Discussing Dialectal Difference: Ideologies and Indexing Istanbul Greekness

Author: Matthew John Hadodo (University of Pittburgh, pennsylvania)
Speaker: Matthew John Hadodo
Topic: Language Ideologie
COMELA 2021 General Session


Languages, identities, and other social groupings depend on differentiation (Gal & Irvine 2019). Understandings of such difference are connected to language ideologies and indexical relationships with language use (Irvine & Gal, 2000). Therefore, metapragmatic discourse of speakers discussing differences can be linked to linguistic variation.

Istanbul Greek (IG) speakers are an indigenous minority with approximately 2,000 native IG speakers remaining in Turkey. IG is an endangered dialect of Greek that resulted from long-term intimate contact with Turks, Franco-Levantines, and others. Language contact along with the shifting population demographics in Istanbul have had an impact on the IG dialect. Örs (2017) claims this sociohistorical context fosters a cosmopolitan IG identity distinct from that of mainland Greeks and cites dialectal differences as one way IGs who have relocated to Athens maintain a separate sense of community.

This paper then explores how members of the IG community’s language use patterns based on ideologies related to cosmopolitanism and differentiation. Ethnographic fieldwork and sociolinguistic interviews with over 80 IG participants were conducted in Istanbul. Speakers openly discuss cosmopolitanism as a defining feature of IGs absent from mainland Greeks. IGs employ a range of dialectal features that highlight differences with other Greeks, such as archaisms, lexical borrowings, the use of the accusative for the historic dative, and velarized laterals before back vowels, among others. Although some speakers follow more traditional standard language ideologies, many often positively evaluate dialectal differences as either being closer to Byzantine Greek or emblematic of cosmopolitanism. Metapragmatic discourse revealed velarized laterals to be a salient index of IG identity. Results from mixed effects models of sociophonetic and discourse analyses show that velarization patterns somewhat with positive evaluations of the dialect. However, more indicative of whether IGs velarize their laterals is whether they emphasize differences between IGs and other types of Greeks. Those who focused more on Omogeneia adopted more Standard features and velarized less. IGs then demonstrate how an indigenous minority community’s dialectal variation is tied to how strongly they wish to differentiate themselves from other communities.

Gal, S. & Irvine, J.T. (2019). Signs of Difference: Language and Ideology in Social Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Irvine, J.T. & Gal. S. (2000) Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. Regimes of Language. 35-63.
Örs, I.R. (2017). Diaspora of the City: Stories of Cosmopolitanism from Istanbul and Athens. Springer.

Keywords: Identity, ideology, dialect, Istanbul Greek, contact, sociophonetic, variation, ethnography