Dear Sir, I strongly wish that accents be preserved but I don't know all the issues surrounding the problem and I am currently too tired to intervene in any new combat. Please forgive me: I can barely see the accents! With my warmest wishes. (Translated by Y.H.) [We are very grateful to Mss de Romilly who sent us this encouraging note despite the fatigue of her 95 years and her problems of sight. We remind the reader that she has said, 20 years ago: “My admiration for Greek civilization is endless, except that the change you are making to your language is confusing. The monotonic system after bothering Greeks, is also confusing foreigners. Πηγὴ κακῶν Ἑλλήνων καὶ τῆς Ἑλλάδος θαυμαστῶν!”]
I was glad to hear about your Movement for the reintroduction of the polytonic system of accentuation. I certainly support it, for its abolition seems to me tantamount to an attempt to undermine an innate characteristic of the language itself, namely its subtly modulated, and perhaps unique system of differentiation in speech. The distinctions appreciated and formalized so long ago by the polytonic system are an inherent part of the long and uninterrupted history of both the spoken and written language, and its abolition has to my mind destroyed a central element in its evolution, and put the clock back — not forward, as its protagonists, I imagine, believe. In a language such as Greek with many layers of growth, the visible application of accentual rules (like metrical rules) provides a framework within which the various strands of that growth can be seen as a central feature. That it was a living part of intercommunication long ago does not mean that it has outlived its raison d’être at a period when other philological elements have been modified. I recommend you to read (if you can find a copy) pp. xxii-xxiii of Chandler’s Greek Accentuation (2nd edn.), with the quotation from “Ioannes Alexandrinus” on the title-page.
The only item in the polytonic system which might without damage to the whole structure be sacrificed is, in my opinion, the barytone sign, which is, after all, only a modification of the oxytone, and is purely (is it not ?) a written symbol. I would defy anyone to distinguish between the two in speech.
Cher ami, j'avais longuement traîné à vous écrire sur cette délicate question [des accents], non que mon opinion soit le moins du monde en doute, mais je me demandais bien quelle autorité je pourrais avoir. Outre le fait que j'ai toujours lu le grec accentué traditionnellement et que ce tout petit savoir m'a tant de fois sauvé de l'erreur, il m'est revenu un mot que nous disait le P. Festugière, dont j'ose me réclamer.,
Il disait : « Dieu est caché dans les accents grecs », voulant dire que notre amour de la langue grecque devait aller au moindre détail de cette langue. Au risque de blesser Dieu qui y avait établi sa demeure.
Pour moi, c'est un mot qui me revient sans cesse lorsque je corrige des épreuves grecques. Pas de faute dans les accents !
Why do I insist on the polytonic accentuation system? A short—as well as precise—answer would be: because breathings and accents have been an organic part of historical Greek spelling for the past 22 centuries; and historical spelling is an indispensable part of Greek civilization since written speeach has long been—and still is—the principal medium for public communication and literary expression. Read here the essay that Prof. Sifakis has written for our Web site
I use accents and breathings in my writing because, first of all, I like them and love them; because I learned the Greek language that way, and language itself taught me how to write it, and that’s the way I interiorized it as “image” and as personal experience: with those small “wings” above letters... Personally I don’t intend to take leave of them and no ministerial law or “modernization” has ever been able to convince me that they are useless. For some things I have to object that they are useful precisely for their beauty —for their weirdness—, they are useful because they have tortured us a little, ever since our chilhood.
Nowadays, after having succeeded in merging the notions of “difficult” and “unpleasant”—and of course, the polytonic system was one of the first to be classified as “difficult”—we jumped at facility, and more generally upon flatness, and we can’t escape from it. Facility is a trap and flatness a swamp. (Translated by Y.H.)
I remember I was in the swimming pool for my weekly hydrotherapy session, when a young therapist (about 25-27 years old) approached me and asked: “Why do you use those old accents in your books? When I read more than a page, I get confused.” I replied that it wasn’t me who asked for this spelling form, which is true. Although there are many authors, I added, who demand that their books be published in the polytonic system. He looked at me, confused. I continued by saying that it was the practice of my publisher (Tò Rodakiò) to print all books in this “old” system of word accentuation. “OK, I got it” he said, meaning by his attitude that otherwise it would be difficult for him to understand how a relatively young and, in his opinion, reasonable person like me had chosen to follow this anachronistic way of writing.
I didn’t dare talk about the beauty of words, the precision in expression, the historicity of spelling, etc. It wasn’t the right place and I realized furthermore that it would be worthless even to try. It is obvious, nevertheless, that we are faced with a problem here, isn’t that so: when a large proportion, the majority, of young people is unable to approach, even simply to read, a text written in the polytonic system. And as time goes by, maybe things are getting worse? I wonder... (Translated by Y.H.)
I would say, now that I’m asked about it—because before I considered it as a fact without too many explanations— that I like the polytonic system because a page written in it seems beautiful to my eyes when I look at it and much more precise in transferring subtle meanings to my mind. (Translated by Y.H.)
I am a scholar in ancient Greek philosophy and an editor of ancient Greek texts in numerous prestigious international series (like “Budé” and “Oxford Classical Texts”). An editor of Greek texts knows the importance of accents and breathings in the right place for a full understanding of the text (as well as that of punctation). Although I only had a short introduction to modern Greek, I could without too much difficulty read the studies and commentaries of my Greek colleagues. I cannot believe that politicians decided for so called democratic reasons to abandon the system of polytonism, as old as the hills, and replace it with the simplified version now generally in use. What a crime against the Greek language so dear to many of us. I have been told that there are now efforts to reintroduce the polytonic system into Greece. I fully endorse this action. (Translated by Y.H.)
Like millions of other Italians who went through the Classical Lyceum (high school), I learned ancient Greek for five years, from the ages of 14 to 19. When I left the Lyceum, I continued studying ancient Greek at the University and at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa. Today my job is to edit Greek texts of the late Antiquity (4th-6th centuries CE).
