Friday, December 12, 2008

Wikati, wikati, do you hear?

The Ancient Greek language consisted of a number of rather different dialects. The most famous of these is Attic, the classical language of 5th century Athens. This is the dialect most often taught to beginners in Classical Greek. Other dialects were Ionic (of which Attic is sometimes seen as a sub-form), which was spoken in western Asia Minor and was the language of writers such as Herodotus. Aeolic was used by Sappho. And then there was Koine, the post-Alexander the Great concoction of Attic and Ionic which became the language of the whole eastern Mediterranean during Hellenistic times and was the language of the New Testament. From this mix derive both spoken Byzantine Greek and the Demotic Greek spoken and written in Greece today.

But there was Doric, too. This dialect (which in many respects is the most conservative of them all) was spoken in the Peloponnese as well as in Crete and Rhodes and Sicily. To an indo-europeanist, Doric Greek is like a piece of art. It keeps the long ā:s and doesn't turn them to ē:s like Attic and Ionic and it preserves the sequence ti, which Attic turns into si. This means that the word phēsi ("s/he says") is phāti in Doric. It somehow feels more real and proper, I think. Powerful, even ;-)

Certain forms of Doric even keep the old Indo-European w-sound, which is lost in Attic and Ionic. We see it in such wonderful words as woikos ("house", cf. Latin vicus, "village"), and wikati ("twenty", cf. Latin viginti and Sanskrit vimśati). The latter sounds ever so much more real and true than the flattened-out Attic equivalent eikosi, don't you think?

As stated above, the Modern Greek language derives from the Attic/Ionic Koine language. The standard language, that is. There is one other strange remnant of the ancient dialectal diversity. This is Tsakonian, spoken to this day by a dwindling number of people in the Peloponnese. This language, which differs rather a lot from "normal" Modern Greek, seems to be a direct descendant of the Doric dialect. It is very changed and grammatically simplified, to be sure, but it retains many of the old characteristics which I so love. For example:

Tsakonian often has a where Standard Modern Greek has i (from the old ē). Thus Tsakonian has amera for "day" where Standard has imera.

It has an u-sound for the old short u, which in Doric never shifted to y as in Attic.

it sometimes even keeps the old w, now transformed into a v.

And here goes; the Lords Prayer in Tsakonian:

Ἀφένγα νάμου π' ἔσσι στὸν οὐρανέ.
Νὰ ἔννι ἁγιαστὲ τθὸ ὀνουμάντι,
νὰ μόλῃ ἁ βασιλειάντι,
νὰ ναθῇ τθὸ θελημάντι, σὰν τὸν οὐρανὲ, ἔζρου τσὲ τὰν ἰγῇ.
Τὸν ἄνθε τὸν ἐπιούσιον δί νάμου νί σάμερε,
τσὲ ἄφε νάμου τθὰ χρίε νάμου
καθοὺ τσὲ ἐνὺ ἐμμαφῖντε τοῦ χρεουφελῖτε νάμου,
τσὲ μὴ νὰ φερίτζερε ἐμούνανε 'σ' τζειρασμὸν,
ἀλλὰ ἐλευθέρου νάμου ἀπὸ τὸ κακόν.


opoudjis said...

The devil's in the details, I'm afraid; there's a lot of romance about the Doricity of Tsakonian, but it does get exaggerated. In particular:

* υ shows up as /ju/ after coronals in Tsakonian: /lykos/ goes to /ljuke/ > /ʎuke/. Which suggests that /u/ very much went to /y/ in Tsakonian; Tsakonian just didn't go from /y/ to /i/ like most Greek dialects, but to /ju/. The same happened in Old Athenian. And in English—/plezyr/ > /plezjur/ > /pleʒəɹ/.

* /w/ survives in just one word, /vane/ "lamb".

There are some Doric survivals in the core vocabulary worth noting, like /epsile/ "eye" from /optilos/, and /ʃine/ "mountain" from /tʰis/; but influence from Koine was quite early: Tsakonian is not unadulterated Doric. Kicker example: "our" is Doric (/namu/ < /haːmɔːn/), but "we" is Koine (/eɲi/ < /hɛːmeːs/).

What I find so intriguing about Tsakonian is the morphological and phonological meltdown it's had—which is fascinating, but not very Doric...

Ola Wikander said...

Hmm ... Browning's "Medieval and Modern Greek" (p. 124) gives "gounika" for "woman" and "koune" for "dog", which does imply /u/ staying as /u/ in Tsakonian.