Pontic locatives

By: | Post date: 2010-07-06 | Comments: 5 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
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In the last post, I said—somewhat flippantly—that the locative adverbs of Pontic are neurotic; and John Cowan asked me to spell out how.

To do so, I’ve gone through the 60 pp discussion of George Drettas’ 1993 grammar of Pontic, Aspects pontiques. I have to say, I don’t like Drettas’ grammar; as a friend said to me, “it’s very French”. By that, I don’t just mean that it’s *in* French—which makes it looking through a dark glass for me; it also means that it takes an approach to grammar which I’m unfamiliar with, and its exposition is rather too leisurely, and at times woolly.

On the other hand, it has the rare benefit among grammars of Modern Greek dialects that it treats the dialect as a linguistic system in its own right, and it does not merely list the ways it differs from Standard Modern Greek—as most dialect grammars do. Some of the paths Pontic grammar has taken are quite alien to the Standard dialect; so this is well-justified for Pontic. In fact, Drettas gives his Pontic in IPA; given my readership, I’m transliterating back to Greek.

I won’t resist the comparison to Modern Greek locatives either. As I said last post, Standard Modern Greek is rather limited in its means of expressing location. A couple of prepositions: από (motion from, location away from), σε (motion to, location on), and I guess μέχρι/ώς (up to). The rest is done by adverbs: μπροστά, μέσα, πάνω, πίσω “front, inside, above, behind” etc. The adverbs can be prefixed with απο- , which still means “away from” (motion or location); so βάλ’ το πάνω “put it up”, βάλ’ το αποπάνω “put it up from = put it over, put it above”.

Pontic also has a limited repertoire of spatial prepositions: σ’, ας, ους, corresponding to Standard σε, από, ώς. (Etymologically ας corresponds to Ancient ἐκ ~ ἐξ, which elsewhere survived as αχ ~ οχ.) It also has a list of adverbs to supplement them, quite similar to Standard Greek. So Pontic distinguishes between άν “up” and απάν “above”, and κά “down” and αφκά “below”; the latter pair corresponds to κάτω and αποκάτω, and the former to πάνω and αποπάνω. (Etymologically πάνω is itself a compound of ἐπί + ἄνω “on + up”, and Pontic άν is of course merely ἄνω.) So απάν, αφκά, and απές “inside” are primitive adverbs of Pontic that already include the απο- prefix etymologically.

But beyond those etymological instances, Pontic can also prefix απο- optionally to a productive range of locative adverbs. Those locative adverbs start with words for “here” and “there”.

Pontic has three words for “here” and “there”, ακεί means “yonder”; αδά means “here (close to me)”, and ατού means “there (not close to me, though still nearby)”. By default, ατού means “close to you”; but if you’re next to me, I would use αδά and not ατού. The distinction corresponds to the three-way distinction in Latin of hic, iste, ille (and I render it here as “here, there, yonder”)—but not to Modern Greek εδώ and εκεί. (ατού corresponds to Modern Greek αυτού “there”, but αυτού is deprecated in the Standard, and I’m not aware that it is systematically distinguished from εκεί.)

Pontic can prefix these locations with από, and so far that is just like Standard Greek: Standard Greek αποδώ, αποκεί “over here, over there; from here, from there”, Pontic απαδά, απατού, απακεί.

But Pontic goes further. “Here” and “there”, whether or not with a “from” prefix, can be suffixed with the adverbs for “above, below, inside, behind”, απάν, αφκά, απές, οπίς. So “Go away” in Standard Greek is φύγε από δω, “leave from here”. In Pontic, it is φύγον απατουπές, “leave from there inside” (από + ατού + απές). “Come up!”, “He fell down”, and “Look in!” are έλ αδαπάν “come here up”, έρουξεν εκιαφκά “he fell yonder down”, and τέρεν ατουπές “look there inside”. You can use the adverbs on their own (as you would in Standard Greek), but Pontic tends to insert the location as the starting point.

