Monday, October 20, 2008


Auto pou me ekneurizei apo ta diadiktyaka ellinika einai to legomeno "Griklish," oxi mono epeidh einai dysanagnwsto alla kai epeidh den exei mia typopoiimenh or8ografia.
Receiving emails in Greek can often be a bemusing and culturally diverse experience and the adaptation of a most ancient and venerable script to the most modern of forms of communications has seen it become altered beyond recognition. Thus, the receipt of an email in what purports to be Greek, will often ensure that its recipient is compelled to embark upon a journey of interpretation that would vex the linguistic presdigitations of even the most dextrous glossologist.
Granted, these days it is possible to compose emails (known as "emails" in Technogreek or even «ημέϊλ,» for most Unicode challenged personal computerists, in 'normal' Modern Greek. However, this is time-consuming, and to many, challenging, owing to the diacritical marks that must be located and labouriously inserted at the time of typing. Emails typed in the horrendous Symbol font, which still exists to plague our virtual aesthetics are thankfully becoming extinct. Instead, most PC users, even those in Greece, opt for the convenience of Romanised Greek, "Greeklish" or. more accurately, Internet Greek.
Internet Greek is extremely disconcerting and annoying. Reading it is tantamount to seeing a person clad in the cutting edge of fashion suddenly discard their clothes and don Coogi jumpers or Ken Donne shirts instead. Further, while it is impossible to find a standardised orthography for it, a few rules of thumb, developed in usage, seem to have evolved. Internet Greek (and dare we say text message Greek) users from Greece and those for whom literary Greek is a mother tongue, tend to apply letter for letter transliterations that are consistent with modern Greek spelling. Thus, h represents heta, y represents ypsilon and vowel clusters such as eu and au are preserved. Even within this conformist system, the user is called upon to make arbitrary decisions that will effect the recording of the Greek language for all time. Should we distinguish between omega and omicron by writing one with a w (since it looks like it) and the other with an o? Will this not confuse a functional reader bilingual in both Greek and English. Similarly, should we represent theta as 'th' or s a glyph that resembles the Greek letter, namely, '8?' The situation with the consonant 'X' is even more complex. Do we retain its Greek pronunciation as 'khi,' or do we apply it for the Roman equivalent, 'ks?' The resulting confusion, whereby x is used for both sounds indiscriminately or the number '3' is utilised as it resembles the lower case letter "ξ." Other readers prefer to represent ksi as "j" because that is the key one needs to press if one is to bring up that letter on a Greek keyboard. Similarly, the letter N is variously recorded in its lower case as "n" or as "v," the latter resembling in its physical form, the lower case Greek letter. Compounding the conundrum, do we use b to represent the sound v as we do in Greek, (some use the glyph 8, which looks like lower case beta, in which case they are restricted from using it as theta) and if we do, should we record the 'b' sound, being a voiced bilabial plosive, as 'b" (exactly as in English) or do we retain the Greek orthography and represent it as "Mp?" Again, should delta, as a voiced dental fricative, be represented as 'd' or as 'th' - in which case it could be confused with 'theta' or as 'dh?' Conversely, should the voiced dental plosive 'd' sound be represented as 'd' or as "nt" as it is written in Modern Greek? Should the voiced velar stop gamma, be written as 'g' or 'gh' to enable the English 'g' sound to be written variously as 'g' or 'gg' or 'gk'? And how do we make allowances for the transformation of gamma from consonant into a close-front rounded vowel when preceding an 'i' or 'e' (ie. yiagia)?
Confused? Then seek solace in the fact that at least SOME of our letters have direct equivalents in the Roman alphabet. Internet Arabic, by comparison, is most traumatic, because none of the letters of its abjad in any way correspond to Roman equivalents. Users are reduced to using a vast jumble of letter and number clusters in order to phonetically approximate the words they wish to convey. Thus the letter 'ayin, a voiced pharyngeal fricative, with no equivalent sound in the Greek or Roman phonologies is represented as a 3 and other sounds, such as q (as a voiceless uvular plosive) as 2 or h, (as a voiceless pharyngeal fricative) as 7.
Most Greeks outside of Greece, tend to adopt a standardised, phonetic approach to writing internet Greek which though inelegant, often difficult to read and most probably occasioned by an incomplete grasp of Modern Greek orthography in the first place, may at least provide keys to pronunciation, thus giving rise to a revolution in Greek language writing: Sort of - Phonetic Internet Greek. Thus the sentence, «Αυτή εκεί η γιαγιά μου διαβάζει τον Νέο Κόσμο,» which could be rendered into Modern Internet Greek as "Auth (or is it (ayth?)ekei h giagia mou diabazei ton Neo Kosmo," may be more clearly rendered into Sort of - Phonetic Internet Greek as: "Afti eki i yaya mou diavazi ton Neo Kozmo."
