Are you Greek? And if yes then where in Greece are you from?

By: | Post date: 2017-08-18 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Modern Greek

A far from straightforward question for those of us in the Greek diaspora.

My dad does not speak a word of Pontic Greek. But this Pontic revival song, sung by Stelios Kazantzidis towards the end of his life, shook him: Πατρίδα μ΄ αραεύω σε

Five houses have I built; unhoused from all.
A refugee from my cradle; God, I’ll go mad.

My motherland, I seek you, like a man accursed.
In exile, I am Greek. In Greece, an exile.

I left houses built between forests and riverbanks.
Wells built of marble, water flowing like tears.

And here now I thirst, and have no water to drink.
I am ashamed to ask for any, to moisten my lip.

And can I say, it’s nice to see Wikipedia Pontic orthography on Youtube. ja > æ in Pontic; the scholarly transliteration is α̈, and the lay translation was ια, assuming you knew this was Pontic and not Standard Greek already. Pontic Wikipedia has decided to use εα instead. Πέντε οσπίτεα έχτισα, Κι ας ολεα ξεσπιτούμαι. But do use ’κ’ for ‘not’. ’κ’ /kʰ/ ‘not’ ~ κʼ /k/ ‘and’ is a pernicious minimal pair.

It’s also nice to see not just Russian Pontians (who arrived from Russia in the 90s) on YouTube echoing the sentiment, but also the Albanians who’d arrived in Greece at the same time. Sometimes, there is value in YouTube comments after all.

And yes, it’s even more complicated for the second generation of that diaspora. (By the fourth generation, of course, it’s ancient history, a splash of colour up the family tree.)

I am in some regards Greek. In some regards, I am nothing of the sort.

And parochialism lives and thrives in Greece, as it does in Italy (Campanilismo). “Where are you from” is still the first question you get asked. I identify as Cretan, though my father is Cypriot. Town of Sitia.

Vitsentzos Kornaros closed off his romance Erotokritos, the pinnacle of Cretan Renaissance literature, with the verses:

I would not hide, and be unrecognised.
I will reveal myself, so all may know.
The poet’s Vincent, and by clan Cornaro;
may he be found unblemished, when Death takes him.
In S’tia was he born, in S’tia bred.
There did he write and labour what you’ve read.
As nature bids, in
Candia was he married.
His end will be wherever God decides.

I was only bred in S’tia for four years, age of 8 to 12. Those are pretty critical years though.


  • David Marjanović says:

    ja > æ in Pontic; […] Πέντε οσπίτεα έχτισα

    …is, surprisingly, pronounced with [ia] in the song, it’s not even [ja].

    Less surprising is the non-retracted [s], which after all has a [ɕ] to be distinguished from.

    • opoudjis says:

      I do hear some æ in the song, but of course Kazantzidis would have been a second generation the speaker, and quite likely out of practice.

    • opoudjis says:

      That non retracted s is of course a feature of standard Greek as well.

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