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Review of  A Linguistic Anthropology of Praxis and Language Shift: Arvantika (Albanian) and Greek in Contact

Reviewer: Alexander Yu. Rusakov
Book Title: A Linguistic Anthropology of Praxis and Language Shift: Arvantika (Albanian) and Greek in Contact
Book Author: Lukas D. Tsitsipis
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Albanian, Arvanitika
Greek, Modern
Issue Number: 13.3170

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Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2002 08:44:51 +0300 (MSK)
From: Alexander Rusakov
Subject: Tsitsipis (1998) Arvanitika (Albanian) and Greek in Contact

Tsitsipis, Lukas D. (1998) A Linguistic Anthropology of Praxis
and Language Shift: Arvanitika (Albanian) and Greek in Contact.
Oxford University Press, xii+163pp, hardback ISBN 0-19-823731-6,
Oxford Studies in Language Contact.

Alexander Yu. Rusakov, St. Petersburg State University

The book is devoted to the problems of language shift on the example of
Arvanitika, a variety of Tosk Albanian spoken in Greece for more than
four centuries" (1). The material for the study was gathered through a
fieldwork in two Albanian-speaking communities - Kiriaki in Biotia and
Spata near Athens. The basic concern of the author is, however,
theoretical - he aims at revealing the patterns of correlation between
language shift and a number of sociolinguistic, pragmatic, ethno-
historical and ideological factors; in this respect, the views of Nancy
Dorian and Susanne Hill are explicitly acknowledged as theoretically
crucial for the author. Along with the theoretical issues, the very
linguistic data are definitely of great interest - although Arvanitika
has been linguistically studied for more than 150, and a number of
renowned linguists have contributed to that study (Reinhold 1855; Meyer
1896; Weigand 1926; Phourikis 1932-33; Haebler 1965; Hamp 1961; et al.;
from sociolinguistic point of view: Trudgill 1978; Trudgill & Tzavaras
1977), Arvanitika is not yet adequately described in all its
versatility, and there is a visible shortage of available dialectal
texts, and contemporary ones in the first place. However, this dialect
is crucial for the understanding of some processes in the history of
Albanian in general (Hamp 1961 et al.; Joseph 1999). In this respect,
the book under review is not only useful for the study of
sociolinguistics, language contacts and linguistic ecology, it is also
interesting for the specialists in Albanian and - more generally -
Balkan linguistics.

The book is based on a number of previous articles by the author. It
consists of seven chapters.

1. Introduction: Theoretical Discussions and Research Focus (1-7). This
chapter contains an introduction of those theoretical concepts, that
are relevant for the whole investigation. This are, first of all,
SOCIETAL PRAXIS, that is, the sphere in which a language is
functioning. With respect to this notion, the author indicates that
"after a language has made its way to obsolescence with regard to its
referential adequacy, other functions, pragmatic in nature, remain" (3,
cf. Mertz 1989: 103-16); this statement is in a certain way basic for
the further discussion. Accordingly, the speakers of a dialect are
divided into FLUENT and TERMINAL (= semi-speakers according Nancy
Dorian); besides, such crucial notions as SUBORDINATION (and SELF-
DEPRECATION, which is related to it) and HETEROGLOSSIA, which are
comprehensively discussed in the following chapter.

2. On the Politics of Change (8-20). This chapter introduces, as it
were, the setting in which further action takes place. Some basic facts
on the Albanians in Greece are provided, their self-nomination and the
name for the Greek language used by them are discussed. Further on,
within the frames of the history of Albanian community in Greece, the
authors proceeds to the processes of subordination (without oppression)
and self-deprecation (related to the former process), on the one hand,
and heteroglossia, in which the Greek language plays the role of POWER
CODE and Arvanitika, the role of SOLIDARITY CODE, on the other hand.
The linguistic situation in the communities at issue leads to the
establishment of "a certain kind of METAPRAGMATIC AWARENESS in which an
ethno-ideological view of language equates the use of Greek forms in
the intracommunity sphere of communication with affectation" (15).

Finally, the chapter contains a sociological and sociolinguistic
description and comparison of two communities, namely, more
industrialized Spata and more patriarchal Kiriaki. It may be noticed,
however, that a consistent comparison of linguistic data from these two
communities was beyond the scope of the author's objectives.

