Without Dictionaries: Translating Indigenous Oral Literature From Greece


The field of Translation Studies tends to overlook the extensive indigenous linguistic diversity of Europe and the particular issues that translators of marginalized and endangered languages face. The European Centre for Modern Languages counts 225 indigenous local languages spoken in Europe, most of which are at risk of falling out of use. In Greece alone there are several critically endangered indigenous languages, among them Arvanitika, Pomakika, Vlach, Ndopye, Nashte, and Tsakonika. In my oral presentation I would like to focus on Arvanitika, a severely endangered language spoken in remote areas of central and southern Greece, and discuss some of the challenges of translating its oral literature. Arvanitika is moribund; it will be extinct within a generation or two, and Greece will lose an important part of its fragile linguistic ecosystem, leaving a monoculture of Greek. My uncle Georgios Soukoulis, one of the last fluent speakers in our village in the Corinthian mountains, invented a writing system based on Greek letters in order to capture our oral history for future generations and to record our legends and poetry. His aim was to create a first (and unfortunately last) extensive document of our local language so that its words and culture will be preserved, and over the past fifteen years I have made the only sustained sound recordings of our language. In my presentation I will outline the challenges of being both a translator and language conservationist working in an under-resourced dying language that has no official writing system, literature, or dictionaries.

Author Information
Peter Constantine, University of Connecticut, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ACAH2020
Stream: First Nations and Indigenous Peoples

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon