What’s Londínon in the language of the Inglínes?

By: | Post date: 2009-09-03 | Comments: 16 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek, Modern Greek
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I’ve been working on lemmatising the TLG for, oh, over six years. And lemmatising the TLG includes lemmatising its proper names. The TLG is, in quantity, a mostly Byzantine corpus, even though the point of the TLG was ancient literature: the Byzantine corpus is what survived most. And in the absence of a Byzantine gazetteer that I knew of, I ended up entering unrecognised place names by hand, prioritising the most frequent ones first. I haven’t exhausted them and doubt I ever will, but I have a threshold of frequency above which all place names are accounted for.

And because I did not already have a gazetteer digitised, this meant I noticed what places Byzantines talked about more, and what they talked about less. Which brought to life for me something I could have told you already, but was startling to see anyway. The outside world for Byzantines—and I start counting after Justinian—was the Caliphate, Bulgaria, occasionally Italy, Russia once or twice. Western Europe? They didn’t even notice it was there.

Which is startling to a Modern Greek, because we’ve successfully reoriented ourselves westwards. Nowadays I’m sure more Grecophones have heard of Charlemagne than Harun al-Rashid. At the time, I’m sure Grecophones had it the the other way round. In fact, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Theophanes the Confessor only knew of Charlemagne as Karolos, Pepin’s son—although by the time he was writing his chronicle, Charlemagne was already Holy Roman Emperor.

(That’s Grecophones, btw, not Greeks. There’s a reason John Tzetzes had a funny surname…)

Byzantine sources do become aware of the West outside Italy, but only at the very end of the Empire’s allotted time, when the Caliphate has become their Ottoman suzerain, and the West is where they’re soliciting a crusade from. That’s when Byzantines notice that there is such a thing as western theology, and translate Augustin (Prochorus Cydones) and Boethius (George Pachymeres, Manuel Holobolus, Maximus Planudes, Prochorus Cydones).

Even at the end, Byzantine historians are exasperatingly antiquarian, use Roman terms whenever they can, and don’t seem that tuned in to the subtleties of the distinctions between the Beef-Eaters. The Catalans, who ran chunks of Greece for a couple of generations? Tarraconians. The Hundred Years’ War? A war between the Celts and the Gauls. Straight out of Julius Caesar. And yes, *I* know the Gauls were Celts, and the English were no longer Brythonic. I’m not convinced the historian in question did.

Just like the Serbs were written down as Triballians, and the Bulgarians as Mysians, and the Turks, occasionally, as Persians. Just like the Mongols were written down as Tocharians—reviving some obscure Central Asian tribe name which at least had a Classical pedigree. (Oh, the people we now call Tocharians? Probably weren’t the same obscure Central Asian tribe. We did the same classicising revival.)

Just like John Cananus, around 1400, went on a trip to Lübeck, which at the time still spoke Sorbian (or whatever else it was called), and proclaimed “this must be where our Ezerites have come from”—because in 1400 a Slavonic language was still spoken in the Southern Peloponnese too. And John Cananus completely missed half a continent’s worth of Slavonic spoken between northern Germany and southern Greece.

So it’s startling when a bona fide contemporary Western place name does turn up in this corpus. Unsurprisingly, they’re more cities than peoples, since cities were harder to do a Roman-era vagueout on. In the former bits of the Byzantine empire that were already being run by the West, it was much easier to notice the West; and the vernacular Greek chronicles of the 14th and 15th century use the Western terms more forthrightly.

Which brings up another surprise to Modern Greek speakers. Learnèd Modern Greek used to Hellenise Western place names, and they’d do so by pretending the transliterations were still pronounced as they would have been in antiquity. Or rather, given the denial about phonetic change among Greeks, they used the spelling correspondences between Latin and Classical Greek, and put their hands on their ears.

