Dictionary Georgakas 

Greek-English Dictionary Georgakas 


Old and New in Modern Greek

“Furthermore, demoticist fanaticism, which narrowed the boundaries of Modern Greek by limiting it to so-called ‘genuine’ demotic elements, waned during the half-century from roughly 1926 until 1976 (when then-Minister of Education G. Rallis announced his program of language reform). Like every language belonging to a civilized people and nation, Modern Greek is enriched by a great many learned elements, coming from the higher levels of usage such as education, literature, journalism and the other mass media, the fine arts, the sciences, philosophy, etc. Offhand, I would estimate that approximately 80% of the vocabulary of cultivated, or learned, Modern Greek has such a provenance.”

ince the MGED clearly resembles no other Greek dictionary now in circulation, whether monolingual or bilingual, a number of clarifications from the standpoint of lexicographic typology are in order here.

The MGED is a comprehensive bilingual dictionary, as opposed to the monolingual mid-sized dictionaries of G. Babiniotis or of the Triandafyllidis Foundation, or the small-medium dictionaries of E. Kriaras or Fytrakis. The only dictionary of comparable scale is the Historical Dictionary of the Academy of Athens, which is of course a dictionary of dialects and not of common Modern Greek.[1]. In accordance with internationally established terminology, the MGED is a “general dictionary”, of descriptive as opposed to normative type.[2] There are two broad categories of such dictionaries: the “standard-descriptive” and the “overall-descriptive” general dictionaries. The former describe the “standard national language as generally used by contemporary authors and speakers”, as opposed to specialist users turning to a dictionary for restricted use. To paraphrase Zgusta,[3]: in its purest form, a standard-descriptive general dictionary describes only the norm: in other words, it describes only normal usage, without the language varieties or uses peculiar to particular authors, or occasional or hapax uses. It does not contain words belonging to idioms, dialects, or regional dialects that may be employed sporadically by individual authors in order to imbue their texts with local color. Nor does it contain archaising or obsolete words. On the contrary, it records every living, productive linguistic element at the time of its compilation. In terms both of what it includes and what it excludes, such a dictionary constitutes an indispensable aid to the general user desiring to write and speak a language confidently. Specialized users (e.g., lawyers) will also consult it to ensure that the meaning of a word in a document they are drawing up does not deviate from current usage, and thus avoid the danger of being misunderstood.

The MGED, transcends the narrow limits of a purely “standard-descriptive general dictionary” and approaches those of the so-called “overall-descriptive” dictionary. Such a dictionary contains a greater wealth of material than the “standard-descriptive” one, for its purpose is to serve users wishing to find reliable information about unknown words they read or hear. Thus, the MGED also includes some linguistic elements found in frequently-read literary texts, such as regional or dialectal words in the works of Kazantzakis or other writers, above all those belonging to the period between the two world wars. It also includes that portion from the vocabularies of particular scientific and scholarly research fields (e.g., medicine, law, archaeology), which has crossed the threshold separating specialist vocabulary from common use and become part and parcel of the language of a large number of ordinary speakers.[4] From the material stored in the Archive, only that part was actually employed for the compilation of the Dictionary that was sufficiently documented in texts written in demotic, not in katharevousa. It was this double strategy that revealed clearly for the first time the still-fluctuating boundaries of “common and cultivated Modern Greek”, as Georgacas was wont to call it―or, as others would say, of “extended demotic”.

A considerable part of this linguistic evidence finds a place in the edited entries of the Dictionary. The abundant quotations in the edited first volume may initially put the non-specialist off, or appear superfluous. In fact, the quotations constitute the basis of the MGED’s great difference from other dictionaries. This is so in three respects: first, if one is aware of the lexicographic axiom that has obtained in European lexicography since Johnson, viz., that words’ definitions, and the distinguishing of their sub-meanings and uses, should emerge primarily from comparing their uses in existing texts (and not from ad hoc, specially-constructed examples of either written or spoken discourse, or by recourse to already-existing dictionaries), then the innovation for the lexicography of common Modern Greek becomes apparent. By quoting its sources, the MGED demonstrates that a word or meaning indeed constitutes part of the wealth of current Modern Greek, indicates the type of texts in which it is encountered (prose, poetry, scholarly-scientific), and provides supporting evidence for each interpretation. Secondly, beyond its scholarly and research value, words and meanings offer themselves for didactic purposes, since a wealth of material is provided to create exercises appropriate to educational settings ranging from the primary grades through university level. Third, thanks to the specimens of Modern Greek discourse drawn from so many Modern Greek authors and from the spoken language, the Dictionary offers a panorama of Modern Greek intellectual creation, because through linguistic creation is reflected the entire intellectual and cultural reality of Modern Greece. It would be no exaggeration to claim that reading a page of the MGED constitutes a tour of all that Modern Hellenism has accomplished and expressed. This, then, is the catalytic significance of Georgacas’ Dictionary both for the advancement of Modern Greek lexicography and for the projection of Greek culture more generally.

