Helen’s Steakhouse—sorry, I mean Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος—is one of those blogs whose irregular schedule of publication always throws me for a loop. It’ll go for days and days without change, and I’ll get tired of clicking on it and ignore it for a week or so, and then I’ll go back and discover a spate of (invariably fascinating) posts, and I’ll have to drop everything and catch up. This is one of those times, and I really didn’t have the time to read all that, because I’m working against a tight deadline on a massive editing job, but it was such irresistible material that, well, I couldn’t resist. It’s actually a good thing that I let them pile up, because if I’d read them one at a time I’d have wanted to blog each one, and LH would have turned into a reprint service. As it is, all I can do is point you to them and tell you to go read the posts and the conversations that develop in the comment threads. So, in chronological order, here they are:
Soviet Orthography of Greek, about the spelling reform that took place in the USSR in 1925.
Demotic in the Soviet Union, about the two major groups of ethnic Greeks in the USSR—the Pontians who migrated to Russia and the Caucasus in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the Mariupolitans, who originally lived in the Crimea—and the debate over what form of Greek to use as the official language of the Soviet Greek nationality.
Shevchenko in Mariupolitan and Urum, which presents translations of a famous Ukrainian poem into Mariupolitan Greek and Urum Greco-Tatar.
The status of Urum: “How it came to pass that a group of Christians spoke Tatar and followed Greek-speakers to the Ukraine is a question we’re not equipped to answer.” The question is, why didn’t they become a separate nationality during the Springtime of the Nationalities, which “was all about splittism, raising new national consciousness where there was none before”?
Mariupolitan transcribed through Russian ears, a rather technical post about the phonemes of that variety of Greek.
I won’t try to quote enticing bits from each, because I’d wind up reproducing reams of Nick’s prose; instead I’ll just tell you that if you’re at all interested in this stuff, you need to go over there and stay a while. The one bit I will quote is a question for which I too would like an answer:
Agtzidis’ article ends with a question: Soviet language policy was eager to split ethnicities within the USSR from their kin outside: Moldavian differentiated from Rumanian, Buryat from Mongolian. Why then did Moscow affirm Demotic in 1934, instead of encouraging local norms of Pontic and Mariupolitan—which would inevitably have separated the local Greeks from the Downlanders? I don’t know, and I’m curious if readers that know about the politics of the time have any opinion.
The Christians of the Ottoman Empire had to be taught they were Bulgarians, or Greeks, or Macedonians, or Albanians. What the people of village X thought they were 500 years ago is different to what they thought they were 100 years ago, and often what they think they are now. And the change was often enough initiated, because someone from Athens or Sofia came to town, and told them so; or because the local landlord made a choice, and his villagers followed suit.
But the question of what people “really” are, of how their language or quirks or DNA contradict their current self-identification, is pointless. If for whatever reason the villagers of X or Y now consider themselves Greek, well, they’re Greek; telling them a hundred years on they’ve been brainwashed means nothing. (The same goes for the search for Greeks in FYROM, it should be said: the Vlachs there in particular have changed their minds too.) Telling the Karamanlides they should have held on to a Turkish-speaking identity in Greece means even less. They suffered for being Christian in Turkey, they suffered for being aliens and speaking the wrong language when they fled to Greece: if they’ve come to hate their mother tongue, they aren’t obligated to hold on to it for my linguistic edification.
Finally, I’ll put in a plug for the one novel I know about the Soviet Greeks, The Proofreader, by Alexis Parnis.