TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. September 2010

Sektion 2.2. Identity, Authenticity, Locality, Urbanity and Speech Community: A New Sociolinguistic Perspective | Identität, Authentizität, lokale- und städtische Veränderungen und Sprachgemeinschaften: Eine neue soziolinguistische Perspektive
Sektionsleiter | Section Chairs: Meryem Şen (Kocaeli University, Turkey), İmran Karabağ

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

The Globalization of Greek Language:
the Case of Sociolinguistic Meta-Language

Irene Theodoropoulou (King’s College London) [BIO]




Globalization is a phenomenon, which is more than apparent among the members of (socio)linguistic speech community, whose meta-language, i.e. the jargon they are using to describe and interpret (socio)linguistic phenomena, is an amalgam of terms elicited from various languages, and mainly from Greek and Latin (e.g. bodily hexis, habitus [Bourdieu 1991], authenticity, style, emblematization [Silverstein 2003], heteroglossia [Bakhtin 1981], etc.). After presenting some indicative etymologies of basic sociolinguistic terms, I will be focusing on the reasons why Greek language has been and is still considered to be such an invaluable source for creating sociolinguistic metalanguage. The basic position to be argued in favour of is that the high “value” (Bourdieu 1991) Greek has in the scientific market, i.e. in almost all of the sciences, regardless whether we are referring to the humanities or the social or even the natural sciences, is the basic reason why Greek not only does not run the peril of extinction through globalization, but, on the contrary, it can retain its key position as one of the most dynamic and reliable fonts for providing material for the purposes of a scientific meta-language, such as the sociolinguistic one.


1. Introduction

The term ‘globalization’ is used extensively in people’s everyday vocabulary, regardless whether the register, i.e. the level of their talk, is a formal or an informal one. In addition, the vast majority of the European – at least – languages – have a specific word for the English term ‘globalization’: in Greek it is called ‘παγκοσµιοποίηση’, in German ‘die Globalisierung’, in Italian ‘globalizzazione’, in Spanish ‘globalización’, in French ‘globalisation’, to name just a few. This is a clear indication that the phenomenon ‘globalization’ exists as an idea or ideology and the various speech communities(1) worldwide have appropriated this idea locally, by labelling it through a word, which belongs to a specific language. As an international phenomenon, which is also of great relevance and importance for Sociolinguistics, it is worth to pursue.

In this paper, my aim is to investigate the ‘globalization’ of Greek language through English in the framework of its use in the case of sociolinguistic metalanguage, rather than focusing on English, which is seen as the main ‘lingua franca’, namely as a ‘useful and versatile communicative repertoire, a language for communication ’ (House 2003: 559). The rationale behind this apparently unorthodox choice consists of two reasons: first of all, in the need to move from Languages to language varieties and repertoires (Hymes 1996: 67; Silverstein 1998), when dealing with globalization from a sociolinguistic perspective (Blommaert 2003: 608). A shift of focus like this is essential, because what is globalized is not an abstract linguistics system, but specific speech forms, genres, styles, registers. All these elements carry with them values, symbolic capital (Bourdieu 1991) and, in general, hierarchical relations stemming from their use and function in the society, which in turn are also appropriated or localized by people, when the latter adopt these forms as an essential part of their linguistic behaviour.

The second reason has to do with the fact that the sociolinguistic metalinguistic repertoire, as well as other scientific metalanguages (e.g. Politics, Economics, Biology etc.), consists of a high percentage of Greek terms, stemming from Ancient Greek roots and morphemes (see, for example, the speech(2) given by the Greek economist Zolotas at Harvard University already in 1954, which is in English but there is an extensive use of words of Greek origin).

Using as its point of departure this incentive, the paper is aimed at answering the following question: how and why is Greek globalized through English at the level of sociolinguistic metalanguage? In order to tackle with this issue, the paper is structured as follows: first of all, the phenomenon of ‘globalization’ will be discussed with respect to the ‘sociolinguistic community’, and it will be argued that the latter forms a wide ‘community of practice ’ (Wenger 1998), which uses the ‘sociolinguistic metalanguage’ as a shared communication code, in order to achieve its members’ common goal. Then, a description of this metalanguage will be given and the main argument that will be made is that it is heavily based on Greek and Latin terms. Trying to explain this wide reliance on these two linguistic varieties, it will be argued that it is their ‘currency’, i.e. their historical value, and their morphosyntactic dynamicity and plasticity, that have turned them diachronically into essential sources for the sociolinguistic metalanguage. Finally, an attempt will be made to account for the itinerary of Greek morphemes used in metalanguage from the local to the global level.