Georgacas’ etymologies deserve special mention. The scholarly output of this distinguished researcher on Greek etymology was especially extensive, and this fact is recorded, though in very concise form, in the etymological information which is a requisite component of each of the MGED’s entries. Georgacas had intended to provide fuller presentations in the three-volume etymological dictionary he was planning towards the end of his life on behalf of the Academy of Athens, for which he was doubtless the best-qualified scholar of Modern Greek of his generation. From this major task, among the papers left behind after his death, there was discovered ready for publication a detailed Introduction, which is in fact a monograph (written in 1981) entitled Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Modern and Medieval. Introduction and Bibliography, and deserving of publication in its own right.

* * *

From the above, it is clear that Georgacas believed with dispassionate passion―if the oxymoron may be forgiven here―that demotic would prevail. His insight and good sense regarding the most appropriate composition of the desired corpus of texts on which the new dictionary needed to be based should be judged in light of the language situation in Greece in 1960. We owe one of the most astute descriptions to the ever-concise, deeply knowledgeable Henry Kahane, who simultaneously delineated the lexicographic problem of Modern Greek in his study “Problems in Modern Greek Lexicography.”[5] During that critical decade, when a large part of the academic community was consumed by sterile linguistic disputes, Georgacas had undertaken the excerption of sources of demotic, on an unprecedented scale, for the editing of a large Modern Greek dictionary. During the 1970s he began sending his edited entries to Greek and foreign colleagues, as well as to Greek scholars and writers, and he continued to the end to eagerly solicit from them additional information and critical comments. This was the case even when it had become obvious that it would not be possible for him to complete his life’s work. On the basis of these sample entries, circulated either in photocopies or published in scholarly journals,[6] as well as from the progress assessments carried out by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which regularly sent evaluators to North Dakota, the scholarly community within and outside Greece has long been convinced of the Dictionary’s high quality, and has been eagerly anticipating its publication. Although its Director did not have the pleasure of holding in his hands the published first volume of this major reference work, he managed at any rate to lay a sound basis for its continuation and, more importantly, he lived to see realized one of the most important phenomena of modern Hellenism: the end of diglossia in the most formal, official fashion. And all those who met him know how deep was the satisfaction he often expressed regarding this linguistic miracle and the vindication of all those who struggled to achieve it.

1 A comparison of entry-types is to be found in Georgacas 1981, 54-56.

2 Among the Modern Greek dictionaries, the closest to a normative dictionary is that of Babiniotis.

3 Zgusta 1971, 211-212.

4 Zgusta 1971, 213.

5 Σ In Fred W. Householder and Sol Saporta, eds., Problems in Lexicography (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana Univ. Press, 1962) 249-262. See also D.J. Georgacas and Barbara Georgacas, “The Lexicography of Byzantine and Modern Greek,” in F.J. Hausmann, O. Reichmann, H.E. Wiegand, L. Zgusta,, eds., Wörterbücher, Dictionaries, Dictionnaires, Ein internationales Handbuch zur Lexikographie, Vol. 2 (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1990) 1705-1713.

6 "A Dictionary of Modern Greek", Orbis 9 (1969) 558-59· "Compiling a Modern Greek-American English Dictionary", Proceedings of the Linguistic Circle of Manitoba and North Dakota 4 (1963) 4-12· "Modern Greek-English Dictionary: A Section of Entries", Proceedings of the Linguistic Circle of Manitoba and North Dakota 12 (1972) 6-8· "Modern Greek-English Dictionary: Introductory Note and Guide; A Section of Edited Entries: ακόντιο - ακούραστος", Orbis 22 (1973) 389-403· "The First Large International Dictionary of Common and Cultivated Modern Greek: Λεξικό της Κοινής, Γραπτής, Λογοτεχνικής και Λόγιας Νεοελληνικής Γλώσσας", Mandatoforos τεύχ. 18 (1981) 35-66· "An International Dictionary of Common & Cultivated Modern Greek", Orbis 32 (1983=1987) 206-222.

Last Modified: 12 Nov 2009, 10:48