3. On Sociolinguistic Change (21-65). "The focus here is on both the
structural and the sociolinguistic aspects of the shift" (6). This
particularly informative chapter contains a compressive, but
nonetheless useful review of the linguistic condition of the dialect,
whereupon its conservative features, the patterns of adaptation of the
Greek vocabulary, the models of interference - phonetic first of all -
with Greek etc. are highlighted.

Further on, the author compares the speech genres, typical of
Arvanitika of the second half of 19th and beginning of 20th century,
that are registered in the texts collected by Reinhold, Meyer and
Phourikis (these are rather heterogeneous and encompass fairy tales,
playful songs, speech plays, gospel excerpts; they entail, thus, a good
preservation of full-fledged syntactic and morphological structures)
with the scarce condition of contemporary narrative genres, that are
poorly differentiated. A conclusion is made that a shift from INTERNAL
HETEROGLOSSIA (=fully functioning language) to heteroglossia
juxtaposing Greek and Arvanitika has taken place.The following part is
concerned with the structural changes resp. variation in the dialect.

Based on sociolinguistic criteria the author distinguishes three types
Completed changes "include those aspects of the Arvanitica grammatical
system that are not part of any synchronic variation of the community"
(34). Completed changes in Arvanitika are exemplified by the lack of
admirative, fossilization of optative, and drastic decrease of
productive derivative models (which is a pronounced symptom of language
death, cf. for example Dressler 1996). It may remarked in passing,
however, that it is not quite evident that Arvanitika had the category
of optative in the past; "some aspecrs of the history of the mood
remains obscure" ( 34, n12).

CONTINUOUS CHANGES are such that the structures involved are "less
produced and less recognized as we move from fluent to terminal
speakers" (40). As an example of such a change the fate of Albanian
gerund in Arvanitika is discussed. The texts gathered by the author
have only four instances of constructions interpreted as gerundial; out
of these two have the "tuke + finite form" structure, and it is not
quite clear if these two utterances are simply agrammatical or they
correspond to the construction typical of the Greek dialects of
Albanian (this construction has been registered already by G.Meyer; it
is not, as it were, found in other Albanian dialects, cf. Cabej 1976:

An auxiliary experiment in which subjects were supposed to translate
sentences from Greek to Arvanitika with the use of gerundial
constructions and to recognize such constructions in the Arvanitika
sentences showed that the lower is the level of language competence of
a paticular speaker, the less is productivity of the gerundial
constructions. Unfortunately, the design of the experiment is described
very briefly.

The section devoted to discontinuous changes is particularly
interesting. It is based on the analysis of Greek-to-Arvanitika
translations provided fluent resp. terminal speakers. The two
inflectional domains are at issue, that reflect the basic features of
the Albanian grammatical system: the Nominal-Adjectival system
(including agreement) and the Verb system (including syntactic
subordination). Terminal speakers show the signs of utter decomposition
of the grammatical system: there are abundant cases of omission of
agreement markers, distortion of gender agreement, reordering of NP
components, blunders in verb inflection, a good deal of disorder in the
use of modal and tense forms, and numerous instances of the so-called
FANTASY MORPHOLOGY. In other words, pronounced symptoms of the later
stages of language shift are observed. Summing up the "sociolinguistic"
chapter, the author concludes that the notion of COMPROMISE suggested
by Nancy Dorian seem applicable to the sociolinguistic situation in
Arvanitika (cf. "If in a small linguistic community the threatened
language does not face puristic pressures a serviceable form of the
language may well continue in use. On the other hand, the lack of
puristic stances causes a relaxation of corrective constraints and so
makes possible the emergence of agrammatisms", 63).

4. Performance and Ethnohistory (66-96). This chapter deals with the
speech behavior of fluent speakers. Their narrative performance
("specific use of language by which the speaker assumes responsibility
for the display of communicative competence to an evaluating audience",
66) is characterized by three major devices: NARRATIVE MARKERS (hearer-
oriented expressions and "formulaic material which serves as a frame-
opener for the performance of the genre", 72), SAME-LANGUAGE
REPETITIONS (the device "serves the purpose of effecting a shift to a
substantially new information unit in the development of the narrative
plot", 73) and COUPLINGS (instances of code switching). Besides, the
author discusses those obstacles that can be encountered by fluent
speakers in the process of narrative performance; these are first of
all not appropriate conduct of terminal speakers involved in the
communication and possible attendance of Greek monolinguals among the

The major part of the chapter is devoted to a deep and meticulous
analysis of several narrative texts, in which narrative devices
(partially discussed above) are related to the development of the plot.
One of the main conclusions on this stage is that the narratives are
dialogical (in Bakhtin's terms) in nature, which reflects "the conflict
between the two worlds, the traditional, Arvanitika-dominant, and the
modern, Greek-dominant", 82); this dialogical nature could manifest
itself in code-switching, but not entirely in it.

