So, why is there an -f- in my email?

About this post: This post refers to when I was affiliated with the University of Graz (2015-2018). At the time, I had a confusing email address with what seemed to be a typo. I wrote this post because it was easier to direct people to it, rather than have to explain the situation over and over. That job, and that email, are now in the past, but I have decided to keep this post visible, since it has some interesting information about Greek diglossia.


If you are reading this post, it is probably because you have noticed that my university email account contains a typo – sort of. It is achillefs.kostoulas@uni-graz.at, which is odd, since my name is Achilleas – sort of. Here’s what happened.

For much of the previous century Greece was a diglossic linguistic community. This means that we had two varieties of the language used in parallel, one ‘high’ and one ‘low’. The ‘high’ variety, called katharevusa, was reserved exclusively in formal contexts, and it is still used, to some extent, by the Church, the Army and other conservative enclaves. The ‘low’ variety (demotic) was generally used in informal situations, and it would not normally appear in written form. One of the most visible differences between the two varieties was the morphological system (i.e., the endings of nouns and verbs), where the katharevusa resembled Ancient Greek forms.

The diglossic situation was formally abolished in the 1980s, when the low variety was given official status, and the government implemented a series of policies aimed at imposing a simpler standard. However, when I was born, the katharevusa variety was still the only acceptable form in the civil service. As a result, I was registered as Ἀχιλλεύς, a formal version of the name, which is translitterated as ‘Achilleus’, and pronounced in Modern Greek as /axilefs/. Among family and friends, I was called Αχιλλέας, or Achilleas.

This mismatch was never a problem in Greece, where the two variants of the name are generally understood to be interchangeable. It was not a problem when I was in the UK, either, as the prevailing policy is to use the name by which one is commonly known. On the other hand, the powers-that-be in Austria seem to think, not entirely unreasonably, that it could be confusing if I were to go about with two different names, and they therefore only accept the one that is written in my passport.

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To cut a long story short, the University of Graz would only issue me an email account based on my formal name, in all its archaic glory. So, if you want to send me an email please make sure there is an -f- in achillefs.kostoulas@uni-graz.at, or else your message will be lost in the university servers (it is my understanding that you will not even get a ‘recepient not found’ message).

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