So Dublin is written Δουβλίνο(ν), which is pronounced /ðuvˈlino/ but written in historical orthography as <Dublinon>. Nuremberg is written Νυρεμβέργη, which is pronounced /niremˈverɣi/ but written <Nyrembergē>. Brussels is written Βρυξέλλες, pronounced /vriˈkseles/ but written <Bryxelles>. Since <y> was IPA /y/ and French u, that is an exact transliteration of French Bruxelles.

(The < > are used in linguistics to notate graphemes, units of writing, just as / / are used to notate phonemes, units of sound. If the former is less familiar to you than the latter, it’s because the bias of linguistics over the past century has been to pretend orthography isn’t worth studying.)

The surprise in Byzantine names is that both the learnèd and the vernacular sources transliterate names differently from how they’re now done. On the one hand, the vernacular sources don’t bother rerouting names via Ancient Greek, and write the names as they heard them. Austria is now Αυστρία /afˈstria/ <Austria>; but it’s first recorded in vernacular garb (the same garb it had in the 18th century vernacular), as Ἀουστρία /auˈstria/. Bavaria is now Βαυαρία /vavaˈria/ <Bauaria>, but it is first attested in, of all places, the War of Troy, as Βαουβέρη /vauˈveri/. (Admittedly, that’s not that close to /bajern/, and was probably just a written form to the translator.) Hungary was called Ματζαρία /madzaˈria/ “Magyary”; Budapest is now Βουδαπέστη /vuðaˈpesti/ <Budapestē>, but Buda back then was Μπούντουνη, Πιτούνιν, Μπούδα: /ˈmbunduni/, /piˈtunin/, /ˈmpuða/. The Germans were Αλαμάνοι /alaˈmani/, when they weren’t Νέμτσοι and Νεμίτζοι /ˈnemtsi, neˈmitsi/.

Some of those vernacular names died later than others. We now call the French Gauls (Γάλλοι), just like the Byzantines did; but people still recognise the old name Φραντσέζοι /franˈtsezi/. The learnèd/colloquial doublet Άγγλοι/Εγγλέζοι /ˈanɡli, enˈɡlezi/ survives for the English, though the older /inˈɡlini/ does not, and nor do the eleven spelling variants of /enɡliˈtera/ for “England”. (You’ve worked out by now what the title of this post means, yes?) Tunis is now Τύνιδα /ˈtiniða/, Demotic for Τύνις, -ιδος <Tynis>. But, from either a song lyric or the angry retort to “oh?”, Greeks still know about Τούνεζη και Μπαρμπαριά /ˈtunezi ke barbarˈja/, “Tunis and the Barbary coast”.

You won’t be wrong, btw, in gathering that the Greek vernacular knowledge of Western Europe was filtered through Italian.

(And the angry retort? The Greek for “oh? is that right?” is “/ba/?” The echoic retort is Μπα-ρμπαριά και Τούνεζη!)

On the learnèd side, one surprise is that even though the 19th century clerks and the 14th century clerks had mostly the same approach to Hellenising place names, they didn’t always compare notes. That’s probably the 19th century guys’ fault, what with the ESP deficit in late Byzantium.

So Flanders now is Φλαμανδία <Flamandia>, via French; in Anna Comnena, it’s Φλάντρα <Flantra>. Normans now are Νορμανδοί <Normandoi>; to Anna they were Νορμάνοι <Normanoi>. Provence is now Προβηγκία /provinˈɡia/ <Provinkia>, but Atticist as Anna was, she was happy enough to leave it as Πρεβέντζα /preˈvendza/. So the 19th century hellenisations we now know were not handed down to us like family heirlooms: they look old enough to have been, but they’re not.

The other surprise is what learnèd transliterations do with voiced stops. By the time we’re talking, Greek didn’t have voiced stops: it had voiced fricatives which used to be voiced stops; it had voiceless stops; and it had prenasalised voiced stops. So, δ τ ντ /ð t nd/ <d t nt>. What then did you do when you had to transliterate a name with a /d/ in it?

