Group belonging beyond language boundaries? Language, religion and identity in the multilingual Greek community of Georgia
Even in ethnically and linguistically heterogeneous Georgia, the multilingual Greek community sticks out due to the intriguing way they fit their languages into the collective identity they construe for themselves. Contrary to most current assumptions and intuitions, Georgian Greek informants assert that the languages they speak are not a major determining factor for their group identity. Linguistically, this community may be divided into to two subgroups: Pontic Greeks speak an older Greek variety, Urum Greeks a Turkic language. Both varieties are mutually unintelligible, so that community members speak Russian or Georgian in order to communicate with each other. What unites this multilingual community are their origin in the Pontus region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, their belonging to the (Greek) Orthodox Church, the official classification as “Greeks” in the Soviet Union, mass emigration in the past 20 years (mainly to Greece and Cyprus but also to other countries) and the perception of being part of a greater Greek diaspora reaching back to the Byzantine Empire.
The talk will show how little competence of Standard Modern Greek matters to most of the 50 Georgian Greek informants interviewed in 2013 and 2014 in the analysis of one example. Furthermore, the socio-political background that made this community choose not language but other features like religion and ancestry for the construction of their identity will be explored.
This research is supported by a PhD-grant from the Heinrich-Böll Foundation (http://www.boell.de/de/node/277595) and is part of the larger project “The impact of current transformational processes on language and ethnic identity: Urum and Pontic Greeks in Georgia” headed by Prof. Dr. Konstanze Jungbluth and Prof. Dr. Stavros Skopeteas and funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.