It is by working on these texts that I was able to observe the veracity of what I was taught at the Lyceum: Greek culture is the root, the source and the origin of the entire Western civilization. But a culture is essentially the language in which it is expressed. Greek culture is ancient Greek. A language cannot be dissociated from its writing system. Writing is not an external envelope that can be modified or altered in an arbitrary way by external intervention, although it can evolve, be modified, and absorb new elements. The Greek graphical system, which uses three different accents and two breathings, reflects, by its complexity, the linguistic structure of the Greek language; it reveals etymology, reminds us of the melodic accentuation which most European languages have lost. To disclaim this system means to disclaim richness, the splendor of the language. Abnegation through reform—which is an act of power—is the rape and degeneration of language. But that is not the worst. The worst is the fact of having broken the natural and essential link connecting modern and ancient Greek, with the consequence of having turned modern Greek into a minority, isolated, marginal language, a kind of dialect. In the same way as Italian cannot exist without jealously keeping its links to Latin, modern Greek is doomed to disappear if it forgets its origins. The more it moves further away and becomes different from ancient Greek, the poorer it gets and lowers itself from the rank of a language of culture and civilization to that of a communication language of a restricted community.
We must never forget a capital event in the history of Europe: if the West has managed to retrieve all the works of Greek culture, this has become possible mostly thanks to the exiled Greeks who, when Constantinople was conquered by the Turcs in 1453, emigrated to Western Europe. A large number of these people who were forced to leave their fatherland were scholars and calligraphers; they tought Western scholars how to read and copy the great works of Greek literature and philosophy. It is thanks to them that Western Europe was able to discover, copy, read, print, and spread all this tremendous heritage, without which European culture would simply not exist. This transmission of knowledge became possible because the writing system was unique, because copiers of the 15th and 16th century used the same script as those of the first Byzantine Rennaissance. You cannot copy a script you do not use yourself. To break the continuity of this graphical tradition means to forget that it is thanks to it that Greeks were able to save and to transmit, under all kinds of conditions, their cultural heritage.
That is why the problem of the polytonic system is much more than an affair of internal Greek politics; it concerns all those who know that without the Greek language in its classical form, no culture, no civilization, and no accomplishment of the mind is conceivable in Europe. (Translated by Y.H.)
The decision to switch from the polytonic to the monotonic system belongs to the Greeks and I have no right to interfere into their choices, but I can give my opinion as an Hellenist, translator, reader of ancient Greek. My testimony is also the one of a man who works on oral restitution of ancient Greek according to scientific methods (using data from historical and comparative phonetics) and who has an artistic practice since I direct the comedians of the Demodocos company.
Like any spelling simplification, it moves those who learn the new rules off of their past.
Similarly to the reform of Chinese which has, in my opinion, made the access to literary texts very difficult, I'm afraid that the simplification of accents of modern Greek will cut the Greeks away from their very rich linguistic and literary history. The Greek alphabet, accented by Aristophanes from Byzance, at the 2nd century A.D., has allowed to the language to transmit the manner of modulating melodic heights of syllables, and is able to do it even today, even if the evolution of the language has crashed the height accent in favor of the intensive one.
The, obsolete for some, presence of accents invented by the Grammarian of Alexandria, was an extremely precious testimony of the way an earlier stage of the language was functioning.
This presence of accents, like the community of some linguistic and lexical practices, gave the modern Greek language the possibility of an affinity with all stages of its history. I fully understand that some people regret that this precious link has been broken today, after having been kept for so long. (Translated by Y.H.)
Some years ago I went to see a greek newspaper and was very astonished: many accents and breathings—comparing to the ancient Greek studies I have done—had disappeared from the script. This is in that way that I became aware of a governmental reform of the Greek script.
I did not learn to speak modern Greek but I cannot figure out that all the polytonic inflections of the spoken Greek language had suddenly vanished and that the diacritical marks in the script became of no use to read a Greek text!
Moreover, I am still wondering if the homonymy problems created if you suppress the accents from a Greek word are no more existing. This was pointed out by all my Greek professors with a great stress: “be careful, do not confuse: ἡ, feminine definite article, with: ἥ, feminine relative pronoun, with: ἤ, or, better than, with: ἦ, I was. Do not confuse: εἶναι, to be and: εἷναι, to have been sent (from ἵημι); ἰέναι, to go and: ἱέναι, to send.” The list could be longer! Do similar examples have totally desappeared in modern Greek? I doubt!
Diacritical marks were made to help the reading and everything made for this purpose is very useful. The French Academy pointed out once that, contrary to a legend, capital letters also were to be accented in French to help the reading; you must write “École” and not “Ecole”!
But diacritical marks are not only for the reading, they are also the memory of the language: long long time ago some letters have disappeared from the Greek script but they have left some marks to the words; for instance οἵδα (I knew) stands for a former ϝοίδα which makes clear that this word is the “same” as the Sanskrit veda. I cannot imagine that some accents, the effect of which is almost imperceptible in the French spoken language, could vanish one day, for they are the mark of a disappeared letter like in “hôtel” or “hôpital” where the circumflex accent stands for an old “s” which you still can find in French words like “hospitalité”, “hospice”, etc. And how to explain now “rhododendron”, if you write ρόδος and not ῥόδος? Greek is not only the language for Greek people, it is also a big part of the European culture!
I went to become a sanskritist and learnt the texts of the Indian culture. In the ancient times, old wise men declared that a script must reflect all the possible phonems of a language to be a suitable script. And they built alphabetic scripts for Indian languages—they probably built the alphabets for all languages from South East Asia—: around fifty letters and rules to combine them with ligatures in order to accomplish what they had decreed. Still nowaday, Indian languages use these scripts and you can often read on the shop signs some transliterated words from english: while reading, you can hear all the characteristics of the Indian people accent when they speak English! The aim of the old wise men has been fulfilled and nobody complain against the fifty letters and ligature rules...
By legislating in favor of the monotonic system, Greek has been “dummied down” short and simple. A century ago there were entrance examinations in Classical Greek for the prestigious universities in the USA. Today one need not know a foreign language at all in order to graduate with a university education. We call that phenomenon “dummy-ing down” and it pervades our entire culture. I am reminded of the question Euripides asks Ἕλληνες ὄντες βαρβάροις δουλεύσομεν; The question is not so much whether Greeks should serve outsiders (barbarians), but whether Greeks should serve the rabble (dummy down).
