School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

L1 attrition and linguistic purism among highly educated Greek speakers in London

19 February 2020

Time: 1:00 - 2:00pm
Speaker: Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga & Petros Karatsareas
Venue: Graduate Centre 202

Dr. Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga (University of Cambridge) & Dr. Petros Karatsareas (University of Westminster) will present their collaborative research.



L1 attrition and linguistic purism among highly educated Greek speakers in London

 In this talk, we report preliminary results of a mixed-methods study of L1 attrition (Schmid, 2011) among 32 highly educated Greek-English bilingual speakers living and working in present-day London. We looked at attrition from both a psycholinguistic and a sociolinguistic point of view with the aim of (a) assessing phenomena at the syntax-semantics interface in our speakers’ Greek, and (b) gaining an insight into their lived experiences of attrition.

Semi-structured interviews with a selected subgroup of 14 participants explored their views and perspectives on attrition, their feelings about their competence in and use of Greek, possible changes they may have observed, and language mixing.

The psycholinguistic investigation (conducted by the first author in collaboration with Artemis Alexiadou) showed no differences in the use of the definite article in nominals with generic/anaphoric interpretation between bilingual participants and a matching group of monolingual Greek speakers living in Greek, indicating that this area of grammar is resistant to attrition. There were, however, significant differences in verbal fluency with the monolinguals outperforming the bilinguals. This was in line with qualitative comments by the bilinguals themselves who often complained about having lexical retrieval difficulties in Greek.

In the sociolinguistic investigation, participants expressed a strong sense of “shame” caused by what they perceived to be the bad state of their Greek. Feelings of inadequacy and loss were reportedly engendered by the stigmatising reactions of other Greek speakers towards their way of speech, especially speakers who live permanently in Greece including family members and close friends. Stigmatisation specifically targeted the use of (a) English lexical material in otherwise Greek utterances, and (b) expressions which, although containing exclusively Greek lexical material, have been calqued on English. This seemed to play on participants’ experiences of the hellenocentric form that linguistic purism takes in Greece, which does not simply promote a form of Standard Greek but one that is as complex and elaborate as possible, incorporating as many Ancient Greek(-sounding) elements and as few elements from ‘foreign’ languages as possible (Thomas, 1991; Delveroudi & Moschonas, 2003; Mackridge, 2009; Moschonas, 2009).


  • Delveroudi, Rea & Spiros A. Moschonas. 2003. Le purisme de la langue et la langue du purisme. Philologie im Netz, 24: 1–26.
  • Mackridge, Peter. 2009. Language and National Identity in Greece, 1766–1976. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Moschonas, Spiros A. 2009. ‘Language issues’ after the ‘language question’: on the modern standards of Standard Modern Greek. In Alexandra Georgakopoulou & Michael Silk (eds.), Standard Languages and Language Standards: Greek, Past and Present, 294–320. Farnham: Ashgate.
  • Schmid, Monika S. 2011. Language Attrition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sifakis, Nicos. 2008. Challenges in teaching ELF in the periphery: the Greek context. ELT Journal 63(3), 230–237.
  • Thomas, George. 1991. Linguistic Purism. London: Longman



For more information, please contact events organiser Elvis Coimbra-Gomes (