W. MOLEAS, The Development of the Greek Language. Second Edition. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2004. Pp. ix + 134. ISBN 1-85399-675-0. STG £10.99 (Pb).
Review by Konstantin Doulamis
This volume is a revised version of the book originally published in 1980. According to its author, Wendy Moleas (WM), this second edition ?fulfils a need by providing an outline of the long history of Greek? and is aimed at both the general public and ?classicists in particular? (p. vii).
The book consists of five chapters, each corresponding to a distinct phase in the development of the Greek language: chapter 1 (pp. 1-14), entitled ?Prehistoric and Ancient Greek?, begins with a very brief, general outline of the history of Greek (pp.1-2) and then deals with the Greek of the Mycenaean period all through to the 4th century BC; chapter 2 (pp. 15-38), which falls under the title ?The Beginnings of Modern Greek The Common Dialect?, focuses on the development of Greek from the Koin? of the 3rd century BC until the 11th century AD; the history of the language from the 12th until the 18th century is dealt with in chapter 3 (pp. 39-71), called ?Greece under Frankish, Venetian and Turkish Domination?; chapter 4 (pp. 73-93), ?Independence and the Formation of a National Language?, covers the 19th and 20th centuries and includes annotated text examples from this period; and, finally, chapter 5 (pp. 95-116) comprises sample texts of the Greek literary production from 1896 until 2001, with the original Greek text preceded by a brief biographical note on the author cited and followed by WM?s own English translation. The book includes four short appendices: a brief guide to Linear B (pp. 121-122), the Ancient Greek alphabet (pp. 123-124), the alphabet and pronunciation of Standard Modern Greek (pp. 125-126), and a summary of the Grammar of Standard Modern Greek (pp. 127-130).
There is a lot about WM?s work that is good. The book is concise, as pointed out by the author herself in the preface to this second edition. This, coupled with the fact that the history of Greek is presented clearly and, for the most part, in non-technical language, makes this work easily accessible to the non-specialist. The texts included in the ?Selection of Readings? are well chosen, and the relatively literal English translations accompanying the original passages are handy for the reader who has a keen interest (but is not fluent) in Modern Greek.
The wide-ranging coverage of all phases in the development of the language from the Mycenaean period to modern times is useful for those with a general interest in the entire history of Greek, although it should be noted that the coverage is slightly unbalanced, since, clearly, the emphasis is on the post-classical development of Greek. The latter point, however, is acknowledged by WM, who states that it was not her intention to write an exhaustive and thorough handbook covering in detail the entire development of the Greek language, but, rather, ?to give some practical guidance as to how the Greek language, as spoken and written today, has developed from the Greek of centuries past? (p. vii). And she does; WM manages to give the reader an insight into Medieval and Modern Greek, especially, and the text examples included in chapters 4 and 5 in particular help to illustrate the development of the language, acquainting, at the same time, the reader with 19th, 20th and 21st- century Greek literature. However, given that the emphasis is on post-Byzantine Greek, to which more than half of the book is devoted, the title as it stands is somewhat misleading. Perhaps a title such as Modern Greek and its History Throughout the Centuries or similar would give prospective readers a far better idea of the contents of this volume.
In her introduction, the author invites the reader to browse through the different sections of the book to suit his or her ?own special interest? (p. ix). The four appendices, conveniently providing access to information that can be used as a practical guide, albeit a short one, certainly serve this purpose; the lack of any sort of index and the current division of the book into chapters, on the other hand, do not. Each chapter contains an overview not only of the linguistic but also of the historical and literary developments in each period discussed. Naturally, the history of the Greek language and the history of its speakers are inextricably linked and, understandably, they are very difficult to separate in a book concerned with the development of Greek throughout the centuries. Nevertheless, it would have been very helpful to have sub-headings in each chapter, which would guide the reader through the different sections - historical, literary and linguistic. Sub-headings could have also been used to mark clearly and separate the developments in the phonology, morphology and syntax.
WM expresses the hope that her readers will not be put off by ?any section which appears too technical? (p. ix) but, in fact, technical points are generally explained in simple terms. Obviously, the virtue of a handbook such as this lies in its brevity and non-technical language, which would certainly make it appealing to the more ?general readership? that the author herself appears to envisage. I remain sceptical, however, as to how appealing WM?s book will be to classicists or to linguists specialising in Ancient or Modern Greek. I would imagine that the demanding, specialist reader would be more likely to resort to a book with detailed linguistic explanations, such as the extensive and thorough Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers by Geoffrey Horrocks. However, for those with a general interest in the relation between Modern Greek and the ancient forms of the language, WM?s book, with its interesting text examples and simple language, would be ideal.