I am not a native speaker of Modern Greek. However, I have always been a lover of everything Greek. Greek I believe, though changed over time, has a long historical linguistic continuity from Homer to writers in Modern Greek (demotic). My father was for many years a professor of Hellenistic Greek in a Protestant Theological School. I was amazed in high school to discover that the New Testament of my Latin teacher (an English speaker, but also a native Greek speaker) was exactly the same edition of the New Testament on my father's desk (Nestle-Aland). During my short formal training in Attic Greek in college, the young man who sat next to me in class was a Greek/English speaker studying the language of Xenophon and Plato enthusiastically, with an obvious pride in his inherited culture. After College learning Greek was up to me and I taught myself sufficiently to pass the PhD language examinations in Philosophy for Greek, but that only began the process, for the research for my dissertation required me to learn to read Greek in the Renaissance style by learning the many ligatures which that involved. In recent years I have become interested in Paleography and have developed a modest competence in reading Medieval Miniscule.
As a Philosopher, I believe that it is vaguely true that the meaning of a word is its use. But that does not entail that the misuse of a word allows it to have a new meaning. If anything the meaning of a word ought to be its correct or proper use. Mistakes in usage are just exactly that - mistakes, so also with diacritics. One ought not to mistake mistakes in accentuation with need for a simplification of the language and its diacritics. It may seem elitist to think that the polytonic system is the correct system, but for historical continuity it is essential. Frankly, my knowledge of Modern Greek is limited, but I am delighted to find that there is a movement to restore the polytonic system, because to this writer who reads Greek without pronouncing it, as Modern Greeks might, the grapheme is more important than the phoneme. It is utterly amazing that politicians can legislate the writing of a language. They in fact do, but I find it frankly immoral to destroy a linguistic heritage by simply legislating a preference, in the name of democratization.
Fundamentally the monotonic-polytonic issue is a problem of education. The Greeks are not alone in this. English speakers experience similar problems, though not quite as dramatic. The great strength of the Greek Language is its overall historical continuity. One finds oneself impoverished to find another language with more than two millennia of continuity. The essential purpose of any language is communication. This is not a matter of communicating what we say, but what we mean, and quite frankly, we cannot mean what we say unless we say what we mean. Diacritics and hence the polytonic system give the language a subtlety and nuance which the monotonic does not. We all need to educate the populace and resist the temptation to yield nuance and subtlety of language to the vagaries and vulgarisms of common speech. Writing and speech are and ought to be different things. Because a person speaks incorrectly or with a measure of vagary does not entail that one ought to write as one speaks. ‘Can’ does not imply ‘Ought’. But, ‘Ought’ implies ‘Can’. We can speak and write incorrectly, but we ought to speak and write correctly and properly. It is my hope that the promoters of a restoration of the polytonic system are successful in their endeavor.
Twenty years later I found my beloved, lost, polytonic system again! Being a good pupil I learned the polytonic system thoroughly in primary school. (Yes, I had a sufficient knowledge of it; those who say that it is very difficult to learn are lying. Can anything worthy be obtained in life without effort?) When I entered secondary school, barbarian accent-killers forced me to un-learn it. Today, I consider their act crude and abusive and I cannot forgive them. Progressively I became a mechanical writer of monotonic Greek; later on, on computers, I wrote “greeklish”. Years passed and the thought of a lost treasure quest became more and more mature. The desire to write polytonically became stronger and stronger but I hesitated in taking the decisive step and overcoming the (unfounded, as it finally proved) fear of technical difficulties of keyboarding the text on the computer. But the struggle of some people for our language has made me take this final step. A few months ago, I wrote my first impressions:
Finally it is easier than I thought; a little practise is all that is needed. It is a precious experience, the slight difficulty of which increases its satisfaction. Indeed, it is like finding an old lover from your teen age again, lost for 23 years, who now slowly and sensually reveals his/her joys, which you didn’t even had the time to suspect he/she possessed.
... And I look again at the monotonic text... How could we ever treat our beautiful letters in that way?
Don’t these vertical rough sharp accents cut holes in the letters, without an ounce of breathing to soften accentuation and to bring some color and beauty?
Like a mean denuding and deflowering of the letters, without a romantic supper with the candlelight flickering slightly like the surge of a circumflex, without a tender kiss on the lips, soft like the “h” of the rough breathing...”
And a female friend of mine, who likes to contradict me, made the following comment (I was referring to the curious rule of old style kathareuousa according to which the double rho in the middle of words takes a smooth and a rough breathing, for ex. “Παπαῤῥηγόπουλος”!):
Obsessions spread with funny grammar rules (“the first rho takes a smooth breathing” and so on). Woe betide us if some day we are doomed to encounter once again rough breathings, grave accents, smooth breathings and rhos with breathing in our education... What is the use of putting a breathing on a rho to understand the word? Do you pronounce ἡρωϊσμός as hηρωϊσμός and ἡδονή as hηδονή? Education needs other kinds of spirit (= breathing) than the abolished small Alexandrian signs...
And I replied:
«My friend, you have focused on the most rare sign —rather taken as a joke by the author— the “ῥ” of Παπαῤῥηγόπουλος (which even the most old-fashioned grammars not always agree upon). Come on! For some special occasions we may retrieve a rare wine from our cellar; but we can also eat well on a daily basis; don’t force us to eat in industrialized mutant fast-foods.
Independently of your comment, I would like to raise a point. I don’t understand (and it makes me sad; some people are, of course, predisposed, I don’t mean them) why some people consider accents as... the threatening canes of a severe teacher or the truncheon of a merciless policeman of a totalitarian state! And not as a proposal for beauty, finesse and delicacy; but also of consequence and devotion; and aristocracy and idealism and romantism and perfectionism, if we can say so, with the right meaning of the word.
Think of the utter cultural consequences. What would happen if the torrents of cheap textual pollution which are drowning us had to be polytonic (be it out of habit or due to common practice)! Could they exist? Maybe, through unknown cultural processes, the produced word and civilization would be different. The polytonic system is, why not, an anticonformistic way of life against the vulgarization and mercantility of our time. Christos Yannaras talks of “cultural diplomacy”. (What have the consequences of the style of altars in “modernized”—or not—temples been to our foreign policy in the last century? Questions, the existence of which we do not even suspect, but which remain important.)
“Do you pronounce ἡρωϊσμός as hηρωϊσμός and ἡδονή as hηδονή?”
