Language and Cultural Identity in Multicultural Australia: The Experience of Second Generation Greek-Australians

Author: Paul Kalfadellis (Department of Management, Monash University, Australia)
Speaker: Paul Kalfadellis
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2021 General Session


A significant component of Australia’s immigrant history post the Second World War, is the large contingent of Greek migrants that settled in the country between the late 1950s and early 1970s, making Greeks one of the largest community groups in Australia. In 2016, around 400,000 or 1.8% of Australians claimed Greek ancestry (ABS 2017). For the first generation of Greek migrants a strong connection to  homeland (despite having  left Greece for economic and political reasons) and identity, saw the establishment of institutions (churches, schools, and social clubs) in Australia that would enable them to maintain their Greek language and cultural identity (Tsianikas & Maadad 2013). A subsequent strong push on their part for their offspring to also adopt their ethnic language and culture despite being born in Australia found second generation Greek-Australians (SGGAs) having to inhabit and internalise dual cultural worlds (Benet-Martinez & Haritatos, 2005), by negotiating and integrating within their daily lives both their ethnic Greek and mainstream Anglo-Australian cultures.

According to Berry (2005) in acculturating into their adopted homeland, migrants can look to integrate both their ethnic and mainstream cultures, resulting in a bi-cultural identity. However, for this to occur, the dominant culture, in this case the Anglo-Australian culture must help create the environment that enables integration to be pursued by the minority group (Berry 2005).

Through an analysis of the literature, policy documentation and commentary surrounding multiculturalism and multilingualism in Australia, this paper will argue that for Greek Australians and especially SGGAs, integration was encouraged and enabled in an amenable Australia, underpinned by a bi-partisan political embrace of multiculturalism as a policy framework from the early 1970s through to the early 1990s.

For SGGAs growing up in Australia during this period, the timing was perfect. Characterized by a cultural plurality that accommodated the growing ethno-cultural diversity of the country (Koleth, 2010), multiculturalism in Australia unlike the European experience afforded its migrants and their offspring political, social and cultural rights on an equal basis with the Anglo-Celtic culture of the majority. Expressing one’s cultural identity through language and practice were encouraged and seen as complementing Australia’s democratic and pluralist values (Soutphommasane, 2016).  In such an inclusive environment, SGGAs were able to revel, partake and adopt a bi-cultural identity that allowed them to practice both their Greek language and cultural identity while at the same time being fully fledged Australians and in the process suffer minimal consequences for doing so.

Keywords: Greek, language, culture, identity, multiculturalism, Australia