Kaliarda XXII: Minniti-Gonias

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Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Domenica Minniti-Gonias’ study on “Italian and Heptanesian words in Greek slang” (specifically in Kaliarda)1 is significant because the Italian component of Kaliarda is one of the two core differentiators of Kaliarda from other Greek cants. (The other being its schematic approach to Romani vocabulary.) Montoliu already identified that Italian is a large and old component of Kaliarda vocabulary, and that it places the origins of Kaliarda in the Ottoman Empire, when Italian rather than French was the default Western language. (Frustratingly, no Italian turns up in the early records of Kaliarda that we have seen from 1904 through to 1938; but it doesn’t make sense that Italian would have been introduced into Kaliarda in 20th century Athens.)

Introducing Italian is how Kaliarda got to be the polyglot exuerbance it is—rather than remaining a para-Romani based on just Romani and the gadjo language, as was the case with Dortika, as seems to be the case with the Gay cant of Istanbul, and indeed as may well have been the case with the Lubinistika of sex workers.

So the study is important, and its glossary of Italian words in Kaliarda is welcome.

Though I have to say, I don’t think Minniti-Gonias got Kaliarda. She keeps referring to the “argot”, generically; but of course Kaliarda is not generic Greek slang, it is a cant of a particular subgroup (that she doesn’t say much about), and the Italian in it is not the Italian you’ll find anywhere else in Greek, and did not get there the same way it got there anywhere else in Greece. Because of that, I don’t think she makes the right historical judgements about how Italian works in Kaliarda.

Minniti-Gonias’ study wants to see Heptanesian influence, and not just Italian influence, in Kaliarda. The Ionian Islands (Heptanesa) were highly cultured, and had a disproportionate effect on the development of Modern Greek literature, particularly as they got a head start on Demotic. (And I’m not only referring to Solomos.) But I’m sceptical that the Heptanesa had that much of an effect on the language spoken in Athens. While we account for Standard Modern Greek as a dialect koine, for example, the elements that look Heptanesian (particularly verb inflections like –ome) are more readily accounted for as archaisms shared with Puristic, with Puristic as the far likelier point of origin. Likewise in this case, the fact that Kaliarda Italianisms look like Heptanesian words seems to me not borrowing, but coincidence: if early Kaliarda speakers knew Italian and wanted their words to sound Italian, they would inevitably end up generating the same words as a dialect of Greek that had had uninterrupted contact with Italian for six centuries. It does not mean that early Kaliarda speakers learned their Kaliarda from Heptanesians.

… although it should be said, Kaliarda speakers were certainly aware of Heptanesian history. A criminal record is called in Petropoulos the libro d oro; the reference is to the Libro d’Oro, the Venetian directory of noblemen—which loomed large in the history of the Ionian Islands as a means of social stratification, and that was burned ceremonially when the islands were conquered by Napoleon’s armies in 1797. But of course, Kaliarda speakers were clearly well-read in general.

