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The Language Question and the Diaspora

Van Dyck, Karen

Since the eighteenth century, well before independence, Greek intellectuals, school teachers, and priests have fought over which variety of the Greek language should be the official one. Which register of Greek a Greek spoke -- and, even more importantly, wrote -- was central to what it meant to be Greek. Here I propose to shift the focus from the national to a diasporic perspective on the Language Question. I begin by rehearsing the familiar story of language reform in the service of nation building, but my primary concern will be to show that the same texts that illustrate this story also illustrate another. Many of the works written by the major figures in this debate reveal, on closer examination, that issues of nation are caught up with the question of what it means to be a Diaspora Greek. In fact, the fight for a single national language seems to be as much about diasporic multilingualism as it is about enforcing monolingualism. In my reading of texts by some of the foremost writers on the language question, Adamantios Korais, Dionysios Solomos, Psycharis (Jean Psichari), and Penelope Delta, in particular, I aim to show how much the nation’s language question has been indebted to the transnational and diasporic dimension of modern Greek culture. To read the work of these writers solely through the lens of the nation involves forgetting the multilingual and diasporic journeys that make their texts possible.

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Also Published In

The Making of Modern Greece: Nationalism, Romanticism, and the Uses of the Past (1797-1896)
Ashgate Publishing

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July 27, 2015


Additional keywords: Diaspora, Adamantias Korais, Dionysis Solomos, Yiannis Psycharis / Jean Psichari, Penelope Delta