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Modern Greek Returns to the University of Utah

Modern Greek Utah University
Modern Greek was taught for almost sixty years at the university. Credit: Facebook/UNiversity of Utah

The University of Utah recently announced that Modern Greek will be taught at the Department of World Languages and Cultures starting this semester.

One of the beginner Modern Greek classes will be taught by Pagona Tsoutsounis. She has been teaching adult Greek classes at the Greek Orthodox church for several years and is excited to start teaching students at the university.

“I love teaching young adults because when they sign up for classes, it’s because they want to learn, not because their parents make them,” Tsoutsounis told The Daily Utah Chronicle, the university’s journal.

Modern Greek taught at Utah for nearly 60 years

According to Christopher Lewis, the department chair of World Languages and Cultures, Modern Greek had been taught at the University for nearly sixty years.

The last instructor was Aphrodite Angelides, who taught the Modern Greek course at the University of Utah for over 16 years, leaving in 2020.

She also taught Greek at Judge Memorial High School prior to that for 12 years and an additional 8 or so of French. She loved her students and was, and is, passionate about Greece, its history and culture, and all people.

“We wish all the best for my mom’s successor and the future of the program. We know it will be in great hands,” her daughter Stephanie Angelides told Greek Reporter.

Along with the return of Modern Greek will be the return of the William D. Cocorinis Scholarship, which was also suspended in 2020. Students with an emphasis in Greek, whether modern or ancient, are eligible for the scholarship.

The return of this language at the university won’t only benefit students but will also serve to better represent the Greek community located in Salt Lake City, Lewis said.

“There’s a large community of heritage speakers of Greek in the area…you know, it’s a language that certainly has everything to do with the ethnic diversity in Salt Lake City,” he told the journal.

The Greek presence in Utah is over a century old

The Greek presence in Utah is over a century old with the first Greeks filtering westward in the last decade or so of the 1890s, as tens of thousands of Greeks fled a country bankrupt from financial mismanagement (a familiar tune) and the failure of crops.

From the railheads of Chicago, Greeks and Cretans (at the time, Crete was still an Ottoman possession) moved west, following the railways to the mines of Utah.

As elsewhere in the saga of Greek immigration, a migrant chain ensued, with relatives bringing relatives; in Utah’s case, this meant Peloponnesians and Cretans.

To this day, Cretans, often of the fourth generation, make up a very large proportion of the Greek community, and it is no accident that many national Cretan Conventions take place in Salt Lake City.

Cretans find a local community with deep pride in their ancestral island, its culture, cuisine, and dances.

Related: The Greeks of Utah: History Spanning More than a Century

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