Now that you mention it, this hηδονή with the slightly pronounced, implied, and sensual h, like a subtle and still not confessed sigh, like an implied and still decently unpronounced promise of lust... I imagine this h tenderly blown by lustfully contracted circumflex-like red women’s lips... Excuse me. (As for heroism, doesn’t it give a sense of idealism but also of something official?)
Since we speak primarily about writing and not about pronouncing, we should rather refer to the old and especially refined tradition of love letters, the style of which is exactly the opposite of current ordinary vulgar writing. Can you imagine a valiant knight attempting to move a gentle damsel by writing an... SMS?! God forbid!
Countless circumflex and grave accents, grave like my heart, written under torture with my tears and blood, will irrigate the parchment...”
This is what I wrote on December 2005. And today I’m happy with my decision to restart writing (and keyboarding) in polytonic.
Let us find, my friends, all of us, the lost treasure again! It is worth it!
...“Smooth breathing and an acute accent on an alfa. Isn’t it like a beautiful bow on a plait on the head of a beloved memory?” wrote an old friend...
Writing does not only carry information about how to speak. For that purpose we have the tape recorder (and the dedicated phonetic notation we find in dictionaries). Writing loses some elements of the spoken word, but adds some new ones: syntactic, morphological, etymological, historical, and even esthetic ones. Each one of them has been carved by millenia of tradition and is invaluable.
Even if ancient pronounciation is nolonger today, it is tightly connected with the structural elements of our language. It brings its entire history to the present. The rough accent, for example, has been a letter, whose presence is attested when composing words (but also in foreign, European languages, influenced by Greek). Homophone vowels and their different accentuations, independently of their current pronounciation, refer to different syntactic and etymological elements. The (“historic”) spelling is our very language. To know modern Greek sufficiently and to valorize it, you need to know and delve into its living history.
Our encounter with ancient Greek and our scholarly tradition requires, both for Greeks and for foreigners, the learning of accents and breathings. Their ostracism is our violent removal from our linguistic heritage. It transforms our nation into a populace of primitive natives without writing and without memory, to which some... (missionaries of industrial capitalism?) offer a simplistic means of functional transcription of their speach. And it separates us not only from our linguistic heritage but also from all of civilized mankind, which pores over it, through the Greek writing system. It is a national lobotomy, a patricide.
The Ancient Greeks didn’t write accents and breathings, but, at least, kept them (partly) alive in the pronounciation. But they didn’t even have, among other things, pen or paper to do calligraphy. “Ancient Greeks” as a sterile cliché vs. subsequent “decay” is a non-historic and outdated approach, leading to political and historical prejudices, and in the end harmful at a national level. But the “Ancient Greeks” as a classical model, when it comes to philology and grammar, are, precisely Alexandrians! They are our “ancient ones” when it comes to the art of writing, they invented accents, they perfected the archaic and still simplistic writing system they received (through marble and clay) so that our language might become universal and timeless. The development of the ornaments of our script is, therefore, an evolution, an enrichment of the ancient heritage; their ostracism is poverty and amputation. Defending the polytonic system is not a sterile “cult of our ancestors” but, on the contrary, an acceptance of evolution and a connection with our diachronic linguistic heritage. It is not the past, but a bridge to it, and from there back again to the present and the future. It is not a path backwards but a recycling of time, an abolition of temporal linearity and a constant revival of the past in the present and in the future.
Even the esthetics of writing has been modeled through the ages and the generations of our ancestors, just as the ages of Greek nature have modeled the little bays of our coasts. The finesse and grace of the ornaments of our writing system are reflected in the waves of the Aegean sea, the chapiters of our ancient temples, the coast lines of our islands and our mountains, our chapels and wines, as Elytis says, the folds of traditional fustanellas of liberty fighters during the war of liberation and the black pen-drawn eyebrows of our girls. The barbaric industrial equalization of our writing system, the fascist-like haircut of vowels, which makes our letters look like the unpleasant accessory tools produced by an industrial screw-cutting lathe, is a cultural crime, with inestimable consequences. (Translated by Y.H.)
I’m deaf. When I was three years old, I permanently lost my hearing. I don’t remember anymore the sensation of sound, the specific experience of hearing, of listening, of sensing sound with its properties. I remember that, until that period, I was talking with people around me, listening children’s tales and songs like any vivid child on its way to explore the world. But I don’t remember the experience of hearing. Phonemes do not have an acoustic existence anymore for me.
So what? By losing its acoustic status the system of Greek phonemes has got a new status for me, infinitely important: the visual one. I remember very intensely, like if it is still the first time, the interest and emotion caused to me by written words, as they seemed to weave the paper and to materialize the feast of their representations, not to mention the sublime brush strokes that were throwing on them accents and breathings.
I grew up and became mature using the polytonic system. The smooth and rough breathings, the acute, grave and circumflex accents seemed to my eyes as an absolutely synchronized quintett that was singing the melody of the souls of words I was reading and writing. Accents and breathings were delivering in front of me an enormous message, a message that could not be deciphered through naked words only: the message of multicentennial melodic prosody of Greek language. The past became present at any moment, the historical memory of milleniums became at any moment a caleidoscopic optical experience in the present.
I cannot describe it better. And I do not attempt to generalize. I’m referring only to me. Men who hea probably have a different opinion on their experiences. I respect them, although it is terribly difficult to me, not to say impossible, to represent in my mind, in a purely intellectual form, their acoustic experiences, by going through the sieve of Physics which I studied later on. It remains a fact that the polytonic system has sharpened my visual perception and my sensitivity to distinguish the structure and etymology of words, my faculty to communicate with their souls.
The goal of the Organization for the Internationalization of Greek Language is to widespread Greek language in the whole world, to people of Greek origin as well as to foreigners. By the term “internationalization” we mean that we are trying to widespread the language, that we support its teaching to those who wish to get acquainted with it, that we transfer its contents and value so that it may become known both as communication tool and as cultural value, as proven throughout the centuries.
In the frame of this noble—as we consider it—intention of ours, we support the conservation of the polytonic system, wherever it is accepted and useful, while recognizing the difficulties implied by its potential full re-introduction in our written language.
The monotonic system has been established by presidential decree 297/1982, after discussions at the parlement on January 11th, 1982. The way it has been voted has disturbed a big part of Greek population. There has been no argumented decision based on discussions with the Academy of Athens, Universities, or other organizations of intellectual prestige.