The “La-La-La We Speak Classical Greek” school of thought was, if a delta was good enough for Decimus and Diocletian (Δέκιμος, Διοκλητιανός), then it was good enough for modern names with /d/ in them. That’s why Charles Darwin is still Κάρολος Δαρβίνος /ˈkarolos ðarˈvinos/ <Karolos Darbinos>, and not Τσαρλς Ντάργουιν /tsarls ˈndarɣuin/. The vernacular OTOH figured that /nd/ was as close as you’d get to /d/—and dialects were already starting to simplify /nd/ to [d] anyway. So the Danube, which was at first Δάνουβις /dánubis/ (and the Istros before that), turns up in the vernacular as Ντούναβης /ˈ(n)dunavis/, after its South Slavic name Дунав. (The contemporary form is in between: Δούναβης /ˈðunavis/ <Dunabēs>.)

There was a third path though. You could hesitate between /ð/ and /nd/, and go with /t/ instead, the voiceless stop. We see this already in Anna Comnena with her rendering of Dagobert: Τακουπέρτος, /takuˈpertos/—although Bohemund to her was still Βαϊμοῦντος, /vaiˈmundos/ <Baimuntos>. You also see it with Bohemians. When the Greeks first noticed Bohemians. it was because they noticed Jan Hus, as part of their negotiations with the Catholics; and the Bohemians got to be Βοέμιοι /voˈemii/ <Boemii>, with the classicising beta. But they also got to me Ποέμιοι and Πωέμιοι /poˈemii/, with a /p/ close enough to a /b/.

A few Greeks among you are reminded of Cypriot at this point. Greece transliterates video as βίντεο /ˈvindeo/ <binteo>; Cyprus uniformly transliterates as βίτεο /ˈviteo/ <biteo>, just like Takupertos. Cyprus has its own rationale for that: its choices are not /ð (n)d t/, but δ ντ τ ττ /ð nd t tʰ/. If Turkish tel “wire”, Standard Greek τέλι, is ττέλιν /tʰelin/ in Cypriot, that means ττ is for foreign /t/, and τ without an /n/ in front of it is for foreign /d/. Greece Greeks think that amusing, because Greece Greeks have no conception of a pluricentric language.

The Modern clerks did not compare notes with the Byzantine theologians on Bohemians, and the mainstream word is now Βοημοί /voiˈmi/ <Boēmoi>, with a long e. The bouzouki players noticed Bohemians too—via La Bohème; and Μποέμισσα /boˈemisa/, “Bohemian woman, tramp”, is a recurrent and quite vernacular figure in rebetiko songs.

One of the first people to notice Bohemians was Laonicus Chalcocondyles, one of the historians of the Fall of Constantinople. In fact, Chalcocondyles’ text is an explosion of hitherto unnoticed Westerners. It’s like, just as the door closes on the Roman Empire, a window opens to the West. Poland’s in there, and Portugal too—though as Polania and Portugallia, not the modern Polonia and Portogalia. Avignon’s there, and so is Austria without an /f/.

But Chalcocondyles is still a hardcore antiquarian: it does indeed take “a pen of brass” (χαλκοῦν κονδύλιον) to flip around your given name like that, and transmogrify “Nicholas”. His Englishmen are still Angli, and his Catalans are still Tarraconians, and his Danube is still the Istros. And his antiquarianism is enough to make hard work of knowing where he’s talking about.

And so I conclude with a little quiz for those of my readers patient enough to have persevered thus far. These are some European place names and peoples in Chalcocondyles. (And I’m counting the Caucasus as European.) Your challenge is to decipher them. It is possible to cheat (there’s a reason I know the answers); I invite you not to.

