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Constructing identity/ies in Georgia's Greek multilingual community of linguistic practice

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Even in ethnically and linguistically heterogeneous Georgia, the Greek multilingual community of linguistic practice sticks out due to the intriguing way it fits its languages into the collective identity it construes for itself. Contrary to most current assumptions and intuitions, my Georgian Greek informants claim that the languages they speak do not determine their group identity. Linguistically, this community may be divided into to two subgroups: Pontic Greeks speak an older Greek variety, whereas Urum Greeks speak a variety of Turkish. The two varieties are mutually unintelligible, so that community members speak Russian or Georgian to communicate with each other. What unites this multilingual community is its origins in the Pontus region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, its belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church, the official classification as “Greeks” in the Soviet Union, mass emigration in the past 20 years (mainly to Greece and Cyprus but also to other countries) and the conviction of somehow sharing the same level of “greekness”. My research interest centres on the roles language and the larger social context play in the construction of collective identities in multilingual communities of linguistic practice. Starting with the example of the Georgian Greek “minimal pair”, I analyse the following points:

1. the roles of the relevant varieties (Urum, Pontic Greek, Standard Modern Greek, Russian, Georgian, Turkish) in identity construction within this multilingual community of linguistic practice; 2. drawing of (linguistic) borders within (rural/urban, Urum/Pontic divides) and between (“Greeks” vs. Georgian societal majority, Armenian/Azeri minorities) the groups my informants make out as relevant for their social world; 3. Transformations due to profound socio-economic changes (end of the Soviet Union, mass migration to Greece); and finally 4. the perspectives of self-identifying members of outside groups (Georgian societal majority, Armenian and Azeri minorities). In this talk I introduce the Georgian Greek multilingual community of linguistic practice and outline my doctoral research and preliminary results of my MA work on the Urum Greek subgroup.

This talk is part of the King's Occasional Lectures series.

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