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Generational Usage of ‘Greeklish’

This is the abstract of a TULCON14 presentation.

Anastasia Koutlemanis (University of Toronto)

In Greek, there are multiple variables for the English word car. The standard variant is αυτοκίνητό [a.ftoˈ]. In Greece, citizens have a non-standard variant which is αμάξι [a.má.xi]. This is an informal variant which one would not expect to hear outside of Greece. Toronto Greeks (being G2: born in Canada with G1 parents, and G3: born in Canada with G2 parents) have created what seems to be their own dialect called “Greeklish” which is adding a Greek suffix to an English word to make it sound like a Greek word. The Greeklish variant for car is καρο (ká.ro). The hypothesis is that Toronto Greeks (G2 and G3) use either the standard variable αυτοκίνητό or the Greeklish variable καρο while G1 Greeks (G1 meaning born and raised in Greece) use the non-standard variable αμάξι. The dependent variables are each variant (αυτοκίνητό, αμάξι, καρο) and the independent variable is the speaker’s generation (G1, G2, G3). The idea of generational change is the motivation behind the hypothesis. Generations have different ways of speaking and they use different variants (Wagner, 2012). Real-time studies help to strengthen the concept that each generation is like a time capsule for the speech at a given point in time. The methodology used was listening in on friends and family members and recording which variable they used in natural conversation. Conversations were either face-to-face or on the phone. G1 had the highest frequency of the variable αμάξι while G3 has the highest frequency of the variable καρο. Interestingly enough, G3 had zero uses of the variant αμάξι, which further supports that variant usage is determined by the speaker’s generations. Although, the evidence found illustrates that generational change is not the only factor that influences which variable speakers choose. When speakers use variables, other than the ones they were expected to use, their addressee seems to influence their choice in variables. For example, there were four instances of a G2 using the variable αμάξι and the addresses were always G1. When G2 and G3 used the standard variable αυτοκίνητό it was mostly when speaking to G1. It is important to note, both G2 and G3 never used the Greeklish variable καρο towards G1. Bell’s audience design theory proposes that speakers take into account their addressee and choice to speak in a way that their addressee will respond to best (Bell, 297-298). This could explain why G2 only used αμάξι when speaking to G1 and why G2 and G3 only used the Greeklish variable amongst themselves, reserving the standard variable for a G1 addressee. Using Bell’s theory, it seems that each generation uses the variable that their addressee is most likely to use. This mirrors the results found in Ravindranath and Cohn’s paper. Indonesian students speak Javanese with their grandparents and/or parents, as that is the main language for those generations, and speak Indonesian with their peers and plan on speaking Indonesian with their future children (Ravindranath & Cohn, 2014). Ravindranath’s article refers to a study done by Nancy Smith-Hefner which shows that people use different languages when talking to different people to be polite and respectful (Smith-Hefner, 2009). This gives a reason why G2 and G3 use the formal variant αυτοκίνητό when speaking to G1 instead of the Greeklish variable καρο, to show respect to their elders. G1 holds the status where they can use any variable while there seem to be more social restrictions for G2 and G3 when speaking to G1. There were no evident patterns in determining which variant G1 uses towards G2 or G3. Overall, this hypothesis can be supported with the research, although audience design theory may have a stronger influence than the expected generational change theory.

Work Cited 

Bell, Allan. (2014) The Guidebook to Sociolinguistics. Wiley Blackwell. ISBN: 978-0-631-22866-0. 

Horton, W. S., & Gerrig, R. J. (2002). Speakers’ experiences and audience design: knowing when and knowing how to adjust utterances to addressees. Journal of Memory and Language, 47(4), 589–606. 

Keller-Cohen, D. (2015). Audience Design and Social Relations in Aging. Research on Aging, 37(7), 741–762. 

Li Wei (1995) Code-switching, preference marking and politeness in bilingual cross-generational talk: Examples from a Chinese community in Britain, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 16:3, 197-214, DOI: 


Ravindranath, Maya & Abigail Cohn. (2014) Can a language with millions of speakers be endangered?. Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 7: 64-75. Smith-Hefner, Nancy. 2009. Language shift, gender, and ideologies of modernity in Central Java, Indonesia. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 19 (1): 57-77. Wagner, S. E. (2012). Age Grading in Sociolinguistic Theory. Language and Linguistics Compass, 6(6), 371–382.