Dictionary Georgakas 

Greek-English Dictionary Georgakas 


The Historical Background of the MGED

The present, initial volume of the Modern Greek-English Dictionary represents the crowning achievement of the scholarly career of the late Professor Demetrius J. Georgacas, one of the most productive students of the father of Greek linguistics, Georgios Hatzidakis. In this it somewhat resembles the Λεξικό της Μεσαιωνικής Ελληνικής Δημώδους Γραμματείας (1100–1669), crowning achievement of the extensive scholarly production of Emmanuel Kriaras. Georgacas was born on 30 January 1908 in Sidirokastro, Triphylia in the prefecture of Messenia; he passed away on 7 February 1990, at the age of 82, in Grand Forks, North Dakota (USA). Following his years at the University of Athens, where he studied closely with G. Hatzidakis and K. Amantos, and in Berlin, where he was the student of E. Schwyzer, L. Deubner, and M. Vasmer, he served twelve years as an editor at the Center of the Historical Lexicon of the Academy of Athens. He began his academic career in 1947 at the University of Chicago, and concluded it in 1975 at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, where he founded and directed for almost two decades the Modern Greek-English Dictionary Center. His chief research fields were the Greek language, ranging from New Testament Koine and the Greek of the papyri to Modern Greek dialects, etymology, and onomastics.[1] An issue of the journal ΟΝΟΜΑΤΑ, Révue(Athens 1984) dedicated to D.J. Georgacas, I. Th. Kakridis, and K. Trypanis, includes an overview of Georgacas’ scholarly work by Demetrios Polemis. y Demetrios Polemis.

The history of the Modern Greek-English Dictionary (MGED) begins in 1960, when upon commissioning by the U.S. Office of Education (the forerunner of what would become the Department of Education), Georgacas undertook to edit a mid-sized dictionary of Modern Greek, comparable in extent and having as its model Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and destined primarily for university use. Towards this end, he established himself in Athens (in a building in Philothei provided by Andreas Papandreou), and there devoted himself over a period of twenty-seven months (1960-1962) to the systematic excerption of citations from Modern Greek sources―literature, the arts, the sciences, as well as examples of common usage. The end of funding obliged him to return to his university position, having reaped a large harvest of citations, which however left him unsatisfied. For by that time, Georgacas had become convinced that the number of entries and the structure and range of meanings customary for a mid-sized dictionary could not precede the editing of an analytical dictionary of a size comparable to that of the great national dictionaries of other European languages. This in turn presupposed an enormous project to collect citations from spoken and written discourse. A citation project on this scale seemed especially imperative in the case of Modern Greek, in view of the rapid developments foreshadowing the imminent demise of Greece’s long-standing diglossia. There was a great temptation for a linguist to provide lexicographic documentation[2] concerning the advance of demotic Greek, which was already breaking down the barriers of literature, where it had predominated for decades, and occupying one after another of katharevousa’s bastions, all the while evolving into a modern and flexible language, expressive and responsive to any demand placed upon it.

There followed a second eighteen-month period of citation-collection, again in Greece (1965-1966), and a third, from 1967-1974, in the U.S. In actuality, however, the sporadic collection of citations came to a complete halt only upon Professor Georgacas’ death―following the sudden severing of life’s thread, there were found on his desk citation slips.
Generous funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which had been established in 1965, and ongoing support by the University of North Dakota, had made possible the establishment of the University of North Dakota’s Dictionary Center and the systematic, collective work of editing th Modern Greek-English Dictionary. Around Georgacas himself and his wife Barbara, a philologist with broad humanistic training and rare organizational talent (a graduate of the University of Chicago, she succeeded her husband in his teaching post at the University of North Dakota), a group of students and young philologists worked over a period of years. For the most part these were Americans, but there were also a small number of Greeks, some of whom later pursued academic careers in the U.S. and Greece (including Christophoros Charalambakis, Agathoklis Charalambopoulos, and the undersigned). These scholars and many others owe their introduction to lexicography to the Center founded by Professor Georgacas near the U.S.-Canadian border, where―somewhat paradoxically―the tradition of the Historical Lexicon of the Academy of Athens continued in accordance with the standards and specifications established in the late 19th and early 20th century by Georgios Hatzidakis. Thanks to successive grants from the NEH (1970-1975, 1978-1980, 1980-1982), editing of the Dictionary continued until 1988. The Kostas and Eleni Ouranis Foundation, operating under the aegis of the Academy of Athens, also offered modest support to the Dictionary during the years 1975-1977.

