Opinion: Learn Greek, you owe it to yourself

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By Eleni Elefterias

Modern Greek has suffered a lot in the past few years.

We have all but lost it at the University of NSW and there are great issues holding onto it at Macquarie University in NSW as well. Sydney University is also suffering loss of students and the numbers are not what they used to be in the 80’s and the 90’s.

One big issue is money. The departments are running out of money to run their courses properly. Wealthy people of Greek background squander millions on projects that benefit them in some way but sometimes we must look at a benefit that is greater than ourselves or our own pockets, as the great Sir Nicholas Laurantus, the sponsor of the Chair of Modern Greek at the University of Sydney did.

But the greatest issue, I believe, is that we as a Greek community do not value our language enough to encourage our students to continue it to University level.

We don’t even value it enough to encourage our high school students to do it in the fear that they will be downgraded in the HSC. 

Even at high school level only a handful of students continue to do the Extension Course in Modern Greek. I remember the days when we had so many students at St George Girls Saturday School doing HSC Extension that we could not fit them all into the classes. There were three classes running with over 30 students in each class just at that one school!

Many went on to study Modern Greek at University level and that is why we ended up with so many qualified teachers of Modern Greek who took up posts at various schools including the three private Church run high schools of the Archdiocese of NSW. But how many of their students study Greek for the HSC let alone do it at University level.

After all, the main aim of an Orthodox school is to create good Orthodox Christians rather than Greek speaking ones.

The Greek language should be compulsory in such schools, not just at the primary school level, but right through to the HSC. Only this way will the cohort be confident enough in Greek to attempt it as a subject at University level.

The other issue is one of relevance. Is Modern Greek relevant to the subjects they decide to study at university level?

As most people already know Greek is the basis for many European languages and its infinite ability to create compound words makes it the number one choice for academics the around the world. Many take up learning Classical Greek to help them in their Medical, Science based or Archaeology courses where Modern Greek would help them just as much. 

Many students of ours at the University of Sydney agree that through studying Modern Greek their English grammar skills get better. Their understanding of world ideas and concepts became easier due to the exposure they have to some of the most amazing academic minds, such as Professor Vrasidas Karalis from the University of Sydney and Dr Sophia Nikoloudis of La Trobe University in Melbourne , to name just a couple.  

We know about Greek influence on Western thought, language, philosophy, medicine etc. But what we do not know is how to value our demotic language.

We love our classical Greek background and our Greek heroes both ancient and Modern but that love does not extend to the language unfortunately.

Without the language what would Alexander the Great have spread? Without the language what would the poets do? What would our folksongs be? 

For thousands of years Greeks in various parts of the globe from Alexandria to Asia Minor have kept the Greek language alive. Even our great poets such as Constantine Cavafy who only ever spent a couple of months in Greece, being himself a Greek from Egypt, composed in Modern Greek, in our beautiful language.

It is a great shame to leave it behind.

Wars and occupations could not extinguish it yet here we are in 2020 in the beautiful land that is Australia with all the opportunities in the world for keeping our language and we are responsible for its demise. 

But our beautiful language does not only belong to us. It is the heritage of all the Western world. It must be marketed as such. We Greeks, only a few million left but our inheritance is also the heritage of all of Europe. We should encourage everyone to learn Greek.

We should translate as many texts from Greek scholars, poets, philosophers and inventors into English as possible. Why English you say? Because only when those who can not read Greek realise what they are missing will they gravitate again to this most beautiful language that belongs to all of us!

*Eleni Elefterias-Kostakidis is a teacher of Modern Greek and University lecturer. 

Read Eleni Elefterias’ column ‘Insight or Perspective’ in Greek, every Saturday in The Greek Herald’s print edition or get your subscription here.

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