Hopefully you’ll nut these out entertainingly in the comments, and I’ll come back with the right answers in a week. Some of these are easy; some… are impossible. There are places in here I’d never heard of. Good luck, you can curse me in a week’s time. I never said I was not a sadist, did I…

(Nikos Sarantakos, I owe you big time for that puzzle you posed me on the Elbe, so I’m expecting a good showing from you! >:-)

(Language Hat, sorry to have just destroyed your evening… 😉 )


  • 1. Ἰνφλάντη Inphlántē
  • 2. Καχέτιον Kachétion
  • 3. Κεντία Kentía
  • 4. Μάρκη Márkē
  • 5. Δοβροτίκης Dobrotíkēs


  • 6. Βριξία or Πρηξία Brixía/Prēxía
  • 7. Γαΐτια Gaï´tia
  • 8. Γαντύνη Gantýnē
  • 9. Βρούγιοι Broúgioi
  • 10. Κλιτίη Klitíē
  • 11. Κλόζιοι Klózioi
  • 12. Νορόβεργον Noróbergon
  • 13. Ἀμπύργον Ampýrgon
  • 14. Σιβίνιον Sibínion
  • 15. Σιβίληνα Sibílēna
  • 16. Ταρβίζιον Tarbízion
  • 17. Καλέση Kalésē
  • 18. Βαζιλείη Bazileíē
  • 19. Βωκερίνη Bōkerínē
  • 20. Κιόζη Kiózē
  • 21. Νίτια Nítia


  • 22. Σαμῶται Samōtai
  • 23. Σαχαταῖοι Sachataîoi
  • 24. Τζαρκάσοι Tzarkásoi
  • 25. Κέχιοι Kéchioi


  • TAK says:

    You are quite right about archive.org's metadata: it's chaotic. While looking for Darko's edition, I came across many Greek books, but the transiteration "system" they adopted (with macrons, etc.) is gonna make it impossible for readers to locate this material. Such a pity – and such a waste of resources…
    Anw, thanks very much for the link!

  • opoudjis says:

    The metadata at archive.org is braindead and stupid. Of course it is, it's done by the uploaders like me, they don't have anyone cleaning it up. So there's oodles of Greek there, but it's impossible to find it.

    The Darkó edition of Chalcocondyles can be downloaded at: http://www.archive.org/details/laonicichalcocan00chaluoft

    I could also post here the Byzantine Warez site I found the other day, with lots of within-copyright pdfs; but this is an eponymous blog, so you'll have to гугловать it yourselves…

  • TAK says:

    Hey, Nick, what's the link for Darkó's edition?
    Cause I cannot find it…

  • TAK says:

    Nick, I haven't checked Darko's edition, but I will look for it – I only checked the context of the words, i.e. Chalcocondyles' text in TLG.
    I cannot be sure on Ινφλάντη, it is possible that Panu and Darko are right.
    As for Κλόζιοι it was a real bugger! From the context it was obvious that we were looking for a coastal city near Brugges and Ghent. My first choice was Knokke(-Heist), but there was no linguistic relevance (let alone the fact that the city was actually created in the 18th c…). The solution came from wikipedia:
    L'Ecluse can easily became Κλόζιοι
    It was very interesting.
    Looking forward to your next puzzle!
    Best wishes,

  • opoudjis says:

    … OK, mine Godfather, you win. Although from my sources, Panu is right. My source being Darkó's edition of Chalcocondyles, which is on archive.org, thanks to digitisation from the U Toronto copy. The rest are all correct, and thank you all for having a go: you were all a lot more correct than I had been. Sluis was a bugger, in particular.

    I will walk through these in some more detail tomorrow or so. With the context.

    Meanwhile, I draw your attention to Lascaris Cananus' account of his trip to the North, online from the Swedish edition via German and Russian. (Babelfish on the Russian is not bad, but I will buy the text anyway.) It's a lot shorter than I expected. But Cananus mentions a lot of the places Chalcocondyles mentions, so I'll need to check whether the latter is in fact citing the former.

    (Mine Godfather, I suspect from your Frenching Sluis that you found this online before I did. 🙂

    I got it wrong btw: Cananus' glancing mention of Peloponnesian Slavs is to the Zygiotai, not the Ezeritai.

