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Graiis dedit ore rotundo
(Hor. de arte poet.) THE modern Greek holds an intermediate rank between the classic languages and those that have arisen on their basis in the other countries of Southern Europe. None of the latter have retained so close a resemblance to the Latin as the former bears to the ancient Greek. To this it is owing that scholars are divided in opinion with reference to its intrinsic character: some calling it an entirely new language, while others regard it as simply a dialect or corruption of the ancient. Hence the resemblance has hitherto proved rather an injury than an advantage to its reputation. Were the diversities of inflection and syntax as marked as in the case of the French or Italian, the modern Greek would claim to be judged exclusively upon its own merits; but closely related as it is to the ancient, there is room for invidious comparison. The superficial observer is apt to mistake the question, and is tempted to exclaim, “ How far inferior to the tongue of Homer and Demosthenes !" instead of asking himself, " How does the language compare in richness, flexibility, and harmony with the Italian or Spanish?"
Much of the depreciation of the modern Greek, which it has become fashionable to indulge in, arises out of the difficulty experienced by foreign tourists, however well educated, in understanding the language in its strange pronunciation. The system introduced into Europe more than three centuries ago, and sanctioned by the name of Erasmus, is so unlike that which prevails in Greece, that the accomplished scholar, familiar with the writings of Plato and the tragic poets, can neither understand the language as now spoken, nor even those eminent authors themselves when read aloud by a native. It is natural enough, then, that he should regard the modern tongue as barbarous, and those that speak it as degenerate scions of a noble stock. On more profound examination, such a scholar would find the difference less in the language employed than in the pronunciation given to the words, and that this springs from two distinct sources. The more palpable is the different sound given to letters and diphthongs; the other, the following of the written accents as the sole guide in giving emphasis to syllables. In respect to both, the usage of the modern Greeks is perfectly systematic, and throughout consistent with itself. Each syllable is enunciated precisely as it is written, and every word emphasized according to certain fixed rules-the same that apply to the ancient text.
Most of the consonants have the same sounds as in our system of pronunciation. The letters B, A, and I are softened, the first two being sounded like our V and soft th in that. E is always pronounced like X, and I never like our Z, even at the close of a syllable, except when it precedes the let
X has a sound quite different from K, and not unlike the soft G of the Germans. It is, however, with the pronunciation of the vowels and diphthongs that most fault has been found. The Greeks will generally acknowledge that they have lost the distinction between 0 and 6), which are now alike pronounced long. But not so with the rest. They insist that at should be pronounced æ, and av and ev, af or av,
No less than three letters and as many diphthongs receive in common the sound of our e; viz., 1, l, v, El, ol, and
It is urged by those who agree with Erasmus, that it
can not be conceived that the ancients should have employed six different methods of expressing a single sound. In reply, the modern Greeks, with the disciples of Reuchlin, assert that the same inconsistency might be predicated with equal truth of any other language. They deny that the harmony of their language would be improved by the admission of such sounds as those introduced by Erasmus; and they fortify their position by bringing instances of proper names of Greek origin transferred into Latin in such a manner as to show that the combinations in question could not have been, pronounced as Erasmus pretended. The use of the accents is an equally fruitful source of contention. Since, however, it is not my purpose to enter into the discussion of this intricate subject, which ever since the sixteenth century has divided the scholars of Europe into opposing parties, I shall only add that the system of accentuation has been rigidly adhered to; and, whether originally intended for use in pronunciation or not, has now become so thoroughly inwrought into the spirit of the language as to be followed out with scrupulous exactness in all its details.
Passing on to the acknowledged alterations of the language, it will be necessary to specify a few of the more important changes in the grammatical forms. In the declension of substantives, the most apparent one is the total loss of the dative case. The accusative is mostly employed in its place, preceded by a preposition. The dual has entirely disappeared. The verb has been greatly simplified by omitting in common discourse, except in a few conventional phrases, the optative mood, and the perfect, pluperfect, and future tenses. The auxiliary verb is introduced to express periphrastically the tenses that have thus been lost. The infinitive itself has become obsolete, and is clumsily replaced by the subjunctive with a conjunction indicative of purpose.
When we consider the long period of time during which the language has been exposed to the common vicissitudes of all human inventions, it appears more remarkable that so many words should have been retained with little or no alteration, than that some should have disappeared and been superseded by others of foreign origin. From the very nature of the case,
in the continual intercourse, both peaceable and warlike, with the surrounding nations, many terms have been imported from Italy, Turkey, and Albania. But the most remarkable circumstance in respect to them is, that they have always, as far as possible, been changed so as to agree with the analogy of the Greek language. One of the most remarkable and characteristic alterations in words of undoubted Greek origin is the abundant use of diminutives—forms indicating, as has been somewhere remarked, as great a degeneracy in the people who introduce them as in their language itself.
A similar revolution has taken place in the syntax. It has become less involved, and more consonant with the spirit of other modern languages.
In this enumeration of the chief alterations which the noble tongue of the Greeks has undergone, I have described its condition at the commencement of this century rather than its present state. The past fifty years have wrought changes as wonderful, perhaps, as the world has ever witnessed in this branch of knowledge. It would not be extravagant to assert that there has been a greater improvement in the language of the people and the education of the masses, than even in the government and material prosperity of the country. This progress, as it naturally stands connected with the literary labors of Coray and his less gifted competitors, it seems more proper to associate with the consideration of the modern Greek literature. But it may not be out of place to repeat a few of its results, as they appear at the present day.
The emendation of the language has been begun by lopping off all unnecessary branches. Every word for which a native origin was not to be found has been proscribed with ruthless severity. Some of the least offensive, it is true, have been tolerated for a time, until suitable substitutes can be found; but their fate is none the less certain. Not that this reformation could be effected in a single day; for, as the departure of the language from its original purity has been gradual, so must the return be gradual. Yet it has been more rapid than the most sanguine could reasonably have expected. The press has been assiduous in its exertions for the improvement of the language. The university has wielded a potent
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influence toward the same end. The government has favored the movement by a return to classic usage in the language of its codes of law, and in its judicial terms, and even by restoring the ancient names of all the townships throughout Greece, where any such could be found. So great and so rapid has been the change, that, as is elsewhere remarked, even the professors in the University of Otho are compelled by it to remodel the diction of their discourses every few years. The contagion of this new epidemic has spread even to the common people of Athens and the other large towns. They are no longer content with speaking the same adulterated language as their immediate ancestors; and have consequently introduced words and phrases that are quite unintelligible to their less favored fellow-citizens, the inhabitants of the villages and rural districts.
What limits so singular and so radical a movement will reach, it is beyond the knowledge of any man living to foretell. The facility with which new words can still be introduced indicates that the language is yet in that plastic state in which a master hand may mould it as he pleases. At the same time, there is danger that the imitation of foreign, and especially of French, authors, may exert a deleterious influence on its purity and elegance, by the introduction of new and uncongenial idioms. On the other hand, a growing acquaintance with those classic models of composition which they already possess, will counteract the inclination of the Greeks to copy blindly from their foreign contemporaries.
The most serious inconvenience springing from the diversity of pronunciation that exists between the Greeks and the scholars of the West, is the formidable obstacle it offers to their intercourse with each other. The seven or eight millions that speak the modern Greek—a small portion within the bounds of the Hellenic kingdom, but the greater part outside of it-are every year advancing in intelligence, wealth, and influence. Their national literature is promising. The city of Athens already sustains a larger number of journals, for its size, than any other city in the world.* The language
* In 1852 there were fourteen political papers published at Athens ; none, however, appeared more frequently than twice or three times a