Beware Greeks bearing Greeklish

'Lips' Leyden gets all tongue-tied

Poor old John 'Lips' Leyden. No sooner has he recovered from being called a moron, than he's got the Greeks on to him. His piece Geeks garbling Greek, heirs to Aristotle complain provoked a flurry of Hellenic linguistic clarification. Dr Savas Parastatidis wasted no time in setting us straight on the whole issue:

I just read your piece. I am not going to comment on the article's tone but rather I would like to clarify a couple of things. Greeklish is a term that has been used for more than a decade amongst computer people in Greece. In the non-Windows days, greek character support was not considered essential and, therefore, not provided. Character-based UNIX terminals would only support the US ASCII set. Users exchanging electronic messages had to devise a way of 'writing' in Greek with the characters that they had available. Hence, Greeklish was born. Greeklish is nothing more than an association of Greek characters to Latin-similar-looking-characters. Since I am sure you're unable to view Greek characters, I am similarly unable to demonstrate this to you.

Greeklish is not another language. The word 'computer' does not become 'kompiuteraki'. Greeklish means that the Greek word for computer, which I can't write in this email, will be written as 'upologistns' using the Latin character set. The examples in your article are poor to say the least. I don't know what your sources are but, please, let me assure you that the examples are very wrong. If you got them from the document sent to the Greek government that your article talks about, then I would appreciate it if you could send me a link or a contact person.

Indeed, there is a problem with the Greek language. For example, we have a very nice word for 'computer' but the younger generation seems to prefer the english word instead. I guess this is what the Greek intellectuals are worried about. Greeklish was a necessity during the last decade and continues to be in some cases even today. Not everyone has access to the Greek character set. For example, it is not possible to send an SMS text message from a web-based interface using Greek characters to a mobile phone.

If you want more examples or there is something in the above that it is not clear, please do not hesitate to contact me.

As it turned out, we didn't have to. A couple of days later, Doc Savas sent us more stuff, Greek characters included:

Here are some examples. First, let me demonstrate what Greeklish is all about:

The word 'computer' in Greek translates to 'υπολογιστής'. In Greeklish, this would be written 'upologistns' (according to one style) or 'ipologistis' according to another style. There are different mappings of Greek to Latin characters. It's a personal matter. In any case, it is just a way to write Greek words using Latin characters.

Here's how it works. Some people prefer the phonetic approach while some others the visual approach (the last one is my choice). The phonetic approach attempts to simulate the sounds produced by putting the Latin characters together based on the way they are pronounced when read by a Greek rather than based on the spelling of the word being written. The visual approach attempts to maintain spelling so the Greeklish words are visually as close to their Greek equivalents as possible.

- computer -> υπολογιστής -> ipologistis | upologistns
- portable computer -> φορητός υπολογιστής -> foritos upologistis | forntos upologistns
- message -> μήνυμα -> minima | mnvuma
- printer -> εκτυπωτής -> ektipotis | ektupwtns
- music -> μουσική -> mousiki | mousikn
- singer -> τραγουδιστής -> tragoudistis | tragoudistns

Now, your article does identify a problem with the Greek language, as I briefly mentioned in my last message. That is, some English words are being used in our day-to-day spoken language instead of their Greek equivalents. This is the problem the French had and this is what many in Greece are worried about.

Instead of using the word 'υπολογιστής', many are using the word 'computer' or 'κομπιούτερ' as it is written in Greek. These words do not exist but rather they are generated. Other examples include:

although 'σαρρωτής' means 'scanner' the word 'σκάνερ' is used although 'εκτυπώνω' means 'I print' the very bad verb 'πριντάρω' is used.

The examples in your article:

If we were to translate the word 'κομπιουτεράκι' (kompiouteraki) to English it would mean 'small computer'. However, the word 'κομπιουτεράκι' is used to describe a 'calculator' and not a 'laptop'.

- 'Σερφάρω' indeed is the Greek slang verb for 'serf' but not just the web.
- 'Φρικάρω' is again the Greek slang for 'to freak out'.

These examples illustrate, to a rather small extent, the intrusion of the English language into the Greek slang and probably the Greek language.

I hope the above clarifies things.

Thanks for that. We are all suitably enlightened.

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