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Greece/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

Greek is the official language of Greece, and the native language spoken by the vast majority of Greek citizens. Modern Greek is the natural evolution of earlier forms of the Greek language, from the late Bronze Age through to Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and post-Byzantine times, and retains to a significant extent the vocabulary base and syntax of earlier forms. The poetics and rhetoric of Modern Greek can be best appreciated with knowledge of earlier literary and linguistic traditions. Through urbanisation and the homogenising effect of national education and the audiovisual media, local variants of the Greek language have become less prevalent, and amount today to little more than differences in accent and usage.

During the 1970s, language reform established the commonly spoken demotike as the official language for administration and education, replacing katharevousa, a "cleansed", somewhat archaic form that was the official language for most of the preceding one and a half centuries of the Modern Greek state. The usage of Modern Greek was further simplified by the abolition of breathing signs and the simplification of stress marks. Recent debates concern the use of an increasing number of foreign words, especially among young people, a fact that is deplored by some as posing a danger to the purity of the Greek language. This debate, clearly, is as much socio-political in nature as it is about language, and it is linked to a broader cultural debate about the distinctness of the Greek culture, and its position between distinct Eastern – rooted in Byzantium and Orthodox Christianity - and Western European cultural traditions. Current tensions due to the economic crisis add ammunition to these debates.

The vast majority of literary works, dramatic and cinema productions, benefiting from direct or indirect state aid, are produced in Greek. A condition for funding from the Greek Film Centre is that movies produced are 51% in the Greek language and 51% of the shooting should take place in Greece (exception to this can only be granted after a special decision). The government has a policy for the promotion of the Greek language that is apparent in integrative programmes for Greek language literacy among children of migrant workers and for people of Greek origin who were accepted by Greece from Eastern Europe (mainly Russia, Ukraine and Georgia) after the dissolution of the Soviet bloc. Greek language teaching is also provided to children of Greek Diaspora communities, according to the educational system and traditions of their adopted country: in the context of regular schools, in separate Greek language schools recognised by the local educational authorities, or in Saturday classes typically organised by the local Greek Orthodox Church. In addition, the Ministries of Culture and Tourism, of Education and of Foreign Affairs provide grants to a significant number of departments or academic positions of Modern Greek in universities throughout the world, and the Hellenic Culture Foundation, an arms-length organisation of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, has been active in monitoring and coordinating the teaching of Modern Greek abroad. Moreover, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism offers scholarships to students from abroad to participate at the International Programme of Greek Language, History and Civilisation organised every August, in cooperation with the Thessaloniki-based Foundation of the Aimos Peninsula. The amount granted in 2011 reached 166 300 EUR.

Chapter published: 14-08-2015

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