Romeyka II.

People are sending me this Esther Addley piece in the Guardian (archived) with such frequency that I figure I’d better post it before the roster of acknowledgments grows longer than one of those Nature author listings. It’s about the language normally known as Pontic Greek (“an endangered variety of Modern Greek indigenous to the Pontus region on the southern shores of the Black Sea”) but in the news under the confusing moniker Romeyka (i.e., Ρωμαίικα), which is a general Greek term for the Modern Greek language. It features Prof. Ioanna Sitaridou, who has been studying the language for many years and campaigning for public awareness of it and its speakers; since I posted about her and a previous wave of publicity back in 2011 (and linked to this Hellenisteukontos post debunking the claim that Pontic has an infinitive — a claim that, alas, is still being repeated, as in this Grauniad story), I will focus here on what is new (to me, at least):

With its remaining speakers ageing, the dialect is now threatened with extinction, leading a University of Cambridge academic to launch a “last chance” crowdsourcing tool to record its unique linguistic structures before it is too late.

The Crowdsourcing Romeyka project invites native speakers across the world to upload a recording of themselves talking in the language. Ioanna Sitaridou, a professor of Spanish and historical linguistics, said she anticipated that many were likely to be in the US and Australia, as well as spread across Europe.

“There is a very significant diaspora which is separated by religion and national identity [from the communities in Turkey], but still shares so much,” she said.

I hope it does some good. (See also my 2019 post Pontic Greek Dictionary.) Thanks go to Trevor, Peter, Eric, and John Emerson, as well as Steven Green on FB!


  1. Simplicissimus says

    Unless I’m missing something, the Grauniad article is perfectly consistent with the blog post: Pontic Greek as spoken by Christians doesn’t preserve the infinitive, Ophitic Greek as spoken by Muslims (just barely?) does, and mayhem ensues when one conflates the various Greek dialects of the Pontus region.

  2. David Marjanović says

    I wonder if anything is left of Mariupolitan Greek.

    one of those Nature author listings

    That’s a genetics thing independent of journals, not a Nature thing; there are still single-authored Nature papers in other disciplines.

  3. Unless I’m missing something, the Grauniad article is perfectly consistent with the blog post

    Ah, I read too quickly then (an all too common failing) — thanks for the clarification!

  4. debunking the claim that Pontic has an infinitive
    If some Pontic dialects have it, I think many will say that the claim is true.

  5. Christopher Culver says

    I wonder if anything is left of Mariupolitan Greek.

    Those are in fact not the only linguistic minority that the war raises questions about. I wonder how many speakers of Albanian stayed put in the Priazovsky district of Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

  6. Hellenisteukontos post

    Deffner, M. 1877. Die Infinitive in den pontischen Dialekten und die zusammengesetzten Zeiten im Neugriechischen. Monatsberichte den Königlich Preussischen Akademie de Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 191-230. Berlin.


    “Während nun unter den neugriechischen Dialekten dem Zakonischen jegliche Spur des Infinitivs abhanden gekommen ist, übertreffen die politischen Dialekte das Neugriechische sowohl durch die viel getreuere Erhaltung der alten Infinitivformen als auch durch einen bedeutend ausgedehnteren Gebrauch derselben; unter den politischen Dialekten hinwiederum stehen in diesen zwei Punkten die Dialekte von Ofis und Saràcho über den trapezuntischen.”

    Was ist Saràcho?

  7. As I recall, Hurricane Katrina wiped out the homes of the entire Mississippi French speaking community. I don’t know if they came back.

  8. Was ist Saràcho?

    This place is now called Uzungöl on Turkish maps. See Nişanyan’s online dictionary of place names under Saraxo. There is a Wikipedia page for Uzungöl. This once beautiful place has now been absolutely ruined. Here and here are links to articles on the story from two newspapers (each of whose editorial lines is deplorable in its own way, but what can you do?), with pictures of what happened.

    I would love to learn the origin of the name Σαράχο (> earlier Turkish name Şerah).

  9. Links to two papers from 2014 on the infinitive in Romeyka from Ioanna Sitaridou are available here and here. As far as I can tell, her data is drawn from her own work with informants (“Most importantly, this work is possible because the speakers generously and enthusiastically offered me data”).

  10. Xerîb, thank you! So it is upstream of… Hm. Most of the Of valley.

    (Just spotted: “die politischen Dialekte” – sorry, pontischen)

    Priazovsky” – I don’t think this district has seen much fighting.

    I tried to find something about Albanian there, found this article in French. The lady who wrote it seems to be interesting.

  11. Ἀρχεῖον Πόντου, The Pontic Archive was publishing texts from its establishment in 1928, six years later; and folklore journals were publishing Pontic texts from a fair while before that.

    What’s happened is straightforward:

    LH, as it happens, I did not like this debunking.

    I’m all for fantasies and speculations, but the author’s speculation (division of dialects into “Muslim” and “Christian” and dating) is simply implausible. Linguistic isoglosses don’t have to coincide perfectly with religious …isopists. The claim that since some moment after 1600s and long before 1900s only Muslim dialects have infinitive is too strong, it would be inherently difficult to prove with abundant attestations of a variety of Christian dialects from 1700s and 1800s, it’s unlikely to be true without such attestations.

