Verb-Verb dvandva compounds and γαμαοδέρνουλας

By: | Post date: 2010-03-10 | Comments: 4 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: , ,

In the last post, I showed that the coinage γαμαοδέρνουλας made an odd choice in its first stem, using /ɣama-/ instead of /ɣam-/ as the stem—although Modern Greek speakers would typically interpret /-a-/ as part of the verb inflection. You can interpret /-a-/ as part of the stem, but the interpretation is novel and restricted enough that the compound looks wrong.

But people don’t just do random stuff in their morphology, even on There is a reason why the coiner of the word chose to use that odd stem. To explain it, I’m going to write about the verb–noun and verb–verb compounds of Modern Greek.

Language advisory still applies.

I’ve written about verb–verb compounds elsewhere with Brian Joseph, in what may be my last linguistics paper; it has a response by Paul Kiparsky which makes historical sense of why this linguistic innovation happened, and (I’ve just googled) seems to have provoked another paper by Angela Ralli. The verb–verb compounds are dvandvas; the V1V2 compound can be paraphrased as “V1 and V2“.

The phenomenon needs to be explained, because verb dvandvas, such as μπαινοβγαίνω “enter–exit = go in and out” are very unusual by European standards; in fact, Modern Greek’s the only place they turn up. English arguably has them as well, as in freeze–dry; then again, typologically English is a lot closer to Chinese anyway…

I’ve written about the history of the construction there, and Kiparsky has written more, but for this post, we’re going to concentrate on two features of the dvandvas: the tense they use, and the form of the first stem.

Verb dvandvas are often antonyms, and they refer to the alternation of V1 and V2: μπαινοβγαίνω “go in and go out”, αναβοσβήνω “light up and extinguish = flicker”. Even when they don’t, they still refer to repetitive action: στριφογυρίζω “twist and turn”. That means they always turn up in imperfective aspect—corresponding to the present stem: the V1 will never appear in the aorist stem, which has perfective aspect. So αναβοσβήνω “I am lighting up and extinguishing”, not *αναψοσβήνω “I have lit up and am existinguishing” or αναψοέσβησα “I have lit up and exstinguished”. (George Chortatzis uses εμπαινοβγήκα in the aorist for “I went in and out”; that’s not allowed in the contemporary standard, and its V1 stem is still in the present tense form.) The one exception I could find was λυσοδένω “untie–and–tie”, rather than λυνοδένω; and that was clearly influenced by the similar αλυσοδένω “bind in chains”.

This is in contrast with Verb–Noun compounds, which are a bit older in Greek, and are a particular feature of Greek slang. In those compounds, the verb is typically in the perfective (aorist), ever since Demosthenes’ φυγόδικος “flee-trial = fugitive”. Thus, σπασαρχίδης “ball-buster”, κλαψομούρης “cry-face”. It is in the perfective even when the verb clearly refers to habitual activity, as in χασοδίκης “lawyer who keeps losing trials”, αλλαξοκωλιά “ongoing exchange of arses = being a switch sexually; intimate friendship”. The present stem can be used, but is rarer: σπαζοκεφαλιά “bust-head-ness = brain-teaser”.

However, both VN and V1V2 compounds are unusual to being with, because they start with a verb. Compounding in Greek, as in most languages, normally starts with a noun. As a result, there is a tendency in V1V2 and VN compounds to make those V1 verbs look more like nouns. The first way of doing that is stripping tense suffixes from the verb, if you can get away with it. What’s left behind will look like a noun—and often enough actually is a noun, if noun and verb share the same root.

You can get away with stripping the tense suffix if the tense suffix has a vowel in it. If the tense is formed by just appending a consonant, or by changing the root vowel, you leave it alone. So:

  • Present μπαιν-, Aorist μπηκ-: nothing to strip, so μπαινοβγαίνω “go in and out”
  • Present παιζ- (*παιγ-j-), Aorist παιξ- (*παιγ-σ-): no vowel in suffix, so παιζογελώ “play and laugh”
  • Present χαν- , Aorist χασ-: no vowel in suffix, so χασοδίκης “lose-trial, incompetent lawyer”
  • Present γελ-(άω), Aorist γελ-ασ-: no vowel in present suffix (we’re discounting the γαμαοδέρνουλας form), so γελοκλαίω “laugh and cry”


  • Present σκοτ-ων- (*σκοτ-ο-), Aorist σκοτ-ωσ-, Noun σκοτ-: σκοτοψώμης “killbread, one so hungry he hunts down and kills loaves of bread”
  • Present ζυμ-ων-, Aorist ζυμ-ωσ-, Noun ζυμ-: ζυμοφουρνίζω “knead and bake”
  • Present ανεβ-αιν-, Aorist ανεβ-ηκ-: ανεβοκατεβαίνω “go up and down”

Even more compelling, some verbs have been distorted to forms they never have in isolation, to look more like nouns:

  • στρίβω + γυρίζω: στριφογυρίζω “twist and turn”, cf. noun στροφή “turn”
  • κλέβω + κότα: κλεφτοκοτάς “thieve-chicken, chicken thief”, cf. noun κλέφτης “thief”
  • σκάβω + κλαδεύω: σκαφοκλαδεύω “dig and prune”, cf. noun σκαφή “digging”

(However, στρίβω does have a variant στρέφω, and κλεφτοκοτάς does alternate with κοτοκλέφτης, so these examples may not be that compelling.)

Equipped with all that, we come back to γαμαοδέρνουλας. The coinage is V+V+noun suffix: it first coins a verb dvandva, γαμαοδέρνω “fuck and bash”, summarising the phrase γαμάω και δέρνω, and then it attaches the augmentative ουλας, “someone big who fucks and bashes”. The coinage is *not* VN, like αλλαξοκωλιά or χασοδίκης. So the V1 could not appear in its aorist form, as *γαμησοδέρνουλας. It couldn’t appear like that anyway, since the aorist suffix -ησ- contains a vowel, and so is too obtrusively verblike.

Which means the dvandva should be the imperfective γαμοδέρνω, just like other dvandvas whose V1 is an -αω verb: γελοκλαίω, γεννοσπέρνω, γεννοβολώ, τσιμποφιλώ. The V1 should look like a noun.

The thing is, it does look like a noun, because the related noun already exists: γάμος “wedding”. (Γαμέω “marry” was just the denominative verb derived from γάμος.) But unusually, the noun and verb have diverged appreciably in meaning, so the verb looking like the noun can be confusing. We could conclude that γαμαοδέρνω was coined instead, to avoid a confusing ambiguity with “wedding-bashing”, especially when NV compounds are much more prevalent than VV compounds.

We could say that; after all the compound was coined by a single person, and they may well have consciously thought: “γαμοδέρνω. Hm. Sounds like weddings. Better drag it out to γαμαοδέρνω just to make sure I’m understood.” If I say αυτός γαμοδέρνει “he XXX”, it does indeed sound like it shouldn’t be referring to coitus.

But ambiguity is not as effective a driver of language phenomena as we might expect. There is a much more real ambiguity in γαμοτράγουδα between “weddings songs” and its actual meaning, “songs about fucking”. But that hasn’t prevented γαμο- being understood as the verb in the compound: noone has felt the need to use *γαμαοτράγουδα.

There is a second reason why you would say γαμαοδέρνω: γαμαο- /ɣama-o-/ sounds identical to γαμάω /ɣama-o/, the inflected 1st singular form in γαμάω και δέρνω. We wouldn’t expect the first half of a compound to be inflected, of course; in fact Hatzidakis expended some ink in refuting spellings like μπαινωβγαίνω, and arguing that this really was just a compound with a linking /-o-/ —the second person is μπαινοβγαίνεις and not *μπαινεισβγαίνεις, so the vowel isn’t doing any inflecting.

We wouldn’t want to go back to the bad old days of 1840s spelling with *γαμαωδέρνω; but the colloquial flavour of γαμάω would have encouraged the coiner to echo it in γαμαοδέρνω. The compound isn’t actually quoting the original phrase literally: it isn’t «γαμάω και δέρνω»-ουλας /ɣamaokeðernoulas/ “Lord Master ‘I fuck and bash'”, and the connecting “and” and the second verb inflection have been dropped. But the phonology of the verb in the phrase would have influenced the coiner’s phonology in the compound, especially if they hesitated over the ambiguity of γαμοδέρνω.

Those of you that have made it that far may well be rolling your eyes by now. “Surely people don’t go through this amount of geometry whenever they make up some crappy little joke compound.” They don’t do it consciously and deliberatively, certainly; the whole thing may have been a second of hesitation, and driven by intuition rather than ratiocination. But the intuition itself is based on rules and structures: the understanding of how Modern Greek compound works is not divine revelation, it’s picked up from patterns, and it’s followed quite diligently.

In fact, that’s the real reason why γαμαοδέρνουλας sounds odd. Not because the analysis of /ɣama/ as a stem is impossible: people wouldn’t be saying γαμάω if it was. But because stems ending in /a/ haven’t made it to compounds yet: people’s linguistic intuition is based on precedent, and without precedent for stems ending in /a/, they’ve never seen an /ao/ cluster in a compound before. So the /ao/ cluster in γαμαοδέρνουλας is jarring.

Which may well be the point of the compound. If you know the rules (intuitively), you also know when to break them, to greater effect. And γαμαοδέρνουλας is certainly effective.

It got two blog posts of morphological argumentation out of me, for one…

The wrong vowel in a Modern Greek compound

By: | Post date: 2010-03-09 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: , ,

This post is about an obscene compound of Modern Greek, made up on, and how it clearly violates a rule of compounding, by including what looks like a piece of inflection in the first half of the compound. The follow-up post is on how verb–verb and verb–noun compounds work in Modern Greek, and why the coiner of the compound had no choice but to break the rules.

Again, it’s not that I’m making a point of posting about obscenities; but obscenities do tend to have interesting linguistic stuff go on with them.

The compound is: γαμαοδέρνουλας.

If you know Modern Greek, have a stare at it. It’s not quite right, is it? If you know Ancient Greek, pretend instead it’s βινεδέραξ. Which isn’t quite right either.

Story beneath the fold.

So, the background to the story is, Language Hat was kind enough to post on my repost of the taxonomy of linguistic attitudes. The apotheosis of that taxonomy was “ FTW”. The original had something similar to FTW, Το γαμεί, “ fucks!” Language Hat was amused by this semantic extension of γαμώ.

As I followed up in comments there, this use of γαμεί is a truncation of the old expression γαμά και δέρνει, “he fucks and bashes”. (I’ll come to the alternation between γαμεί and γαμά in a bit). The sense of the expression I knew was “he is in command of a situation”; the allusion is to the use of penetrative sex and violence as the privilege of the powerful. There is regrettably no shortage of instances where this has happened; the explication I’ve seen (in Zahos’ slang dictionary Το Λεξικό της Πιάτσας) was to tradesmen, and how they used to enforce obedience on their apprentices. does not list this meaning under its entry for γαμά και δέρνει; it gives instead the related meaning “(s)he exercises great skill”. If the derivation from masters and apprentices is correct, this extension makes senses; but it is plausible even without it. The original sense is however recoverable in the noun someone has derived from it there, γαμαοδέρνουλας, a sarcastic term for a he-man, “Lord Master Fuck-And-Bash”. γαμαοδέρνουλας is derived from the verb γαμάω (Ancient γαμέω), the verb δέρνω (Ancient δέρω), and the augmentative suffix -ουλας, which echoes μπαμπούλας “bogeyman”.

Modern Greek can form compounds starting with a verb, and even compounds of two verbs; that’s an oddity in Indo-European which will get a separate post. But such compounds still follow the rules of Greek morphology: stem1 + /o/ + stem2 + inflection. Having the inflection on the end is normal in compounding: the stems are combined to form a new stem, and that new stem is what gets declined and conjugated as a unit.

  • άνθρωπ-ος “human”, μορφ-ή “form”, ανθρωπ-ό-μορφ-ος “human-shaped”.
  • έ-χασ-α “I lost”, δίκ-η “trial”, χασ-ο-δίκ-ης “lose-trial, incompetent lawyer”.

