King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

An early English-Modern Greek dictionary

Opening showing entries for the letter G from the English-Modern Greek dictionaryOpening showing entries for the letter G from the English-Modern Greek dictionaryThis early English-Modern Greek dictionary, was printed at what was then the only printing press on the Ionian Islands. It was compiled by an English missionary, Isaac Lowndes (1790?-1873) who spent 25 years in the Ionian Islands between 1819 and 1844, having previously served for three years at a mission on Malta.

He seems to have been an accomplished linguist: he went on to publish a Greek-English lexicon in 1837, and to oversee the printing of translations of the Old and New Testaments into various languages of the eastern Mediterranean for the British and Foreign Bible Society.

The dictionary must have proved a lexicographical challenge for Lowndes at this time, when there was no standardised version of either spoken or written ‘modern Greek.’ In the title, he calls the language Γραικική γλώσσα (Graikikē glossa) rather than the more usual Ρωμαίικα (Romaic).

As was the case throughout the British colonies, missionaries in the Mediterranean took a particular interest in education. In October 1835, Lowndes was appointed inspector-general of schools in the Ionian Islands, with responsibility for every department of education except the Ionian Academy. This, the first university to use Greek as a medium of instruction, was founded by the philhellene, Frederick North, fifth earl of Guilford (1766-1827), to whom Lowndes dedicates this lexicon.

The copy of the dictionary is inscribed with the name of Henry Hucks Gibbs (1819–1907) director, and some time governor (1875-7) of the Bank of England, who had an interest in lexicography; he sub-edited the letters C and K of the New English dictionary.

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