  • p. 86. Minniti-Gonias has identified 660 headwords as Italian, including both root words, and compounds and derived words. Judgement calls need to be made on whether words are French or Italian, based on the morphological behaviour of the words in Greek.
    • By contrast, Montoliu identified 152 base words as Italian, 318 non-derived compounds, and 105 derived words: 575. Recall that Montoliu found more root words from Italian than Romani: 152 vs 52. There are 405 non-derived compounds and 153 derived words from Romani; 610 in total. So Italian and Romani are comparable in word count; the more clearly Romani character of Kaliarda is because of the concentration of Roman word stock in core vocabulary, and the greater use the Romani word stock has been put to in compounding.
  • p. 87. Several words Petropoulos has listed as Italian are uncertain, as their morphophonology is not consistent. Compounds have not been taken apart, because of the uncertainty around the underlying words: poetolakrimaro “to lament” could be derived from poeta “poet” or from poetare “to act like a poet”.
  • p. 88. The more assimilated terms could be Heptanesian. [I’ve indicated I’m unconvinced by this].
  • The etymology of words has been sought in Boerio’s 1856 dictionary of Venetian, because Venetian was the primary input into Heptanesian, as well as Italian cants. [But Venetian was the primary input for Italian loanwords into all of Greek, and presumably also for Italian as used in the Ottoman Empire, both until the 19th century. So we would expect Venetian anyway.]
  • There is not a lot of Italian in Koutsavakika, and what Italian there is is used identically to the same loanwords in Standard Modern Greek—whereas there has been significant semantic change of Italian words in Kaliarda. For example, verdzinos “virgin” > “penniless”, kangelo “rail” > “metal”, karo “cart” > “vehicle”, skuro “dark” > “banknote”.
    • verdzinos “penniless” is mainstream slang (as she concedes in the glossary); Kaliarda has words directly related to “virgin” and “maiden”—virdzino “girl, virign”, virdziniazo “to close” (with reference to female virginity), virdzinoskriva “stenography” (one of the few professional outlets for women in those days)
    • skuro “dark” is indeed the Kaliarda for a 1000 drachma note, because of its colour; but Petropoulos notes that in Koutsavakika it was called kafeti “brown” for the same reason. So this is not evidence of Kaliarda doing something different from Koutsavakika: skuro is already the normal Modern Greek for “dark”.
    • The other two words are Kaliarda schematic generalisations, and are used mainly in compounding.
  • Minniti-Gonias concludes from this that the slang recorded in Zahos’ dictionary (based on Koutsavakika) has been assimilated into Standard Greek, whereas Kaliarda represents a more discrete cant. I don’t think that follows at all: criminal cant was bewilderingly rich in metaphor with Greek words, as we saw in Thomopoulos’ 1934 instance of sex worker cant. The difference was that Koutsavakika did not prioritise polyglot language play, the way Kaliarda did.
  • p. 89. Core Italian vocabulary:
    • Body parts: vokio, bratelo, oki, sango, spala, testa, fatsa
      • vokio is possibly derived from bocca “mouth”, but in Kaliarda it means “window”
      • bratelo “arm” < Venetian brazzo (> Greek bratso) or It. braccio
      • oki “ear” < It. occhio “eye” (?!)
      • sango “blood” < It. sango
      • spala “bone” < Standard Greek spala “shoulder plate” < It. spalla. In this case the generalisation is likelier of the Greek word than as an Italianism
      • testa “head” < It. testa
      • fatsa “face” < Standard Greek fatsa < It. faccia. Because the word is already in colloquial Standard Greek, there is no special Italianism necessary going on here. Minniti-Gonias concedes that spala and fatsa are core Greek vocabulary.
    • Nature: lutsi, mol, soɣi, sielokapnila
      • lutsi “light” < It. luce
      • mol “water; drink”: Minniti-Gonias derives this from It. molle “soft, damp”, but the Romani etymology  > mol “wine” is obvious
      • soɣi “light” < It. sole “sun”
      • sielokapnila “cloudy day” < It. cielo “sky” + Greek kapnila “smudge”
  • The secrecy function is clearly at work, and dictates a lot of the borrowing; cf. also mondotera “globe, Earth” < It. mondo “world” + It. terra “land”; tempoxorxora “heat wave” < It. tempo “weather” + onomatopoeic xorxora “fire”. “Indeed, one could say that almost each foreign language term, and specifically every Italian term, is a metaphor.”
  • Obfuscation is achieved with metonymy (Libro d’Oro) and antonyms (kudzinos “brother” < It. cugino “cousin”, oki “ear” < It. occhio “eye”)