The linking -o- is only dropped in Modern Greek when the second term starts with /a/, following the Modern hierarchy for vowel deletion:

  • παλι-ός “old”, άνθρωπ-ος “human”, παλι-άνθρωπ-ος “ol’ human = scoundrel”
  • έ-σπασ-α “I broke”, αρχίδι “testicle”, σπασ-αρχίδ-ης “ball-buster”

Now, Ancient Greek verb roots could end in vowels: /aɡapa-/ “love”, /ɡame-/ “marry”. The inflections following those roots in the present tense typically started with vowels (the thematic vowel): /-ɔː -eis -ei/.

That meant that a vowel went next to another vowel in those proto-Greek verbs: /aɡapa-ɔː/, /ɡame-eis/. But most vowel–vowel combinations in proto-Greek ended up coalescing into a single contracted vowel. You can tell it’s contracted, because contracted vowels got circumflexes· /aɡapɔ̂ː/, /ɡameîs/ (ἀγαπῶ, γαμεῖς). So the proto-Greek (and Homeric) ἀγαπάω “I love” (column 1) was contracted by Attic into ἀγαπῶ. The way contraction works, this meant that the thematic vowel, which alternates between /e/ and /o/, turned into an alternation of /aː/ and /ɔː/.



Modern Pronunciation



















In fact contraction meant that there are few verbs in Ancient Greek whose stems ended in a vowel intact next to the thematic vowel. Stems ending in /a/, /e/ and /o/ all contracted, and stems ending in /ɛː/ and /ɔː/ were absent from Attic. That left /i/ and /y/, and the Modern Greek vernacular has got rid of many of even those exceptions by analogy: λύω “loosen”, the standard example verb, is now λύνω.

Koine gradually merged -αω verbs and -εω verbs. In fact that happened with γαμέω “marry”, which in its modern guise “fuck” can be conjugated identically to ἀγαπάω. The merger did not happen in all variants of Greek with the same verbs, which is why it is possible for γαμεί and γαμά to coexist in the Modern language.

The merger generated the Early Modern Greek forms in column 1: the alternation is now between /a/ and /u/. Modern Greek then got rid of the alternation between /a/ and /u/, giving the paradigm in column 2.

Early Modern Greek

Modern Greek













The thing to note is that since Attic, the inflection on the present tense is not /-ɔː -eis -ei/ > /-o -is -i/, but /-ɔː -âːis -âːi/ > /-ˈo -ˈas -ˈa/. So the -a- is not part of the stem, it is part of the inflection, and it does not belong on compounds starting with such a verb:

  • ɣen-ˈo, -ˈas, -ˈa “I give birth”, vol-ˈo, -ˈas, -ˈa “I do repeatedly”, γεννοβολώ ɣen-o-vol-ˈo “I keep giving birth”
  • ɣam-ˈo, -ˈas, -ˈa “I fuck”, traɣuði “song”, γαμοτράγουδο ɣam-o-traɣuð-o “fuck song, obscene song sung during carnival”

And so we come to γαμαοδέρνουλας, ɣama-o-ðern-ulas. The compound is formed as if the stem of “fuck” is /ɣama-/, not /ɣam-/. That conflicts with compounds like /ɣam-o-traɣuð-o/. Why was this done?

What made this possible is a reanalysis of /-ˈo, -ˈas, -ˈa/ verbs in some variants of Modern Greek, which in the standard is confined to colloquial usage. Unlike normal (uncontracted) verbs, these verbs are accented on the ultima (the final syllable) in the singular. This is odd, and those variants have repaired the discrepancy by adding the normal endings to /-a-/:

Modern Greek

Colloquial Modern Greek



















This has been called at least once a linguistic atavism: Colloquial Modern Greek has accidentally rediscovered the Homeric forms /aɡapá-ɔː, aɡapá-eis, aɡapá-ei/ (whose modern pronunciation would indeed be /aɣap-ˈa-o, aɣap-ˈa-is, aɣap-ˈa-i/). That’s not the reason it’s happened of course—someone who says /aɡapá-ɔː/ is unlikely to be stereotyped as an Homeric scholar, and the atavism hasn’t extended to the plural */aɣap-ˈaume aɣap-ˈaete aɣap-ˈaune/, whose accent is unexceptionally on the penult (second last syllable).

In conjugation tables, and indeed in people’s grammatical intuition, /-ao -ais -ai/ are still treated as inflections; but the whole point of the analogical change was to make /-o -is -i/ the inflections, attaching to a stem ending in /-a-/, so the stress would be more normal. Under that analysis, the stem of /ɣamˈao/ is indeed /ɣama-/. And notice that the expression is cited in in the first person as γαμάω και δέρνω, not γαμώ και δέρνω: being colloquial, it is supposed to have the colloquial innovative form of the verb.

So whoever coined a noun γαμαοδέρνουλας, based on the phrase γαμάω και δέρνω, could access an analysis of the verb where the verb stem is /ɣama/ not /ɣam/, and combines as /ɣama-o-ðern-ulas/. But that still looks decidedly odd. /ao/ is an infrequent cluster in Standard Modern Greek in general, routinely occurring only in this colloquial inflection, and in verbs historical ending in /aɡɔː/ (e.g. /pʰaɡɔː/ > /fao/ “that I eat”). Stems ending in /a/ are rarer still: in fact, they shouldn’t be there at all; so we are surprised to see one in a stem boundary in a compound. And that’s why this form just looks wrong.

So why *did* the coiner of γαμαοδέρνουλας use that odd stem variant, instead of the expected γαμοδέρνουλας? Speakers of Modern Greek can probably guess what I’m guessing the reasons are (γάμος, and echoing the phrase explicitly). But to explain that through, I’m going to discuss the strange history of Greek verb–noun and verb–verb compounds, in the next post.

Everywhere, Down Under, and Neo-Kantian Language Morality

By: | Post date: 2010-03-04 | Comments: 8 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: , , , ,

This is kind of a lazy post, but commenter Panjomin wanted my verdict on how proper Greek the words ολούθε “everywhere, all over” and χάμω “on the ground” are. I’m a remarkably poor pick to pass such verdict, my sense of the language being blunted from not living there, and being brought up in the countryside when I did. (I was an adult when it was pointed out to me that δεκαρά for δεκαριά “ten or so” is East Cretan dialect, not general Greek slang.)

But this gives me a pretext to translate a quite cool comment thread from (the Greek counterpart to the Urban Dictionary), culminating in a droll statement of linguist orthodoxy like Motorcycle Boy’s that I translated a while back.

So first:

Classical Greek had the adverbial suffix -θεν to denote motion from: ἀγορῆθεν “from the market”, ἄλλοθεν “from somewhere else”, Ἀθηνόθεν “from Athens”. The suffix hasn’t survived into the vernacular side of the modern standard, though it does come in via learnèd loans. But it did survive in dialect; and the survival is shown by the fact that it’s ended up looking somewhat different.

First, the “from” meaning went away; the fine distinctions of Ancient Greek between motion towards, motion in and motion from were wiped in the Modern language, and the reflex of -θεν just ended up meaning “at”. The final /n/ went away, as is normal in the Modern language. In Early Modern Greek, -θεν ended up as -θεόν > -θιόν. So ἔξωθεν “[from] outside” is listed in Kriaras as ἐξωθιόν and ὀξωθιόν; ἐπάνωθεν “[from] above” as ἐπανωθιό and ἀπανουθιό.

Now, “all” in Ancient Greek is πᾶς, παντός, “everywhere” is πανταχοῦ, and “from all [directions]” is πάντοθεν or πανταχόθεν. In Modern Greek, πανταχοῦ survives as παντού. But “all” is no longer πᾶς, it is now ὅλος, from the Ancient word for “whole”. (Nope, hólos and whole are not related.) The -θεν suffix survived in dialect; so a new word for “everywhere” was coined, ολού-θε—with the /n/ dropped, and the -ού as in παντού.

It’s not part of the standard: the Triantafyllidis dictionary annotates it as “colloquial”, and Google has 67k hits vs. 2200k hits for παντού. Accordingly, it sounds literary or folksy in Modern Greek (the two go together, given the history of Demotic literature.) Even as a “colloquial” word, it’s not a word I’d use casually.

I would and do use χάμω, and I’m perplexed some people wouldn’t, but that makes for a more complex story. Ancient Greek distinguished between κάτω “down” and χαμαί “on the ground” (as in the last oracle Julian heard from Delphi that all Greek schoolchildren know, χαμαὶ πέσε δαίδαλος αὐλά, “fallen is the splendid hall”). In Modern Greek, χαμαί has survived as χάμω (remodelled after κάτω “down” and [ε]πάνω “up”), and still means “down” as in “on the ground”. So κάτσε κάτω means “sit down”, on a chair; κάτσε χάμω means “sit on the ground”. And of course you’d say χάμω στο πάτωμα “down on the floor” rather than κάτω στο πάτωμα.

Or rather, I would. The internets wouldn’t: χάμω στο πάτωμα has 4700 hits, κάτω στο πάτωμα 217k hits.


It turns out, this is a distinction made in Southern Greek, but χάμω itself is also regarded as “colloquial”, and is deprecated in the standard; and the word is completely absent in Northern Greek. It’s so absent, Salonicans calls Athenians χαμουτζήδες.

There’s two ways of understanding the word. The first, which I’d always assumed, is “the people who say χάμω” (with the same Turkish -τζής suffix as in opoudjis). Actually, it’s more like χάμου, which is an (even more colloquial) variant of χάμω.

The second isn’t the primary way of understanding the word, but it’s a cute pun. Southern Greece is down below Northern Greece; and Salonica, which is acutely aware of being in second place to Athens, gets its revenge by calling the Athenians “down-below-ers”.

If they’re thinking that, it’s revealing. Southern Greek makes a semantic distinction between “down” and “on the ground” which Northern Greek doesn’t. Somewhere south of you is never χάμω, it’s always κάτω, because the Peloponnese is not sitting on the ground. But to Northern Greek, both are κάτω, and χάμω is just that funny Southern way of saying κάτω.

Not the first time one dialect makes a semantic distinction another doesn’t. The standard doesn’t have a word for “listen” distinct from “hear”; dialects have forms of αφουκράζομαι. Cretan has a distinct word for “trickle” (don’t remember it, unfortunately); Standard Greek just has τρέχω, “run, flow”.

I don’t think χάμω is as foreign to the standard as ολούθε is, but like I say, I was brought up in as χάμω a territory as Greece gets, in Crete. (OK, Down Under is more χάμω than Crete still.) So I wouldn’t trust my intuition.

I do trust the fine folks of more than is healthy. And their discussion thread on χαμουτζής did not disappoint, especially when someone made the misstep of saying “there’s no such word”. Enjoy excerpts, with annotations:

In Northern Greek, an Athenian. From χάμω i.e. κάτω “down”

—I’m going to Athens the day after tomorrow.
—What, down to the χαμουτζήδες?


All southerners are called χαμουτζήδες, Central Greeks and Peloponnesians. For the latter καταβλακιώτες is preferred.

(08/08/08) slaggos

dinaki’s observation is correct. Καταυλακιώτες, meaning κάτω από το Αυλάκι “under the ditch”. The “ditch” is the Corinth Canal.

I guess, but of course /kat-avlak-iotes/ is ambiguous with /kata-vlak-iotes/, from βλάκας “idiot”. Don’t think the Salonicans hadn’t realised it.


Only Peloponnesians are called χαμουτζήδες, particularly in the south. Those from Kalamata at least, because we say χάμου rather than χάμω. I think that doesn’t happen elsewhere in Greece, but I’m willing to hear to the contrary.


As a Thessalonican, I declare without any hesitation, and with full cognizance of the seriousness of (blah blah blah), that when we say χαμουτζής, we mean Athenian. The other Old Greeks (or Ol’ Greeks)—they don’t bother us, we don’t bother them, I guess. Now just between you and me, the Athenians don’t bother me either. But [English] when in Rome…

So yes, χαμουτζής is not a complement, and when in Salonica, you have to diss Athens. Old Greece is pre-1913 Greece; slurring it into Ol’ Greece (παλιολλαδίτες) allows the insulting interpretation of “old” as “lousy, damn”. But we’re not bothering acg, so he won’t bother us.


I agree with eisidzi. Salonican born and bred, from what I can recall I’ve never used or heard χαμουτζής referring to someone not from Athens.

Like other regulars, vikar is transliterating Latin login names into Greek (acg = εϊσιτζή – eisidzi).

(08/07/09)Ο ΑΛΛΟΣ

But noone in Athens says χάμου / χάμω, if you do they’ll call you a hillbilly!

A Vlach, literally. Confirming the word χάμω is deprecated in the Standard.


