The Annual Thomas E. Leontis and Anna P. Leontis Memorial Lecture in Modern Greek Studies

Brian Joseph
(The Ohio State University)

“Modern Greek Confronting its Past: Archaism and Innovation in Language”

Thursday, March 30, 2017 - 3:00pm
The Ohio State University
Ohio Union Interfaith and Reflection Room
1739 North High Street, Columbus, OH

A reception will follow

Contact Professor Georgios Anagnostou


The Speaker

Brian D. Joseph is Distinguished University Professor of Linguistics, and The Kenneth E. Naylor Professor of South Slavic Linguistics, at The Ohio State University (since 1979). His A.B. (major in Linguistics, minor in Classics) is from Yale University (1973), and his Ph.D. (in Linguistics) is from Harvard University (1978). He has held national and international fellowships, e.g. with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Center for Hellenic Studies, and he has received two honorary doctorates, from La Trobe University (2006), and from the University of Patras (2008), where he holds a position as Honorary Professor in the Department of Philology. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Linguistic Society of America. His scholarly interests focus on historical linguistics, especially pertaining to the history of the Greek language (Ancient through Modern), in both its genealogical context as a member of the Indo-European language family and its geographic and contact-related context as a member of the Balkan Sprachbund. 

He is author or co-author of five books and one significant on-line resource; editor or co-editor of thirteen books, nine special journal issues; author or co-author of over 250 papers, in conference proceedings, as chapters in books, and as articles in refereed journals, and 125 reviews and other miscellaneous professional writings.  Among his books are two specifically on Greek:  Modern Greek (a grammatical description of the contemporary Greek language), co-authored with Irene Philippaki-Warburton (Croom Helm, 1987), and Morphology and Universals in Syntactic Change:  Evidence from Medieval and Modern Greek, an expanded and updated version of his 1978 Harvard University doctoral dissertation, published by Garland Publishers (1990, in its Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics Series).  His forthcoming book on the Balkan languages, co-authored with Victor Friedman, will appear in 2019, to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Dr. Joseph’s current research involves fieldwork among the Greek-speaking communities of southern Albania and explorations into the history of Albanian and into Balkan language contact more generally.

The Lecture

Greece as a locale holds a curious position with respect to its history, and so too for the Greeks as a people.  Indeed, as far as Greece and the Greeks are concerned, the past is inescapable:  monuments and reminders of the deep historical underpinnings of modern Greece and modern Greeks are to be seen all over the country.  The same can be said about the Greek language, in that it confronts its past on a daily basis, not just through the pervasive results of some two centuries (or more) of the “Language Question” (το γλωσσικό ζήτημα) reflecting the struggle between puristic καθαρεύουσα and vernacular δημοτική, but also through the remarkable archaisms that the language preserves, even as very innovative features emerge as well.

In this presentation, I review the facts concerning these confrontations with the past, considering this intriguing relationship between the modern and the ancient.  I then zero in on its linguistic dimension, isolating a number of very archaic features found in the modern language but at the same time drawing attention as well to new constructs and features that have entered the language in modern and pre-modern times.  Ultimately, I illustrate this tension between archaism and innovation with an in-depth examination of the so-called verbal augment — the past tense prefix ε- — showing how it reaches back some 6000 years into the prehistory of Greek but remains to the present day in some instances transformed beyond what might be expected of such an element.

Thus through this extended linguistic example, I make a general, non-linguistic point about how Greek, Greeks, and Greece deal with their respective pasts.

The Lecture Series

The Thomas E. Leontis Lecture in Modern Greek Studies was established in 1987 by the Board of Trustees of The Ohio State University with gifts from Dr. Thomas E. Leontis. In 1995, Anna P. Leontis made additional gifts in memory of her late husband to create the Thomas E. Leontis Endowment in Modern Greek. The purpose of the Endowment is two-fold: first, to serve as a catalyst in the Modern Greek Program at the University in generating a keener awareness of the importance of Greek history and culture, especially since 1204; and second, to bring annually to the Ohio State campus a distinguished speaker of international reputation who will contribute to the cultural growth of the University and the community by offering new ideas and historical and cultural interpretations of important past and current situations. In addition to the lectureship, the Endowment supports regular conference activities.

Previous Lectures in the Series

  • 2016 Stathis Gourgouris: "Culture in Times of Crisis, Crisis as Culture"
  • 2015 Dimitri Gutas: "Posthumous Hellenisms in Byzantium and Early Islam: A History"
  • 2014 Dimitris Tziovas: "The Future of the Past: Antiquity and Modern Greek Culture"
  • 2013 Artemis Leontis: "Self Fashing and Greek Revivals: The Case of Eva Palmer Sikelianos" 
  • 2012 Louis A. Ruprecht, Jr.: "The Modern Olympics: As Greek Revival and as Greek Religion"
  • 2011 Dan Georgakas: ‘Humor and Ethnic Image in American Film: The Greek Americans”
  • 2010 Charles Stewart: "Dreaming in a Time of Financial Crisis"
  • 2009 John Matthews: "From Byzantium to Constantinople: the Legacy of a Graeco-Roman City"
  • 2008 Dr. Vassilios Lambropoulos: "The Tragedy of Hubris in Modern Drama"
  • 2007 Fani Mallouchou-Tufano: "Restoration Work on the Athenian Acropolis (1975-2007)"
  • 2006 Peter Trudgill: "Two new nations, four languages: liberation, independence and language conflict in Greece and Norway"
  • 2005 Paul Magdalino: "The Shared Culture of Byzantium and Islam"
  • 2004 Thomas W. Gallant: "Toward a Social History of the Greeks"
  • 2002 Gail Holst-Warhaft: "Stopping for Melisma: The Spirit of Greek Poetry and Music"
  • 2001 John Chioles: "The Storytelling Daughters of Danaos: A Look at Recent Writing by Greek Women"
  • 2000 Constantine E. Michaelides: "Piracy and Vernacular Architecture: The Aegean Archipelago in post-Byzantine Centuries"
  • 1999 Maria Todorova: "Identity or Destiny? Reflections on the Balkanness of Greece"
  • 1998 Robert Nelson: "Looking in and into Byzantium: The Logic of Byzantine Icons"
  • 1997 Renée Hirschon: "Silent Landscapes, Lost Memories: Hearing the Voice of the Asia Minor Past in Contemporary Greece"
  • 1996 Michael N. Lykoudis: "Classicism and Modern Culture: The Art and Politics of How We Build and Live Together"
  • 1995 Peter Green: "The Hellenic Crucible: Myth, Tradition, and Ideology in the Greek Literary Revival"
  • 1994 Nanos Valaoritis: "The Post-Colonial Intellectual and the Nation-State"
  • 1993 Charles Moskos: "The Social Construction of Identity: Greek-Americans in a Multicultural World"
  • 1992 Michael Herzfeld: "The History of Fate and the Fate of History: Greek Reflections on a Global Theme"
  • 1991 Robert Browning: "The Elgin Marbles: A Case History"
  • 1990 Margaret Alexiou: "Renaissance on the Margins: Cretan Poetry and Drama, c.1400-1669"
  • 1989 William V. Spanos: "The Hellenic Investment of Modern Humanist Education"
  • 1988 Alexander Nehamas: "Nietzsche and the Greeks: Philosophy and the Search for Cultural Paradigms"