By Maria Ampelourgou
Since I am a new addition to the team, one of my colleagues suggested that I might be able to offer some insight about my native language, with an article on an interesting linguistic or intercultural issue.
So here I was last night, caught between Greek on one side and English on the other. After putting my thinking cap on and gulping down some chocolate (and then some more), I came up with the obvious: ‘Greeklish’!
..I know, it does not seem to be all as obvious as I suggest. Then again, this is a good thing. It means I might actually be able to write about something you did not know.
‘Greeklish’, then, is basically Greek language written by means of employing Latin alphabet characters. This trend emerged back in the 1980s when Latinisation was the only option available to the few Greek-speaking internet users who claimed native language use. Then the 90s came and brought along the development of the unicode character-encoding standard which eventually enabled the use of Greek script. Yet, given the spread of electronic media across Greek society, not only was ‘Greeklish’ already established as the most popular form of electronic media communication, but it was also only a matter of time before it became an issue of public discourse.
Those of you with a taste for Linguistics and Translation might suggest that this is merely a case of transliteration; that is, the standard practice of Latinisation of Greek script in the attempt to render proper/place names into English. Congratulations, you are 99% right! The 1% that slipped your mind lies in the fact that the term ‘Greeklish’ is reserved for informal and increasingly idiosyncratic writing in environments where Greek alphabet is not an option. Given that transliteration standards are hardly known outside expert circles, Greek internet users have engaged in a linguistic innovation which was highly aesthetically driven. After all, variation and complexity in Greek orthography allowed for a high extent of improvisation in Latin alphabet Greek. The different variants of transliteration practices can be somehow categorised in phonetic transliteration (based on correspondences between Greek phonemes and Latin graphemes), keyboard-based transliteration (most convenient from a user’s perspective, but neither phonetically accurate nor visually similar) and visual transliteration (maximum of iconicity, though at the expense of convenient key correspondences).
Being a genuine enthusiast of creativity and innovation, my writing probably reflects my positive perspective on the matter. After all, it cannot be but exciting for a language enthusiast to think of the extent of metalinguistic awareness underlying such spontaneous practices. Nevertheless, quite a few linguists argue that language as an iconic representation also embodies a country’s identity, history and mentality, thus seeing the ‘Greeklish’ trend as a form of alienation from proper Greek values. Others just point out that variation in script renders ‘Greeklish’ difficult to read and write, if not all ugly and graceless.
Be that as it may, ‘Greeklish’ has managed to acquire a language-like status in its own right, with several electronic dictionaries, even converters into Greek and vice versa. Even though the linguistic localisation of the web has now enabled the use of Greek script, ‘Greeklish’ is likely to persist as a form of counter-language and an asset of subcultures that involve net/text lingo.
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