Yes, but we live “down below”. If you start with the entry for “go down”, and look at things geographically, the northerners are πάνου “above” and we are χάμου “below”. What, do you want us to try and prove the guys above wrong (λάθους)?

να αποδείξουμε ότι οι πάνου είναι λάθους; Now, χάμου is not pronounced χάμου because of the Northern Greek raising of unstressed /o/ to /u/. It couldn’t be, χάμω isn’t a Northern Word at all. But if it was, it would be χάμου, like πάνω is πάνου, and λάθος is λάθους.
The entry for “go down” is written from a Salonica perspective: “down” means Chalcidice.

(28/09/09) βορρας

χαμουτζήδες is what all southerners are called, because they’ve come up with a word, χάμω, which of course doesn’t exist anywhere. They are also called kalamakophages.

“There’s no such word”. Oh he’s done it now. Sit back and watch North (βορρας) burn.
Before you do, kalamakophages (straw-eaters) refers to the Athenian word for souvlaki skewers, καλαμάκια “little cane, straw”.


What do you mean, “doesn’t exist anywhere”?

Says Mes, hyperlinking to the Triantafyllidis Dictionary definition.


My grandmother, who recently passed away (101 years old, sound of mind and without company) used to say: “throw them down (χάμε), the cat’ll eat them.”

πέτα τα χάμε, α τα φά ο κάτης. χάμε is etymologically χάμαι, the ancient χαμαί with Modern accentuation. I have heard χάμαι in Crete, and the archaic κάτης (Latin catta, instead of Standard γάτα > Italian gatto) also points to the Greek islands. α for θα “will” suggests the Dodecanese to me.


Do you think she meant we should take the crumbs down to Athens?

Electron’s pretending to make the same error Northerners do: His grandmother can’t have meant “down to Athens”, because χάμω only means “down on the ground”.


God rest your granny. Someone should have explained to her while she was still alive that the word χάμω “does not exist”.

Mes hyperlinks to the definition of δεν υπάρχει. While δεν υπάρχει means “it doesn’t exist”, it also means “there doesn’t exist”, Greek being pro-drop. As a slang phrase, “there doesn’t exist” means “there’s none like it”, “it is excellent”. aias.ath in the definition discussion thinks it is a calque of German das gibt’s doch nicht


Whatcha talkin’ ’bout, “doesn’t exist anywhere”? And what’s Ancient Greek χαμαί supposed to be?!

From Wikie:
1. οὑτοιί σοι χαμαί, καὶ σὺ κατάθου πάλιν τὸ ξίφος “There, [I’ve put the stones] down for you. And you put away your sword” (Aristophanes, Acharnians)
2. εἴπατε τῷ βασιλεῖ, χαμαὶ πέσαι δαίδαλος αὐλά, ούκέτι Φοῖβος ἕχει καλύβην, οὐ μάντιδα δάφνην, οὐ παγἁν λαλέουσαν, ἀπέσβετο καὶ λάλον ὓδωρ (χρησμός της Πυθίας) “Report to the emperor, fallen is [the] splendid hall, Phoebus no longer has [his] house. Neither the prophesying laurel nor the well will talk anymore, silent also the babbling water.” (Pythia’s oracle)


Haha Electron! Nice, just saw it.


Crap… so Aristophanes is a χαμουτζής too? What would be funny is if the word also turned up in the writings of the Northern Greek Aristotle…

Commence laughing: Aristotle, History of Animals, 611b, 618a. Of course (a) the dialects of Ancient Greece were slightly different from those of Modern Greek, and (b) being from an Ionian colony, and with Ancient Macedonian unloved and of the hinterland, Aristotle’s Greek was probably not that northern anyway.


To say that a word in current use does not exist, you must be many kilos worth of a chauvinist, a moron, or both.


I’d love to know how many kilos worth of a chauvinist, a moron, or both the dude is between the two smiling gentlemen of Mussel No. 2.

English “media” [file], jocularly borrowed as μύδι “mussel”. Photo #2 illustrating the χαμουτζής entry shows the populist Thessalonica politician Panagiotis Psomiadis to the right and far right politician Georgios Karatzaferis to the left—the intent quite possibly to show what leftwing Athenians think is the worst of the insularity that makes Salonicans disparage Down-Belowers. Between them, a dude defining several new shades of beige in the middle:
The caption, inevitably, is: “There don’t exist.” (Or, “They don’t exist.”)


In case you did not understand it after Mes’ politeness, Ironick’s science, or Gatz’s slangois, then you’re cruising for a Jesus FU. Enough already!

I think that’s what τζίζα με μπινελίκι means: μπινελίκι, “insult, flaming”; τζίζας < English “Jesus”, defined in as Jesus Christ or a lookalike hippy. In other words, “you’re looking a blasphemous insult”, as an outburst of extreme frustration.





[Bunch of commentary about the beige dude]


With all due respect to the city hosting me, I have wrought and submit to you a scale of linguistic moral development, where stage 1 is total linguistic autism:

  1. There’s no such word as χάμω.
  2. The words I don’t know are not words.
  3. Words in other dialects are not words.
  4. The words used by speakers of other dialects are words, but they’re wrong.
  5. The way they talk elsewhere is not wrong, but it is less proper than ours.
  6. Languages and dialects are situated in a clear hierarchy according to how much they have contributed to Humanity.
  7. I recognise that all languages and dialects are creative expressions of societies and communities, but some of them seem lacking in quality and poetry.
  8. Language is an act of creativity, and I enjoy it in both its high and its daily manifestations. Any language and dialect you can become familiar with has its own beauty.
  9. A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.
  10. FTW

Note, the scale is Neo-Kantian, and I’m submitting it for fun. I don’t want to get a reputation out of this.


Oh, Spek!!!

Mes links to the definition of “spek” in truncation of English respect.

What are the longest words of Greek?

By: | Post date: 2010-03-02 | Comments: 11 Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek
Tags: , , , , ,

Everyone knows (or should know) about the longest word of Greek ever—the word that broke the title bar of Wikipedia, Aristophanes’ fantastical dish of 17 ingredients at the end of the Ecclesiazusae, that lopado-temacho-thing:

λοπαδοτεμαχοσελαχογαλεοκρανιολειψανοδριμυποτριμματοσιλφιολιπαρομελιτοκατακεχυμενοκιχλεπικοσσυφοφαττοπεριστεραλεκτρυονοπτοπιφαλλιδοκιγκλοπελειολαγῳοσιραιοβαφητραγανοπτερυγών (172 chars)

Ah. It breaks blogspot too. 🙂

λοπαδοτεμαχοσελαχογαλεοκρανιολειψανοδριμυποτριμματοσιλφιο­λιπαρομελιτοκατακεχυμενοκιχλεπικοσσυφοφαττοπεριστεραλεκτρυονοπτο­πιφαλλιδοκιγκλοπελειολαγῳοσιραιοβαφητραγανοπτερυγών (172 chars)

Have you ever wondered what the next longest words of Greek are? No? Well, you’ll find out anyway. With the necessary provisos as usual:

  • I’m basing this on the word forms in the current TLG, and the lexica I have access to—LSJ, LSJ Supplement, Lampe, Trapp, Kriaras.
  • This doesn’t prove much of anything, since the point is that Greek compounding is agglutinative and productive, so you can keep stringing words up. We’re just happening to go through the long words turning up in Ancient and Mediaeval Greek literature.
  • Do not even think of coming away with the impression that Greek literature makes the longest words in the world—although few if any seem to get anywhere near Aristophanes’ monster. The Guinness Book of Records did unearth a word in the Varadambika Parinaya by Tirumalamba in Sanskrit adding up to 428 letters in Roman transliteration. I can’t find it (I think this is the Google Books snippet); which is a shame, I wanted to break Blogspot some more…
  • For other languages, have a Facebook thread and a Wikipedia laundry list.
  • I’m sure there’s plenty of compounding happening in Modern Greek; I cited in the Quadrupeds (p. 150) the Hellas-L coinage πολυμαθουφοχριστιανοπεοκρουστόπαιδο “polymath UFO Christian penis-stroking lad” (35 chars), which maker poster Constantine Thomas coiner of the sixth longest real Greek word I know of. That… doesn’t prove that much either.

What it shows is, there was a Byzantine fad for long compounds, in a couple of genres, though possibly ultimately indebted to Aristophanes; and Aristophanes himself went there more than once.

I’m going to count down the top 40-odd words in length I can find, down to a length of 29 characters, and I’ll give their dictionary definitions (where available) and who has used them.

The longest words in English, long enough to be cheating, are protein names. The longest words in Greek outside of Aristophanes, long enough to be cheating, are fractions. They’re so boring, dictionaries don’t bother to list them at all. So I’m putting them separately:

  1. τριακοντατρισμυριοστοχιλιοστοεπτακοσιοστοεβδομηκοστόεκτα (56 chars), “1/331776”, Scholia on Diophantus, 135
  2. μυριοστοεπτακισχιλιοστοπεντακοσιοστοτεσσαρακοστόπεμπτα (54 chars), Trapp: “1/17545”, Nicholas Artabasdos “Rhabdas”, Letters 34.
  3. μυριοστοτετρακισχιλιοστοεξακοσιοστοτεσσαρακοστόπρωτα (52 chars), Trapp: “1/14641”, Scholia on Diophantus, 128
  4. τρισκαιδεκακισμυριοστοτριακοσιοστοεικοστοπρώτων (47 chars), τρισκαιδεκακισμυριοστοτριακοσιοστοεικοστόπρωτα (46 chars), “1/130321”, Scholia on Diophantus, 130
  5. τετρακισμυριοστοχιλιοστοεξακοσιοστοεξκαιδέκατον (47 chars), “1/41616”, Isaac Argyrus, Περὶ εὑρέσεως τῶν τετραγωνικῶν πλευρῶν τῶν μὴ ῥητῶν τετραγώνων ἀριθμῶν, p. 23
  6. τετρακισμυριοστοτετρακισχιλιοστοοκτακοσιοστόν (45 chars), “1/44800”, John Pediasimus (aka John Galenus), Geometry p. 19
  7. τρισχιλιοστοδιακοσιοστοτεσσαρακοστοέννατον (42 chars), “1/3249”, Scholia on Diophantus 140
  8. δισμυριοστοδισχιλιοστοτετρακοσιοστόν (36 chars), “1/22400”, John Pediasimus, Geometry p. 19
  9. ὀκτακισχιλιοστοεκατοστοεικοστόγδοον (35 chars), “1/8128”, Pseudo-David & Pseudo-Elias, Lectures on Porphyry’s isagoge, praxis 8 p. 3
  10. ἐννεακαιεικοσικαιεπτακοσιοπλασιάκις (35 chars), LSJ: “seven-hundred-and-twenty-nine times”, Plato, Republic 587e.
  11. τετταρακοντακαιπεντακισχιλιοστόν (32 chars), LSJ: “forty-five thousandth” (or: 1/5040), Plato, Laws 877d
  12. τετρακισχιλιοστοεξηκοστοτέταρτον (32 chars), “1/4064”, Pseudo-David & Pseudo-Elias, Lectures on Porphyry’s isagoge, praxis 8 p. 3
  13. ἐπιτετρακοσιοστοκαιτεσσαρακοστῷ (31 chars), “ratio of 441:440”, George Pachymeres, Quadrivium 2.45
  14. χιλιοκτακοσιογδοηκονταπλασίονα (30 chars), LSJ: “eighteen hundred and eighty times as great”, Theon of Smyrna De utilitate mathematicae p. 197, citing Hipparchus
  15. τετρακισχιλιοστοενενηκοστόεκτα (30 chars), “1/4096”, Scholia on Diophantus 138
  16. διακοσιοστοτεσσαρακοστοτρίτοις (30 chars), Trapp: “1/243”, Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, Vol. 2 p. 180

And now, the “real” words. Words not (yet) in the TLG are asterisked.