Some types of Greek script are irreplaceable. After publishing the diatribe entitled "Καραμανλίδικα" last year, I received a very polite and heart-warming email from an Arthur Malcok, resident of Paris which read as follows: «ΧΑΙΗΡΛΗ ΓΚΙΟΥΝΛΕΡ ΣΑΝΑ ΓΙΟΥΝΑΝ ΚΑΡΔΑΣΗΜ. ΓΙΑΖΗΛΑΡΗΝΗ ΟΚΟΥΔΟΥΜ,ΚΑΡΑΜΑΝΛΗ ΡΟΥΜΛΑΡΗΝ ΧΑΤΗΡΑΣΗΝΗ ΓΙΑΣΑΤΤΗΓΗΝ. ΙΤΣΙΝ ΑΛΛΑΧ ΒΕ ΙΕΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΣΕΝΤΕΝ ΡΑΖΗ ΟΛΣΟΥΝ. ΚΑΠΠΑΔΟΚΙΑΛΗ ΑΡΘΟΥΡ.» Here we witness the remarkable emergence of language that has ceased to be literary, that is the Cappadocian dialect of Ottoman Turkish, as Standard Internet Cappadocian. Of course the defining feature of Cappadocian is that it is rendered by a Greek script, albeit with some small modifications. The minute that this script is rendered into Roman script, it loses its unique identity and merely becomes a variant of Turkish. Hence, paradoxically, while Cappadocian-Karamanlidika is Turkish that cannot be written by anything else other than the Greek script, even on the Internet, Modern Greek, can and usually is, on the Internet, written in Roman. It is precisely these difficulties in Greek computing that probably prompted PASOK member of Parliament Anna Diamantopoulou to consider the advantages of replacing the Greek script with a Romanised one a few years ago - something which, given the increasing sophistication of multi-language software today, is not only an anachronism but also thoroughly abhorrent and evil.
Modern Greek or Sort of Phonetic Internet Greek aside, it cannot be doubted that the Internet has vastly improved communication between us castaways and our motherland. This has come at some cost however. I remember as a child, excitedly extracting mail from the letterbox and discovering mail from Greece. Reverently, I would remove the Greek stamps from the envelope and attempt to untangle and decipher the spidery writing of the letter-writer, which was as complicated as a piece of lace, crocheted by a blind woman. These letters, bearing the village news, would invariably begin with the formulaic: «Αγαπημένοι μου, σας φιλώ με πόνο πολύ,» and would arrive at our home every so often, to be devoured, passed on, analysed and scoured for subtle nuances in phrase or turn of the pen, that could betray a further underlying meaning. For me, these letters were, beyond Stathis Psaltis movies and the odd poorly taken video from relatives returning from holidays, my only tangible insight into that mysterious and fabled country, so many kilometres away, of whom so many stories and legends had been told. I would keep them and re-read them, mining them for new words and expressions. Letter writing is a genteel art because it requires you to think about what you have written before you send it. Thus, one hardly ever received a rude, coarse or terse letter. Sprinkled with clichés, they were usually full of touching sentiments about the tyranny of distance and only glossed upon difficulties or problems, that surely would have been dwelt upon if closer and more frequent contact was maintained.. I still maintain a bundle of these relationship-saving letters on now yellowing paper.
These letters became sparse and then stopped coming altogether around about the same time that families no longer dropped whatever they were doing and sat in stunned silence when, upon answering the telephone, the counter-cry «Ελλάδα, Ελλάδα!» would be given, accompanied by the loud shouting of conversation down the telephone microphone, in the hope that this would propel one's voice over the telephone wires, back to the homeland more effectively.
These days, communication, albeit through a Romanised filter, is just a click of a mouse button away. So immediate is the effect of email and the Internet in general that one can receive blow by blow accounts of family and friend's daily lives, temporally tempered only by the medium of time zones. I am often astounded to receive emails from on-line readers of the Diatribe from such diverse places as Novosibirsk, Buenos Aires and Egypt. In one memorable case, I received an angry email from a descendant of the assassin of the prince of Samos Kopasis, who was under the misapprehension that I had considered his forebear's murderous deed a myth. More recently, I was most entertained to read in a Fyromian forum-response to a Diatribe on the New United Villages of Florina that "Grkomani" (presumably such as myself,) are the "scum of the earth," and that I am an Albanian.
Despite the immediacy of email, it does not have the enduring quality of letters that exist in a tangible form. Moreover, no matter how dextrous and eloquent the sentiments expressed, they are invariably distilled into the conformity of a limited range of Roman fonts that cannot convey fully the personality of the letter-writer. I find that immediacy often breeds contempt. When first establishing contact with long lost friends or cousins, a flurry of emails ensues. Months later, when all imaginable topics have been exhausted, communication is relegated to "What's up?" the answer almost always being "Nothing much." Similarly, I find myself increasingly deleting emails from Greek news mail-lists that I have signed up for, whereas previously, I would read each of them carefully, attempting to pillage them for information. Whereas letters provided information and sentiment in small, easily digestible spoonfuls, nowadays, we are swamped by a whole flood of information, that threatens to congeal and stagnate in the innermost recesses of our accounts, unless they are deleted.
I was a relatively late-comer to Facebook, which appears to occupy the middle position between personal contact and email. Discarding for the moment the inherent olde worlde guilt arising from speaking (or rather writing) to people on line instead of calling them or seeing them, if used, in Maxwell Smartian fashion for good instead of evil, it can reap surprising results. Its Greek-related Facebook groups, canvassing such diverse subjects as «Και οι παντρεμένοι έχουν ψυχή,» to "Stuff Tibet, free Northern Epirus instead," and "Giorgos Seferis" there is a real opportunity to connect with ecumenical Hellenism and foster an exchange of views in an unprecedented way. I was enthralled the other week, having joined a Facebook group devoted to my father's village, to discover distant, long-long cousins, the existence of whom had hitherto been unknown to me. Facebook too, poses revolutionary linguistic potentialities. Most recently, I was invited to join a group entitled: «Θέλω Facebook στα Ποντιακά,» the reason cited being so that: «Να λελέβω το Facebook πουλί'μ.» This in turn has sparked off calls for Vlach Facebook and even Cretan Facebook. And why not? Let us conquer the Internet for the diverse dialects of the Greek language! Let us shake off the tyranny of Roman-imposed computering. Until next week, a new computer word: «Κατσιτεφτέρ». You've guessed it. Its "facebook" in Pontiaka.


First published in NKEE on 20 October 2008