A massive, 25-year endeavor has started coming to fruition

Georgacas was the last eminent pupil of Giorgios Hatzidakis, the father of Greek linguistics. The vast amount of work he put into collecting and compiling the material for his massive Greek-English dictionary became apparent with the publication of the first volume, the only one that he managed to complete himself. The volume was brought out recently in New York by Aris Karatzas’s publishing house Melissa Media Associates, which specializes in bilingual academic texts. Publication was co-funded by the European Union’s Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) and the Hellenic Culture Foundation. The beginning of publication also marks the end of a long story, I.N. Kazazis, professor of ancient Greek philology at the University of Thessaloniki and vice president of the Center for the Greek Language (CGL), told Kathimerini. It began in 1961, when Professor Georgacas, a distinguished and widely published academic in America, won a competition in which many big names took part to create a medium-sized dictionary of Modern Greek with explanations in English for college students in America. Fluid state Georgacas returned to Greece the following year to start work on collecting the material and filing it. A year and a half later, his research had convinced him that it was impossible to make a synoptic dictionary of Modern Greek, a language that was still in a fluid state between demotic and katharevousa. What had to come first, in his view, was a dictionary along the lines of large national dictionaries in other languages. He returned to America and soon secured funding from the newly established National Endowment for the Humanities. It was the starting point for a trawl through hundreds of books that would yield 2.5 million samples by 1980. Though he had staff working on the project for years, every sample went through the professor’s hands. The task of organizing the material took 25 years (1960-1985) at the University of North Dakota’s Lexicography Center, which he founded and directed. The work stopped when he retired, but the original material was used in the compilation of the Modern Greek – English Dictionary by Georgacas with the help of staff led by his wife Barbara Georgacas, also a classical scholar and linguist, who succeeded him in his university post. Compilation of the first volume, which covers the letter A, lasted from 1970 to 1981. During that time the professor corresponded with leading linguists and scholars, to whom he sent samples of the dictionary for comments. Georgacas died nine years later, not having been able to find a publisher because he had not competed the remaining five volumes. After his death, his material was kept at Grand Forks University in North Dakota. In 1994, the Center for the Greek Language was founded and, following a report by Professor Kazazis, the board of directors decided to bring the material back to Greece and to utilize it. The precious collection arrived in Thessaloniki that same year in two containers – and just three months before a catastrophic flood hit the basement of the American university where it had been stored. The 2.5 million index cards with unedited quotations taken from the full spectrum of Modern Greek comprise a systematic record of Greek language in the 19th and 20th centuries. They are stored on special shelves at CGL, as is Georgacas’s library with the 7,000 volumes from which he mined some of the valuable material. The center also acquired the manuscript of the first volume, which the professor handwrote on 7,000 pages, from which come the 350,000 entries of the first volume. This represents one-sixth of the complete work, which is scheduled for completion in about 10 years’ time and will be based on the same original material and organized along the same lines. «It is a national dictionary of Modern Greek,» said Kazazis, noting its manifold significance. «It is the most detailed dictionary of Modern Greek, because it records, gives examples, interprets and, for the first time, documents the current nature of the Modern Greek language in such an authoritative and documented manner. It is based exclusively on sources. They sifted works of Greek writers from 1800 to 1985. Given its size, 350,000 entries for the first volume alone, it competes with the richest language in Europe, which is English.» As to the contents, the dictionary contains material from Modern Greek literature, philosophy, theater and cinema, as well as academic terminology at the point where it has entered everyday usage. Digital archives Under this approach and utilizing explanations in English will give the Greek language greater currency. With English as the intermediary language, the dictionary can be described as an international work of reference and a valuable tool for researchers, scholars and Greek and foreign users of the language. The first volume is now available in digital form. Meanwhile, Georgacas’s files are gradually being digitized, a project expected to be completed with the help of CSFIII funding.