  1. κεραυνομεγακλονοζηνπερατοκοσμολαμπροβελοπλουτοδότα (50 chars), (Luis Muñoz Delgado, Léxico de Magia y Religiòn en los Papiros Mágicos Griegos, 2001) “making great noise with a thunderclap, bounded by the sky, shining rays in the cosmos, and giver of wealth”, Magical Papyri 12. The magical papyri have even longer strings of nonsense characters, but this really does count as a word. It’s worth taking it apart:
    • κεραυνο “thunder”
    • μεγα “big”
    • κλονο “turmoil”
    • ζην “Zeus”
    • περατο “boundary”
    • κοσμο “cosmos”
    • λαμπρο “shining”
    • βελο “ray”
    • πλουτο “wealth”
    • δότα “giver”

    It’s positively Sanskrit

  2. *ἀκτινοχρυσοφαιδροβροντολαμπροφεγγοφωτοστόλιστος (47 chars), Trapp: “dressed in golden-shining, thundering and incandescent clothes”, Codices graeci Chisiani e Borgiani (ed. P. Franchi de’ Cavalieri), 124; Bibliotheca Coisliana (ed. Montfaucon), 59. What astonishes me is that someone chose to use this word a second time…
    • ἀκτινο “ray”
    • χρυσο “gold”
    • φαιδρο “beaming”
    • βροντο “thunder”
    • λαμπρο “bright”
    • φεγγο “shining”
    • φωτο “light”
    • στόλιστος “dressed”
  3. *Ἡρακλειανοκυροσεργιοπυρροπαυλοπετρῖται (38 chars), Trapp: “followers of Heracleus, Cyrus, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter”, Scripta saeculi VII vitam Maximi Confessoris illustrantia (ed. P. Allen & B. Neil) 223,378. (Hey, I know them! And the “Heracleus” is in brackets, so some scribe may have decided five leaders were already enough.)
  4. *παναξιοκτηνοπτηναστροφωστηροκοσμοποιία (38 chars), Trapp: “quite worthy creation of animals, birds, stars, celestial bodies and the world”, Dioscorus of Aphrodito (ed. Fournier), 40,6
  5. ὀρθροφοιτοσυκοφαντοδικοταλαιπώρων (33 chars), LSJ: “early-prowling base-informing sad-litigious plaguy”, Aristophanes Wasps 505. Misquoted by Suda (omicron 581, epsilon iota 68) as ὀρθοφοιτοσυκοφαντοδικοταλαιπώρων (32 chars), “upright-prowling…”
  6. ἀστραποβροντοχαλαζορειθροδαμάστου (33 chars), Lampe: “overcome by lightning, thunder, hail, and flood”, Basil of Caesarea, Letters 365
  7. στρογγυλοφιλοσοφογραμματογράφου (31 chars), (not yet in a dictionary) “writer of round philosophical letters”, Theodore II Ducas Lascaris, 218 Letters, 128.
  8. σπερμαγοραιολεκιθολαχανοπώλιδες (31 chars), LSJ: “green-grocery-market-woman”, Aristophanes Lysistrata 457
  9. *πανυπερπρωτοπανσεβαστοϋπέρτατος (31 chars), Trapp: “above all else and first of all, most highly honoured”, Gregory hegumen of Oxia 225,126.
  10. Βρυσωνοθρασυμαχειοληψικερμάτων (30 chars), LSJ: “taking coin like Bryso and Thrasymachus”, Ephippus of Athens fr. 14 Kock, cited in Athenaeus 11.120
  11. ἀκτινολαμπροφεγγοφωτοστόλιστος (30 chars), Trapp: “sparkling with shining light beams”, Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopoleos, May 9 section 2
  12. τοξαισελαιοξανθεπιπαγκαπύρωτος (30 chars), “bow-???-oil-blond-on-all-airdried” (ref. to a kind of cake), Philoxenus of Cythera fr. e, cited in Athenaeus 14.50; the edition of Philoxenus by Page marks the word as corrupt
  13. κομπορηματοχρηματομετεωροφέναξ (30 chars), Trapp: “boasting cheat puffed up with words and treasures”, John Tzetzes, Letters 4 p. 6
  14. *πανσεβαστοκοσμοποθοπροσκύνητος (30 chars), Trapp: “highly honored and welcomed by the world with longing”, Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Graecorum (ed. Beniševič), I 332
  15. ἀκτιστοσυμπλαστουργοσύνθρονον (29 chars), Lampe: “uncreated fellow worker sharing the throne”, Gregory Pardus, Exegesis in canonem iambicum de festo die Spiritus Sancti, 25; ἀκτιστοσυμπλαστουργοσύνθρονε (28 chars), Vita of Nicephorus the Doctor 22.
  16. σκοροδοπανδοκευτριαρτοπώλιδες (29 chars), LSJ: “garlic-bread-selling hostess”, Aristophanes Lysistrata 458
  17. λογαριαστοπνευματικοοικονόμος (29 chars), Trapp: “invoice controller and religious manager”, John Apocaucus, Letters (ed. Bees) 60

Special separate mention goes to Constantine of Rhodes, who wrote a couple of pages of train-carriage–length epithets; I have cited an excerpt elsewhere:

  1. *πρεσβευτοκερδοσυγχυτοσπονδοφθόρος (33 chars), Trapp: “who interferes with the profits of intermediaries and destroys contracts”, Constantine of Rhodes (ed. Matranga), 625,25.
  2. *πλαστιγγοζυγοκαμπανοσφαιρωστάτης (32 chars), Trapp: “one who sets the round weight on the steelyard balance with the gold bearing scales and balance beam”, ibid. 624,8.
  3. *βαρβιτοναβλοπλινθοκυμβαλοκτύπος (31 chars), Trapp: “playing the barbiton, the nabla, the plinthos (hydraulic organ?), and the cymbals”, ibid. 625,21.
  4. *Ἑλληνοθρησοχριστοβλασφημότροπος (31 chars), Trapp: “a character who worshiped the pagan and sinned against Christ”, ibid. 624,15.
  5. *κασαλβοπορνομαχλοπρωκτεπεμβάτης (31 chars), Trapp: “one who mounts the arses of whores, prostitutes and courtesans”, ibid. 624,11.
  6. *λακτεντοχοιροκριοβουτραγοσφάγος (31 chars), Trapp: “butcher of piglets, pigs, sheep, cattle, and goats”, ibid. 624,7.
  7. *ὀλεθριοβιβλοφαλσογραμματοφθόρος (31 chars), Trapp: “ruinous counterfitter of books and destroyer of writing”, ibid., 624,12.
  8. *λαρυγγογλασκοξεστοχανδοεκπότης (30 chars), Trapp: “one who gulps down bottles and glasses with an open throat”, ibid. 624,10.
  9. *κορνουτοπαρθενοτριβοψυχοφθόρος (30 chars), Trapp: “horned abuser of virgins and destroyer of souls”,ibid. 624,10.
  10. *ἀλλαντοχορδοκοιλιεντεροπλύτης (29 chars), Trapp: “washer of entrails [sausage, intestines, bellies, entrails]”, ibid., 624,5.
  11. *κλεπτοτυμβονυκτεροσκοτεργάτης (29 chars), Trapp: “one who operates in the dark of night as a grave robber”, ibid. 626,25.
  12. *μοιχοπαιδοδουλοσκανδαλεργάτης (29 chars), Trapp: “one who arouses a scandal through lewdness with underage slaves”, ibid. 625,24.

Chantakites: Linguistic analysis

By: | Post date: 2010-03-01 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

As I promised, I’m going to walk through the linguistic particularities of Manuel Chantakites’ letter. This is pretty usual in the philological editions of Early Modern texts: there’ll be a couple of pages in the preface enumerating linguistic oddities, working their way up from phonology through to syntax (and not getting far beyond syntax, or a 19th century understanding of linguistics). To Greek speakers this may well be obvious—no edition would go into this much detail. But particularly because of the Cretan dialect involved, I might as well go all the way through.

In the following, CSMG = Contemporary Standard Modern Greek. The sentence references to the text (repeated at the end) are given in brackets.

Phonology: There are a lot of final n’s, as was the case throughout transcriptions of Modern Greek until the past century. This does not necessarily mean they were pronounced, or they were not. CSMG has dropped a lot of final n’s, although there is still variability and debate about it. But final /n/ is dropped in αν “if” before consonants, where CSMG would retain it (7, 8, 18).

Final euphonic /n/ has extended analogically to infinitives, giving the innovating είσταιν (7) “to be” alongside είσται (9) (Classical εἶσθαι, with the regular vernacular sound change /sθ/ > /st/.)

πίκρα “bitterness”, πικραίνω “to embitter” has been metathesised to πρίκα, πρικαίνω (2, 3, 4). That kind of metathesis is common (/#pr/ is easier than /-kr-/); I’ve even heard αρθιμός for αριθμός. CSMG has done away with these by etymological spelling.

γλήγορος “fast” for γρήγορος < ἐγρήγορος “alert” is common in non-standardised Greek. By contrast, the etymological αδέλφια, αδελφήν “siblings, sister” (13, 14) have not shifted to the Modern αδέρφια, αδερφή.

Clitic pronouns can have euphonic final /e/: τηνε “her” (to avoid final /n/ before a consonant) (2). In CSMG, that is now restricted to song lyrics, but it is still a prominent feature of Cretan.

/evo/ verbs display an epenthetic gamma: γυρεύγεις for γυρεύεις “you seek” (2). This is routine in non-standardised variants of Modern Greek.

Some of the routine aphaeresis of Modern Greek has not happened in this text, although as usual it’s hard to know whether that’s because the spelling is being archaic, or the change hadn’t happened yet. So επρίκανες for πίκρανες “you embittered” (2), εδική for δική “proper” (3), ωσάν for σάν “as, when” (2), οπού for που “relativiser” (3). (But the Modern Cretan for που is απού, so the initial vowel was retained.) OTOH, νοίκια > ενοίκια “rents” (2), και εθάρρουν (4) vs. και θάρρουν (9).

By contrast, the text shows some instances of και “and” with the same initial vowel, οκαί (2, 8, 18). This was a short-lived innovation in Early Modern Greek, and it showed that forms like οπού and που coexisted—so that οκαί::και was remodelled by analogy to οπού::που.

Ancient χρυσοχόος “goldsmith” has been rendered as χρουσοχός (20): the variant χρουσός for χρυσός is entrenched in unstandardised Greek, and the hiatus of /oos/ has been eliminated. CSMG has reintroduced the ancient form.

Morphology: The stressed augment of ήμαθα “I learned” (16), ήκαμες “you did” (9), and ήλεγες “you were saying” (16, 17) are /i/ rather than /e/. The spelling analyses it as a “double augment”, which occasionally turns up in Ancient Greek (mostly because the verb had a variant with an initial vowel already.) The /i/ augment has become regular in Modern Eastern Cretan, and this seems to be the start of it; it is still not regular, given έκαμα “I did” (3), έμαθα “I learned” (5). The augment of ήκουσα “I heard” (2) (Ancient ἤκουσα, Modern άκουσα) should be interpreted the same way, rather than as an archaic survival.

έναι (19) for “is” is transitional between ἔνι “is in”, which is common in Early Modern Greek and underlies Cypriot έν, and CSMG είναι, which has levelled the stem to the other present tense persons (είμαι, είσαι, είναι).

εθάρρουν “I trusted” (4) retains the ancient imperfect ending, as does Modern Cretan. CSMG uses the Northern Greek ending -ούσα.

The genitive κυρού of κύρης > κύριος “master = father” (21) can be explained through the occasional Byzantine variant κυρός.

The infinitive survives only in restricted roles—here, only in the future construction θέλω + Infinitive (7, 8, 11). This future construction is contrasted with the literal meaning of θέλω “I want”, which takes the subjunctive (18, 19).

The future construction of CSMG, θα + Subjunctive, has two antecedents in Early Modern Greek: either Conjugated θέλω + Infinitive Verb, or Infinitive θέλει + Conjugated Subjunctive (θέλω έλθει(ν), θέλει έλθω “I will come”). The CSMG construction comes from the second structure: θέλει έλθω > θέλει να έλθω (with the verb dependency explicitly as a subjunctive) > θε να έλθω > θα έρθω. Modern Cretan retains the first structure, with the main verb preposed: έλθει(ν) θέλω > να έρθει θέλω (with the infinitive reinterpreted as a subjunctive). Chantakites has the earlier infinitival construction, both in normal ordering (θέλω είσταιν “I will be” 7) and with the characteristically Cretan preposing (έλθει θέλω ” I will come” 8, εγνωρίσει θέλω “I will know” 10)

The conditional construction, which parallels the future but uses past tenses on the main verb, is also present: ήθελεν είσται “would be” (9).

