Through two lenses: Re-enregistering Cypriot Greek as ‘slang’ in London’s Greek Cypriot diaspora

The Language and Communication research cluster is delighted to welcome Dr Petros Karatsareas (University of Westminster) for a presentation on Through two lenses: Re-enregistering Cypriot Greek as ‘slang’ in London’s Greek Cypriot diaspora

When? Friday 8th March 2019, 14.30 – 15.30

Where? Room V105, Vine building, Middlesex University, London, NW4 4BT

In the context of Cyprus, Standard Modern Greek and Cypriot Greek have traditionally been viewed as two discrete and mutually exclusive linguistic entities that form a binary diglossic opposition à la Ferguson (1959) with Standard Modern Greek being the High code and Cypriot Greek being the Low code (Moschonas, 1996, 2002; Arvaniti 2006/2010). More recent proposals, however, describe a register continuum (Tsiplakou, Papapavlou, Pavlou & Katsoyannou, 2006; Papapavlou & Sophocleous, 2009). At the one end of the continuum, we find an acrolectal register that incorporates a high number of lexical, phonological and grammatical features (thought to be) found in the standard variety of the language as it is spoken in Greece. At the other end, we find a basilectal register that incorporates a high number of features originating in the regional varieties of Greek spoken in Cyprus. One of the two main labels that speakers of Cypriot Greek use to describe this register is xorkátika (cipriaká) ‘villagey (Cypriot)’, associating it with notions of rurality and a general lack of sophistication and manners captured collectively under the related label xorkaθ‘peasantry’.

In this contribution, I draw on data collected as part of a larger ethnographic investigation of language practices among London’s Greek Cypriot diaspora (see Karatsareas, 2018) to argue that, in London and as a result of being transplanted from a rural to an urban context where the majority language is English, Cypriot Greek was re-enregistered (in the sense of Agha, 2003, 2007) on the basis of ideological conceptualisations of English non-standard varieties vis-à-vis Standard English. Evidence in support of this thesis is found in the fact that, in addition to the known label xorkátika (cipriaká), British-born speakers of Cypriot Greek, who are dominant in English, describe their heritage language as a type of Greek ‘slang’ and also as spazména (elliniká) ‘broken (Greek)’, two labels unknown to the Cyprus context. In the use of the former term, we see the recognition of the informality and orality of Cypriot Greek as well as of the ways in which it challenges social and linguistic conventions. The latter term is not applied, as would be expected, to contact-induced phenomena in the speech of English-dominant speakers that would be ungrammatical in the speech of Cypriot Greek monolinguals. Rather, it is applied to basilectal features of Cypriot Greek such as the postalveolar fricative [tʃ] and words that contain it such as tʃe ‘and’ by virtue of their lack from acrolectal registers and Standard Modern Greek. This suggests that, in the diasporic context, the similarities between basilectal registers of Cypriot Greek and non-standard English varieties in terms of informality, orality and difference from the respective standards enhanced the pre-existing perception that Cypriot Greek is an inferior form of language.



petrosDr Petros Karatsareas is a Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Westminster. He holds a Ptychion in Greek Philology from the University of Athens, and an M.Phil. in Linguistics and a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Cambridge. He specialises in multilingualism focusing on the languages of the UK’s minority ethnic communities. He explores the factors that play a role in intergenerational transmission and maintenance, looking specifically at ideologies of monolingualism, attitudes towards multilingualism, and attitudes towards non-prestigious linguistic varieties. He is also interested in community language teaching and learning looking at how community languages are taught in complementary schools and the role these schools play in language maintenance and ideology.

He addresses these issues based on his research on London’s Greek Cypriot diaspora. He is also actively involved in a range of public engagement activities raising awareness about the value of non-standard linguistic varieties and about the contribution of the Greek Cypriot community to London’s multicultural and multilingual character. His research has received the financial support of the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (through the Open World Research Initiative).


The Language and Communication Research Seminars are free and open to all staff, students and guests. For any questions or if you would like to lead a session, contact Anna Charalambidou.

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