Institute for Medieval Studies of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, December 4-5, 2020
Correctness in Comparison.
Negotiating Linguistic Norms in Greek from the Imperial Roman until the Later Byzantine period (I – XV AD)
Linguistic correctness is a concept common to many, if not to all, linguistic systems. It primarily mirrors the basic need for speakers to share acknowledged rules for any form of communication to work. However, it can also have many other implications. For example, it can indicate a user’s (lack of) ability to express their thoughts in what is believed to be a standard language, and thus mark their social, geographical, etc. origins. Further, it can also show how certain social groups were influential in changing existing, or creating new, linguistic norms, etc.
The Greek language is unique among European languages because of the length of its written tradition, ranging from the first documents in the Linear B script (c. 1450 BC) to the present day, and represents an unparalleled terrain for linguistic studies. Among the issues in Greek linguistic theory, linguistic correctness, known as hellenismós, has earned a central status (Pagani 2014). Reflections on the concept can be found as early as the pre-Socratics, and are attested until the late Byzantine period and echoed in the debates on the Katharevousa in the 20th century.
Throughout the ages, hellenismós has been connected to various intellectual traditions: early discussions were framed in a philosophical line of thought, focusing, among other things, on the ‘correctness’ of nouns. Further, reflections on hellenismós can also be detected in the philological tradition, that is, the application of grammatical reflections to literary texts by the Alexandrian school. In the Hellenistic period, hellenismós featured as an object of theoretical speculation in the grammatical tradition: treatises on the criteria that can be used to establish correctness first made their appearance at that time.
In the rhetorical-stylistic tradition, too, hellenismós had a prominent role: it was considered one of five virtutes dicendi by the Stoics. It is in this tradition, and in the work of Dionysius of Halicarnassus in particular, that the origins of ‘Atticism’ are usually situated, a movement that emerged during the Roman period and that searched for purity in vocabulary, as well as in morphology and syntax. This movement had a major impact on the then current conceptions of hellenismós: the main criterion for correctness became a canon of certain Classical authors, and the attitude changed from (positively) advocating Classical features to (negatively) rejecting anything non-Classical. Linguistic correctness, and the proper use of higher-register ‘Attic’ Greek more generally, became a hallmark of elite social identity, and played a pivotal – and very concrete – role in reshaping the inherited literary language.
For a long period of time, this later development, and its effects on linguistic and literary production, did not receive a lot of attention. Horrocks (2010:4), for example, describes how many of his predecessors viewed higher-register Greek ‘as an artificial construct devoid of interest for historical linguistics, a “zombie” language that was incompetently handled by its practitioners throughout its pseudo-history’. In recent years, various relevant issues have been addressed, including the consideration of high-register Medieval Greek as a worthy object of linguistic considerations in its own right (Hinterberger 2014); the value of metalinguistic resources such as scholia and textbooks (Gaul 2007; Cuomo 2017; Tribulato 2019); the influence of the lower on the higher register (Horrocks 2017a, 2017b); linguistic levels in non-literary sources (Bentein 2015); new digital approaches to measuring linguistic levels (Bozia 2016); etc. And yet, many other relevant issues remain to be addressed.
The main aim of this conference is to consider the role and importance of linguistic correctness, hellenismós, in later periods of Greek, that is, from the Imperial Roman to the later Byzantine eras (first to fifteenth centuries AD).
Interested scholars are invited to submit proposals (600 words max.) for 30 min. papers on one of the suggested topics to MA Katharina Preindl at: email@example.com, by May 31, 2020.
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