2. Globalization and the sociolinguistic community

In this paper, globalization is treated as the ‘process by which languages and literacy practices in a part of the world come to have significant consequences for individuals & communities in distant parts of the globe’ (McGrew 1992: 23, slightly modified). A definition like this entails the existence of two levels, against which any observation can be made: the micro and the macro, or the global and the local; all these are seen as levels at which language works, exists and sociolinguistic phenomena operate. It is between these two levels that globalization can be seen to work as a practice of lifting events and linguistic choices from the local to the higher global level or vice versa, and hence a sociolinguistics of globalization (Coupland 2003) would need to account for the different structures of intercorrectedness between the levels of sociolinguistic phenomena.

Such a sociolinguistic phenomenon, which works at these two distinct levels or scales, is the ‘sociolinguistic community’. This is a term, which includes the total of people, scholars and non-scholars, who are engaged in the academic study of sociolinguistic phenomena, such as language change, language planning etc., either actively (through their writing articles for journals or publishing books, presenting their research at academic and non-academic conferences) or passively (through their reading or listening to the active contributions). Rather than treating this community as a ‘speech community’, a notion that has itself always been unstable and contested (Hudson 1980; Gumperz 1982: 26; Rampton in press) due to its dealing with people as ‘aggregations of ‘tickbox’ social variables’ (Rampton in press: 5), this paper will be coping with the sociolinguistic community as a ‘community of practice ’ (CoP) (Wenger 1998), namely as ‘an aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in an endeavor… practices emerge in the course of this mutual endeavor”. Mutual engagement of the people means that they need to get together in order to engage in their shared practices.

Wenger (1998) points out that in order for a CofP to exist, three criteria should be fulfilled. First of all, this mutual engagement may be harmonious or conflictual, therefore a CofP is not necessarily a group of friends or allies (ibid. 77). Second, members of a CofP share some jointly negotiated enterprise. It is exactly the pursuit of this enterprise that creates relationships of mutual accountability among the participants. Third, a very significant feature of a CofP, which differentiates it from other similar CofP is its members’ shared repertoire, either linguistic or other, e.g. clothing, demeanor etc., which is the outcome of internal negotiations among the members of it (Meyerhoff 2004:528).

In the case of the sociolinguistic community all these criteria are accomplished: the mutual engagement is identified with these people’s aim at describing and interpreting sociolinguistic variation, in order to solve social problems, such as linguistic inequality, or to contribute to the improvement of the social circumstances in a society, through language planning etc. In addition, the ‘jointly negotiated enterprise’ of the people involved in sociolinguistics is satisfied through the ‘dialogues’ or ‘discourses’ that are developed in the framework of the scientific journals, the academic conferences and even the newspaper or magazine platform, where non-academics post their own questions, opinions or ideas about sociolinguistic issues. Finally, the most distinctive feature, which differentiates the sociolinguistic CoP from the others is its members’ shared repertoire, which in this case is the sociolinguistic metalanguage. Before I turn into the description of this metalanguage (section 3), I will provide an account on how the phenomenon of globalization is correlated with the sociolinguistic community.

The interrelation between globalization and the sociolinguistic community can be located in two levels: the local and the global one. At the local level, the members of the sociolinguistic community are interested in investigating a particular language, e.g. Swiss German (Watts 2001), and its dialects, registers, styles, repertoires, social practices, or attitudes towards this linguistic variety etc. Through their publication of their research findings, they can influence the country ’s policy makers. This can be done through language planning projects, which not only stem from but they also feed into policy statements on language. Their target is either to endorse political decisions concerning a specific language that have already been made or to endow policy makers with a scientific, and hence, consolidated basis on which to form language policy of a given state or country.

On the other hand, at the global level its members contribute their findings of a specific language or dialect to a global sociolinguistic literature, whose means of communication are the various international journals, the conference proceedings, the textbooks, the sociolinguistic websites and each one member’s electronic webpage. All these means are made available to the members of the sociolinguistic community mainly through the web, which is accessible to the vast majority of people on the globe, therefore it could be argued that this sociolinguistic literature is globalized. Nevertheless, this globalization process of the findings of the sociolinguistic community is not only the result of the means of its communication to a wider audience, but it could also be viewed as the outcome of a specific code, in which all the peculiarities or individual features and processes involved in the study of specific languages are inscribed. This code is the ‘sociolinguistic metalanguage’, to whose description I now turn.


3. Metalanguage as a ‘shared’ communication code

The point of departure for this section is that language is a system of (and for) communication, which can be used to describe and represent itself. Following this line of inquiry, metalanguage is the ‘language in the context of linguistic representations and evaluations’ (Jaworski et al. 2004: 4). A definition like this points to the fact that for the analysis of language use in social life, it is crucial to employ a set of social processes, which can describe and interpret the forms and substances of speech, and in general the linguistic instantiations of everyday life. These processes are oriented towards the explanation of the social context (Duranti & Goodwin 1992), in which language is used, which includes the interactants, the time and the place, in other words the circumstances under which language is produced. By the same token, through metalanguage people can in general refer in their speech or writing to any aspect of language use, including their own. What is meant by that is that metalanguage can describe the sounds of language, the various syntactic structures, the semantic differences in word meanings or to account for people’s communicative intentions and to interpret strategic purposes in talk.

Nevertheless, metalanguage functions not just as a self-serving capacity of language but also at an ideological level (Jaworski et al. 2004: 3). This function of metalanguage can be seen in the case of the metalinguistic representations entering public consciousness and coming to constitute structured understandings, and sometimes even ‘common sense ’ understandings, of thw ways whereby language works and what specific speech styles and genres index. In this sense, metalanguage can influence people’s actions and choices, something which in turn renders language a form of social action. In other words, this interchange between actual language use on the one hand and social evaluation on the other is what allows for the social ‘work’ of language, which includes pressures towards social integration and division, and the policing of social boundaries.

Having provided an account on the function and use of sociolinguistic metalanguage, I now come to describe the actual ‘linguistic ingredients’, which the sociolinguistic metalanguage is made of. If we have a look at the sociolinguistic resources worldwide, we will come to realize that the vast majority of them, regardless of their format, are in English. This is expected and justified, given that English is the lingua franca in the 21st century. Nevertheless, it is important to note here that English as a lingua franca – and in our case as a lingua scientific (= scientific language) – is globally contextualized in different ways (Coupland 2003: 469), in the sense that it serves different symbolic functions and it carries different cultural values. What is meant by that is some – and in fact the majority – of the core sociolinguistic terms stem from the European classical languages, namely Ancient Greek and Latin, two linguistic varieties whose cultural capital (Bourdieu 1991) has been embedded into English. In other words, the sociolinguistic terms are Greek and Latin words, which are used in English, but they carry their original symbolic function and cultural value, which draw from their linguistic origin.

To illustrate this idea, let me provide some striking examples of some of the most widely used sociolinguistic terms, which etymologically speaking stem from Greek:

  1. style, authenticity, ideology, homogeneity, synchronicity, iconization, symbol, practice, micro-macro

style ← Greek word stylos (στύλος) [= pillar]
authenticity ← Greek word authentikotes (= αυθεντικότης) [= originality]
ideology ← compound word consisting of the Greek word idea (= ιδέα) + the noun logos (= λόγος) [= orig. definition ‘the talk/description/account of ideas’]
homogeneity ← compound word consisting of the Greek adjective homoios (= όµοιος) [= similar] + the noun geneia (= γένεια), stemming from the verb gignomai (= γίγνοµαι) [= to become] [= orig. definition of the word ‘the process of becoming similar’]
synchronicity ← compound noun consisting of the preposition syn (= συν) [= together] + the Greek word chronos (= χρόνος) [= time] [= definition of the word ‘all the elements that coexist within a given time period’]
iconization ← stemming from the Greek word eikon (= εικών) [= icon, picture] [= definition of the word ‘the process of becoming an icon]
practice ← Greek word praktike (= πρακτική) (= practice, action), stemming from the verb pratto (= πράττω) [= to do to make] [definition of the word ‘action, the act of doing (prattein)’]
symbol ← Greek word symvolo (= σύµβολο) [= symbol] [= definition of the word ‘a sign which is used to represent something else]
micro – macro ← compound elements stemming from Greek (= µίκρο – µάκρο) meaning ‘tiny/small’ – ‘long/big’.
and some other key terms, which are of Latin etymology:

