Language use and language attitudes of a phantom minority
Bilingual Northern Greece and the concept of “hidden minorities”
In the following I will try to
examine the applicability of the model of “hidden minorities” as developed by
Christian Promitzer to my case study of the
Slavic-speaking community in
Is the term „hidden minorities” an oxymoron which automatically tends to connotate minorities ethnically? If we define minorities on the sociological level, i.e. primarily by a impeded access to political, economic and social resources and at the same time by endogamy, then the existence of “hidden minorities” should be impossible. A look at the Greek situation will support this argumentation: It is exactly the only legally recognized minority (i.e. the Muslims in Western Thrace) that corresponds to the sociological criterion of an economically disadvantaged and socially discriminated community (Trubeta 1999), whereas the Slavic-speaking hidden minority stands on the same level as the majority population – this holds especially for the rich plain between Edessa and Thessaloniki.
Another aspect in favour of the link
between hidden minority and prosperity is the fact that it is exactly the
poorest part of Greek Macedonia that openly declares its ethnic alterity: The crucial question here is: What was first - economic
underdevelopment or open ethnonational Macedonian consciousness? Does poverty
set off ethnicity, or exactly the other way round? The hidden minority in the
region to the east of
To sum up: Hidden minorities are “hidden” on the socioeconomic level as well. Does this mean that legal recognition of minorities in societies dominated by ethnocentric national discourses is a negative privilege, automatically leading to categorisation and economic disadvantage?
„Internal colonisation“, minorisation and language shift
The case of the Slavic-speaking minority, which until today is officially denied in its very existence, in a comparative perspective is very strange, especially in view of their large number. The Slavic dialects in Aegean Macedonia - a territory of about 35.000 square kilometres - have approximately 200000 potential speakers. Since only one third of them makes active use of the vernacular, which since 30-40 years is not the primary code any more, the term “Slavic-speaker” presents a more or less ethnic category which is supported on the sociological level (cf. Voss 2003: 116-117).
development in the region is determined by several waves of ethnic cleansing in
form of population exchange between
My survey of 270 villages in Northern Greece, where until today Slavic dialects are spoken, results from fieldwork conducted in the area between 1999 and 2003 (Voss 2003d): 112 of them are in Western Macedonia (i.e. the prefectures Kastoria, Florina, and the northern part of Kozani), 121 of them belong to Central Macedonia (i.e. the prefectures Pella, Kilkis, Thessaloniki and the northern part of Imathia), 38 of them in Eastern Macedonia (i.e. the prefectures Serres and Drama).
The acute threat of language death in Eastern and partly in Central Macedonia has to be explained primarily by the fact that 90% of the villages in Eastern and 66% in Central Macedonia have been affected by the huge wave of refugee settlement during the 1920s, whereas in Western Macedonia the majority of Slavic-speaking villages (59%) remained ethnically homogeneous, in the Florina district even 68% percent of the Slavic-speaking villages didn’t receive Greek-speaking population in the 1920s. This makes clear that the degree of refugee settlement can be considered as the crucial factor for language maintenance, at the same time the refugee settlement fits the description of “internal colonialism” by Hechter 1975 leading to ethnic activism of the local population.
villages where Slavic dialects are spoken: and without Greek-speaking settlement:
„Imagined territory“ and “national homeless” borderland minorities
The question emerges how it became possible that such a huge ethnolinguistic group officially has been treated for over 80 years like a phantom. I will try to explain this by the concept of “imagined territories” (Haslinger 2000: 23-26).
The Slavic-speakers in Greek Macedonia represent a typical borderland minority in a typical European “space in between” (to give a translation of the term “europäische Zwischenräume” coined in the anthology of Ther/Sundhaussen 2003 like Alsace, Southern Tyrol, Transylvania or Upper Silesia), exposed to merciless Bulgarian-Greek national bipolarity. The region’s integration in the nation state after 1912/13 failed because the two nationalising parties prolonged the conflict for the two World Wars.
The historical region
The discourse of the non-existence of such borderland minorities like in our case is a consequence of radical waves of ethnic cleansing tending to declare the success of the allegedly reached ethnic homogeneity in a triumphant way: In the Greek case this formula (“all elements with alien consciousness left the country”) is common since the expulsion of the defeated communist partisans after 1949: The same could already be heard after the Bulgarian-Greek population exchange (Neuilly 1919) when 90000 Slavic-speakers emigrated to Bulgaria.