Language shift is reflected in a specific double-voiced character of
narratives, where "the conflict [exists] between a positive cultural
stance towards Arvanitika and a pragmatism concerning sociocultural and
linguistic change" (84); this conflict leads in a progress towards the
Greek language. The chapter is concluded by an interesting analysis of
a long narrative of an uncle J., one of the last fluent speakers of the
community of Livanates, where the Arvanitika is nearly extinct. This
uncle J. demonstrates a certain degree of agrammatism; nonetheless,
"uncle J. furnishes a poetically complex speech segment.... there is an
ambiguity deriving from the sociological condition of last, but not
terminal speakers" (95).

5. The Contextualization of Terminal-Speaker Discourse and the
Production of an Across-the-Border Voice: Beyond Grammar (96-117). This
chapter contains a discussion of the speech behavior of terminal
speakers. Analyzing the dialogues, in which - as a rule - fluent
speakers take part along with the terminal speakers, the author
characterizes the speech behavior of the latter as ACROSS-THE-BORDER
VOICE. Terminal speakers show almost complete loss of the referential
function of the language, Arvanitika is only used for the expression of
their attitudes towards the native language and their own speech
community. These attitudes are thoroughly analyzed in the chapter.

The texts produced by terminal speakers are characterized in the
chapter as SLIM TEXTS, that is, the texts that hold somewhat
intermediate position between formulae and long narratives.

6. The Coding of Linguistic Ideology and Arvanitika Language Shift
(118-143). While the two foregoing chapters are devoted to the analysis
of the texts produced by fluent resp. terminal speakers, the 6th
chapter tackled the problem of linguistic ideology expressed in these
texts. The two types of ideological discourse are distinguished,
namely, CONGRUENT and CONTRADICTORY. The former corresponds to the
phenomenon of subordination ("I call congruent discourse the type of
linguistic ideology in which the hegemonic effects of subordination
show up: in this discourse speakers do not juxtapose the two codes of
their repertoire in any contradictory manner", 120), the latter one
reflects the situation of heteroglossia ("I call contradictory
discourse the type of discursively surfacing linguistic ideology in
which the expression of the solidarity function of Arvanitika is
interrupted by the power function of Greek", 120).

An analysis of several narratives representing the two distinguished
types is provided. With respect to the contradictory discourse an
important notion of PERFORMATIVE CONTRADICTION is introduced; this
terms refers to those cases in which the attitude of a speaker towards
a certain phenomenon undergoes a change in the process of narration. In
the analysis of the internal dialogical structure of such narratives
the author notably relies on the ideas of Bakhtin - Volosinov
(Volosinov 1973), in particular, he uses their terms of ANTICIPATED AND

In the second half of the chapter, an endeavor is made to decompose the
ideology expressed in the narratives into component NUCLEI. Four nuclei
(=ideas) are distinguished based on the analysis of the texts: (1) "In
earlier times people suffered due to the harsh material conditions
prevailing then, but moral principles were kept in high esteem...; (2)
The calendrical order of socio-religious life was strictly observed
then as against today when it is not. (3) Social roles were
predeterminated by the norm so that things were not left to the chancy
turns of life as against today when we are witnessing a moral loosening
of human conduct... (4) The Arvanitika language was once pure and
people spoke without mixing their language with Greek whereas today
Arvanitika has become a bastard language" (132). The author notes that
mentioning one of these nuclei often leads to the evolvement of the

7. Concluding Remarks on Ideology and Shift: Language Ideology as a
Discursive and Reconstructible Phenomenon (144-146). This short chapter
summarizes the message of the book. It is emphasized that language
ideology is reconstructible phenomenon, that is analysis of the
arrangement of the elements of the narrative allows one to reconstruct
the speakers' views on the causal relationships between the phenomena
of spiritual and social life.

This book is extremely informative and essential. Despite its
relatively small size it contains a meticulous discussion of a
significant number of problems ranging from structural changes under
the process of language shift to linguistic ideology and the ways it is
expressed in narratives. The logical consistence of the discussion of
the data is undisputable, there is clear and ensuing structure of
author's thinking reflected in the "plot" of the book. Theoretical
conclusions are deeply grounded empirically.

