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The (socio)linguistics of Cypriot Greek as a heritage language in present-day London

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Since the early 20th century, the United Kingdom has been home to a sizeable Greek Cypriot community, whose population is presently estimated to fall between 200,000 and 300,000 individuals (Christodoulou-Pipis, 1991; National Federation of Cypriots in the UK). The members of the Greek Cypriot parikia (‘expatriate community’) share a rich linguistic repertoire. Alongside English, this repertoire features an array of forms of Cypriot Greek ranging from basilectal to acrolectal varieties along the continuum defined by Katsoyannou et al. (2006) and Tsiplakou et al. (2006) as well as Standard Modern Greek, which is used in official domains of parikia life such as at supplementary schools, the Church, and the Greek-speaking media. As is often the case with diasporas, however, the parikia does not form a homogeneous speech community in that not all its members have an equally good command of all three languages. Rather, different types of both monolingual and bilingual speakers are found. In this talk, I focus on one particular type of Cypriot Greek bilingual that has recently begun to draw significant attention in the literature: heritage speakers (see Benmanoun et al. 2013; Montrul 2008; Polinsky & Kagan 2007). Heritage speakers are British-born second-generation immigrants, i.e., the children of first-generation immigrants who were born in Cyprus. They grew up acquiring Cypriot Greek at home until they started school at which time they started acquiring English. Gradually, they became more fluent in the socially dominant language, limiting the use of their heritage language to the interaction with family and friends from the same ethnolinguistic background. In the first part of the talk, I aim to contribute to the documentation of British Cypriot Greek by providing a description of the heritage variety of the language that is spoken by second-generation Cypriots in London. I focus on (a) the preservation of basilectal forms and variants, both lexical and phonological, that are falling out of use in present-day Cyprus but which are still in use in the British capital such as mavlúka ‘pillow’ instead of maksilári or lá[x]os ‘mistake’ instead of lá[θ]os, and (b) the effects of language contact with English on the lexical and the grammatical level as evidenced, among others, by the phonological and morphological adaptation of English loanwords into Cypriot Greek, and by gender and number agreement mismatches as in (1). (1) éʃi mericés léksis … pu én íne sostá

has word(f).pl.acc

that not are

‘There are some words that are not correct.’ In the second part of the talk, I discuss the current sociolinguistic situation of the British Greek Cypriot community focusing on attitudes towards Cypriot Greek and Standard Modern Greek. Previous work has shown that, in Cyprus, Standard Modern Greek carries high prestige. Speakers of Cypriot Greek describe speakers of the standard as more attractive, more ambitious, more intelligent, more interesting, more modern, more dependable, more pleasant and more educated than speakers of the dialect (Papapavlou, 1998; see also Sciriha, 1995; Papadakis, 2003). I show that the prestige relation between the two varieties that holds in Cyprus has been transplanted to the parikia. The standard language is widely perceived as prestigious and is described in positive terms such as ‘correct’ or ‘proper’. This attitude is strongly reinforced by the system of complementary education, which is offered exclusively in the standard by such bodies as the Cypriot Educational Mission (Κ.Ε.Α.) and the Greek Orthodox Church. Cypriot Greek, on the other hand, is perceived as an integral part of the British Cypriot identity but also as ‘heavy’ and ‘peasanty’ due to the history of Cypriot migration to the UK. The use of lexical and grammatical variants that are traditionally associated with basilectal varieties of Cypriot Greek as well as heritage language features, especially the adoption of morphologically adapted loanwords from English, is actively discouraged by the first generation not only in the public domain but also in private domains such as the home. I conclude with a discussion of the prospects of language maintenance for the dialect arguing that different manifestations of negative attitudes towards the dialect, which are inherent within the parikia, pose the most serious threat for the intergenerational transmission of Cypriot Greek in London.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) series.

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