After 1989, some years following Georgacas’ retirement, the archive and its accompanying library were placed in storage in the basement of Montgomery Hall, one of the University of North Dakota’s historical buildings. There they remained until 1996 when both traveled to Thessaloniki as a result of Barbara Georgacas’ gift, made in keeping with her late husband’s wishes. For in 1981, Georgacas had expressed his desire to secure three objectives for the Archive, in the following sequence: “(1) its material should constitute the basis of the Greek-English Dictionary; (2) it should eventually be the basis also of a Greek-Greek dictionary, and (3) both the abundant archive material and the library accompanying it should be preserved in perpetuity, established in Greece in a Greek foundation, where it should be placed at the disposal of the Greek and foreign scholarly world for research work relative to the Modern Greek language. The reason for the future preservation of this material is that the size of the raw archive material is many times the amount actually utilized in the edited entries of the Greek-English (or future Greek-Greek) Dictionary and thus valuable for linguistic research; as such it should not be discarded. This archive material should not be allowed merely to lie in a storeroom nor should it be incorporated into any other archive material that is not related to the Common and Learned Demotic”.".[3] Barbara Georgacas determined that the Centre for the Greek Language, which had been established in Thessaloniki in 1994, satisfied the above conditions. Thus, two years later, thanks to the generosity of the Kalamaria City Council, the Georgacas Archive and Library were provided a home in its new Cultural Activities Center. They arrived and were installed in November 1996. When, three months later, floods devastated the state of North Dakota, one of the many buildings whose basements were destroyed was Montgomery Hall. But by that time, this priceless material had been removed.

* * *

1 Georgacas’ full bibliography, which numbers 170 titles, in: J.N. Kazazis, “Δημήτριος Ι. Γεωργακάς (1908-1990),”Λεξικογραφικόν Δελτίον (Academy of Athens) 17 (1991) 211-225. I mention here three of his ten published monographs: ΤhenamesfortheAsiaMinor PeninsulaandaRegisterofSurviving AnatolianPre-TurkishPlacenames (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1971); A Graeco-slavic Controversial Problem Reexamined: the -its- suffixes in Byzantine, Medieval and Modern Greek, their Origin and Ethnological Implications, (Athens: Δημοσιεύματα της Ακαδημίας Αθηνών, 1982); Ichthyological Terms for the Sturgeon and Etymology of the International Terms 'botargo', 'caviar', and congeners: a Linguistic, Philological and Culture-historical Study,(Athens: Δημοσιεύματα της Ακαδημίας Αθηνών, 1978).

2 L. Zgusta, Manual of Lexicography (Prague: Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences, 1971) 186 aptly observed: “Another very delicate task is to compile a dictionary of a language with a strong diglossia. Again the lexicographer will have to formulate a unified policy before beginning his work on the manuscript of the dictionary. But in order to formulate such a policy, it will be necessary for him to consider not only the immediate problems of the dictionary or points of interest in the lexicon, but also to form a well-considered appraisal of the future development of the situation, taking into consideration the whole trend of cultural development.”

3 D.J. Georgacas, “The First Large International Dictionary of Common and Cultivated Modern Greek,” Mantatoforos 18 (1981) 40-41.

Last Modified: 12 Nov 2009, 10:48