Cypriot Greek as a heritage (or, community) language in London and the UK

The 2011 census suggested that the UK is one of Europe’s most multilingual countries, with big cities like London and Manchester emerging as rich mosaics of languages from every corner of the globe. Linguistic pluralism is now, more than ever, one of the key traits of British society, a national asset and resource that we need to understand better to ensure that its benefits can be shared more widely among communities and individuals.

In this research initiative, Dr Petros Karatsareas addresses this goal. The aim is to advance our knowledge of the linguistic and social phenomena and patterns that define the diverse linguistic landscape of the UK by concentrating on London’s heritage (or, communities) languages, that is, the languages that are used by immigrant communities in addition to English, which is the socially dominant language.

The initiative focuses on Cypriot Greek, the variety of the Modern Greek language that is spoken on the island of Cyprus. In London, Cypriot Greek is spoken by members of the city’s Greek Cypriot community, whose population is estimated to range between 200,000 and 300,000 people. Employing state-of-the-art qualitative and quantitative methods, Dr Karatsareas explores issues of intergenerational transmission and maintenance, cross-generational variation and change, attitudes towards standard and non-standard forms of Greek as well as issues of heritage language teaching learning.

This research is funded by the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust and the Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies of the University of Westminster. Earlier stages of the research were funded by the University of the West of England, Bristol through a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship (2013–2015, PF130000).

Research projects

The aim of this project is to build a corpus of naturally-occurring speech in one of London’s traditional heritage (or, community) languages: Cypriot Greek. The corpus will contain the transcriptions of 30 half-hour semi-structured, sociolinguistic type interviews with British-born Greek Cypriots who (a) were born and live in London, particularly in areas of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey that have a strong Greek presence; and, (b) are heritage speakers of Cypriot Greek. Transcriptions will be accompanied by demographic and other information relating to the speakers’ linguistic biography. The project will deliver a substantial, reliable and representative body of data on British Cypriot Greek that will be used in future projects to investigate the social, and language-internal and -external forces that underlie the development and use of heritage languages in major urban centres such as London.

This project is funded by the Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies (2015–2017).

What can academics, skilled practitioners, and policy makers do to improve the quality of language education that the UK’s ethnolinguistic communities offer to their younger members through complementary schools?

Two public engagement events will address this question. A symposium will bring together members of the UK’s Greek Cypriot community, teachers and Heads of Greek schools, and academics working on bi-/multilingualism from both a (socio)linguistic and an educational perspective, in a round-table discussion on how Greek schools can (1) change to thoughtfully integrate Cypriot Greek—the native dialect of British- born Cypriots—alongside Standard Greek in teaching and learning, and (2) promote positive attitudes towards the dialect.

Read more about 'The Greek language and the position of the Cypriot Greek dialect in the Greek Cypriot community of the UK' community symposium.

An academic workshop will bring together senior academics and early career researchers. It will draw on the findings of the community symposium to illustrate how research into bi-/ multilingualism can generate positive change in policy and practice, and invite ECRs to develop ideas on how their work can generate pathways to such types of impact.

Read more about the 'Developing Pathways to Impact' training workshop.

This project is funded by a British Academy Rising Star Public Engagement Award (2017–2018, EN160023).

In Cyprus, Standard Modern Greek (SModGr) and Cypriot Greek (CypGr) stand in a diglossic relation. SModGr is the high variety used in education, administration and the media. CypGr is the low variety that is accepted only in informal communication. Previous work has shown that the educational system of the country plays a key role in sustaining and reinforcing positive attitudes towards SModGr and negative attitudes towards CypGr.

This study sets out to investigate whether this attitudinal system and the attitude-driven practices documented in Cypriot schools have been transplanted to London’s Greek Cypriot community. Adopting a range of ethnographic methodological tools for data collection and a qualitative approach of thematic analysis, it aims to shed light on the role supplementary schools play in shaping the views of British-born Cypriot Greeks about their heritage language. At the same time, it will highlight the importance of positive attitudes and institutional support for the vitality, maintenance, and intergenerational transmission of CypGr.

This project is funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant (2017–2019, SG162279).

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Cypriot Greek

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