  1. society, class, identity, culture, community, capital

society ← Latin word societas-atis [= society, a communion of people]
class ← Latin word classis-classis [= order, line, series]
identity ← compound word stemming from the pronoun id [= it, this] + the present participle (s)ens-entis from the verb sum [= the fact that something or someone is it/this]
culture ← Latin word cultura-ae, stemming from the verb culto-avi-atum-are (1) [= to cultivate]
community ← Latin word communitas-atis, stemming from the compound verb cum [= with, plus] + munio (4) [= to fortify] [= original definition of the word ‘the group of people, who are co-fortified, and hence, invulnerable’]
capital ← Latin word caput-itis [= the head].

As it turns out from a survey I did on the sociolinguistic metalinguistic vocabulary as presented in Swann et al. (2004), the vast majority of the vocabulary stems from Greek, while a significant amount of words are of Latin origin. Table 1 contains the statistical findings from the survey:


Sociolinguistic metalanguage
Number of items
Percentage %
Greek origin
Latin origin
Other origin

Total number
Source: Swann et al. (2004)


The way I worked with respect to the origin of the vocabulary items included in the dictionary is that first of all I counted all the items included (both single words, such as sociolinguistics and phrases, such as overt prestige) and then I tried to detect Greek and Latin

origins, based on my native knowledge of Greek and my long-standing educational background in Latin (4 years at school and 4 years at the university, plus two years working for a Latin-Greek dictionary).

The fact that statistically the two dominant sources, from which English has borrowed its terminology, are Greek and Latin, in a significant sociolinguistic dictionary such as the one used where the survey is based on, verify that the sociolinguistic metalanguage is in fact made of the classical European languages, and mostly of Greek. In the next section the reasons why classical European languages, and especially Greek, have had (and still have) such an impact on English as a scientific language will be illustrated.


4. Reasons for SM’s reliance on classical European languages

First of all, classical languages have been traditionally treated as bearing diachronic social value (Bourdieu 1991: 58) in their long history. By ‘social value’ is meant that these languages have been recognized for their legitimacy as a source for scientific language. In other words, these languages, and specifically Greek, whose history is longer than Latin’s and the latter is considered, according to several theories, as stemming from the Greek dialect of Evia island, have been sanctioned by people, through their use and preference for them in their works and through the imitation of others, who embarked on this practice of using Greek as a source for creating metalinguistic terminology.

The basic reason for this choice lies, in my opinion, in the fact that Greek is a very wealthy language in terms of its lemmata, namely the vocabulary items, a phenomenon which allows for the existence (or creation) of many synonym words. As a result of this wide range of choices at the lexical level, people can be as precise as possible in their descriptions, scientific analyses and interpretations. In addition, the fact that at the morphological level there are a great number of productive roots and endings the possibility for innumerable combinations of these morphological ingredients is secured, which can lead to an array of different terms. Last but not least, the fact that every word in Greek has its own etymology plays also a vital role in this variety’s choice as a basic source for the construction of scientific metalanguages. The reason for this is that etymology goes hand-in-hand with a system of thought behind each word, which in turn can offer an alternative perspective on how to define a term or how to go with the use of term at the metalinguistic level.

By the same token, this social value, which Greek has been imbued with, can be seen as the outcome of the following historical facts:

In all, quoting R.H. Robins (as cited in Konstantinidis 1993: IV–V), ‘the cultural life of Europe (philosophy, ethics, politics, aesthetics) is based on the Greek language and the works written in this variety. Even though we nowadays return to these resources for aspiration and motivation. People nowadays feel a cultural intimacy with the Greek civilization and thought, which they do not feel so extensively with any other previous or current culture’.

After having explained the reasons why European classical languages and especially Greek have gained sociocultural value, I now turn into the description of how this value has enhanced Greek and has created its trajectory – or itinerary – from the local to the global level.


5. Itinerary of Greek from the local to the global

In the Euroasian world, one of the first instantiations of the phenomenon of globalization could be considered the Hellenistic period, when Alexander the Great conquered – both military-wise and culturally – almost all parts of the known world then and established the Greek language and the way of life and thinking, the culture and the mentality among many diverse populations. In this sense, this is a manifestation of Greek going global already from the late-antiquity period.