After publication of the decree its application has started with many difficulties, there have been changes in schoolbooks and teaching of ancient Greek has been degraded. And although a few years later the error of diminuishing the number of hours of ancient Greek teaching has been recognized and there has been an effort of re-introduction of ancient Greek into the educative programme, Greek language has not recovered from the damage it has undergone. Ancient Greek is taught, but not enough and not to all pupils with the same intensity and method. Ancient Greek is not a superfluous course nor a museum piece. It is the mother of our current language, from which young people can learn concepts, reasoning, aesthetics, humanism, sciences and civilization. The (polytonic) system of accentuation is part of our linguistic heritage and has never obstructed the education of our youth, has never acted against progress in the field of technology and sciences, has never taken valuable time from our childrens’ preparation to face their responsabilities in society. Teachers in Greece speak more and more about the linguistic poverty by which pupils express their thoughts in written and spoken word.
Many citizens of this country complain about degradation of language in mass media. The abolition of the polytonic system has not brought the expected progress.
It may even has contributed to its decay. Our demand is to respect at least those who wish to express themselves in the polytonic system, not to forbid them to have the right of expression in the way they are used to and which is appropriate for them. It is a very simple demand. It does not cause trouble and does not hurt our language. And then there are also young people who, for various reasons, want to follow the traditional writing system. Let language evolve naturally without laws and regulations that violently change its natural flow. Greek language has proven its endurance, flexibility and dash, and thanks to these features it can renew itself in a creative way!
First of all I have to say that I am not a follower of the polytonic system, but—funnily enough—I go on using it. Why don’t I fully defend the polytonic system, although I know and use it?
First of all, the polytonic system has been connected in my conscience with sciolist elements which have rather harmed than improved the political and cultural life of Greece. Even today I consider factitious the interest of a looser and very conservative ex-president of the Republic and the one of a very ambitious and malicious archbishop, who said that in difficult times he was studying and therefore ignored the cast in which the country has been placed.
Secondly, the polytonic system is simply a writing system, which indeed requires mechanical memorization of many rules. If some publishers still use the polytonic system, this doesn’t mean that subsequent generations will not create literary masterpieces in the monotonic system. And if many people of my generation have hated the polytonic system it is because they hated the many rules they had to learn by force.
Nevertheless, in spite of my doubts, I still go on writing in the polytonic system. Why not render myself to the monotonic one?
Maybe because besides fascist polytonic sciolism, there is also the “progressive” sciolism of facility. Most young people, snug in the logic of the least effort, demand to enter in University while they can hardly spell their name... in the monotonic system. And their teachers care more about their salary than about providing them with some basic knowledge and forge their characters. Hence, my resistance to the monotonic system is an act of protest against the miserable condition of Greek education.
Another reason why I still write polytonically is the fact that I cannot accept neither the way the monotonic system has been instaured (the vote of a sleeping “progressive” parliament in 1982) nor the subsequent logic of equalization of everything. When we read classical authors typeset monotonically in the columns of respected Athenian newspapers, they give the impression of being written in a foreign language. The state publisher of schoolbooks has striped off the accents from texts of Papadiamantis while a well-known publisher has considered that Kavafis’ poems are better read in the monotonic system. (I don’t know whether ancient authors would have supported polytonism or monotonism. They were writing in capital letters without accents and without even punctuation. But concerning Papadiamantis and Kavafis I can safely guess that if they knew that their works Phonissa and Poseidoniatai would end up some day in the hands of monotonists, they would crumple their texts, chew them and swallow them rather than send them to the printer.) Writing polytonically is an act of respect to the olders, to all those whose writings have arrived to me in the polytonic system.
A third reason for writing polytonically is resistance to prevalence of casualness. Monotonism and simplified spelling often turn us into wanderers in the dark (ἐν σκοτίᾳ) while we think we are in... Scottland (ἐν Σκωτίᾳ). Didot, the typeface designed two centuries ago for the polytonic system is now used by typesetters for the monotonic one. And if you dare to complain they reply that there is no difference. Most craftmaster typographers have left, and I still write polytonically as an act of memory—a requiem—for lost elegance.
I know that 25 years after its clumsy instauration the monotonic system has become a fact. I know that the monotonic system is not responsible for all the evel things people are accusing it. Honestly I don’t really believe in the re-introduction of the polytonic system. But I use it as an act of resistance to laziness and ignorance of our times, as a last “thank you!” for the texts we heritated from older generations, as a small attempt of overthrowing casualness and bad taste which tend to become the rule in our lifes.
The arguments of both the (so-called) progressists as of the (so-called) rightists all start from the same viewpoint starting with the dialog between the two parlamentaries and the orthodox church and going all the way until the last comment on the ultimate blog. Friends and ennemies of polytonism focalize their efforts on the argument of usefulness. The former seek to present it as very useful, capable even of curing dyslexia (!), the latter present it as an outdated leftover which is of no use anymore.
Indeed, this is the main argument of progressive critique: that the content of communication remains the same with or without accents, which makes them useless. As a reply to which, the polytonic wing tries to invent scenarios of usefulness, from the development of linguistic capabilities to the combat of dyslexia. In the future they may even add that it keeps children away from the street.
I’m astonished by the amount of public consensus on the fact that if we have to defend or to ostracize a part of our civilization we will do it on the sole criterion of usefulness. At what point of our journey did we lost the trail and decided that civilization is a accounting-like give-and-take?
In school we do not learn only ancient Greek. We also learn literature and poetry. What is the use of literature and poetry? You will reply that they are useful for enculturation, for the development of the individual person, etc. But how do they do this? By their contents or by their form? If we apply here the arguments we read against polytonism (it does not carry valuable information, contents can be transmitted without accents, etc.), it is like saying that in art only content matters. This statement is so naive that even a progressist would hardly make it. But how different is it from the statement that accents are void of content or the statement that learning ancient Greek is useless since it suffices to translate ancient texts into modern Greek to transmit their contents?