As a consequence of the Bulgarian-Greek
antagonism the local Slavic-speaking population began to develop a strong
Macedonian indigenous consciousness that became even stronger after 1912/13: It
did not constitute an exclusive identity, but the basis for typical multiple
border identities described by Wilson/Hastings (1998: 1-30). After 1991 a new
bipolar constellation occured with the Greek-Macedonian
national rivalry escalating into the controversy over the symbolic heritage of
Alexander the Great. The tricky thing here is that one of the nationalist
parties, the Macedonian side in
Borderland minorities like the
“Linguicism” and language shift
„How threatened is threatened?“ asks Fishman (1991a: 81). Since the integration of Aegean Macedonia into the Greek state 1912/13 „linguicism“ aims at the language death of the Slavic dialects. “Linguicism” by definition of Phillipson/Skutnabb-Kangas (1996: 667) is “an analogous concept to racism, sexism, classism, has been defined as ideologies, structures and practices which are used to legitimate, effectuate and reproduce an unequal division of power and resources (both material and immaterial) between groups which are defined on the basis of language“. This concerns the modification of Slavic names and typonomy since the 1920s, and especially the prohibition of Slavic language use implemented in an incredibly brutal way.
In the diagram of overt and covert minority rights (cf. Phillipson/Skutnabb-Kangas 1995: 490) leading from one extreme (i.e. prohibition) via toleration, non-discrimination, prescription, permission to the other extreme (i.e. promotion), the Slavic dialects in Greece obviously are situated under the category „overt prohibition“, with a slight tendency towards „overt toleration“ after the liberalisation starting in the late 1990s. The Greek case study teaches us that language suppression doesn’t automatically lead to language death. Therefore it is not appropriate to equate suppressed languages with threatened languages, because language loyalty and prestige are important factors for language maintenance.
In our case, the strong pressure exerted on the Slavic-speakers in the Florina district has granted so-called “covert prestige” to the Slavic vernacular. The dialect has become a kind of subcultural code that constitutes group solidarity. Its “covert prestige” is attractive especially for men (Voss 2003a: 65).
On the other hand there are villages
with traditionally Greek national consciousness who make active use of their
Slavic dialect: This makes clear that language does not inevitably have to
function as central symbol of ethnic boundaries. The non-congruence of ethnic
and linguistic group membership has already been pointed out by Trudgill 1977 for the Arvanites
Hidden minorities depend on categorisation from outside („Fremdzuschreibung“) much stronger than other minority groups. This implies the fact that their language, too, has been in the focus of political manipulation (cf. Voss 2003b: 343-344). That explains why the language of hidden minorities does not have the normal symbolic function of identification („link with the glorious past”, “paternity”, “patrimony”) as described by Fishman (1972: 44; 1977: 17-22).
Let’s compare the status of the Slavic
On this scale (between the poles 8 as very high and 1 as very low) the situation corresponds to degree 7: „most users of Xish are a socially integrated and ethnolinguistically active population“, but without intergenerational continuity. The ethnic revival in the Florina region has made the Slavic dialects again the language of family interaction and of the neighbourhood, which corresponds to degree 6. Greek Macedonia shows the typical situation of language shift and decreased proficiency in the Slavic vernacular: households with almost monoglot Slavic-speaking grandparents, bilingual parents, and monoglot Greek-speaking children with a passive knowledge of Slavic (comparable case studies can be found in the anthology about language obsolescence of Dorian 1989).
Intergenerational continuity in conveying the mother tongue at home is considered a conditio sine qua non for language maintenance which can not be substituted or compensated by instruction at school. In this aspect the Lower Sorbian example is relevant: Although this minority language in the former GDR has a developed literacy and its own media, it is more threatened than the suppressed and illiterate Slavic vernacular in the region of Florina. This refutes the Soviet language planning whose ideology was that the simple codification of the so-called “mladopis’mennye jazyki” would be the irreversible step towards language maintenance. Without being the home language, minority languages can not stand the open concurrence situation in the case of official recognition and the use at school and in mass media, according to Fishman 1991a. In bilingual situations, which inevitably are asymetric with a dominating and a dominated language, only prestige and loyalty of the speakers themselves can guarantee language vitality. This is definitely not the case in Greek Macedonia where the complex of speaking a gypsy, mixed idiom is widespread and very strong. An immediate recognition of the Slavic dialects therefore involves the danger of an even faster language death.