Lexicon: The letter uses πατέρας for “father” (1, 2, 16): it’s the reflex of ancient πατήρ, and the neutral CSMG word. The marginal note to his wife at the end uses the Cretan word κύρης, “lord” (21). That suggests Manuel is being formal and aloof when addressing his father. The same goes for μητέρα “mother” (1) vs. μάννα “mum” (21).

Ξέρω “I know” is in its older form, ηξεύρω (< ἐξεύρω “I find out”) (2, 16).

Σώνει “it saves” has the older meaning “it suffices” here (CSMG would used φτάνει) (3).

Θαρρώ “I have courage; I trust” has come to mean “I think, I reckon” in CSMG. The letter illustrates how this may have happened (4): “I have courage in you” > “I trust in you” > “I trust in you to make this happen” > “I trust that this will happen” > “I reckon that this will happen”.

καύχα “girlfriend” (9) is no longer in use.

τυχαίνω “happen, happen by accident” (9) is used to mean “be appropriate”.

άματα “when” (4) is a variant of άμα “when, as soon as” < ἅμα “together”. The -τα suffix occurs with other Early Modern adverbs: αντίκρυ-τα “opposite”, δίχωσ-τα “separately”, είμη-τα “otherwise”, and is an analogy with other adverbs ending in -τα (έπειτα “afterwards”, ανεθάρρετα “bravely”).

φλογοτομάς (4) is a folk-etymological recast of φλεβοτομάς “you cut your veins” after φλογο- “flame”. The emotive context may have influenced this.

μηδέν “nothing” is used for μην “not (subjunctive), lest” (4). This corresponds to the use of ουδέν “nothing” instead of ου “not (indicative)” (9), which has resulted in CSMG δεν “not” (17) by aphaeresis.

CSMG οι δικοί μου “my own ones” means “my relatives”; this expression is already present as τους εδικούς μου όλους “all my relatives” (15). The letter rearranges Det Adj N Poss to Det Adj Poss N for emphasis, as CSMG allows: τους καλούς μου εδικούς και τους καλούς μου φίλους “my good friends and my good relatives” (11). But while CSMG allows τους καλούς μου φίλους, it does not allow *τους καλούς μου δικούς. This shows that οι δικοί μου has since been lexicalised, and the possessive can no longer be separated from the noun.

Dialect lexicon: πολλά is Cretan for πολύ “very” (2, 13, 14); the neuter plural used as an adverb is in fact the regular formation in CSMG (e.g. καλά “well”), and the standard language is archaic in retaining the neuter singular for πολύ.

Κατέχω “I possess” has supplanted ξέρω “I know” in Cretan; both are used here (οκαί κατέχεις καλά “and you know well”) (3).

τίβοτας (16) is Cretan for τίποτε “anything”; it has developed in Modern Cretan into τίβοτσι.

τεσταμέντο (19) is of course an Italian loanword; Modern Cretan used the Turkish loanword βασιγιέτι (vasiyet).

χέρα “hand” (20) is the expected reflex of Ancient χείρ; it looks in CSMG like an augmentative (contrasted with χέρι < Ancient diminutive χέριον), but is in fact the normal Cretan word.

Syntax: The surname is treated as an apposition: τον Μανοήλ τον Χαντακίτην, “the Manuel the Chantakites” (1). That is a feature of colloquial Greek to this day, and it shows that First Name–Surname is not treated as a single unit.

Indirect objects appear in the genitive, as is common in southern Greek dialect and CSMG. This extends to full nouns, as in γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια “you seek rents [to] your daughter-in-law” (2). While the phrase is still possible in colloquial Greek, it is on the decline: for full nouns the standard language prefers explicit prepositions, in this case γυρεύεις από τη νύφη σου νοίκια “you seek rents from your daughter-in-law”. The other instance, πέψε το του κυρού μου και της μάννας μου “send it to my father and mother” (21) sounds less strange in CSMG.

Cretan often uses genitive (= dative) indirect objects where CSMG uses accusative direct objects; this is regarded as an archaism. An instance here is ευχαριστώ σου πολλά (10), “I thank you a lot”, where CSMG has σε ευχαριστώ πολύ.

Clitic object pronouns moved from postverbal in Ancient Greek to preverbal in CSMG. There is a cline across Modern dialects as to how prevalent this is, and Cretan allows both placements. This text reflects that: πολλά με επρίκανες “you have embittered me a lot” (2), τούτον σου θυμίζω “I remind you of this” (7), but ευχαριστώ σου πολλά “I thank you a lot” (10).

I’ve already posted about the strange-looking use of να in ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια “I heard that you were seeking rents from your daughter-in-law” (2), and ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου “you were saying that you would kick your daughter-in-law out” (16).

One of the more distinctive features of this text is the use of και “and” to introduce not just new sentences, but verb complements. Again, this is a colloquial feature of Modern Greek (and other Balkan languages), largely curtailed in the standard, which would use ότι instead. So: κατέχεις καλά και μεγάλην πρίκαν της έκαμα εγώ “you know well that I have embittered her greatly” (3); ήμαθα και ήλεγες “I have learned that you have been saying” (16)

The letter uses the counterfactual conditional construction αν A όχι και (αν) B “if A, no and (if) B” (18), or όχι και (αν) B αμέ αν A “no and (if) B, but if A” (9), meaning “even if A, let alone if B”. A is the counterfactual, exaggerated condition; B is the condition that actually applies, and which A exaggerates: “even if she were my whore, let alone my wife”, “even if I had thousands of thousands, let alone what little I do have”. This not survived into Modern Greek, which uses όχι on its own to introduce the actual condition as a small clause, without its own verb, and uses the explicit contrastive αλλά (ούτε) να “but (not even) that (= if)” to introduce the exaggerated counterfactual. So it is closer to όχι και (αν) B αμέ αν A as in (9):

  • ότι όχι και ήτονε γυναίκα μου, αμέ αν ήθελεν είσται καύχα μου (lit. “that no and she were my wife, but if she would be my whore”) > όχι γυναίκα μου, αλλά ούτε πουτάνα μου να ήταν (lit. no my wife, but not even my whore if she were”), “even if she were my whore, let alone my wife”
  • αν έχω χίλιες χιλιάδες δουκάτα, όχι και α δεν έχω τίβοτας > ??αν έχω όχι τίποτα, αλλά και χιλιάδες δουκάτα “If I have not nothing, but thousands of ducats”

Moreover, the Modern expression is explicitly counterfactual, so (18) would in fact be αν είχα όχι τίποτα, αλλά και χιλιάδες δουκάτα, “If I had not nothing…” The older construction is not as fixed. Consistent with the use of αν rather than subjunctive να in the counterfactual, the old expression allows a conditional tense: αν ήθελεν είσται “if she would be”, Modern αν θα ήταν, να ήταν.

ωσάν “as” is used anaphorically (5): έκαμες ωσάν ήθελες, “you did as you wanted [to do]”. In Modern Greek, σαν cannot be used anaphorically, and όπως “as” would be used instead.

The ancient use of genitive after prepositions survives, possibly still in colloquial use, possibly as a learnèd construction: από χολής μου πολλής “from my great vexation” (8), ο Θεός μετά σας “God with you” (12). But the latter is a translation of the Ancient ὁ Θεὸς μεθ’ ἡμῶν, and contrasts with the modern με την χέραν μου “with my hand” (20), with its truncated Modern form με.

The expected article is omitted before “hands” in καταφιλώ χέρια της και τα πόδια της “I kiss her hands and feet” (14), though it is used before “feet”. There’s no clear reason for the inconsistency, and I think it a lapse. The omitted article in ωσάν άλλα πράγματα “like (the) other things” (18) is also odd.

The free word order of Και τούτον θέλω το γράμμα “and this i I want the letter i” (19) is unusual for Modern Greek.

Archaisms: Very few, and where you’d expect them. The date is in the dative: μηνί Μαγίω = μηνὶ Μαΐῳ “in the month of May” (22). The archaic δέ “but” has redundantly attached itself to όμως “but” (12), and ομοίως “likewise” also looks formulaic. The addressing of the latter has the formal πατέραν and μητέραν, and also the archaic spelling υιόν [ion] instead of γιον [jon] “son” (1)—though we don’t have a diplomatic transcription, so we don’t know if Manuel would have used a more modern rendering anyway. The reduplicated perfect ανωγεγραμμένος “aforesigned” (20) is formulaic (though contrasted with the dialectal με την χέραν μου “with my hand”).

Discourse: The epistolary command ήξευρε ότι “Know (this), that…” is used a couple of times (2, 16). The modern verb does not have an imperative (*Ξέρε ότι), but its subjunctive equivalent can still be used with the same meaning (να ξέρεις ότι, “you should know that…”)

(1) Εις τον πατέραν μου και την μητέραν μου πολλά προσκυνήματα από εμέναν τον υιόν σας τον Μανοήλ τον Χαντακίτην.

(2) Ήξευρε, πατέρα, ότι πολλά με επρίκανες, ωσάν ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια και να τηνε πρικάνεις. (3) Και σώνει την η εδική μου πρίκα οπού της έκαμα (οκαί κατέχεις καλά και μεγάλην πρίκαν της έκαμα εγώ). (4) Και εθάρρουν εις εσέναν, άματά ’μουν μιαν φοράν το παιδίν σου και εξενιτεύτηκα, να φλογοτομάς το αίμα σου να ποτίζεις την νύφην σου και ποτέ πρίκαν να μηδέν έχει από σένα. (5) Και εγώ έμαθα ότι έκαμες ωσάν ήθελες. (6) Και δοξάζω τον Θεόν. (7) Και τούτον σου θυμίζω, ότι, α δώσει ο Θεός, γλήγορα θέλω είσταιν αυτού· (8) οκαί, αν εμίσσεψα από χολής μου πολλής, έλθει θέλω, α δώσει ο Θεός. (9) Και θάρρουν ότι όχι και ήτονε γυναίκα μου, αμέ αν ήθελεν είσται καύχα μου, ουδέν ετύχαινεν να κάμεις ωσάν μού ’παν ότι ήκαμες. (10) Και ευχαριστώ σου πολλά. (11) Και, α δώσει ο Θεός να έλθω και εγώ αυτού, εγνωρίσει θέλω τους καλούς μου εδικούς και τους καλούς μου φίλους. (12) Όμως δε ο Θεός μετά σας.

† (13) Όλα μου τα αδέλφια πολλά καταφιλώ. (14) Και το περιπλέον την σπλαχνικήν μου αδελφήν την κερ-Αντωνίαν την Μαρμαράδαιναν πολλά καταφιλώ χέρια της και τα πόδια της. (15) Ομοίως και τους γαμπρούς μου και τους εδικούς μου όλους.

† (16) Ήξευρε, πατέρα, ότι ήμαθα και ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου από τα σπίτια της, α μου έρθει τίβοτας. (17) Κ’ ήλεγες το θέλημά σου. (18) Και εγώ λέγω, οκαί αν έχω χίλιες χιλιάδες δουκάτα, όχι και α δεν έχω τίβοτας, θέλω να είναι όλα εδικά της, τόσο σπίτια, ωσάν άλλα πράγματα. (19) Και τούτον θέλω το γράμμα να έναι τεσταμέντο και ό,τι γράφω να έναι στερεόν.

(20) Εγώ ανωγεγραμμένος Μανουήλ ο χρουσοχός έγραψα με την χέραν μου.

(21) († Τούτον, ωσάν το αναγνώσεις, πέψε το του κυρού μου και της μάννας μου.)

† (22) Εγράφη μηνί Μαγίω εις την πρώτην.

Generalised use of να in Early Modern Greek

By: | Post date: 2010-02-25 | Comments: 11 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek, Modern Greek
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I’ve been reluctant to write this post for a couple of reasons:

  1. It requires dropping a moderate amount of linguistic science;
  2. I’m not prepared to do either the research or the bibliographic survey to back it up;
  3. It’s probably already been worked out by the Grammar of Mediaeval Greek people.

If the latter is the case, then it won’t be the first time Notis is more up to date than I am. But I’ll write, and I’ll see who bites.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’d like to do a detailed linguistic survey of the 1420 letter by Manuel Chantakites, and how its language differs from contemporary standard Greek (and for that matter contemporary Cretan). Readers remarked that the letter was remarkably readable. But there is one feature of the text that, although readable, is emphatically absent from contemporary Greek. It has to do with how να is used.

