Why do many Greeks think that the word “Greek” comes from Turkish and means “slave”?

Me three: not heard of this ever. I’m surmising they’re getting mixed up with pejorative words like ραγιάς raya “cattle”, which the Ottomans did use of their Christian subjects, or with the not at all coincidental link between Slav and slave. Maybe they’ve got their wires crossed with γκιαούρης gâvur “infidel”?

And of course they certainly want to be call Hellenes and not Romioi, as the other respondents guessed.

Why are OSV order languages so rare?

Brian Collins says:

Those are the type of questions only a few people like Bob Dixon are willing to touch with a 17ft pole.

Only Dixon, may his soul be blackened (or indeed blacklisted)? Surely not. Surely we haven’t run out of functionalists in Australia!

Here’s a functionalist take, though it will have some holes in it. I’m not looking up any sources.

  • Some languages have strict syntax, and well defined word orders following the template of one of SVO, SOV, etc.
  • Some languages have free (or freer) word order, and calling them SVO or SOV is really trying to jam them into a schema by grabbing a default. It’s what typologists have to do, of course, to say anything meaningful.
  • Those languages work more according to pragmatic (information-flow) principles of word ordering.
  • The pragmatic ordering is typically topic–comment.
  • Typically, the topic is the subject, and the predicate is the comment.
  • The predicate includes the verb and the object.
  • So there is a bias towards SVO and SOV languages, whether they are pragmatically ordered or syntactically ordered: they put the subject first as a topic, and they put the predicate after the subject, as a comment.
  • A predicate is a predicate whether the object precedes or follows the verb: what matters is that the object is next to the verb.
  • The tendency (again, only a tendency) is towards head–dependent harmony: a language with VO will also tend to put nouns before adjectives, prepositions before nouns, and possessors before possessees. A language with OV will tend to do the opposite.
    • It is only a tendency, and in fact English is a notorious counterexample.
  • A Verb-fronted language is possible: the bias towards SVO and SOV does not exclude them. In fact, Celtic VSO languages developed out of SOV Indo-European, and Greek SVO gave rise to Cypriot, which has been argued to be VSO.
    • I’m vague as to what process fronts verbs historically, but it’s clearly a thing. Brian probably knows more about it, if he’s bringing up prefixing.
  • OSV and OVS are extremely rare, and you’d expect that. Whatever process is putting the O first, it’s not a commonplace one, and you’d expect it’s a fluke, rather than whatever commonish process fronts V. OSV in particular breaks up the predicate (O and V), and buries the S mid-sentence (where it isn’t going to be a topic). But OVS, which at least keeps the predicate together, is not substantially more common.
Answered 2016-12-17 · Upvoted by

Steve Rapaport, Linguistics PhD candidate at Edinburgh. Has lived in USA, Sweden, Italy, UK. and

Thomas Wier, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the Free University of Tbilisi.

What is the relationship between Greek nationalism and the Greek Orthodox Church?

Before the Greek War of Independence: the Orthodox Church was hostile to nationalism. Nationalism was this newfangled, godless French thing that set the people against their god-appointed ruler. The Patriarchate was particularly outspoken against it, and described it as a heresy.

That’s nationalism. Yes, you can say the Orthodox church helped preserve a notion of Greek identity. But that notion was safely ensconced within the Ottoman millet system, and the Orthodox church was a beneficiary of it: they certainly didn’t chafe against it.

The Greek War of Independence was formally started, as all Greek schoolchildren learn in school, by Germanos bishop of Old Patras on 25 March 1821. (They don’t learn that skirmishes had started a few days earlier.) And clergymen like Papaflessas and Athanasios Diakos were at the forefront of the fighting. But that was local lower clergy; it was not the policy of the church (though the Patriarch was hanged anyway).

Once Greek became an independent state, the Orthodox church was in an awkward position. It was still administered out of Istanbul, and its senior administration had obviously been an intrinsic part of how the Ottomans had ruled Greeks—so it had been collaborationist.

The former embarrassment was eventually rectified by the establishment of the autocephalous (“locally led”) Church of Greece, in 1870. The latter was rectified with some creative propaganda, such as the notion of the “secret school” (Krifo scholio)—that monks kept Greek culture alive through underground education. (No mainstream historian believes that to be true; after all, where did all the educated clergy come from, and how would the millet system have functioned without them? Few Greeks outside academia believe it to be false.)

Since independence, the Church has been firmly enmeshed in Greeks’ notion of what it is to be Greek: Orthodoxy is the state religion, Orthodox clergy preach loyalty to the state and open schools and parliament, the Greek church regards itself as the custodian of Greek national virtues.

What are the funniest nicknames you’ve been given over the years?

In the order that I recall then:

The delightful Australianism Nicko: only once from a blokey geography teacher.

Acka Nicka in my local high school (where I mercifully only stayed a year), because of my premature acne.

Nick Squared in my elective high school, because Nick Nicholas.

NSN as an undergraduate, because I used to use my patronymic as a middle name, so that was the email address I was allocated.

The Minoan Genius in postgrad by a fellow historical linguist, because we came across the phrase once in some crackpot Basque interpretation of the Phaistos disc, and I’m from Crete.

Not nicknames as such, but I appreciate it when Greeks call me Nikóla or Nikolí, which are familiar forms of Nick. Conversely, I resent the hell out of it when they call me Nik. Am I speaking in English to you? No? Then it’s Nikos. Damnit.

I nickname people obsessively here, but I don’t think I’ve gotten one in return. Be careful what you wish for, I guess…

EDIT: Philip Newton reminds me of opoudjis, on which see Nick Nicholas’ answer to How did you get your nickname? I don’t even think of that as a nickname, but that is how it got started.

How have English punctuation conventions changed over the centuries?

David Crystal’s recent book Making a Point has a rundown of the changes and a very clear framework for discussing them. I’m not going to do it justice, especially because I don’t remember every bit of it. But:

  • There has been a tussle in the history of English punctuation from the invention of printing on, between punctuating according to syntax, and punctuating according to meaning. The former would never allow you to put a comma between a subject and a verb; the latter will let you put a comma after anything, so long as it’s long enough and a single syntactic constituent.
  • Extreme meaning-based punctuation is why renaissance English seems so random. Extreme syntax-based punctuation is why 18th century English seems so mannered.
  • We still rarely put a comma between a subject and a verb; but commas are now much more about meaning than they were two centuries ago.
  • Big complicated multipart sentences are out of favour. The semicolon has suffered from that change in fashion.
  • Punctuation online, and in texts, is newly creative, and is establishing its own distinct norms.