How a headmaster is trying to save an ancient language
In Greece’s Peloponnesus, Panagiotis Tsagouris has involved schoolchildren in his effort to preserve the Tsakonian language, considered the only descendant of Doric Greek
Linguists may have extra reason to be excited about the children’s mountain trek. Tsakonian is considered the only descendant of Doric Greek, a classical Hellenic language last spoken more than 2,000 years ago around the military city-state of Sparta. Tsakonian managed to survive in this corner of southern Greece, whose hilly and rocky paths discouraged foreign occupiers and hindered contact with other regions. UNESCO has labeled Tsakonian a “critically endangered” language spoken by about 300 people.
At the beginning of this year, a few dozen eager primary-school students ascended the mountains near Leonidio, in Greece’s Peloponnesus, tape recorders in hand, to visit cliffside hamlets accessible only by narrow and impossibly steep roads. Their task: to record conversations with residents old enough to be their great-grandparents – the last few fluent speakers of Tsakonian.
Now, Panagiotis Tsagouris, headmaster of Leonidio’s public primary school, has taken on the task of, if not making Tsakonian widely spoken, at least preserving it in the computer era. He has launched a project that will expand and update a 90-year-old Tsakonian dictionary. The words, pronunciation, and usage that his students record will make up the body of a digital lexicon.
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(Christian Science Monitor 18 August 2016)
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