Ioannis Psycharis

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Woodcut portrait of Jean Psychari in the Ποικίλη Στοά magazine from 1888

Ioannis (or Yannis) Psycharis (Greek: Ιωάννης (Γιάννης) Ψυχάρης; French: Jean Psychari; 1854–1929) was a French philologist of Greek origin, author and promoter of Demotic Greek.

Biography[edit]

Psycharis was born on 15 May 1854 to a Greek family in Odessa (in modern-day Ukraine, then Imperial Russia) on the coast of the Black Sea. Nicholas I of Russia still reigned at the time of his birth and his government exercised censorship and other controls over education, publishing, and all manifestations of public life.

He made a short stay in Constantinople during his youth, and settled definitely in Paris at the age of fourteen.

He studied at the École des langues orientales, where he later became a professor.

In 1882, he married Ernest Renan's daughter, Noémi, from whom he had four children, among which Ernest Psichari, Henriette Revault d'Allonnes (fr) and Corrie Siohan (fr), raised in the Scheffer-Renan Hôtel, the current Musée de la Vie romantique in the heart of the Nouvelle Athènes neighbourhood, in Paris.

He was director of studies at the École pratique des hautes études after 1885, and then professor at the École des langues orientales from 1903 to 1928, succeeding Émile Legrand (fr).

In 1886, he made a trip to Greece out of which he wrote My Journey, advocacy of the Demotic Greek language. He then became the mentor of the Demotic side in the Greek language question.

Psycharis died in Paris on 29 September 1929. He is buried in Chios.

Work[edit]

Psycharis was the populariser of the term diglossia,[citation needed] which describes a language community's simultaneous use of the genuine mother tongue of the present day, the vernacular, and a dialect from centuries earlier in the history of the language. The vernacular is of low prestige and is discouraged or totally forbidden for written use and formal spoken use, while the obsolete dialect is of high prestige and is used for most written communication and for formal speeches by institutions of authority such as government and religious institutions. Diglossia was a major issue in Greek society and politics in the 19th and 20th centuries (see Greek language question).

Psycharis also proposed an innovative orthography for Greek which never really caught on, despite being the focus of several serious attempts at implementation continuing into the late 20th century. A beginning Modern Greek textbook for foreign students, Ellinika Tora (Greek Now), employs some of his suggestions such as substituting rho for lambda when the pronunciation of the glide is conditioned by the other sounds around it – thus αδερφός (aderfos) instead of standard αδελφός (adelphos). While this and other of his suggestions more accurately reflect true pronunciation, they seem to have little chance of being adopted.

Works[edit]

  • Jean, Psychari (1888). My Journey [Το ταξίδι μου]. Athens: S. K. Vlastos. 

See also[edit]