2009-05-19

Kaplanis on Polytonic in Early Modern Greek editions

So. I'm going to summarise the Mona Lisa with a doodle, and Tasos Kaplanis' paper on Polytonic in Early Modern Greek editions with a dot point summary. It's my summary, not his, and I invite comment on whether it's a fair summary (including from him).

In all, I sort of agree intellectually with his conclusion; I don't emotionally, but as he says, that's not a scholarly argument. I take issue with several of the premisses, and I do not consider this primarily an intellectual issue anyway. I'll come back to this later, but I'll let the commenter petrovgr (also summarised here) speak for me for now.

Section 1


  • The congress participants mostly objected to the prospect of monotonic Early Modern editions, without substantial arguments.
  • The field refuses to embrace any uniform editorial practice: each text has its own problems, but surely not its own orthography. That's not the texts' problem, it's ours. We can't have mathematical axioms in our discipline, but we can have more scholarly ways to edit texts.

Section 2


  • What do we edit: We're dealing with vernacular texts between the 12th and 19th century. That literature is not uniform, but it has the same underlying language.
  • Yes, their language isn't uniform, and is mixed. But, as Kapsomenos has argued, so was the spoken language they correspond to.
  • And we also admit we're a bit heuristic about what we include and exclude from the vernacular canon. John Camaterus is a borderline case, although I'm reluctant to be too liberal in including texts. The occasional Demotic passage or some Demotic lexicon aren't enough to call a text vernacular.
  • How do we edit: We intervene much too much in our texts still, convinced we know metre better than the authors, we are more literate than them, and we know Cretan dialect better than them. But we really should be taking the texts' language at face value unless that becomes untenable. We should be conservative about emending, and we should never emend silently—unless it's the spelling: the phonology, morphology and syntax are off limits.
  • Stylianos Alexiou & Martha Aposkiti have been particularly egregious about levelling the text of Bugnali's [Μπουνιαλής] War of Crete.
  • Who do we edit for: Specialists, and that's why Alexiou/Aposkiti's levelling of Bugnali's language is so bad: specialists do include linguists. But we shouldn't be excluding a more general audience. We do sometimes make a different edition for each type of audience (scholarly vs. popularising), which is a good thing. Diplomatic editions (transcriptions) are not that useful to either, and photo-reproductions should not be taking the place of editing the text.

Section 3

  • Why monotonic, modern orthography, and modern punctuation: The first Early Modern text in monotonic was published in 1986, and there were several published in the '90s, notably from Kechagioglou.
  • Of course, Kriaras' dictionary has been monotonic since 1977, and in uniform orthography based on Standard Modern Greek.
  • But most editors stick with either ancient or polytonic Demotic accentuation. Including all non-Greek editors. Holton and Olsen were intending to do monotonic editions, but they haven't come out yet. Bakker & van Gemert have stopped using ancient accentuation and orthography, after criticisms from Greek scholars, but dismiss the monotonic in one sentence. Eideneier refuses to use monotonic in his editions, even though he has been teaching Modern Greek in monotonic since 1976.
  • Van Gemert has defended using a mediaeval orthography. I doubt there's any such thing as a well-defined consistent practice. The only recurrent practices are things like writing prepositional prefixes separately from verbs, and noone wants to do that anyway.
  • Our readers are going to be more familiar with monotonic than polytonic, and with the spelling conventions of Standard Modern Greek. Of course, that's not a compelling argument: newspapers publish excerpts of Homer in monotonic, but that's arbitrary, and we should preserve Ancient prosody through the polytonic in Homer. Still, 12th to 19th century Modern Greek is a long way away away from Homer.
  • Defenders of the polytonic for our texts appeal to their historical truth. But linguistically, the only historical truth is that pitch accent died out in Greek two millenia ago, replaced by stress accent, which is what monotonic conveys. In fact Maas declined to use the circumflex in his editions of Byzantine learned texts for the same reason.
  • Confronted with that linguistic truth, defenders of the polytonic say that the tradition they appeal to is orthographic, not phonetic, and that the State-imposed monotonic is a prescription inapplicable to the old poets.
  • The orthographic tradition of the texts is a mess, it's utterly random. Is that the orthographic tradition we're supposed to respect? No, they want to uphold the traditional spelling, not the manuscripts', and that's they're complaining about the modern prescription. Well, if the scribes had the option of monotonic, they may well have taken it; but if we're going to orthographically normalise the texts anyway, to make them readable by modern readers, we should be using modern conventions, which are the only linguistically correct way of dealing with the vernacular.
  • Monotonic is unproblematic; spelling is more problematic, because of the mixture of ancient, mediaeval, and dialectal elements outside the scope of modern spelling prescription. We can still come up with some conventional solution for them. In fact, editors are OK with Standard Modern Greek-based spelling: it's only monotonic they reject.
  • We should not assume the scribes are idiots, and too incompetent to follow the ancient accentual rules: in fact, we know several instances of the same scribes following accentual rules flawlessly when they wrote Ancient Greek texts. They just chose not to bother applying those rules to the vernacular.
  • We also have three authors' manuscripts surviving, from the 17th century. Father Synadinos and Joachim of Cyprus are as messy with their Greek orthography as the scribes; and Foscolo wrote in Latin characters. So the authors weren't respectful of ancient Greek orthography either—though we know them not to have been unlettered. If the authors did not agonise over circumflexes or iota subscripts, we shouldn't have to either.
  • Not that I'm saying we should be using Latin script: there are reasons why Greek orthography remains historical. But it's a historical orthography that has been corrected towards being more sensible, through the monotonic and contemporary spelling norms.

