The Historical Dictionary

By: | Post date: July 1, 2023 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Greece, Language

My business in Athens, aside from continuing to work for my employer and visiting my kin, was to visit the Research Centre for Modern Greek Dialects in the Academy of Athens, publishers of the Historical Dictionary of Modern Greek. My friend Io Manolessou is now director of the centre, and my friend Dion Mertyris has just started work there as one of its editors.

I have a history with the centre myself; it’s where I conducted my doctoral research, back in 1995–96, when they were in Agios Sostis, on the southern edge of Central Athens. Now they are to its north, at the beginning of Kolonaki. Which is why I ended up staying on the other side of Kolonaki, a downhill 10 minute walk away. (Downhill one direction, at least.)

The centre was established in 1908, and history weighs heavily upon it, as its staff continue to discharge its mission. They do so under the watchful eye of the grand old men of Greek dialectology—

  • Back row: Paul Kretschmer, Max Vasmer, Hubert Pernot, August Heisenberg.
  • Front row: Albert Thumb, George Hatzidakis, Berthold Delbrück.

These names won’t mean anything to many of you, except that a few more of you will be familiar with the son of one of these guys.
Back row, right. August Heisenberg. Byzantine studies professor, Munich. Recorded Greek POWs for dialect in Görlitz, during WWI.

And father of Werner.

For those who do know who these guys are, by the way: the established wisdom is that the greatest of these was the one Greek guy among all the Germans, Hatzidakis. I’m here to tell you it was the one French guy among all the Germans, Pernot.

When I visited in 1995, I had the privilege of meeting the three living former directors of the centre, Krekoukias, Contossopoulos, and Vayacacos. I was happy to see their pictures up in the new location.

  • Dimitris Krekoukias, 1981–1984
  • Nikolaos Contossopoulos, 1985–1991
  • Eleftheria Giakoumaki, 1991–2007

  • Dikeos Vayacacos (top), 1954–1955, 1967–1980
  • Ioannis Kalleris, 1955–1964

And going further back,

  • Anthimos Papadopoulos, 1932–1953
  • Ioannis Voyatzidis, 1925–1926

  • Phaidon Koukoules, 1926–1931
  • Panagis Lorentzatos, 1914–1923

  • Petros Papageorgiou, 1911–1914

  • Konstantinos Amantos, 1924–1925

Under Amantos, Georgios Anagnostopoulos, who wrote a grammar of Tsakonian while working here as an editor…

… and Thanasis Costakis (1907–2009), who worked as an editor for the centre, while compiling a grammar of the dialect of Silli and of Anakou in Cappadocia—and who, as a native speaker, has a towering presence in the history of Tsakonian studies. No longer the eager 24-year old contributing to Pernot’s grammar of Tsakonian, nor yet the resigned, kind old man I interviewed in his bedrobe in 1995.

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