In the process of EU-enlargement the
public understanding has discovered language diversity as an ingredient of
European identity which led to the activities of the “European bureau for
lesser used languages”, who even in
The phenomenon of „semi-speakers“
The language situation in Northern Greece suggests the application of sociolinguistic methods about language death, especially the concept of Dorian 1981 of „semi-speakers“ developed during fieldwork stays in the Gaelic community in Scotland, as well as the concept of Tsitsipis 1998 of „terminal speakers“ where the Arvanite community in Greece sets a good example. Dorian’s innovation was to bring the youth into focus and to study their command of a dying language, what she labels “proficiency continuum” (Dorian 1981: 117; cf. Rivera 1983), trying to elaborate a typology of interference, formal syncretism and analogies (cf. Lambert/Freed 1982).
To give some examples collected in Greek Macedonia among young persons under 18 years (cf. Voss 2003c: 9-10):
1) не вервам во љубовто („I don’t believe in love“): gender mistake, since unproductive categories like historical soft feminine stems are not known (correct form: љубовта),
2) ќе сакашам да пијам („I would like to drink“): analogy of the first person singular into the paradigm of conditional (correct in the dialects to the east of Florina would be: ќе сакаше),
3) една дена („one day“) instead of correct един ден: The so-called brojna forma in Bulgarian and Macedonian following cardinal numbers (два дена, три дена „two/three days“) is used here in the singular, interpreting the ending –a as feminine.
4) In the following ethnonymes, Greek interference annuls the so-called Second palatalisation: влахи („vlachs“, from Greek βλάχοι instead of the correct form власи), or помаки („Pomaks“, from Greek πομάκοι instead of the correct form помаци).
At the same time, the language competence of the Florina youth is surprisingly high, since they are able to translate future, perfect, past perfect as well as conditional forms into their dialect, whereas the passive lexical knowledge is not activated easily. At the age of 20 to 30, many of them acquire their ethnic self-identification, and this new self-awareness activates lexical competence passively collected during childhood. I recorded adolescents who are even perfecting their Slavic phonology, learning to spell specific Slavic sibilants difficult to pronounce for every primary Greek-speaker (cf. Hill 1990).
This way, the Slavophone community has developed a perfect mechanism of indirect conveying their ethnic language. Since parents as well as grandparents know that teenagers immediately connotate the Slavic dialects with provincialism and backwardness (cf. Vassberg 1993 for the Alsatian example), they never coerce the children to speak this language, but nevertheless use it very often in presence of the children. This voluntary and indirect teaching of the Slavic vernacular makes it possible for the next generation to negotiate their linguistic identity on their own.
Language use of the Slavic-speaking minority
Let’s have a look now at the language use of „hidden minorities“: Due to the absence of any kind of language planning, we have to expect a vacuum of purism: There are no initiatives of linguistic revitalisation which usually are characterised by a conservative language purism tending to nativise the lexicon, i.e. eliminating all elements of the dominating language. Since purism derives from the fear to loose one’s own identity, it is a very common phenomenon of small, regional, and minority languages. Such puristic enterprises are sentenced to fail because of the difficulty to impose linguistic norms on speakers of non-official languages (Dorian 1994).
At the same time, the absence of every kind of Slavic lexicographic tradition as well as 80 years of Greek influence as the umbrella language have led to various techniques of linguistic interference (for the parallel Arvanite case cf. Sasse 1985): After 1912/13 any Slavic “roofing” of the dialects was stopped. As a consequence, numerous relexifications from Greek (known as well by the Arvanites and the Vlachs) are integrated into the Slavic dialects as borrowings or so-called nonce loans (the following examples are taken from Minkov-Bodancki 1998).
Within the three-generation families we notice situational code switching, whereas the degree of conversational code switching, always adding semantic values in comparison to monolingual speech, depends on the ethno-political self-identification of the speaker.
немам ананги уттебе (< Greek ανάγκη)
“I have no need of you ( I don’t need you).“
арниса даоде уастиномијта (< Greek αρνήθηκα; αστυνομία)
„He refused to go to the police (station).“
су грцко дјаватирио са шета пусвето (< Greek διαβατήριο)
„With a Greek passport you can make trips around the world.“
немаме никаква синеноиси (< Greek συνεννόηση)
„We don’t have any understanding/agreement.“
Л'уг'а селани! Утсурвичкта ефориа (< εφορία) на идописаа (< ειδοποιήσαν) дек' утутре уселто ки пристигне ефорто (< έφορος), форо (< φόρος) дабере, кој има зада плате нек' дое доло на платејта (< πλατεία), кој нема шо да плате ормано да фате.