Language as art, as beauty and as artifact, its form and its morphology, are they important for us or does transmission of information suffice? If it is sufficient, why not abandon Greek completely and adopt the English language? (I know of course that some people would not object on that. We cannot forbid anyone to “γεμίσαι τὴν κοιλίαν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν κερατίων ὧν ἤσθιον οἱ χοῖροι” = to longe to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating [Luke 15:16]). Furthermore, dear progressive friends, are you sure that content can be communicated independently from form? William Blake said: “I have heard many People say, ‘Give me the Ideas. It is no matter what Words you put them into.” To this I reply, “Ideas cannot be Given but in their minutely Appropriate Words.’”
Whatever is valid for words, isn’t it also valid for their ornaments? Our poet says: “the eternal presence of the Greek people on whichever shore of the Aegean managed to establish an orthography, where every omega, every upsilon, every acute accent and every iota subscript, is not but a turn, a downward slope, a bend of the stern of a floating vessel, a wavy vineyard, a church yard, white or red blots, here or there, from dove-cots or pots of geraniums” (Od. Elytis). There is quite a difference between this and the progressive or nationalistic discourse where accents have to prove their value by working, like the poor guys of “Arbeit macht frei”.
The utilitarianism of progressists and nationalists, i.e. (euro)left-wingers and rightists, shows that they have understood very little about the secrets of language and about what is on stake here. It is interesting to observe that the domination of contents upon form is the main characteristic of the once-upon-a-time socialistic realism. And funnily enough it is also the main characteristic of “American realism”, that is: of the nowadays dominant culture, with an emphasis on linear narration, “dry facts”, “story-telling” and “economics of information”.
All that reminds me of that ancient mathematician who, when asked by the richman to which he was teaching “what will be the use of all the things he was learning”, called the servant and told him: “give him a penny since he always needs to make profit from whatever he learns”.
I was born after the establishment of the monotonic system and so I was taught polytonic in secondary education (Gymnasium - Lyceum). Today, all young Greeks are required to attend school from the age of six to the age of fifteen (in other words, primary school and the Gymnasium). This compulsory education includes three years of compulsory instruction in ancient Greek. Furthermore, most also attend Lyceum where ancient Greek is a compulsory subject in the first and second years, and optional in the third. The conclusion is that with the current system, all the Greek youth has been taught the polytonic system for three to six years. Therefore, as is natural, most (if not all) of them know how to write in polytonic. If the government wanted to restore the polytonic system tomorrow, it would not be to hard for the citizens to adjust to it.
Like most supporters of the polytonic system, I doubt the moral ‘legitimacy’ of the method used to establish the monotonic system. I believe that such a change to the people’s language should only have been made with a referendum. I know many people who would like the restoration of the polytonic system and the only reason they are hesitant is technical restrictions, in other words, how will they write on computers. I must admit that it is much harder when compared with monotonic to write polytonic. The only way to change their mind in my opinion would be to distribute programs which would make writing polytonic easier, and a fast way to convert monotonic text to polytonic (for texts which already exist). Such programs would be able to be distributed on the website of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs (which so far only distributes polytonic fonts).
I believe that only someone who is indifferent to his cultural heritage could do that to his language. Similar changes were made by Mao Zedong’s communists in China ‘simplifying’ the Chinese script by eliminating hundreds of ancient ideographs, and the communists in Bulgaria, who inspired by the theories of Comintern on the existence of a ‘Macedonian nation’ in Skopje, ‘reformed’ their script to emphasize the differences between Bulgarians and ‘Macedonians’ eliminating old (Slavonic) letters such as the ‘yat’ (Ѣ/ѣ).
People do not forget their heritage though: in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, the Chinese persist to this day in using the original Chinese script, and Bulgarian politicians have expressed the desire to reverse the communist reforms. So and also the Greeks will not forget the ancient Greek script. There were indeed difficulties in the past which lead to the establishment of the monotonic system, but thanks to modern technology, those difficulties no longer exist. If the Chinese, who even with the simplified script have several thousand ideographs, can write comfortably, then of course Greeks can also write comfortably with the polytonic system.
I will not speak about the reasons why the polytonic system should be re-introduced. There are well-argumented analyses on that, by worthy people, examinating the very important issues of language and accents. I will speak about an important wager of the forthcoming generation.
A few years ago, Christos Yannaras wrote about his disappointment resulting from the oblivion of the polytonic system and expressed his pessimism by the statement: “the transition from a higher to a lower state of civilization cannot be reversed”. The authority and credibility of this professor are undoubtful.
Nevertheless the interest for the polytonic system, and especially the one of young people, is growing lately. Discerning people realize this out of many events. People who have not been taught the polytonic system (or only in the first classes of primary school) get more and more curious about accents and breathings. They ask, they learn, they try to write polytonically. They are pleased by language. One can see it on blogs, in journals, in the increase of books published in the polytonic system.
The wager of the next generation is not to see Yannaras’ statement as an undefeitable reality, as an invincible realism originating in the experience and right jugement of an intellectual. The wager for the next generation is to see this statement as something which is worth fighting, as the challenge to succeed the reversion of natural civilisational flow and achieve the transition from a lower to a higher level. It is not easy. But is worth the battle!
The wealth of the Greek language grown through all the periods of Greek history, doesn’t mean just a larger amount of words compared with other languages, but more ways, more emotions, wherefrom we gain a better unity with all the Greek culture, which is the foundation of the entire Orthodox history and, to a great degree, of the Western world too. Good knowledge of Greek means a stronger organism of the spirit, a higher measure and a greater thinking-ability, which is not a pure ability but a reality of thinking by itself. This is why the Greek Church kept the byzantine Greek of the Liturgy even during the Ottoman occupation, and in general “achieved in the linguistic issue the golden mean: in worship she kept the established form of the language while in preaching, with the exception of people mad with the past, she accepted the popular language ([demoteke, modern Greek or] romeika), this way affirming the Greek language in all its historical forms”. 
A significant step toward the greatest possible aphasia of the Greek people was made by the official-governmental abolition of breathing marks and accents. After whole centuries of counter-evidence, polytonism is suddenly called “a frein to the efforts of pupils to conquer language and gain essential education”!  I believe it has already been proven how essential education became in Greece and how great was the ‘conquering’ of language by pupils. Given the importance of this pseudo-political adventurism’s decision, of the intervention to the accentuation as if it had a history of only a few years, by shortened procedures and with the hideous assistance of the academics’ vain-knowledge, of the “four-legged beasts that don’t know what language is”, as Castoriadis commented on them, it is obvious that a new split of the Greek people develops. Some say that we have to “save” ancient Greek! Ancient Greek is not (at the moment) a museum piece and does not need to be saved—but we need it; just like accents do not need to be saved —we are the ones who need them. Is it possible for us to end up a nouveau-riche rabble, and yet to have a civilization?