You can no longer say sentences like this:

  • ωσάν ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια, “when I heard that you are asking for rent from your daughter-in-law” (Manuel is not physically present)
  • ήμαθα και ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου από τα σπίτια της, “I have learned you’ve been saying that you would kick your daughter-in-law out of her houses”

The phrases would now be:

  • σαν άκουσα πως/ότι γυρεύεις από τη νύφη σου νοίκια
  • έμαθα πως έλεγες πως/ότι θα βγάλεις τη νύφη σου από τα σπίτια της.

I’m going to work through why this is an oddity, and what I think has happened. I am also going to tie it in to another expression which is just as impossible in Modern Greek:

  • Τότε να είδες τα βουνά, να είδες και τους κάμπους / να είδες και τα δάσητα, να είδες τας λαγκάδας, “You should have seen the mountains and the prairies! You should have seen the forests and ravines!” (Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds 103-104)

Modern Greek would use after να not the perfective past (the aorist indicative, historically), but the imperfective past (the imperfect indicative, historically):

    Τότε να έβλεπες τα βουνά, να έβλεπες και τους κάμπους / να έβλεπες και τα δάση, να έβλεπες τις λαγκάδες

And I’m going to claim these differences are related.

It will take a lot less time to say this if I presuppose you’re all linguists, which you’re not; I’m going to give the opaque summary here, and the semantics lesson under the fold.

Early Modern Greek να appears to have been used more broadly as a complementiser than its current distribution associated with events and dubitatives, contrary to its purposive etymology and indeed the further restriction on factual complements in Modern Cretan. This may be associated with a temporary generalisation of να to more “indicative” contexts, e.g. as a future marker, and its use with the historical indicative aorist in optative as well as evidential contexts.

Understood? No? Well, let’s walk through this.

In Modern Greek, να is the main subjunctive marker; historically it is derived from ἵνα “in order to”. να has displaced the Ancient infinitive, so verbs with να appear where Ancient Greek used the subjunctive, the optative, or the infinitive. One of its main functions, just like the infinitive’s, is to introduce complements of verbs: phrases that are the objects of verbs. (“I like to watch”, Μου αρέσει να κοιτάζω, φιλῶ βλέπειν).

But whereas the Ancient infinitive could introduce a broad range of complements, να is more restricted. Like the English infinitive, it mostly introduces events, things that happen; and unlike a lot of “indirect discourse” Classical infinitives, it does *not* introduce facts or propositions, pieces of knowledge. Those instead are introduced by ότι or πως. (Some complements also have που or και or nothing, but I don’t want to get distracted.) So:

  • Άρχισα να διαβάζω, “I began to study”
  • Θέλω να διαβάσει, “I want him to study”
  • Σε διατάζω να διαβάσεις, “I command you to study”
  • Λέει πως διαβάζει, “He says he’s studying”
  • Νομίζω πως διαβάζει, “I think he’s studying”

In fact, by switching between να and πως, you change whether a fact or an event is involved, and thereby you change the meaning of the verb. Which is pretty common across languages:

  • Τον άκουσα να βρίζει, “I heard him swear” (I perceived an event)
  • Άκουσα πως έβριζε, “I heard that he swore” (I perceived a claim = proposition, and not an event)
  • Του είπα να διαβάσει, “I told him to study” (I spoke an event—which is reintepreted to: I commanded an event)
  • Λέω να διαβάσω, “I’m considering studying” (lit. “I say that I should study”: I spoke an event I will carry out—which idiomatically means I’m thinking aloud about doing an event, I’m making a commitment)
  • Ξέρω πως διαβάζω, “I know that I’m studying” (I know a fact)
  • Ξέρω να διαβάζω, “I know how to study” (I know an event—I know how to make the event happen)

There is an exception in Modern Greek where να can introduce a proposition. That means putting a proposition in a grammatical context which doesn’t fit propositions; and the context is expressing doubt about the proposition:

  • Πιστεύω πως διαβάζει, “I think that he’s studying”
  • Πιστεύω να διαβάζει, “I *think* that he might be studying”

You can’t do that with more certain verbs: ??Ξέρω να διαβάζει, “I know that he might be studying”. (Works in English, not in Greek.) And that exception makes sense because of comparable constructions, where the να-clause introduces an inference, rather than a certain fact—i.e., again, a proposition:

  • Πρέπει να διαβάσει, “He must study” (an event that must happen)
  • Πρέπει να διάβασε, “He must have studied” (a proposition that must be true)
  • Να διαβάζει; “Might he be studying?”

The doubting clauses and the inferences are all tied together by the tenses they allow. Normally, να introduces a present imperfective or present perfective—the historical present subjunctive and aorist subjunctive. It can introduce the present imperfect—the historical imperfect indicative—in contexts much like the English conditional and the Classical optative: wishes, counterfactual conditions, future-in-past:

  • Αχ να διάβαζε! “If only he’d study”
  • Αν διάβαζε, θα πρόκοβε “If he’d study, he’d get ahead”
  • Μου είπε πως θα διάβαζε “He said he’d study (= was going to study)”

I’m treating the future marker θα as an extension of να: it is derived from θέλω να “I want to” (like English will), and has similar tense restrictions.

The past perfective—the historical aorist indicative—is normally too “indicative” to appear with να. As it turns out, it never appears with events:

  • *Άρχισα να διάβασα
  • *Θέλω να διάβασε
  • *Σε διατάζω να διάβασες

It only appears with propositions put in doubt, and inferences (which are intrinsically doubtful):

  • Πιστεύω να διάβασε, “I think he might have study”
  • Πρέπει να διάβασε, “He must have studied”
  • Να διάβασε; “Might he have studied?
  • Μου είπε πως θα διάβασε “He said that he will have studied (= must have) studied)”

So this is a reinterpretation of να, away from events and into doubtful propositions. We could speculate that the shift of πρέπει “must”, from obligation to inference (deontic to epistemic), came first, because it would explain the shift from event to proposition; but the Ancient subjunctive also conveyed this sort of doubt as a main clause. Typically introduced by μη, but then the Modern equivalent is typically introduced by μήπως:

  • μὴ ἀγροικότερον ᾖ τὸ ἀληθές εἰπεῖν: μήπως να ‘ναι πιο αγροίκο να πούμε την αλήθεια: “it might be too rude to speak the truth”
  • εἴπωμεν ἢ σιγώμεν; να μιλήσουμε ή να σιωπήσουμε; “should we speak or keep silent?”

So it could also be an inherited pattern. The tense usage though is an innovation: there’s nothing in Ancient Greek to suggest using an “indicative” tense here.

The distribution of ότι/πως vs. να in complements—ότι/πως for facts and propositions, να for events—is pretty stable across Greek dialect. I don’t know of any instances where να picks up more than doubtful propositions. In Modern Cretan at least, even that exception is rolled back: “He must be studying” is Πρέπει πως διαβάζει, just like Νομίζω πως διαβάζει and Ξέρω πως διαβάζει (I think/I know that he is reading). So in Cretan, the analogy has gone the other way: analogy has switched “must” from events to propositions, and analogy shifts its following complementiser from the event marker to the proposition marker.

And if you’re historically minded, you can find justification for the distribution in the etymology of να: its ancestor ἵνα “in order to” introduced events, things you intended to do. The restriction of the past perfective is also neat, and this all suggests a clearcut system in place since the beginning of Early Modern Greek.

The examples at the start of the post (remember?) do not. The verse from the Quadrupeds shows the past perfective used with wishes, where Modern Greek would use the “optative” past imperfective:

  • Τότε να είδες τα βουνά, να είδες και τους κάμπους / να είδες και τα δάσητα, να είδες τας λαγκάδας, “You should have seen the mountains and the prairies! You should have seen the forests and ravines!”

But that breaks the neat association between the indicative tense and doubt. The wish it introduces is still a proposition that hasn’t happened, but doubt is not the point of a wish, and Modern Greek doesn’t make that extension. Which means that the Modern restriction wasn’t always in place: Early Modern Greek didn’t distinguish between wishes and doubts, both could take a past tense after να, imperfective or perfective.

Chantakites’ letter points to another breakdown. I’ve seen similar breakdowns in the Chronicle of the Morea, with ότι να used where Modern Greek uses just ότι (on which more below); but Chantakites’ letter is more persuasive because its Greek really does look more unforced. And what Chantakites does is break down the Modern distinction between perceiving an event, with να, and perceiving a fact (second hand), through πως. Manuel is miles away from Crete, but

  • ωσάν ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια, “when I heard that you are asking for rent from your daughter-in-law”

In Modern Greek, you can only use να after “hear” if you’re directly perceiving an event: σαν σε άκουσα να γυρεύεις από τη νύφη σου νοίκια, “when I heard you ask(ing) for rent from your daughter-in-law”. And you’d have to insert the direct object, σε “you”: the syntax of the dependent clause is different, its subject is raised to become the object of the main verb, expressing perception (“I heard him ask” = “I heard the event in which he asked”, “I heard him while he was asking”). Whereas what Chantakites said treats να just like ότι, with no raising of the subject.

What’s going on? I think there’s a hint in the other instance:

  • ήμαθα και ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου από τα σπίτια της, “I have learned you’ve been saying that you would kick your daughter-in-law out of her houses”

The letter has some instances of what was to become the Modern Greek future construction, εγνωρίσει θέλω “to know I want” > θέλω να γνωρίσω “I want to know” > θα γνωρίσω “I will know” (and Modern Cretan να γνωρίσει θέλω). But that was the start of the future construction: until then in Early Modern Greek, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the future was expressed with να.

  • Michael Glycas: ὁ βασιλεὺς φιλάνθρωπος καὶ νὰ σὲ συμπαθήσῃ, “the kindly emperor’s gonna pardon you”
  • Continuators of Scylitzes: Ἐγὼ σὲ ἔκτισα, φοῦρνε, καὶ ἐγὼ νὰ σὲ χαλάσω, “I built you, oven, and I’ll destroy you.”

You might argue this construction is still there in Chantakites:

  • Και εθάρρουν εις εσέναν … να φλογοτομάς το αίμα, “I trusted in you even to bleed your own veins” (“I trusted in you that you would bleed your own veins”?)

And you can also read the other instance of an odd να that way:

  • ήμαθα και ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου από τα σπίτια της, “I have learned you’ve been saying that you would kick your daughter-in-law out of her houses”

This could be like the idiomatic Λέω να διαβάσω Modern construction: “I’m saying for me to read = I’m thinking aloud that I should read = I’m considering reading.” Sounds odd to use it outside the first person, but it’s possible. But it’s likelier that this use of ήλεγες is literal: Manuel has heard reports of his father speaking, and να introduces what he was speaking, as a proposition rather than a figurative event: it is equivalent to Modern έλεγες πως, “you have been saying that…”.

The Modern Greek would continue: έλεγες πως θα βγάλεις τη νύφη σου, “you have been saying that you will kick out your daughter-in-law”. With a future tense construction. But θα βγάλεις used to be να εβγάλεις, with the old future use of να. So in 1100, this would have been: έλεγες ότι να εβγάλεις τη νύφη σου—with the ότι να combination you can see in the Chronicle of Morea:

  • Ἐνταῦτα ἀπήρασιν βουλὴν ὅ<τι> νὰ ἀπελθοῦσιν, “there they made the decision to depart” (H 145)
  • Κι ἀφότου ἐστερεώσασιν ὅτι νὰ τὸ πληρώσουν, “and after they affirmed that they would pay for it” (H 180)
  • ὑπόσχεσιν τοῦ ἐποῖκαν / ὅτι νὰ βάλουσιν βουλήν, “they made him a promise that they would decide” (H 8546–7)
  • (Jean de Catavas): Κι ὅποιος ἰδῇ ὅτι νὰ τραπῶ ἢ τίποτε δειλιάσω, / ἐχτρὸν τὸν ἔχω τοῦ Χριστοῦ, νὰ μὴ μὲ σφάξῃ εὐθέως, “and whoever sees that I turn or lose courage at all, I shall hold him to be an enemy of Christ if he does not kill me immediately” (H 4755–6)
  • Τὸ ἀκούσει ὁ Ροῦσος ντὲ Σουλῆ ὅτι νὰ γένῃ ὅρκος, “when Rousseau de Sully heard that there would be an oath” (H 7927)

The first three phrases can be expressed in Modern Greek as either ότι θα, a future proposition, or να, an event (commitment): you can decide that you will do something, or decide to do something. If it’s an event, ότι looks redundant: “they made the decision that to depart” (Modern πήραν απόφαση να αποχωρήσουν). That kind of redundancy can happen in Early Modern Greek, but I’m sympathetic to reading it instead as the old future: “they made the decision that they will depart” (Modern πήραν απόφαση ότι θα αποχωρήσουν).