All the same, globalization of Greek should not be taken as the globalization of an abstract ‘Language’ but as specific speech forms or morphosyntactic structures, e.g. the noun logos and its derivatives or compounds or the verb gignomai and its products (for a full account of these structures, see Papanastasiou 2001). In addition, the globalization of Greek cab also be seen manifested in the various forms of literacy practices that were established in Europe already since the Hellenistic period and through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance they have been kept almost without any significant amendment. Such an example is the basic model of the educational system in the Western societies, whose curriculum is heavily based on the teaching of Grammar of various languages; such a practice had already been initiated in the end of the 13th century a.C. in Italy or in Greece, when pupils were taught Italian, Latin and Ancient Greek (Karantzola 2001: 931).

In the case of the sociolinguistic metalanguage, which on the one hand was essentially formed in the 20th century, but on the other has followed more or less the paradigm of the Humanities and Social Sciences, whose metalinguistic practices draw their origin, and hence their ways of being structured from the antiquity period, has been aiming at spreading particular vocabulary/terminology resources, in order to describe and interpret social phenomena worldwide (Blommaert 2003: 608). Through its wealth in terms of vocabulary and its plasticity and dynamicity of morphosyntactic structures, Greek is seen as an ideal medium to turn the localized instantiation of phenomena & practices into global metalinguistic descriptions through its use as the basic source for a repertoire, which is dynamic and with adequate descriptive and interpretative description. This established Greek repertoire has been adapted into the current lingua franca (English) and is spread around the world through the literature, conferences, workshops, seminars and, mainly, the Web.

Notwithstanding its significant impact on English sociolinguistic metalanguage, other languages, such as German or French, appropriate these terms from Greek (which have arrived through English) into their own linguistic environments, e.g. die Ideologie (German) or ideologie (French).

Therefore, it is obvious that Greek should be seen as a ‘glocalized’ language, in the sense that it acts locally (something which is manifested in various instantiations of sociolinguistic metalanguages, such as the English one etc.), but on the other hand it thinks globally, given that it is the global vocabulary of sociolinguistic metalinguistic thought.


6. Conclusion

The aim of this paper has been to account for the ways through which Greek can be seen as a globalized linguistic variety on the basis of its distinct influence on sociolinguistic metalanguage. Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis deployed on a corpus of sociolinguistic terms from the Dictionary of Sociolinguistics by Swann et al., I tried to demonstrate how the sociolinguistic metalanguage consists of a great number of terms, which draw their origin from the classical European languages (and especially Greek), and in my effort to explain the reasons for this preference, I presented some historical reasons, which have led in Greek’s attaining a great sociocultural value and prestige. As an important source for sociolinguistic metalanguage, Greek can be seen as a ‘late modern variety’, spread across the globe in the ways mentioned above: as a specific variety and across specific groups of people in specific contexts (Blommaert 2003: 611)





1 The notion ‘speech community’ has been rendered problematic in the context of globalization, because factors, such as ethnicity, nationality, social class, which have been used as consolidated and given identity markers of a specific community based on statistical figures, phenotypes etc., are not seen any more as given but as constructed and performed by people (see, for example, the papers of House, Heller, Pennycook, Meyerhoff & Niedzilski in the special volume on globalization of the Journal of Sociolinguistics (2003)).
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3 During the antiquity (9century b.C – 4century b.C) and the Hellenistic period (4century b.C – 4 century a.C.) Greek was split into various dialects, which were distinct from each other. Nevertheless, according to Herodotus in his narration on the temporary unification of all the Greek city-states against the Persians at the beginning of the 5th century b.C., Greeks were brought together, despite their dialectic differences, due to their common blood and common language (‘το Ελληνικόν, εόν οµαιµόν τε και οµόγλωσσον’).


2.2. Identity, Authenticity, Locality, Urbanity and Speech Community: A New Sociolinguistic Perspective | Identität, Authentizität, lokale- und städtische Veränderungen und Sprachgemeinschaften: Eine neue soziolinguistische Perspektive

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For quotation purposes:
Irene Theodoropoulou: The Globalization of Greek Language – the Case of Sociolinguistic Meta-Language – In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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