Something secondary is not necessarily accidental. If oral speech precedes writing, this same speech, together with the society expressed in this speech, has produced the written form of the Homeric voice, in which, later on, and again not without reason, accentuation has been incorporated. This augmentation of the preceding body of language was not accidental and circumstantial, if not even deforming...
It’s worth noting a fact which anyone can understand immediately, that to the absence of accents corresponded continuous writing, without spaces between words and only in capital letters. If we wanted even a utopic return to the preceding form of Greek, we would need ourselves to write without spaces between words and in capital letters. One of the foundational functions of polytonism is precisely the keeping of a coherence broken by the spaces between words. For that reason, along with others, it is also necessary for us to use the grave accent, which some polytonists underestimate.
The current attempt to abolish polytonism, to the degree that it succeeds will inevitably be signifying the disappearance of the reason that polytonism was called to serve and realise. Since this reason is substantial, by disappearing causes a mutation of the whole body of language. Of course, at this point of decline we can’t exclude the possibility of turning our alphabet to Latin, according to the high standards of Turkey. As for the consequences to the very oral speech, these we will see in the distant future, if the ‘cultural revolution’ prevails, because the use of the polytonic system for so many centuries still participates in our pronunciation and our whole conciousness. Because a single generation has grown without accents and breathings, this doesn’t mean that we have already witnessed the results: they will arrive so slowly that some time we will be unable to remember even the causes of the fall, only one of them being the monotonic thinking.
Is it possible for us to determine all the dimensions of such a mutation? Some are certain and by themselves capable enough, so that we cannot say that we didn’t knew. Such dimensions are described by the “Citizens’ Movement for the Re-introduction of the Polytonic System”, the most complete Web site on this critical issue (http://www.polytoniko.gr). This is where I found the following passage by Elytis:
“I want to believe–and this faith of mine always reveals itself first in its struggle with knowledge–that, however it is examined, the presence of the Greek people through so many centuries on the European or the Asiatic lands of the Aegean managed to establish an orthography, where every omega, every upsilon, every acute accent and every iota subscript, is not but a little gulf, a downward slope, a vertical line of a rock on a curve of ship’s stern, wavy vineyards, church lintels, little white or red blots, here or there, from dove-cots and pots of geraniums.”
Many meanings may exist in this paragraph, in which monotonists would perhaps discover only ‘nice words’, unimportant and irresponsible. Whatever the philological need of accents may be, they also carry another duty transmitted to us by polytonic generations, the duty not to have a code-language, but a pictorial, iconistic, living and analog one, a language beyond the simple need to abstract, mark and exchange information. The current modernization, dazzled by the technoscience of the Western individual, contemns a society that asks to be initiated in reality and not to control and subjugate it.
Anyone can learn the accents and teach them to his children. It is not difficult! The only thing needed for not using accents is neither low intelligence nor lack of discipline, but the decided disdain of the language, of the thinking and of the civilization of Greece. Let us leave this privilege to the Parliament and the Academy since they asked and fighted for it, and let us learn the accents, this way gaining a double profit; because our thinking will benefit, and the realisation of a certain freedom will become stronger, that we are able in the most important issues not to depend to the probable adventurism of our leaders.
When the monotonic system was introduced I was in secondary school, which means that I have already been taught accents for about 7 years. At start it was quite difficult to prevent my hand from adding breathings and accents. But I got used to it like most Greeks. I never sat down to analyze whether introducing the monotonic system was right or wrong. After all I never heard anyone being against it. This doesn't mean that there haven't been any reactions, only that I wasn't aware of them.
And that way I arrived to the third year of university where older friends explained the utility of the polytonic system to me. I thus returned to polytonism in my personal writings, since it was forbidden to do so in public ones. I continued to use it for many years, mostly from habit, without fully understanding its advantages. Until the demerits of monotonism and technocratic education became obvious. I then started to realize in what extend the never generations had less culture than my own one. And also, similarly, how much less culture my generation had, compared to the ones of my parents and grand-parents. I remember that my grand-mother who has only been to primary school wrote and spoke perfectly, with a rich local idiom, expressivity and accentuation. Not to mention people from those times who went to university.
What is the relation between that education and the current one? And what is our own responsability? More and more voices raise against the equalization of education, the simplification of language, the de-hellenization of Greeks. Why not have the bravery and promptitude to make another revolution? To fight against facility, against laziness, against epicureanism, against consumarism. To resist everything the system presents as indispensable material good. To get over the narrow individualistic benefit which leads us to a infertile and miserable life and to recover our spiritual ideals. To take control over culture and education of ourselves, of our children, of our grand-children. What do we expect from the government? There may be no Ottoman yoke anymore but there is, nevertheless, the Damoclean sword of globalization. Which is a quite sneaky phenomenon, which brides consciences with the promess of material goods. The modern Greek man or woman remains paralyzed and hypnotized in front of the perspective of obtaining the latest model of mobile phone, the biggest plasma TV screen, the most recent multimodular car. And that way, he/she forgets, or rather does not understand, that he/she loses his/her identity, loses him/herself. There is no individual anymore which will gain hapiness through material possessions. Because material goods fill us with joy and hapiness only when they are the means to achieve a spiritual goal.
In 1821, Greeks have fought for their freedom, not for material goods. The same thing happened in 1940. The desire for freedom has kept alive the resistance against Nazis. Ever since the dawn of time it is the spiritual battle which fullfils the Greek, gives him a meaning and a goal. By removing his spirituality and culture, one removes his rôle in history, his goal in life.
The question if whether one should choose to betray his rôle and become resident of the “country of lotus-eaters”. A country without memory with people sunken in torpidity of pleasures.
It is because I believe that Greece deserves something better than that, that I call all Greeks to resist and to fight for their identity and their rôle. Because, [as our great poet Andreas Kalvos said] freedom, and especially spiritual freedom, needs virtue and boldness.
