In part one, Dean Kalimniou looks at the Greek culture, identity and language through the eyes of the next generation
The Greek version of the latest edition of my place of origin's brotherhood's newsletter is largely unintelligible, comprised of dubious spellings and imaginative grammatical constructions that connote fluency in Swahili and only a passing acquaintance with Modern Greek. Considering however, that the brotherhood in question is over the venerable age of seventy years, the fact that it persists in communicating to its ageing members in a form of Greek, however garbled, is praiseworthy, especially considering that many of it's community counterparts these days increasingly choose to adopt English as the primary language of communication.
This, despite our large numbers and numerous schools and other institutions, is not surprising. Modern Greek is a language in decline, gradually disappearing from use in Australia. It was Cavafy who, in his evocative poem The Poseidonians told the story of the inhabitants of a Greek colony in Southern Italy, who, "forgot the Greek language after so many centuries of mingling with Tyrrhenians, Latins, and other foreigners. The only thing surviving from their ancestors was a Greek festival, with beautiful rites, with lyres and flutes, contests and wreaths. And it was their habit toward the festival's end to tell each other about their ancient customs and once again to speak Greek names that only few of them still recognized."
This tokenistic treasuring of redundant tribal totems is most haunting and not without parallel closer to home. While Greek may be the primary language of discourse for first generation migrants aged sixty and over, the same cannot be said of members of our community who arrived here at a young age and grew up here, or the generations that were born here. Increasingly, English is the language employed in most facets of life, and primarily in the family home. When Greek is spoken, it is usually spoken only to the pappou and yiayia generation and even there, that said generation is more and more, employing broken English in order to communicate with their children and grandchildren.
Consequently, upon the demise of that generation, it is evident that the opportunities for speaking Greek will be severely curtailed, for it is relatively unheard of for Greek to be spoken with convincing regularity among members of the latter acculturation generations, especially without this eliciting a raised eyebrow and a sarcastic comment. Where Greek is spoken among the latter generations, it is usually done so in a fetishistic fashion, with the coining and adoption of words that establish a common Poseidonian origin for those engage in the discourse, such as "re, malaka, megale etc."
Generally speaking however, it is a register that is avoided. One of the reasons for this, is an insecurity with regard to competence and an inherent fear of making mistakes. As an aside it is of interest to consider, tentatively, so as to avoid the risk of making gross generalisations, that such limited intra-generational Greek language use as is employed by the second generations often differs according to gender.
Though it is postulated by anthropologists that women are more likely to retain and pass down a mother tongue and customs, it is interesting to note that slightly more second generation males than females use aspects of the Greek language in their daily discourse towards each other. There may be a multitude of complex reasons for this, including family relationships and gender relations within them, the gender-biased composition of our social organisations that facilitates communication in Greek with more ease for males than females and a host of other factors that truly require further examination.
The phenomenon of limited intra-generational Greek discourse among the second generation and next to no discourse among the third generation, is a logical and not unnatural outcome of our sojourn in these Antipodean parts. The more one is acculturated to a society, the more one is exposed to its dominant language and the more that dominant language will permeate not only one's own personal spoken medium but also its underlying cultural constructs and suppositions, the more the original spoken medium will emerge hybridised. This is especially so in our community, where the vocabulary of our agrarian in origin first generation was generally limited at best and unable to reflect the challenges and concepts denoted by an urban environment, even in its own tongue.
Despite growing up in a consciously monolingual family, right up until the age of thirteen when my grandmother visited us from Greece, I was convinced that the Greek word for market was marketa, for I had heard no other. The same applies for friza. My grandparents discovered the fridge in this country and, especially given the paucity of media for communication with the motherland during the fifties and sixties, could not have known that this was deemed a psygeio, by their family back home.
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