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Google learns to disregard Greek accents
Thread poster: Nick Lingris

Nick Lingris  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:22
Member (2006)
English to Greek
+ ...
May 30, 2005

Greek is a highly inflected language. If in English it takes three searches to cover the forms of the verb ‘hit’ (hit, hits, hitting), and just a couple more for verbs like ‘break’, anyone searching for various examples of the Greek verb for ‘hit’ would probably have to do over 50 searches, and that’s just for the forms of the active verb. We may have to wait awhile until search engines become clever enough to deal with such searches at a single stroke. I’m sure there are speakers of other languages who also dream of the day.

Another characteristic of the modern Greek language is that every word with two or more syllables takes an accent. There used to be more accents and breathing marks, as everyone who did classical Greek at one time or another may remember, but the system was simplified about 30 years ago, and we are now left with just one acute accent, a real stress mark that tells you on which syllable a word is stressed and does not indicate a special pronunciation. It’s convenient really and a practice the Anglo-Saxons might consider adopting.

Now when it comes to web searches for Greek words, the problem we used to have was that for thorough searches we would have to enter a word at least twice. Once with the accent and again without it: for, you see, upper-case words are not accented. The word for ‘box’ is spelt KOYTI in upper case, but in lower case it would need an accent. In addition, some words have forms with the accent falling on a different syllable depending on whether you pronounce it in the older, more formal way, or in the modern, more colloquial one. Take, for example, the first name of our new president of the republic, KAROLOS (Charles) in the genitive. It is pronounced either /'karolu/ or /ka'rolu/. So forms like this would require three searches.

In the past few weeks, Google seems to have solved the problem in the way that it does with French and probably other languages with accents. It comes up with all the forms of a words regardless of whether it has an accent and where it falls. So, my Greek friends, here’s one problem solved.

Well, every silver lining has its cloud—because we also have those few words with a different meaning depending on where the accent falls. MONO, for example, means ‘only’ when it is pronounced /'mono/ and ‘single’ when pronounced /mo'no/. Now, no matter how you juggle the accents, Google will bring up findings for both words. In this case, for a more exact search, you will have to turn to other search engines (until they too catch on, or a more refined search system is devised).

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Google learns to disregard Greek accents

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