Section 4

  • So why would you use polytonic at all? Force of habit. That's understandable, but it doesn't make monotonic illegitimate or polytonic the scholarly correct choice. In the absence of any scholarly argument for polytonic, insisting on polytonic for some unstated scholarly rationale is dishonest. Like Kriaras says, "some people like being the last".
  • Why do editors outside Greece use the polytonic? They worked extra hard to learn it; publishers will probably look more kindly on the prestigious garb of polytonic—since they admire ancient Greece and dismiss modern Greece; Greeks and foreigners alike feel an inferiority complex against antiquity, and as Eideneier admits, that makes them annex Early Modern Koine to Hellenistic Koine, though they know they're distinct. But that's hardly a scholarly argument.
  • Since many editors are also involved in teaching learnèd Greek, embracing monotonic may generate a separation anxiety in them about archaic Greek. But that isn't a scholarly reason either. And by going monotonic and with modern spelling, you get rid of orthographic uncertainty. Plus, you're making life easier for yourself in word processing. [Like Tasos himself had, citing the "Trial of Accents" with tildes for circumflexes.] Though I'm not making that a primary consideration.
  • Are we using polytonic because we underlyingly assume they were all trying to write Ancient Greek, and falling short? Maybe that's true: but what they wrote was not Ancient Greek, and the texts should be taken on their own merits.
  • Each era edits texts for its own reasons. But we are promoting these texts because they are interesting to us, and we are using modern approaches to analysing them: we should stop treating treating them as museum pieces. At any rate, while we shouldn't be intervening in the language of the texts, we are publishing them for not 14th century, but 21st century audiences. And why should we be allowed to normalise texts from the 4th century AD, but not the 17th?
  • We still need a database of Early Modern texts, and it will need to be normalised.
  • I wish a polytonicist would present some scholarly arguments in response.

Section 5

  • petrovgr in comments: The compelling argument is that pitch accent was dead, so attempts to impose polytonic on the texts are ahistorical.
  • The main problem is the difficulty of delimiting learnèd from vernacular texts, so different accentuation systems will make borderline cases look more dissimilar than they really are.
  • This is primarily a matter of choice of convention, and in choosing a convention, scholarly correctness is not the major determinant, it's a social issue.
  • As long as the choice of convention, such as polytonic vs monotonic, does not disrupt functional aspects of the text, I don't mind editors making a personal choice, so long as they're explicit about saying so in the preface. It's the same with the multiple ways of citing references. And the reader can make their own conclusions.

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