Another alphabet peeve

A few months ago I wrote a critique of some versions of the Latin alphabet that have been adopted in the last 200 years by several languages, leading the some conflicts or difficulties that could have been avoided.

My latest peeve results from a trip across northern Greece that my wife and I took a few weeks ago, and concerns the Latin alphabet that is used for the transcription of Greek place names on road signs.

We visited such places as Ioannina, Kastoria, Florina and Edessa. In Greek they are, respectively, Ιωάννινα, Καστοριά, Φλώρινα and Έδεσσα, with accent marks clearly indicating the stress. But, as I have written, English-speakers have the tendency to stress vowel-final words (except those ending in y) on the penultimate syllable, and their default pronunciation — and those of Spanish-speakers as well — for these names (if they aren’t familiar with them) would be Ioannina, Kastoria, Florina and Edessa.

Why don’t the Greeks, then, put accent marks on the transcribed names? It isn’t too late — volunteers could fan out across Greece and with a stroke of a paintbrush make signs that read Ioánnina, Kastoriá, and so on.

The better pronunciation resulting from such an effort would be pleasing to hosts and visitors alike.

 

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