The last two instances are verbs of perception, just as we saw with Manuel Chantakites hearing that his father was seeking rent. De Catavas’ clause involves direct perception: Modern Greek allows both να and ότι, and would prefer να normally; but the absence of raising (“sees me turn”, μὲ ἰδῇ (ὅτι) νὰ τραπῶ) suggests that the clause is really being introduced by ότι, and να is a future marker. The future sense is clearer in Rousseau de Sully’s clause, which involves indirect perception: de Sully can’t hear people making an oath, because he is agreeing for them all to take the oath that has just been proposed. So he really has heard “that there will be an oath”, and that’s what the Greek says: ὅτι νὰ γένῃ ὅρκος, Modern ότι θα γίνει όρκος.

Now the point of all that was, it is difficult to work out whether these clauses express events or propositions: the future να turns up with propositions, and makes them sound like events. The sequence ότι να sounds like two complementisers next to each other, and it would be easy to drop the first as redundant, or as a zero-complentiser. (Είπε πως θα παει “He said that he would go”, Είπε θα πάει “He said he would go”, which in Early Modern Greek would be Είπε να υπάγει.)

If it’s difficult for us, it was difficult back then too. So it would be possible for the future (ότι) να in those contexts to be reanalysed as a propositional complementiser: Τὸ ἀκούσει ὁ Ροῦσος ντὲ Σουλῆ ὅτι νὰ γένῃ ὅρκος, “when Rousseau de Sully heard that there would be an oath” could lead to ωσάν ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια, “when I heard that you are asking for rent from your daughter-in-law”. The reanalysis may not have generalised, and it certainly hasn’t left any traces behind—especially given how Cretan has since got rid of the propositional να in Πρέπει πως διαβάζει, “He must be studying”.

But it suggests that the distribution of να as a complementiser was messier, messed up by the use of να as a future marker—which pushed it towards more “indicative” meanings. The neater modern distribution of να, along with the neater distribution of past tenses after inferential να, may have have resulted from a subsequent cleanup of the language—speakers reimposing order on their use of να, rather than inheriting it.

Thank you if you’ve made it this far; this is properly a paper, but I’m not likely to write it, and it may already be a solved problem. I’m pretty sure it hadn’t been worked through in the literature I read for my thesis. But given the spasmodic status of Early Modern Greek linguistics until fairly recently, that’s not saying much.

King’s College department threatened with closure

By: | Post date: 2010-02-21 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Admin

Someone of you will have already seen this posted on other blogs. The Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies is being threatened with closure, as part of the restructuring planned for much of the School of Arts & Humanities (which will also do away with palaeography and computational linguistics). (For other coverage, see e.g. the History News Network, with extensive background, the Medieval News, A Don’s Life, Language Log, and elsewhere.) For BMGS, the likely outcome is a merger into Classics—and winding down Byzantine & Modern Greek as distinct course offerings.

An online petition to save King’s BMGS has been set up. As the HNN post points out, snail mail letters count for more:

Professor Rick Trainor,
The Principal,
King’s College,
The Strand,
London WC2R 2LS

Do read the background documents if you will write in—the HNN posting in particular.

Manuel Chantakites, Away from Crete, 1420

By: | Post date: 2010-02-18 | Comments: 5 Comments
Posted in categories: Mediaeval Greek
Tags: , ,

Rather than continue from the previous post by presenting the theoretical framework of documentary texts, I will instead give a sample of that kind of text. This is one of the absurdly few private letters we have in the vernacular from the Early Modern period. It’s such a rare thing, Kriaras’ online dictionary abbreviates it as just Γράμμα κρ. διαλ., “letter in Cr(etan) dial(ect)”, with no risk of ambiguity.

The letter has survived through a fluke of history. The State Archives of Venice, “Duke of Candia” (= Crete) section, include a few documents copied for the benefit of Cretans, anxious to have the colonial power’s backup for their legal claims. Most of them are dry contracts, and most of those are in Latin: there are several published collections of notary documents in Cretan dialect, but they are all from the 16th and 17th century.

In this instance, we have something different. The widow of Manuel Chantakites, goldsmith of Chandax (= Iraklion), asked for this letter to be notarised and entered into the Venetian archives on March 15, 1446. The letter was from her husband, who had been forced to abandon her and leave Crete. Manuel wrote his letter to be used as a will, because of the dispute over their houses with his father. From the parenthetical note at the end, we know he wanted his wife as much as his father to read the letter. His wife already had witnesses authenticate the letter in December 1420, so we can surmise the letter was sent earlier that year, or maybe a year or so before.

This was the only will the widow had from Manuel, which suggests he never did come back. Given the extraordinary step of having a private letter witnessed in Iraklion and copied in Venice, she clearly continued to be at odds with her in-laws.

As a human interest story, the letter is rich stuff. Manuel admits to abandoning his wife unwillingly: the letter’s editor, Manousakas, suspects he had committed homicide. The Kriaras dictonary calls him ‘Manuel “Chantakites”‘, because “Chantakites” just means “from Chandax”; so Manuel was not necessarily using his surname. The letter itself has a potent mix of indignation, threats, and affection. (The sarcasm was potent enough that I contemplated using the irony mark; but this is a 1420 letter, not a 2010 instant message, so that would be a distraction.) I’ll let the letter stand on its own, though in a follow-up I’m going to comment on its language extensively.

The vernacular is unusually clean for the period—although Crete was always less macaronic about its Greek writing than the mainland was. There’s only one errant δέ “but” in the end of the first paragraph. The author is literate, but not a scholar (like the other vernacular letter writer of the time, Cardinal Bessarion). To be literate meant you were exposed to learnèd Greek, and your writing would reflect that; but given that caveat, this letter is as good as we’re going to get as linguistic evidence, without the conscious manipulation of language that characterises literature (vernacular no less than learnèd).

Maybe Machairas’ chronicle is a better witness still, come to think of it, simply because there’s more of it. But that’s Cypriot dialect, and an entirely different post.

I’m reproducing the text from Manousakas’ 1962 edition—which appeared in the kind of occasional publication that has guaranteed most copies in existence are photocopies. I’ve put the text in monotonic, because it’s straightforwardly Modern Greek. (I’ve already posted about the debate over accentuation of editions.) I’ve respelled the orthographic subjunctives as contemporary indicatives—not because I have any particular enthusiasm for doing so, but to preempt TAK saying I should have. 🙂 (Manousakas already spells the subjunctives without iota subscript anyway, so he was just using the Modern Greek spelling of his time.)

[Manousakas, M.I. 1962. Ένα παλιό (1420;) ιδιωτικό γράμμα σε κρητική διάλεκτο: Τα παράπονα του ξενιτεμένου Μανουήλ Χαντακίτη για την απονιά του πατέρα του. Kρητική Πρωτοχρονιά 2. 35-39.]

Archivo di Stato di Venezia—Duca di Candia 11: Atti antichi 2, volume 25 bis (1443–1456) folio 3, p. 21v.

† Εις τον πατέραν μου και την μητέραν μου πολλά προσκυνήματα από εμέναν τον υιόν σας τον Μανοήλ τον Χαντακίτην.

Ήξευρε, πατέρα, ότι πολλά με επρίκανες, ωσάν ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια και να τηνε πρικάνεις. Και σώνει την η εδική μου πρίκα οπού της έκαμα (οκαί κατέχεις καλά και μεγάλην πρίκαν της έκαμα εγώ). Και εθάρρουν εις εσέναν, άματά ’μουν μιαν φοράν το παιδίν σου και εξενιτεύτηκα, να φλογοτομάς το αίμα σου να ποτίζεις την νύφην σου και ποτέ πρίκαν να μηδέν έχει από σένα. Και εγώ έμαθα ότι έκαμες ωσάν ήθελες. Και δοξάζω τον Θεόν. Και τούτον σου θυμίζω, ότι, α δώσει ο Θεός, γλήγορα θέλω είσταιν αυτού· οκαί, αν εμίσσεψα από χολής μου πολλής, έλθει θέλω, α δώσει ο Θεός. Και θάρρουν ότι όχι και ήτονε γυναίκα μου, αμέ αν ήθελεν είσται καύχα μου, ουδέν ετύχαινεν να κάμεις ωσάν μού ’παν ότι ήκαμες. Και ευχαριστώ σου πολλά. Και, α δώσει ο Θεός να έλθω και εγώ αυτού, εγνωρίσει θέλω τους καλούς μου εδικούς και τους καλούς μου φίλους. Όμως δε ο Θεός μετά σας.

† Όλα μου τα αδέλφια πολλά καταφιλώ. Και το περιπλέον την σπλαχνικήν μου αδελφήν την κερ-Αντωνίαν την Μαρμαράδαιναν πολλά καταφιλώ χέρια της και τα πόδια της. Ομοίως και τους γαμπρούς μου και τους εδικούς μου όλους.

† Ήξευρε, πατέρα, ότι ήμαθα και ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου από τα σπίτια της, α μου έρθει τίβοτας. Κ’ ήλεγες το θέλημά σου. Και εγώ λέγω, οκαί αν έχω χίλιες χιλιάδες δουκάτα, όχι και α δεν έχω τίβοτας, θέλω να είναι όλα εδικά της, τόσο σπίτια, ωσάν άλλα πράγματα. Και τούτον θέλω το γράμμα να έναι τεσταμέντο και ό,τι γράφω να έναι στερεόν.

Εγώ ανωγεγραμμένος Μανουήλ ο χρουσοχός έγραψα με την χέραν μου.

(† Τούτον, ωσάν το αναγνώσεις, πέψε το του κυρού μου και της μάννας μου.)

† Εγράφη μηνί Μαγίω εις την πρώτην.

To my father and my mother, many obeisances from me, your son Manuel Chantakites.

Know this, father, that you grieved me a lot, when I heard that you are asking for rent from your daughter-in-law, and are grieving her. And the grief I’ve given her was quite enough. (And you know well that I have given her much grief.) And since I was after all your child and have gone away, I trusted in you even to bleed your own veins for your daughter-in-law to drink, and that she should never have grief from you. And I have learned that you have done as you willed. And I give thanks to God. And I remind you of this: that, should God grant it, I will be back there soon; and though I have gone away with much bitterness, I will indeed be back, should God grant it. And I trusted that, never mind if she were my wife, not even if she were my whore should she deserve for you to have done what they’ve told me you’ve done. And I thank you a lot. And should God grant that I will come back—I shall know my true relatives and my true friends. But God be with you all.

Many kisses to all my siblings. And especially my dear sister Lady Antonia Marmaras, I kiss her hands and feet. The same goes for my brothers-in-law and all my relatives.

Know this, father, that I have learned you’ve been saying that you would kick your daughter-in-law out of her houses, if anything should happen to me. And you have been speaking your will. And I say that, even if I had thousands of thousands of ducats, never mind the nothing that I do have, I want it all to be hers, the houses as much as the other things. And I want this letter to be a will, and whatever I write to be fixed.

I the above-signed Manuel the goldsmith have written this with my own hand.

(When you have read this, send it to my mum and dad.)

Written on the first of the month of May.

Philological Reliability: Literary Texts

By: | Post date: 2010-02-16 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek
Tags: , ,

It’s safe to come out now, folks, I’m no longer debating the etymology of Greek four-letter words. But two points that came up in that debate—the reliability of a vernacular phrase in Tzetzes, and the unrelated search for the earliest attestation of the -opoulos suffix, bring up a philological point, about dating linguistic changes through manuscript evidence. This is old hat to philologists, but philologists, alas, are thin on the ground these days.

In fact (to get my polemic on), when I was still in a linguistics department, I threw at the head of the department (an Australianist—oddly enough for a department in Australia) the old dictum from George Hatzidakis: Πᾶς μὴ φιλολογῶν, ο­ὐ γλωσσολογεῖ. “If you’re not doing philology, you’re not doing linguistics.” “… Maybe not your kind of linguistics”, he blinked.