I got acquainted with the polytonic system very young, in primary school, when my mother—a lover of Greek language—insisted that I read children books written in various (polytonic) versions of modern Greek language. At that time (the late eighties) the whole subject seemed strange to me, as in school we were taught a very heavy demotic language and were undergoing the corresponding propaganda.
When in first grade of high school (1994) I learned ancient Greek for the first time, I discovered that the long and short vowels, the accents and breathings, the dative and the nouns and adjectives conjugated in the ancient way, form a coherent system which constitutes the grammar not only of older forms but also of the current form of language. Our written word, “locked” in the system of the official grammar of the Ministry of Education's “demotic”, often uses patterns and types of “katharevousa” so that together they form a single entity, a common current form of Greek language.
I came to the conclusion that the best way to write accurate modern Greek is to investigate all the types and all the systems which have been suggested now and again, and to build one's own system, the one in which one will feel nice and complete.
My own system includes accents and breathings, in a form a bit more consistent with the history of language than the one of Triantafyllidis (although the latter is very good for a first contact with the polytonic system).
For me, the use of a personal linguistic system, built in harmony with reality but not constrained by the official State grammar, is the exercise of the primary right for freedom of expression, which every citizen of a free and democratic society should have. The law cannot constrain our writing into explicit orthographic and grammatical patterns, for any reason whatsoever; and certainly not for the ridiculous reasons which are usually given. Unfortunately both the law which established the monotonic system (1228/1982) as well as the previous laws (on demotic language) and the later ones (on the simplification of historical spelling) are violating that principle, and therefore I can only blame them.
On the other hand, I must admit that these laws are not referring to the way we write our personal texts; they refer to communication of citizens with public services (administration) and to the system thaught in schools (education). But besides the fact that education becomes monolithic and engaged, in reality these laws build an “official” linguistic system, which people who do not really care about this issue consider as “established” and “correct” (!) and not only follow it without second thought, but even dispraise those who prefer something different. In this way, in practice, the power of laws is transferred to everyday life.
Besides that fact, there is no reason why a person wishing to do so should not use the polytonic system. Computers support it in a native way (operating systems, applications and network services use nowadays, more or less, Unicode) and there are many fonts, both free and commercial. As for learning it, this is not a difficult task; whoever wants to learn it can do so by spending a minimal effort; whoever does not, writes monotonically. But nobody should force his/her choices to others.
Our world is one of many choices. We choose what to eat and what to wear. We choose our careers and hobbies. We choose to what church (if any) we belong. Thus, we should all be able to choose between writing Greek in the monotonic or polytonic orthographies. While I have never been one to try to spark a revolution, I must say that the Greek government was somewhat misguided when it reformed the accentuation of the Greek language. Although the monotonic orthography is simpler, the polytonic one is unquestionably more beautiful to the eye of a reader and should not be limited to the likes of us, the traditionalists and academics. However, I do not feel the need to force the polytonic system upon those who dislike it. Thus, just as people have the choice of their food, clothing, career, and religion, they should have the choice of using the monotonic or polytonic systems, even in official documents. I have thus included with this testimony a lone document containing, in my own handwriting, the text of the “Paternoster” or “Our Father,” probably one of the most widely translated few lines in existence. Many may consider my handwriting to be strange and alien, but, so long as it is legible, how I write is my decision and my decision alone. It is my hope that this letter and the attached image may guide the polytonic movement so that it may be a peaceful one, serving to educate the interested, so that the latter-day traditionalists, the scholars, and the belletrists may not be forever silenced, and the day may come when the Greek government recognizes the polytonic system as a legitimate alternative to the monotonic one.
Why I do not approve of monotonous, spiritless spelling. Dear readers, my name is Demetrios Hadjnicolaou; I was born in Berrhoea, Emathia, Greece in 1975; I am a teacher of English. Whenever I write in my mother tongue (Greek) and have the required technological facilities, I nearly always use the polytonic system. I do so deliberately for the reasons below:
I am proud of the Hellenic language and literature, not only its ancient version, but also the New Testament Greek of the Hellenistic period, and the mediaeval Greek, including either the archaic patristic language and richly poetic hymns or the acritic songs. I also admire men of letters such as Dionysios Solomos, Costes Palamas, Alexandros Papadiamantes, Photes Contoglou and Costes Bastias, who, among others, consistently abided by Greek historical spelling rules. Apparently, the polytonic system of writing was introduced at a later time and is slightly, if to a negligible extent, costlier when it comes to printing, but I would never do away with it for these reasons. Likewise, I would never have the Parthenon in Athens or Hagia Sophia in Constantinople demolished. They are architectural masterpieces despite their having been constructed centuries past the first temples and churches of their kind started being built. Let the maintenance costs be high as well.
It is a matter of aesthetics; monotonous writing compared to the polytonic one resembles stark, graceless blocks of flats in contrast to neo-classical buildings.
There is an issue of prestige involved, too: it is shameful to abrogate the polytonic system in the 20th and 21st centuries, when we have managed to preserve it in spite of meagre education, even illiteracy in times of slavery, and virtually no technological means in the past.
The imposition of the monotonous system by law is a monument of constitutional and parliamentary off-handedness as well as bigoted reaction. This becomes evident considering that, according to the constitution now in force, any law including clauses not related to its title would be null and void. (The clause stipulating that the monotonous spelling shall be used by state authorities was part of an Act “on technical schools”.) None-the-less, it is naïve to allege that whoever prefers the polytonic way of writing is an advocate of the 21st April 1967 régime, e.g. it was not the junta that created the over 3,000-year-old Hellenic language, so, why should some of its critics fight Greek, too?
Last but not least, let me bring up the issue of the continuation of Greek cultural identity. I do not refer to the practical benefits for learning Greek that the polytonic system has: the reasons for its initial invention may have expired, but other, equally remarkable objectives can be achieved. Beyond this, however, in my humble opinion, it is essential to preserve the connection and familiarisation with the entire Greek literature, which occurs far more easily and effortlessly thanks to the polytonic system.
What do you think, then? Only the Pope claims to be infallible, and he is wrong, I trust. Let us admit to our mistake and go on like we used to: gracefully, clearly, consistently. If things seem to be hard in the beginning, remember Georgios Drosines: “I will despise an easy trophy and only relish a hard-won one”. Dr Haralambous’ www.polytonico.org site leads the way. Let us heed his call, as Plato’s prisoners of the cave should have done!