in a minute.

Vilges Suola said...

Athlete,sure. Not so sure about philosopher. When you say 'we wrote some long rebuttals', do you mean you and I?

Anonymous said...

It seems that the bloke you all seem to be interested in is still up and running. Some interesting stuff here: http://www.harmoscope.com/en/


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