What gets even harder to pin down are the four additional particles that can be added on after the adverbs; they are impossible to gloss in Standard Greek, and not much easier to gloss in French. Drettas’ 15 pp discussion does not leave me much clearer about what they mean, but I gather that:

  • κες means “trajectory, direction, orientation, vector”
  • κιάν means “space, volume moved through, space apart from”
  • κα means “this is the new reference point of the discourse; this is a specific location”
  • κεκά means “in the vicinity of”

I’m going to give examples from Drettas’, which are supposed to illustrate how this all works, though some of them leave me even more confused:

  • επίεν οκςςου-κές “he went out” (in the direction of outside)
  • εκάθουμνες οκςςο-κά “we were sitting outside” (and “outside” is now the reference point for what I say next)
  • αδα-κές “hither”
  • πού-κες “whither?”
  • οψές επέρασα ασην Αθήναν κες “last night I passed through Athens” (emphasis on going through Athens, following a path)
  • οψές επέρασα ασην Αθήναν κιαν “last night I passed through Athens” (emphasis on getting away from Athens) [hilariously, a Pontic speaker used them to show Drettas the difference between κες and κιαν—but he glosses them identically]
  • σύρεατεν σο φουρνίν κιαν “he threw her into the oven” (“at the oven movement-through”)
  • σύρεατεν σο φουρνίν κες “he threw her towards the oven” [I made up this example, hoping I got it right]
  • εσύ αδα-κές μαναςςέσα πώς είσαι; “how did you end up here all alone?” (the subject is not still moving, but κές means she has moved)
  • ατείν τα εικόνας-ατουν είχαν-ατ αφκα-κές, εσκάλεζαν κ’ επέγνανε, καταφύιον εποίνανε και είχανε τα εικόνας εκειαφκά “they kept their icons downwards (= hiding them under the floorboards); they kept digging, made a shelter, and kept their icons down yonder [no added particle]”
  • ατου-κιάν “over there” (across from here)
  • ας εκείν την ημέραν κιαν “from that day forward…” (that day is set apart from the future)
  • ο ήλιον αφκά-κιαν ‘κι στεκ “the sun won’t stay down” (“down”, conceived as being within the space between the earth and the heavens, that the sun can move through)
  • θα κόφτω και τεσόν το κιφάλ θα βάλ-ατ εκε-κά “I’ll chop of your head, and I’ll put it yonder (in my sack)” (“yonder” relative to the here-and-now, but “here” relative to the story’s context: that is the reference point)
  • αβούτο κείτ εκε-κά και ‘κ’ ελέπσ-ατο “it’s sitting right there and you can’t see it” (it’s there, but “there” is now where we’re focussing attention in the discussion, as the reference point)
  • εκαλάτςςεβαμ εκε-κά κάτ ελέγαμεν “we were speaking there, we were saying something” (the action has a reference point as its location, so it is a specific instance)
  • ποντιακά εκαλάτςςεβαμ ε-κές “we were speaking Pontic thither” (the action has a direction rather than a reference point as its location, so it is not specific: it is interpreted as “we used to speak in Pontic in general”)
  • πού-κεκα “where exactly?” (in the vicinity of where)
  • έτρεξεν κ’ έρθεν σον α-Εάνην κεκά “he ran up to St John’s church” (lit. “he ran and went to the vicinity of St John”)
  • εκατήβαν εκεί σα χοράφ-εαμουν κεκά “they came down yonder, near our fields” (lit. “to the vicinity of our fields”)
  • ασό δρανίν απαν-κεκά ετέρναν “they looked from up on the roof” (lit. “they looked from the roof, in the vicinity of above”)
  • αδα-κά, ακε-κά, σο καφούλ οπισ-κεκά “right here, right there, behind that bush” (lit. “in the vicinity of behind the bush”)

The distinctions are extraordinarily subtle, and I’m not sure I’ve quite got them. Often enough, it seems, κες means “towards” (“hither”, “passed through”) and κιάν means “away from” (“from that day forward”, “into the oven”). But ποντιακά εκαλάτςςεβαμ ε-κές “we were speaking Pontic thither” does not involve any motion towards, but some notion of κες as a generic location; while the sun in ο ήλιον αφκά-κιαν ‘κι στεκ “the sun won’t stay down” is not yet away from the horizon, κιαν merely indicates that it *will* move away. And I’m sure I’m vague on the perspective shift introduced by κα.

