Focus on the culture and language of Greece

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In conversation with the tavern-keeper and the priest of Nikia on the island of
In conversation with the tavern-keeper and the priest of Nikia on the island of Nisyros. Image: Thede Kahl

The "Bessarion Research Centre" has now been founded at Friedrich Schiller University Jena with the aim of researching Greek culture and the diversity of the Greek language. Thede Kahl, Professor of South Slavic Studies, and Dr Sotirios Rousiakis are researching the dialects of Greek and aspects of Greek culture that have received little attention to date, together with external collaborators. The "Bessarion Research Centre" will be officially opened on Wednesday (8 November 2023) with a small ceremony and concert in the "Zur Rosen" auditorium (Johannisstraße 13). The public event begins at 5.30 pm, guests are welcome.

The sponsors include the Pontos Greeks   

"Greek has around ten dialects, some of which are so different that they can almost be considered independent languages," says Thede Kahl. This finding is not at all surprising, as Greek settlements were already widely scattered throughout the Mediterranean region in pre-Christian times. Later, there were numerous migration movements, for example in the course of the forced expulsion from Asia Minor that began during the First World War. Among those affected were the so-called Pontos Greeks, who were named after the Pontos Euxeinos (Hospitable Sea - Black Sea). Descendants of those Pontos Greeks are now among the financial supporters of the new research centre, such as the "Euxinos Pontos - Cardinal Bessario" association from Nuremberg, as well as other foundations such as "Elliniko Spiti - Greek House" and the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. 

Recognising and preserving the diversity of dialects 

In order to preserve the diversity of Greek, the reputation of dialects must be improved, says Thede Kahl. Just a few years ago, "deviations" from a standard Greek language were frowned upon, which is why today there is the curious situation that younger speakers have a better command of the dialects than their parents or grandparents. "We interview speakers and preserve the recordings in the LaZAR archive," says Prof Kahl. One of the aims of the LaZAR platform, which goes back to a DFG project in Jena, is to preserve the language varieties and make them accessible at the same time. In parallel, an archive called EthnoTesaurus is being used. In order to preserve the dialects, a standard must first be defined, says Thede Kahl. Field research is essential for this. As part of this research, a network is being established that includes the universities of Vienna and Thessaloniki and Greek cultural associations. 

Research focuses on local products such as saffron and raki

Another field of activity of the new research centre is the history of the Greeks in the late Ottoman period in Asia Minor. There is also a focus on the endangered intangible cultural heritage of the Greeks. "It’s about local products and their production methods," says Thede Kahl. These include silkworm breeding in Soufli, crocus cultivation for saffron production in Kozani and Serres and the distillation of "roasted" raki on Amorgos. The aim is to research and disseminate knowledge about old production methods. Local communities are to be involved in this process.

The new research centre is named after Bessarion of Trapezunt (between 1399 and 1408-1472), a Byzantine humanist, theologian, church politician, diplomat and cardinal. Latin Patriarch of Constantinople in exile since 1463, Bessarion rendered outstanding services to the spread of Greek culture and language in Europe.




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