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.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wallander speaking Swenglish

I watched the first episode of the British-produced Inspector Wallander series a couple of days ago - hailing from southern Sweden myself, it would have been something of a sacrilege not to throw a glance at this televised transformation of Swedish dejection and gloom gone pop culture. I once read three of the Wallander novels (by Henning Mankell, one of Sweden's most economically successful literary exports) and wasn't all that impressed. I must say, however, that I thoroughly enjoyed Kenneth Brannagh's take on the Swedish sleuth - especially, I loved the almost romanticising Scanian landscape-views that filled the screen, with trees, skies, seas and rape-fields (a word which in English creates an unintentional and - given the story - very fitting and morbid pun).

All of the show seemed very Swedish - the furniture even. But of course, the actors were very British, and so were their gestures and looks. And they spoke English. Which is weird.

I know - the movie version of Gorky Park is in English, as are the Italian parts of Hannibal (sadly). And I suppose we're all tired to death of WWII-movies wiz gerrmans speeeeeaking English instedt of Deutsch ("Ja, myne Fewrer" etc.). But English it was. Are subtitles that hard?

Well, one adjusted, and after a while it wasn't even strange to hear rural Scanians speaking cockney (or RP, for that matter). But the names!! When Mr. Jackson did his Lord of the Rings he hired language coaches to get the Elvish right - for the sake of the purists. Couldn't Branagh & Co get someone to teach them to at least stress the Swedish names correctly? It's pronounced Vallánder, not Wollender, for Supreme Being's sake! And Svedin is Svedéen, not Svédin. But I guess even I have to accept the difficulty in pronouncing the surname Nyberg, which in actual Swedish has not only a) the vowel "y", sort of like French "u" in "lune", and b) the auslaut -rg (sounding like "ry", sort of) but also the Swedish tonal grave accent, which would sound bizarre in an English piece of prosody.

But the others - I mean: Vallánder! How hard can it be?

And yes, I'm a purist. But languages are my thing, and I'm Swedish, so I have the right ;-)