On the cusp: Greek language maintenance and postvernacularity in Western Canada
2022-04-14, 12:30–13:00 (Europe/Vienna), Room 5


Recently there has been renewed interest in heritage languages in North America, especially those which have moved into the phase of postvernacularity as their speakers are entering their fourth generation since the extensive waves of migration of the late 19th century (Dorian 2014; Salmons & Wilkerson 2019; Brown & Hietpas 2019). One of the interesting questions that arises is how do communities handle the shift from language maintenance to postvernacularity. The Greek speaking communities of Western Canada allow us to investigate this question because, although many Greeks moved to Canada during the age of great migration, the bulk of Greek immigration to Canada happened after 1945. Thus, the first-generation speakers who established the language maintenance infrastructure are still alive and even active in the community while a changing of the guard has also been taking place.
We employ the findings of two major studies on the Greek communities of Western Canada to examine how Greek language use has changed from the establishment of these communities to today. The first set of data come from an oral history project of Greek immigration to Canada during the period 1945 to 1975. There are 183 interviews with first generation Greeks f from the major communities in Western Canada: Victoria, Vancouver, Regina, Edmonton and Calgary. The data also include archival material such as photographs, community anniversary publications and personal publications by individual members.
The second dataset comes from a study in the same communities which focused on the cross-generational transmission of Greek as a heritage language in Western Canada. As part of the experimental procedures, second generation Greeks and their children completed a questionnaire designed to assess the language environment both inside and outside the home. In addition, the participants took standardized tests (a word finding test) to determine their proficiency in Greek. Finally, the study also collected conversational and narrative speech samples.
In our paper, we will discuss the reasons for Greek immigration to Canada (betterment, political asylum, war refugees). We will then address the issue of verticalization of these communities and how this has affected linguistic behavior. The interesting perspective that the Greek communities offer is that verticalization is not only affected by the host English-speaking community, but also by pressure from political changes in Greece itself. Furthermore, the chapter will provide an extensive examination of postvernacularity phenomena by using spoken, and discursive evidence from our conversational data, visual evidence in our archival material, and performative evidence from metalinguistic discussions with our participants about their use of both Standard Greek and their local dialect.
We will conclude by considering the impact of the latest group of immigrants from Greece to western Canada, which was caused by the economic crisis of 2010. As a better educated, more cosmopolitan group with strong ties to their families and friends who remained in Greece, they seem poised to reinvigorate the efforts of language maintenance and thus change the future of Greek in western Canada.


Brown, Joshua R. & Rachyl Hietpas. 2019. Postvernacular Dutch in Wisconsin. Selected Proceedings of the 9th Workshop on Immigrant Languages in the Americas (WILA 9), 72–82. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
Dorian, Nancy C. 2014. Small-language Fates and Prospects. Lessons of Persistence and Change from Endangered Languages. Leiden; Boston: Brill.
Salmons, Joseph & Miranda E. Wilkerson. 2019. English in German-Speaking Wisconsin and the Aftermath. In Raymond Hickey (ed.), English in the German-Speaking World, 361–383. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

My main research interests lie in language variation, historical linguistics, sociolinguistics and Greek dialectology. Overall, I seek to understand how language changes from both a structural and a societal perspective. I have pursued these interests mostly in the exploration of Greek dialectology, but also in the study of immigrant languages in Canada.

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