  • p. 90. Cants also exploit learned elements as obfuscation. Italian cants use Latin, and in fact Ancient Greek. In almodotoris “psychiatrist” < It. alma “soul” + It. dottore “doctor”, alma is learnèd Italian. popilobuso “bus” < It. popolo “people” is a calque of Learnèd Greek leoforio “people carrier”.
  • Loans are “always subject to the distinctive transformations of slang”; e.g. kameliodona, using donna “woman” rather than dama “dame”.
    • kameliodona “tuberculosis” is an allusion to the novel Camille (La Dame aux Camélias, “The Lady with the Camellias”), and the derived opera La Traviata, whose protagonist died of tuberculosis.
    • This is not a “distinctive transformations of slang”, but yet another instance of Kaliarda schematicism. In Italian, the novel is La Dama delle Camelie. But Kaliarda speakers did not take the novel name from French or Italian: they translated it from Greek Η Κυρία με τας Καμελίας. And when they sought to dress that phrase up in Italian garb, they didn’t care about the niceties of Italian differentiating between “lady” and “woman”; they just grabbed the most readily available Italian word, which was the generic word “woman”.
  • “Cants mostly derive their lexicon from dialects.” Uh, they do? They mostly derive them from colloquial, informal variants of language, obviously, but that’s because they are oral languages; they are not going to go out of their way to access dialect material, unless their speakers have ready access to that dialect. This is a preface to her claim of susbstantial Heptanesian influence on Kaliarda, which again I think is just coincidence of there being a lot of assimilated Italian in both. Singling out Corfu and Zante as loci for Kaliarda really looks to be a stretch to me.
  • Minniti-Gonias is reminded of Zante Speeches and the play Babylonia, both of which are comic popular texts with lots of exaggerated Italian and witticisms. Kaliarda is a witty language with Italian vocabulary. Of course she would be reminded of them; that’s no proof that Kaliarda speakers knew them.
    • In fact, Minniti-Gonias herself notes that Italian cants use -oso a lot to form neologisms, and that Greek cants from Epirus use the same suffix, in the form -us. This does not prove that either Italian cants or Epirot cants contact with Zante, of course; it proves that cants like derivational morphology, for reasons of lexical economy (schematicism), and that Greek cants particularly like foreign derivational morphology.p. 91. Minniti-Gonias is struck by the frequent use of the suffixes -ozos, -atsos < It. -oso, -ace to form adjectives; this reminds her of Zante dialect. Many such adjectives are in Zante dialect, and have clearly (προδήλως) been taken from there into Kaliarda: vivatsos “lively” < vivace, ɣulozos < goloso, kurɣiozos < curioso [Only vivatsos is in Kaliarda.] But in Kaliarda, they end up as nouns (amitsioza “friendship” < It. amicioso “friendly”, ofitsiozos “officer” < It. officioso “officious”, primatsos “prime minister” < It. *primace “primary”). Like Zante Greek, Kaliarda also uses Italian adjectives (mezzo) to form compounds: Zante medzoprovio, medzotraɣio “middling condition”, medzoluto < It. mezzo lutto “light mourning”; Kaliarda mesodzorna (calque of Greek mesi-meri and It. mezzo-giorno, both “mid-day”), midlanote (calque of Greek mesa-nixta and Italian mezzanotte “mid-night” with English middle).
    • Again, the presence of Italian endings that look like what Zante Greek does doesn’t mean that at all: it means that Kaliarda will exploit to the maximum any derivational mechanisms it can find in its source languages, as part of its obfuscation and its language play. The notion that Kaliarda had to wait for Zante Greek to borrow vivatsos from Italian, so that it could use it, is implausible: Montoliu’s Ottoman polyglots are not. (And Kaliarda never borrowed goloso.) Note that the -oso, -ace adjectives end up as Kaliarda nouns: Kaliarda is getting as much value it can wring out of the endings, and has no problem making words up (primace is not Italian, and an officer in Italian is ufficiale). The mezzo prefix seems to be used much more schematically in Kaliarda, too.
  • The mixing of Greek and Italian vocabulary aims towards comedy and impudence—with a footnote on Weinreich’s observations on the uses of macaronic language in literature. [Macaronic is of course exactly what Kaliarda is, and the polyglot chaos of “kularo tin esantes presanda” (Romani+Italian, Greek, Romani+Greek, Italian+French calquing Turkish) is the kind of thing you’d expect to find muttered in The Name Of The Rose.] The fact that Cretan and Heptanesian literature was also macaronic with Italian is true, but is merely a correlation with Kaliarda, not a causal relation.