„Village people! The inland revenue office informed us that tomorrow the revenue officer will arrive in our village to collect taxes. Those who have something to pay should assemble on the village green, those who don’t have anything to pay should hide in the forest.”
Such code-switching as well as borrowing is often introduced by comments as „as we use to say …“, „in our language …“: This indicates that the speakers have a very affective relationship to their mixed linguistic idiosyncrasy (concerning the pragmatic functions of code-switching cf. Blankenhorn 2003: 229-233). The multiple and shifting identities of being „national homeless“ are negotiated through language practices (cf. Blackledge/Pavlenko 2001: 248-251), in this case the linguistic interplay of codes.
Language attitudes of the Slavic-speaking minority
Language attitudes of the hidden minority are determined by the total missing of any official language policy and language ideology. This exposes the minority to one-sided influence of the dominant language group, in our case the Greek ethnocentric discourse.
Parts of the minority have even lost the sense of speaking a dialect that does not belong to the Greek diasystem (in German called “Eigensprachlichkeitsbewusstsein”). This is a consequence of the Greek national discourse propagating that the Slavic dialects of Macedonia only allegedly are Slavic (circulating the label “Slavic-seeming idiom”, in Greek “to slavofanes idioma”) – by the way a parallel to the so-called Windischen-Theorie maintaining that the Slovene dialects in Carinthia are closer to Germanic than to Slavic (Voss 2003d).
The absence of a politically neutral, scientific discourse until recently about linguistic diversity in Greece as well as the official denial of ethnic alterity on Greek state territory has made the minority’s ethnic self-ascription strongly dependent on categorisation from the Greeks, who used to label them with the Greek compounds “palaiovoulgaroi” („dirty Bulgarians“), and after 1991 “gyftoskopianoi” („gypsies from Skopje“). At the same time, the missing of an official label indirectly supports the fragmentation of the minority, which historically is marked by a switch from Bulgarian to Macedonian orientation.
Mark Mazower stated that after 1945 the Greek state persecuted communist partisans more than former collaborators with the Germans (cf. Karakasidou 2002: 135). This general assessment holds especially true for the Slavic-speakers who were punished for communist tendencies (in the western region of Aegean Macedonia) as well as for pro-Bulgarian tendencies (in the eastern region). The experience of social exclusion and open or covert discrimination has hampered a successful assimilation and has led to a subjective perception of otherness, which is not articulated openly. As a consequence of the political history of Greek Macedonia today there are three different regions:
1. the prefectures of Serres and Drama which in World War I and II were under Bulgarian occupation. Although these dialects are close to Standard Bulgarian, the locals fiercely deny any genetic relationship of their dialects with Bulgarian. This can be considered a symptom of hyperassimilation, where the radical denial of one’s own ethnic difference has already led to language death. Sociolinguistic quantitative studies, e.g. questionnaires, are absolutely impossible in this region. The basic problem of data gathering, i.e. the fact that people observed adjust their behaviour to accommodate the observer, has been called the “observer’s paradox” by Labov, the pioneer of modern sociolinguistics. In our case study, this methodological problem sometimes seems insurmountable due to the intimidation of the disadvantaged community of Slavic-speakers.
2. the region between
How to explain the emergence of a
Macedonian national minority? More than 30000 Slavic-speakers from the Florina and Kastoria region had
fled to the Eastern bloc after 1949. In contrast to the mass emigration to
Are the Slavic-speakers in
One of the main reasons for the Greek-Macedonian conflict on the diplomatic level after 1991 is exactly the fact that the historical region Macedonia, i.e. a homogeneous region of ethnic coexistence and multi-optional identities, after 1912 has been divided by culturally highly ambiguous political borders which brought Vardar-Macedonia and Aegean Macedonia into totally different contexts of nationalism and minority policies.
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Greek Macedonia – ethnic revival, cross-border cohesion, or language death? – Sevasti Trubeta/Christian Voss
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 As Kloss points out, segregation within the minority group is
a widespread phenomenon, for example within the German-speaking community in