But of course, a lot more linguists have to do philology than admit to it (or actually do it). If you understand philology properly. It’s not about poring over old manuscripts: philology is understanding the social and historical context of the texts you’re working on. Which means factoring the cultural in to your linguistic analysis: language is an instrument of culture, and the choices people make in what to say and how to say it are driven by their culture. To a significant extent, they *are* their culture. And that holds as much for Australian Aboriginal languages as for Early Modern Greek—if not more.

But to the dating of linguistic changes.

For historical evidence, we rely in the first instance on written texts, and only secondarily on reconstruction and comparison between modern languages. And there are two types of written text before the printing press: literary, and documentary.

Literary texts got copied time and again—which is why they survived: LOCKSS, Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. That means we’re unlikely to have the autograph, the original author’s manuscript—certainly out of the question for Greek antiquity, where the wax tablets and papyri did not survive millenia of Greek dirt. Nor for that matter before the 10th century: as book technology advanced, copies in the old technology were thrown out wholesale—so once lowercase was invented, the older uppercase codexes were discarded.

As I commented over at Roger Pearse’s, some leaves from the uppercase autograph of the Life of St Andrew the Fool have accidentally survived—thrown out, and recycled as a book binding. That helps us work out that it was a 10th century text, pretending to be from the 6th century.

Without the autograph, we rely on the fidelity of copyists, our knowledge of the original language, and philological acumen to work out what the original said. With Ancient Greek, our evidence is not perfect, but we’re not that badly off. The scribes were typically conscientious. We know Ancient Greek better than the scribes did, so we can often tell if they are wandering off linguistically. We typically have multiple copies of the text, so we can triangulate between them. And as I’ll say below, we have other texts to fill out our knowledge of the ancient language.

We’re not always there: we suspect for instance that the text of Herodotus we have has been hypercorrected, because it has plurals like τουτέων that look Ionic, but linguistic theory says shouldn’t be there (Kühner–Blass 111): some time between 450 BC and 1000 AD, a scribe thought he knew better than the text he was copying, and all subsequent copies of Herodotus reflect his intervention. (The inflection is even more pervasive in the artificial Ionic of Roman-era medical authors.) But that kind of problem with mangled grammar is not debilitating for Ancient Greek.

Things are quite different for Early Modern Greek (and from what I gather, other mediaeval vernaculars). Again, we don’t have autographs until well into the Renaissance. But scribes did not revere the language of the original, like they did Ancient Greek: Early Modern Greek had no prestige, and scribes’ approach to the verses was influenced by their approach to folk song: liable to adjustment on the fly. So the wording of our multiple copies varies a lot more than we’re used to from classical text, in ways where it’s not obvious what the original had, if anything. Editors more often have to drop the meticulous stemmatic reconstruction of the text, and go with selectio (gut instinct), or even codex optimus (follow just one manuscript).

It gets worse. Towards the end of the age of scribes, we can see scribes systematically modernising the language of the texts they were copying; that’s what the 1625 manuscript of the 14th century Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds did for example. Scribes could also do the opposite: make the language of their text more archaic and proper. The Digenes Akrites romance must have originated in 11th vernacular ballads, but our earliest manuscript, the 13th century Grottaferrata, is in learnèd Greek. The 15th century Escorial manuscript is in the vernacular people were hankering for, but it’s unlikely to be a direct reproduction of the 11th century ballads.

So if you have two variants of a passage, one more learnèd and one more vernacular, you can’t always tell which reading is original—and use that to date the change back to when the text was originally written. Classical philology has a handy rule of lectio difficilior: if one reading is interesting and the other is boring, go with the interesting reading. That rule is predicated on the ancient author being a literary genius, and the scribe being a drudge: a drudge will simplify a text in copying it, and will not exercise ingenuity. With the Early Modern corpus though, the scribe is not necessarily less of a genius than the author, and feels more entitled to show us that he is.

An example comes from the very title of the Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds. The word “entertaining” is given in two forms in the manuscripts: παιδιόφραστος “entertainment-phrased” is the Paris manuscript, the other four have πεζόφραστος, “prosaically-phrased” (i.e. vernacular). “Entertainment-phrased” is an interesting coinage; “prosaically-phrased” is—well, prosaic. So following lectio difficilior, editors of the text have accepted the reading Entertaining Tale, rather than Vernacular Tale.

Just as George Baloglou and I were going to press with our translation of the Entertaining Tale, i came across a paper by Hans Eideneier, arguing that the Paris manuscript routinely tinkered with the text, making it more archaic or pretentious. To Eideneier’s mind, this was another such instance: the scribe thought “prosaically-phrased” was prosaic too, and tarted it up to the similar-sounding “entertainment-phrased”. Scribes simply would not do that with Homer; but they had no such compunction with vernacular texts. And if they routinely did so, then lectio difficilior does not count as much in reconstructing the original text.

[Eideneier, H. 2002. Η «πεζῇ φράσει» Διήγησις των τετραπόδων ζώων. In Λόγια και Δημώδης Γραμματεία του Ελληνικού Μεσαίωνα: Αφιέρωμα στον Εύδοξο Θ. Τσολάκη. Πρακτικά Θʹ Επιστημονικής Συνάντησης (11-13 Μαΐου 2000). Thessalonica: Aristotle University. 269-277.]

This all amounts to needing a degree of scepticism about dating linguistic changes from literary texts. We can often work out the date a text was originally written in; and if a preponderance of surviving copies confirm the linguistic feature we’re looking at, we can date the feature back then. But if we have only one copy, or if there is a dispute between the manuscripts, the only date we can have real confidence in is the date that the ink on the manuscript dried. For Early Modern Greek, that date is almost always the 14th or 15th century, rather than the 12th.

In fact, of the three Early Modern Greek literary texts dated to the 12th century, at least two are philologically problematic. Spaneas’ Polonius-like moralising made it hugely popular; that means lots of copies, with lots of variation, and no obvious reconstruction of a single original text. The Ptochoprodromos cycle clearly was written in the late 12th century; but again, it was popular enough and copied enough that we can’t always be sure the manuscripts’ language is faithful to the original.

The third such text is Michael Glycas’ Prison Verses, written in 1158/9 (and edited by Evdoxos Tsolakis, whose Festschrift featured Eideneier’s paper above). In this case, we’ve been uncharacteristically lucky. We have a date for the poem, because we know what campaign the emperor was on when Glycas was petitioning him (unsuccessfully) for pardon. We have a 13th century manuscript of the text (and we know it used to be in another 13th century manuscript), which is completely unlike other vernacular texts. We have an eponymous author writing in the vernacular, and someone who otherwise wrote in the learnèd dialect; we’ll need to wait two centuries for Stephen Sachlikes for the next such eponymous text.

It’s the combination of all this that has enshrined the work as the first known Modern Greek text. (A second Glycas poem, written a few years later, presents vernacular proverbs more systematically, and I presume is what TAK was referring to in comments. To my embarrassment, I was not familiar with this work at all.)

This is slightly too good to be true, and if you look at the text, it’s not as strongly vernacular as Ptochoprodromos: the substrate is learnèd, with some smatterings of vernacular, especially when proverbial wisdom is brought up. There is a continuum of vernacularness which the polemic fuelled by Greek diglossia skips over: John Camaterus, also from the 12th century, is even less vernacular than the Prison Verses, but still has a few shibboleths. (When Modern Greek liteature begins is a vexed question, and Martin Hinterberger has a lucid overview.)

Still, Glycas has one of the earliest attestations of the Early Modern use of subjunctive να to indicate future tense (supplanted a couple of centuries later by θέλω να “want to” > θα). This excerpt, where an Early Modern να is followed by an Ancient future tense (να συμπαθήσῃ, ῥύσεται), illustrates how macaronic the poem gets. I italicise the clearly vernacular words:

Καὶ στὰς ὁ τάλας ἄφωνος καὶ πεπηγὼς ὡς λίθος
καὶ γεγονὼς περίδακρυς ἔδοξα παρακοῦσαι,
ὥσπερ τινὸς ἐγγίσαντος καὶ πρὸς ἐμὲ λαλοῦντος:
«Ἐδά, Μιχάλη ταπεινέ, φέρε τὸν λογισμόν σου·
ὅσα καὶ ἂν εἶδες ἄφες τα, τοῦτα παιγνίδια οὐκ ἔνι,
φόβητρα δὲ καὶ βάσανα καὶ στοναχαὶ καὶ πένθη,
ἀσυμπαθεῖς ἐξετασταὶ καὶ φοβεραὶ κολάσεις·
τῷ βασιλεῖ σου πρόσδραμε, λέγε τὰ πταίσματά σου·
ὁ βασιλεὺς φιλάνθρωπος καὶ νὰ σὲ συμπαθήσῃ.
Ἐκύκλωσάν σε σήμερον ὠδῖνες τοῦ θανάτου;
Ἐπικαλοῦ τὸν Κύριον κἀκεῖνος ῥύσεταί σε.
I, poor man, standing voiceless, fixed like rock,
becoming full of tears—thought I o’erheard
someone approach and speak to me, as ’twere:
Now then, poor Mike, put on your thinking cap.
Quit everything you’ve seen: this ain’t no game,
but terrors, torment, moaning, and laments,
unfeeling inquisitions, fearsome penance.
Approach thine emperor, admit your faults:
the kindly emperor’s gonna pardon you.
Have pangs of death encircled thee today?
Call thou upon the Lord, and He shall save thee. (Prison Verses, 515-525)

We have some evidence of Early Modern Greek before the 14th century from other literary traditions, but not a lot. The Judaeo-Greek Jonah of 1263 is a word-for-word translation; and the bits of Greek in Rumi and Sultan Walad are hard to read, and probably second-language Greek. We have the occasional vernacular proverb or song mentioned in an otherwise learnèd text, such as the proverb in the Continuators of Scylitzes which is slightly earlier evidence of the να future, the imperial acclamations, or the “Go well my hawk” song in the Alexiad. We’d like to retain that evidence, through lectio difficilior: the vernacular is so out of place that the scribe is unlikely to have tampered with it, especially since they were back to “treat text with respect” mode in their copying. Yet that’s an assumption, not a proof.

There are, luckily, other kinds of texts we can use as evidence: the documentary kind. They don’t yield as copious evidence as the vernacular literary texts do: the literary texts are only macaronically vernacular, whereas the documentary kind are usually vernacular only by lapse—in which we’re rather less lucky than Hellenistic Greek, with its abundance of Koine correspondence. Those texts, I look at next post.

New TLG words in DGE VII

By: | Post date: 2010-02-15 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics
Tags: , , ,

As I posted last month, the new volume of DGE (Diccionario Griego–Español) has appeared, spanning ἐκπελλεύω–ἔξαυος. As with any lexicographic work of an older language, some philology and textual emendation has been involved; this paper by Eugenio Luján Martínez gives four such instances, in Epicurus, Aretaeus, Nicander, and Galen.

I have gone through this volume and the TLG texts dated from before i AD, to find words not given in the other dictionaries out there (LSJ, LSJ Supplement, Bauer, Lampe, Trapp). I’m posting them here for interest. Note that the list may be small, but that’s because the major gaps are in papyri (which are not in the TLG)—not ancient literature, which is already (nominally) well-ploughed land. (There should be quite a few more words from TLG AD texts.) DGE’s entries are still much more detailed than LSJ’s, and its coverage of antiquity broader. I’m also omitting proper names, which I have been treating differently in lemmatisation.

I’m leaving out the glosses, because the DGE is a commercial product and all. Most of them you can guess the meaning of, if you know your way around Greek vocabulary…

  • ἐκπυρώδης, ες.
  • ἐλάφινος, η, ον. (But Trapp has the variant ἐλαφινός.)
  • ἐλέκεβρα, ας, ἡ. (ἠλεκέβρα, ἰλλεκέβρα, ἐκλεκέβρα).
  • ἐλέσσω.
  • ἑλωρεύς, έως, ὁ.
  • ἕμα, ματος, τό.
  • ἐμβρωσί, τό.
  • ἐμπιεστός, ή, όν.
  • ἐμπύρευσις, εως, ἡ.
  • ἔνδεινος, ον.
  • ἐνναγώνιον, ου, τό.
  • ἔνοψ, πος, ὁ.
  • ἐναντιοεργός, όν.
  • ἐνεδρευτός, ή, όν.
  • ἐνιζυγίς, ίδος, ἡ.
  • ἐντεροκοιλιακός, ή, όν.
  • ἐντραπής, ές.
  • ἐντυπάδιον, ου, τό.
  • ἐξάρακτος, ον.

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