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Greeks speaking the wrong language
The Mariupolitans are a distinct group of ethnic Greeks living in the Ukraine, who formerly lived in Crimea. Like I explained in the Other Place, a minority of Mariupolitans speak not Greek, but a variant of Crimean Tatar they call Greek: Urum.
They are not the only people who consider themselves Greek but speak a Turkic language. As the Wikipedia article notes, the Pontians of Tsalka in Georgia who speak Turkish are also called (Tsalka) Urums; and a large number of the refugees from the 1922 population exchange were Karamanlides, who spoke Karamanli Turkish (and wrote it in Greek characters). When the refugees of Salonica waxed sentimental about their football team PAOK, they didn’t just say ο ΠΑΟΚ μας in Standard Greek. They also said τεμέτερον ΠΑΟΚ in Pontic—and bizim PAOK in Turkish. Nikolaos Contossopoulos is the foremost researcher on Cretan dialect of the 20th century; but his folk were Turkish-speakers. He concluded, he told me once, that Pontic has undergone syntactic influence from Turkish (an obvious but not necessarily a popular conclusion), because Pontic syntax sounded just like his elderly relatives trying to speak Greek.
Which goes to show something blindingly obvious, but lost in the modern East European process of nation-building: language is not the same as ethnicity (and neither is the same as nationality).
Turkic languages are the languages of Muslims, as far as everyone in the region is concerned, and a Christian speaking Turkic violates the easy dichotomies of nation-building. Which means that if Turkic-speakers internalise an ideology of being ethnically Greek—or indeed, of being Rum, Christian, as an ethnicity—then they won’t take nationalist pride in speaking Turkic. They will see themselves as speaking the “wrong” language. That’s not untenable in an Ottoman or Russian context: after all, the Turkic-speaking Greeks did continue speaking Turkic for centuries. But if they find themselves in a majority Greek-speaking context, they will be pressured to drop Turkic for Greek, and they won’t have much of a motive not to.
And indeed, that’s what happened with the Karamanlides in Greece. Greece was never well-disposed to minority languages to begin with, and the Turkish that used to be spoken by the refugees is barely mentioned in scholarship: it never became an emblem like Pontic, or even a bugbear like Macedonian Slavonic. It was quietly, and efficiently, dropped.
The Turkish of the Karamanlides passed unlamented—and unrecorded. Greek linguistics had its own priorities, being practiced after all by Greeks who saw the world in a particular way. Contossopoulos spent his career on someone else’s dialect—which is after all what most linguists do; but working on his own family’s dialect was not an option. Nor, I venture to say, would he have been dismayed that it was not.
Karamanlides speaking Turkish was a paradox to nationally-minded Greeks; Karamanlides dropping Turkish might seem a paradox to cosmopolitan-minded non-Greeks. The mother tongue, we assume by default, is the driver of identity and its rallying point and its emotional centre: how sad it must be to hate your own mother tongue.
And I admit to being troubled at the notion of hating one’s mother tongue. Yet loving one’s mother tongue, chosing to value it as identity, is as much a construct as valuing religion or culture, or what Greeks nebulously call ethnic consciousness, εθνική συνείδηση. It’s innate to seek out one’s own, but who one’s own are is something learned, and acquired.
And engineered. The Christians of the Ottoman Empire had to be taught they were Bulgarians, or Greeks, or Macedonians, or Albanians. What the people of village X thought they were 500 years ago is different to what they thought they were 100 years ago, and often what they think they are now. And the change was often enough initiated, because someone from Athens or Sofia came to town, and told them so; or because the local landlord made a choice, and his villagers followed suit.
But the question of what people “really” are, of how their language or quirks or DNA contradict their current self-identification, is pointless. If for whatever reason the villagers of X or Y now consider themselves Greek, well, they’re Greek; telling them a hundred years on they’ve been brainwashed means nothing. (The same goes for the search for Greeks in FYROM, it should be said: the Vlachs there in particular have changed their minds too.) Telling the Karamanlides they should have held on to a Turkish-speaking identity in Greece means even less. They suffered for being Christian in Turkey, they suffered for being aliens and speaking the wrong language when they fled to Greece: if they’ve come to hate their mother tongue, they aren’t obligated to hold on to it for my linguistic edification.
That’s problematic for me to say: the Karamanlides have had to jettison their linguistic heritage, because they were told to, and they found themselves in the coercive linguistic context of a monolingual nation-state. All Other Things being equal, maybe they shouldn’t have had to make that choice. But All Other Things were not equal; and it’s hard to know how much of an attachment they’d formed to Turkish while in Turkey. Love Of Mother Tongue, like everything else, is taught, and they wouldn’t have found many such teachers.
And that’s all terribly confused, because on the one hand I don’t seek to be an apologist for nationalism, let alone to presume how the Karamanlides felt at the time; but on the other what the (former) speakers themselves now think should not be dismissed either. On the one hand, I can’t get over the notion that hating your mother tongue is dysfunctional; on the other, it’s as dysfunctional to expect Greeks in Greece to speak Turkish. The essentialism of nationalism—or at least, of unreflective, pitchfork-yielding nationalism, is not just hateful, it’s counterproductive; and not just counterproductive, but obscuring. There’s a reason linguists don’t want to hear about the political dimensions behind what counts as a separate language: the flags get in the way of seeing the isoglosses.
Yet flags matter too, and “Nationalism Bad” is itself an unreflective stance. People are invested in their identities. No less genuinely so, because the identity is changeable, and engineerable. I responded negatively to the commenter at Sarantakos’ who was happy that the Muslim Greeks had to leave Greece, because they had a family tradition of national fickleness, having converted in the first place. There was enough fickleness in the other direction, or alternating between the two, to make such atavistic purity tests contrary to the national interest—and not merely inhumane. Patriotism is not a matter of genetics, it is cultural, acquired, and contingent. That doesn’t mean it’s not real; and it doesn’t mean either that the descendants of the Karamanlides are somehow lesser Greeks, or that their Greekness doesn’t matter to them.
I got started on this post because I’m posting at The Other Place about the Urum. The Urum, like the Karamanlides, are Greeks Speaking The Wrong Language. As I’ll explore there, they seem to have sensed in the ’20s that they Spoke The Wrong Language: so they didn’t pursue Ausbau like every other minority in the USSR did. That may be a pity and brainwashing; or it may be redressing an historical anomaly (as Pontus And The Left put it). But it was real. Now, there are signs at least some of them are taking pride in their language after all—with the support of the Greeks Speaking The Right Language. That’s real too. Both groups are now turning into Ukrainians Speaking Neither Of The Above (Russian): the Greeks there, Greek-speaking and Tatar-speaking, now have different Otherness and different threats to their identity to deal with.