  • p. 92. In comparing Kaliarda with the Italian furbesco cant, Minniti-Gonias finds interesting similarities and differences. [I don’t find them interesting at all: all they prove is that Kaliarda has Italian words in it, and there is only one metaphor shared between the two.]
    Kaliarda Furbesco
    altros “other” altro “other” > “carabinere
    amitsiozos “friend” amico “friend” > “partner in theft”
    kudzinos “brother” cugino “cousin” > “workmate, blood brother”
    pantofla “wallet” (Standard Greek: “slipper”) pantofola “slipper” > “wallet”
    pekulis “miser” pecogna “money”
    trotaro “to travel” trotta “police patrol”
  • p. 93. Minniti-Gonias takes issue with Triantafyllidis’ blanket claim that Italian is used in cants for “higher concepts”, in contrast to Romani being used for “suspect business”. I agree that this is a superficial thing to say.
  • There aren’t that many sexual words in Kaliarda, and they are used indirectly, for secrecy. Hence amorozos “lover” < It. amoroso; modernizo Kaliarda “to have sex in a modern fashion” (Standard Greek: “to act modern, to innovate”). [I guess, though these are not great examples.]
  • There is a deliberately hyperbolic use of words that sound worse than they are, for sarcastic purposes (i.e. words that are ostensively sexual, but are used for benign meanings). So skulamentozos < It. sculamento should mean “someone suffering from gonorrhoea”; in Kaliarda it just means “someone with a cold”. vizita < visita in mainstream Greek slang means a visit to a prostitute; in Kaliarda it just means what it means in Italian, a visit (with Kaliarda speakers very much aware what it means in mainstream Greek).
  • p. 94. The same pejoration applies to “criticism of attitudes and behaviours contrary to popular mores (χρηστά λαϊκά ήθη)”. Hence fabrikopartuzis “business partner” (maybe because his profiteering has become a fabrika (mainstream slang: factory; con job”; florotsarðo “villa”, maybe because the rich become effete (modern Greek slang: flori.)
    • In principle, Minniti-Gonias is correct. There is plenty of social criticism in Kaliarda, although any suggestion of moralising (χρηστά λαϊκά ήθη) is comically out of place with the deeply cynical cant. In the specific examples, I think she’s off base.
    • It’s true that fabrika means a “con job” in mainstream slang, but the Italian component of Kaliarda is old enough for a more literal meaning of fabrika (Italian fabbrica “factory”). In fact, Kaliarda has simply generalised the meaning of fabrika from “factory” to “profession”; hence fabrikadzis “professional”, afabrikos “unemployed”, fabrikaro “to have a profession”. And in the case of fabrikopartuzis, the wink is not so much in the first component of fabrika, “factory” < “business, profession” (mainstream: “con job”), as in the second: the word for “partner” derives from partuza < French partouse “group sex”. So this is not a moral judgement against businessmen, it’s a hyperbolic pejoration of business partnerships, talking about them like gang bangs.
    • As for florotsarðo, the literal meaning is “flower hut”, and flori is used routinely in Kaliarda in the meaning of “flower” (e.g. florokuto “flower box = flower pot”, florosfina “flower wedge = thorn”). Petropoulos accordingly explained florotsarðo as “house with flowers”. Minniti-Gonias is thinking of contemporary slang floros “pansy, effete young man”. But that is anachronistic: the term does not seem to be any older than the 80s. And while floros is more about effeteness than effeminacy, the trans women and crossdressers speaking Kaliarda would be the last people to criticise anyone for being a floros.
  • The secrecy terms are used by cant speakers not so much out of a need for secrecy, as for a coquettish and provocative attitude towards outsiders. There is a tendency to reverse established word meanings, making it count as an antilanguage. [Yup.]
  • Minniti-Gonias notes Triantafyllidis’ observation that Greek speakers of professional cants resorted to Italian thanks to the commercial opportunities Italy offered them for business, whether as travelling salespeople, artists, or the like. “By analogy, we could suppose that contemporary economical, social and cultural conditions (e.g. mass tourism) made contacts easy for argot speakers in the reverse direction, i.e. from Italy to Greece, and mainly the bordering Ionian Islands.”
    • … Contemporary? Mass tourism? Heptanesa? No. The Italian in Kaliarda is old; it’s not the recent layer that French and English are, and 70s package tourism does not explain a layer of Kaliarda that likely dates from a century earlier. The Ottoman languagescape, and the common Venetian and Italian layer in vernacular Greek, are a better explanation for what is going on.