The following remarks are not in intended as polemic; rather, they are
questions and suggestions that arise inevitably in the process of
reading an interesting and informative scholarly research.

Although the distinction of fluent and terminal speakers seems quite
convincing as such, the very consistency of the former group needs some
clarification. On page 140 the author makes an interesting remark that
(some?) "Arvanitika-dominant bilinguals make frequent errors in Greek".
Thus the question arises if there is a group of balanced bilinguals,
and if yes, how can their performance be characterized. It remains
somewhat unclear, if the speakers of Arvanitika are homogenous enough
with respect to the linguistic ideology, that can be understood based
on their narratives, in other words, if there are any discrepancies or
gradations between speakers as regards their ideology. The very
possibility of the ideological heterogeneity of a speech community,
that is, the possibility of the co-existence of several subgroups of a
community differing in their metalinguistic awareness with respect to
the "dialect vs. standard language" or "first language vs. second
language" opposition is quite imaginable (cf. Rusakov, Sai forthcoming
for the description of such a community).

It would be crucial for the understanding of the sociolinguistic
patterns of language use in the speakers of Arvanitika to make an in-
depth study of the processes of code-switching in the speech of
different groups of these speakers. Besides, it could have been
appropriate to provide a general description of the narrative material:
it remains unclear what kind of narrative plots are encountered along
with those discussed in the book (if there are any at all?).

The author clearly aimed at the description of the situation of
language shift in Arvanitika and not at understanding whether the
patterns revealed are generally typical of sociolinguistic situations
characterized by a strong functional distribution of two (or more) co-
existing languages. However, in the course of moving along his line of
argumentation the author repeatedly draws reader's attention to various
sociolinguistically similar situations. It could have been germane to
bundle together these typological observations in order to create a
kind of a background for the discussion of particular phenomena
revealed in Arvanitika communities.

Needless to say that all these remarks to do not change the fact that
this book by Lucas Tsitsipis deserves a very high evaluation.

Cabej, Eqrem. Studime gjuhesore. V. 1, Prishtine, 1976.

Dressler, Wolfgang. 1996. Language Death. In Singh, Rajendra, ed.,
Towards a Critical Sociolinguistics. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 195-210.

Haebler, Claus. 1965. Grammatik der Albanischen Mundart von Salamis.
Wiesbaden: Otto Harassowitz.

Hamp, Eric P.1961. On the Arvanitika dialects of Attica and the
Megari. Balkansko Ezikoznanie) Linguistique Balkanique), 3, 101-106.

Joseph, Brian D. 1999. Comparative perspectives on the place of
Arvanitika within Greece and the Greek environment. In: L.Tsitsipis
(ed.). Arvanitika ke Elinika: Zitimata Poliglosikon ke Polipolitismikon
Kinotiton. Vol. II. Livadia: EXANDAS, 208-214.

Meyer, Gustav. 1896. Albanesische Studien. V. Beitraege zur Kenntniss
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Mertz, Elizabeth. 1989. Sociolinguistic Creativity: Cape Breton
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Obsolescence: Studies in Language Contraction and Death. Cambridge:
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Phourikis 1932-33; The Greek-Albanian dialect in Attika [in Greek].
Athina, 44, 28-76; 45, 49-181.

Reinhold, Carol H. 1855. Noctes Pelasgicae. Athens: Typis Sophoclis

Rusakov, Alexander & Sergei Sai. Forthcoming. On metalinguistic
awareness and self-identification of a dialect speaker.

Trudgill, Peter. 1978. Creolization in reverse: reduction and
simplification in the Albanian dialects of Greece. Transactions of the
Philological Society, 1976-7, 32-50.

Trudgill, Peter & Tzavaras, George. 1977. Why Albanian-Greeks are not
Albanians: Language shift in Attica and Biotia. In: Giles, H. (ed.).
Language, Ethnicity and Intergroup Relations, New York: Academic Press.

Volosinov, Valentin N. 1973. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language,
trans. L.Matejka and I.R.Titunik. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University

Weigand, Gustav. 1926. Das Albanische in Attika. Balkanarchiv, 2, 167-

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Alexander Yu. Rusakov is assistant professor at the St. Petersburg State university, department of General Linguistics. His research interests include language contacts, historical linguistics, Balkan linguistics, Albanian language, Romani.

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