Now that said, none of this is that unusual from the viewpoint of human languages: there are other languages that will say things like φύγον απατουπές, “leave from there inside”, or will do perspective shifts like κα does, or will distinguish between vectors and spaces like κες and κιαν do. But there’s nothing particularly Indo-European about how Pontic has done it: Pontic is regaining the subtleties of Ancient Greek prepositions, but it isn’t using cases and lots of prepositions to do it. And John Cowan has surely been reminded of Lojban from about the third paragraph of this post; but I’m reasonably certain Pontic hasn’t picked this behaviour up from Lojban either.

As will be no surprise to anyone, this looks like influence from Caucasian languages, as Drettas concludes: the neighbouring Laz has at least 48 different preverbs indicating spatial orientation and direction. (And “Laz” is what Pontians actually called themselves before the scholars renamed them after the Black Sea.) The picture of the Laz preverbs Sylvia Kutscher sketches is absurdly rich. Pontic’s locative adverbs, its “above” and “inside” and “behind”, are not ultimately alien from the rest of Greek even if their combinatorics are. Laz is certainly on a much more neurotic level still; Pontic does not make distinctions like dolo- vs. mola- (pouring into the mouth of someone lying down vs. pouring into the mouth of someone standing up; the bottle is in the basket vs. the cup is in the cupboard.)

But the parameters Laz appeals to, such as orientation, shape, and horizontal vs vertical (which Setatos before Drettas had suggested to explain κες vs κιαν)—all sound like they have rubbed off on their Greek-speaking neighbours.


  • John Cowan says:

    And oh yes: "What did you bring that book I don't like to be read to out of about Down Under up for?"

  • John Cowan says:

    True to its Germanic roots, English can also express complex paths using compound prepositions that don't exist in the more normal IE families. For example, there is no way that is both simple and precise to translate "The boy ran down into the basement" into Spanish. The Romance languages strongly prefer to specify the manner with a participle and put the path into the main verb — there simply is no main verb for a path corresponding to "down into".

    Per contra, English has borrowed enough Romance path verbs like "enter" and "descend" alongside its native manner verbs to be able to imitate Romance style, but still only for simple paths. You can't say "The boy entered-descended to the basement running" in English any more than in Spanish. Of course Lojban, with its arbitrarily long serial verb chains and complex prepositions, can do it both ways in all cases.

  • Trond Engen says:

    Is it all that un-IE? I didn't catch all the points here, but compounding prepositions/adverbs of position is at least very Germanic. I was in the middle of writing what certainly would have been deemed a groundbreaking overview of the Scandinavian system when i made an ill-advised move to the "Refresh" button. Now I'll just point you in that general direction. Here i/inn/inne "in":

    Inni, innpå, inntil etc.
    Oppi, uti, nedi etc.

    (and probably a number of forms I'm to sleepy to remember)

  • nycguy says:

    English can be one of those fussy languages, as in the well-known poem by (I think) Elizabeth Bishop:

    I lately lost a preposition
    It hid I thought beneath my chair
    And angrily I cried “Perdition,
    come up from out of in under there!”

    Now correctness is my Vade Mecum
    And slovenly phrases I abhor,
    But yet I sometimes stand and wonder –
    “What should he come up from out of in under for?”

  • philipnewton says:

    John Cowan wasn't the only one to think of Lojban…

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