In the Italian glossary, the following etymologies are worthy of attention, as not being obvious.

  • avrakiazome “to be enraged”. Petropoulos correctly worked out this was “get out of my underwear” (vraki) as a calque of the standard Greek “get out of my clothes = be enraged”; it turns out Italian has the same idiom in sbracciarsi.
  • asiɣuro “acquaintance”. Petropoulos derives it from “uncertain” (where siɣuros is itself Italian); Minniti-Gonias derives it from It. assicurare “to ensure” or Ven. seguro “commitment”.
  • vakuli “church”. Petropoulos’ appendix derives it from Ven. bagolo “brothel”, but the word is not in Boerio, and Minniti-Gonias thinks it is Romani.
  • ɡrosovotsiazo “to scream” < far la voce grossa “do a loud voice = yell at someone”
  • ɣutsa “year” < Southern Italian goccia (di tempo) “a moment, lit. a drop of time”? English watch? [Not convinced by either, but English watch has been borrowed into Kaliarda as ɣotsi]; pisketoɣutsa “second (of time)” < Sardinian pischeddu “young gay” + ɣutsa “year” [Clearly a stretch]; teknoɣutsa “minute” lit. “child (of) year”
  • ðelonɡa, deloɣo “police”: Cretan deloɣo, Zante ðeleɡu “immediately” < Genoese de longo. (The police are referred to in Greece as “immediate action”, Άμεση Δράση.) If de longo did not survive into mainstream Italian, its presence in Greek dialect makes it likely to have been known by Levantines.
  • koɣiona “comedy” < Ven. cogionar (It. coglionare) “to mock”
  • kontrosol “kiss” < It. contra “against” + sol < rosolo “tongue”. Quite possible, but sol means “sweetness” in Kaliarda, and it would be easier to derive kontrosol from it directly.
  • koza stakoza “so-so”, a distortion of the actual Italian così cosà; stakoza “so, thus”: ditto; both feature the pseudo-Italian prefix sta-
  • kularo “to defecate” < It. culo “arse”. No, it’s Romani khul “shit”
  • latsovengera “soirée” < Romani lačho “good” + Greek vegera “nighttime visit” < It. dial. vegghera.
  • leradzaro “to study” < It. leggere “to read” + Greek lera “filth” as obfuscation
  • linga < It. lingua “language” vs rosolo “tongue” < rosoli “saliva” < rosolio “rosewater liquer”. Kaliarda differentiates “tongue” and “language”; Greek does not.
  • lugimia “vegetables” < It. legume “legumes”
  • manduana “insignificant” < It. mantovana “pelmet, covering for a curtain rail”? (… But why?)
  • menato “dawn”: anagram of It. mattina or likelier [given the vowel] French matin
  • mokola, mokose (Koutsavakika moko) “be quiet!” < Old It. moco “nothing”
  • mol “water” < Ven. molo “damp, soft”. Minniti-Gonias says Romani mol “wine” can’t be ruled out; I’d say it’s definite.
  • mutsevo “to cheat” < Old It. mucciarsi “to dissemble”; she does not rule out a Romani etymology
  • biselo “to sleep” < appisolarsi “go to sleep”? The Romani proposal is pašlav “to put to sleep”
  • burgante “enema” < It. purgante
  • naka “not, without”, stanaka “not at all” < neanche “nor, not even”? (We have to explain both naka and nuku, and nuku is presumably < Albanian nukë.)
  • dopa “after” < It. dopo
  • pasiozos “past” < It. passare “to pass” [clearly made up within Kaliarda]
  • privatos, privetos “owner” < It. privato + French privé “private”; the meaning is absent from Italian; but it is preserved in privos “my own”
  • retaro “to lose” (Koutsavakika: to stutter) < It. arretare “to retreat”
  • runa “police” < Heptanesian runias “downfallen” < It. rogna “lice”. The old metaphor paparuna “poppy = police” is of course much more plausible.
  • spikramento “speech” < It. sprecamento (di fiato) “wasting (one’s breath)” according to Petropoulos; Minniti-Gonias also sees English speak + Italian -mento at work here, and I think that’s the only interpretation needed.
  • sta: pseudo-Italian prefix, turns up in stanaka “not at all”, stapikola “a little”, statuta-dzorna “today” < Greek tutos “this” + It. giorno
  • stringula “administration” < It. slang stringere “arrest”, stringitore “interrogator”
  • strusi “street”: Petropoulos guesses this is from German Strasse; Minniti-Gonias thinks the influence of Neapolitan struscë “parade of would-be brides” (νυφοπάζαρο), It. struscio “stroll” “is clear”.
  • sfilatsi “rope, spool” < Ven. sfilazzi “loose strands”
  • tuvali “handkerchief” < It. tovaglia “tablecloth”, Ven. tovagiol “handkerchief”
  • finedzaris “betrothed” < It. fidanzato “betrothed” + Greek finetsatos “refined” < It. finezza
  • floki “sperm” < Standard Greek flokos “jib; lint” < It. fiocco “snowflake”. The meaning is also attested in Koutsavakika, but not in Italian
  • xalogamela “bag for storing food” < Romani xal “eat” + It. gamella “vessel for transporting food”

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    1. Minniti-Gonias, Domenica. 2009–2010. Ιταλικές και επτανησιακές λέξεις στην ελληνική αργκό. Επιστημονική Επετηρίς της Φιλοσοφικής Σχολής του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών 41: 85–127.

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