    I’d much prefer statement of facts.

    As I see from this monograph (in Greek) there are examples of infinitive in Dawkins's archive. This paper says he did not talk to Muslims (and did not collect stories from women) so clearly the valley did not fully convert to Islam.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    simply implausible

    Neo-Aramaic languages spoken in the same place often differ(ed) between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Perhaps regrettable, but that has no bearing on whether it is true or not. I seem to recall that the same is true of Arabic dialects.

    The criteria for ethnic cleansing after the Greco-Turkish war were religious, not linguistic. This is entirely in accordance with Ottoman concepts of ethnicity. Modern Western ethnonationalist ideas about language were not relevant there at that time (they came later, with Atatürk.)

  13. Well, yes. I just meant, the author chose this particular isogloss at random. It is not based on a study of Christian and Muslim dialects of Of valley.

    It is based on the fact that Muslim dialects of Of valley do have it – but no one in the Christian world bothered to study them until recently – and the very same “no one” who did not bother to study Muslim dialects is also unaware of Pontic-with-infinitive in Greece.

  14. (Just spotted: “die politischen Dialekte” – sorry, pontischen)

    Heh. I had been trying to figure out if “politischen” had to do with “polis” = Constantinople.

  15. I thought about older Greek city-states;)

  16. @DE, I mean, you have twenty female Arabic speakers who all say glottal stop or g and then you meet a man who says q.
    You know nothing about distribution of reflexes of q. Will you think it is a genderlect or a local dialect?

  17. If we learn that certain valley was converted to Islam and Muslim speakers from this valley use infinitive, it’s natural to ask if Christian speakers from there use it. Also it is not just this valley, as I understand. From the above monograph:

    Η ΟΠ ανήκει σε εκείνη την ομάδα των ποικιλιών της Ποντιακής (η οποία περιλαμβάνει και τις διαλεκτικές ποικιλίες της Τραπεζούντας, των Σουρμένων και της Σάντας), οι οποίες διαθέτουν απαρεμφατικούς τύπους στο σύστημά τους, δηλ. άκλιτους ρηματικούς τύπους οι οποίοι μπορούν να αποτελέσουν τον πυρήνα μιας πρότασης. Αυτοί οι τύποι σχηματίζονται με την προσθήκη του επιθήματος -εινε/-ηνε/-ινε [28] στη συνοπτική ρηματική βάση:

    (58) γράφω → γράψεινε < γραφ-σ-είνε
               → γράφτηνε < γραφ-θ-ήνε

    Ωστόσο η ΟΠ διαφοροποιείται από την προηγούμενη ομάδα κατά το ότι το απαρέμφατό της κλίνεται ως προς τη συμφωνία υποκειμένου, δηλ, δημιουργεί έξι τύπους οι οποίοι λαμβάνουν το αντίστοιχο επίθημα που δηλώνει το πρόσωπο και τον αριθμό του υποκειμένου του (Deffner 1878, Παπαδόπουλος 1919, Οικονομίδης 1958):

    1   γράψειν-α    γράψειν-αμε
    2   γράψειν-ες   γράψειν-ετε
    3   γράψειν-ε    γράψειν-ανε

    Αξίζει να σημειωθεί ότι το απαρέμφατο λαμβάνει τα σχετικά επιθήματα από την ομάδα των λεγόμενων παρελθοντικών επιθημάτων (βλ. πίνακα 48), γεγονός που πιθανότατα οφείλεται στην κατανομή του (βλ. παρακάτω). Παραθέτουμε κάποιους σχηματισμούς απαρεμφάτων από τον Dawkins (1914a: 164):


    “[Οφίτικη Ποντιακή] belongs to that group of Pontic varieties (which also includes the dialectal varieties of Trebizond, Surmeni and Santa), which have infinitive forms in their system, i.e. uninflected verb forms which can form the core of a sentence. These types are formed by adding the suffix -εινε/-ηνε/-ινε [28] to the abbreviated verb base:
    However, OP differs from the previous group in that its infinitive leans towards subject agreement, i.e., it creates six types which receive the corresponding suffix denoting the person and number of its subject (Deffner 1878, Papadopoulos 1919, Oikonomidis 1958):
    It is worth noting that the infinitive receives the relevant suffixes from the group of so-called past suffixes (see table 48), which is probably due to its distribution (see below). Here are some infinitive formations from Dawkins (1914a: 164):”

    There is also parenthetical “(βλ. παρακάτω τη συζήτηση για τη διαχρονία και τη συγχρονία του απαρεμφάτου)” which GT translates as “(see below the discussion of immanence and synchronicity).”

  18. the name Σαράχο

    The confusion between שכר (Chron) and שרר (Sam) as the name of the father of one of David’s Gibborim evidently also results in Σαράχω in some LXX mss. Likely just a coincidence, but either way not really explaining why the 16th century settlement was named that.

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