  • TAK says:

    Very interesting, Nick.

    That's what I could come up with:

    1. Ἰνφλάντη Inphlántē = Finland (though I find Panu's comment very interesting)
    2. Καχέτιον Kachétion = Kakheti (Georgia)
    3. Κεντία Kentía = Kent (England)
    4. Μάρκη Márkē = Marche (Italy)
    5. Δοβροτίκης Dobrotíkēs = Dobrudja (Bulgaria-Romania)

    I believe that 2, 3 and 4 are cities not regions.

    6. Βριξία or Πρηξία Brixía/Prēxía = Brescia (Italy)
    7. Γαΐτια Gaï´tia = Jajce (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
    8. Γαντύνη Gantýnē = Ghent (Belgium)
    9. Βρούγιοι Broúgioi = Brugges (Belgium)
    10. Κλιτίη Klitíē = Kljuc (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
    11. Κλόζιοι Klózioi = Sluis (ou L'Ecluse) (Netherlands)
    12. Νορόβεργον Noróbergon = Nurnberg (Germany)
    13. Ἀμπύργον Ampýrgon = Hamburg (Germany)
    14. Σιβίνιον Sibínion = Sibiu (Romania)
    15. Σιβίληνα Sibílēna = Seville (Spain)
    16. Ταρβίζιον Tarbízion = Treviso (Italy)
    17. Καλέση Kalésē = Calais (France)
    18. Βαζιλείη Bazileíē = Basel (Switzerland)
    19. Βωκερίνη Bōkerínē = Bouches-du-Rhône [=Boccherino?] (France)
    20. Κιόζη Kiózē = Chioggia (Italy)
    21. Νίτια Nítia = Nice (France)

    22. Σαμῶται Samōtai = Samogitians? (in Lithuania)
    23. Σαχαταῖοι Sachataîoi = Chaghatai (Inhabitants of the Chagatai Khanate)
    24. Τζαρκάσοι Tzarkásoi = Circassians
    25. Κέχιοι Kéchioi = Czechs

    Now, I must note that words (in particular, place names) out of context may be extremely misleading. So, I have checked the context before coming up with some very wild guesses!

    Best wishes,


  • TAK says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Panu says:

    Inflanty is Polish for Livonia, i.e. the coastal part of Latvia. I guess the Greek name means Livonia too. I speak no Greek, but I can read the alphabet.

  • Language says:

    Well, the only one that occurs to me that nobody else has come up with is 20. Κιόζη Kiózē: Chioggia? Fun quiz!

  • kohath says:

    I guess the Κέχιοι would be the Czechs…

  • zmjezhd says:

    Not much to add. Just a couple of guesses:

    Nitia, Nice.
    Bokerine, Bukovina (?).
    Gantyne, Ghent.

  • When you have time, you may follow this thread:
    Anna Philippidis-Braat, La captivité de Palamas chez les Turcs: Dossier et Commentaire", Travaux et Mémoires 7 (1979), 193-196. (esp. 214-18)
    Michel Balivet, "Des "Kühhan" (Kahin) aux Χιόναι (Χιόνιος)", Byzantion 52 (1982), 24-59.
    Elizabeth Zachariadou, "Religious Dialogue between Byzantines and Turks during the Ottoman Expansion", eadem, Studies in Pre-Ottoman Turkey and the Ottomans, Variorum Collected Studies, Ashgate 2007.
    Cemal Kafadar, Between Two Worlds: The Construction of teh Ottoman State, Berkeley 1995, p. 175 n. 90.

  • opoudjis says:

    I'm saying nothing until the week is out, to let people continue to chime in.

    But I will say: God you people are good.

    And Diver of Sinks: I don't, and I deserve a counterpuzzle, but not this week. 🙂

  • Well, let's try the remaining regions.

    1. Ινφλαντη might be Finland?
    3. Κεντία is Kent, or is it too obvious?
    4. Μάρκη could be that region in Italy, Marche.

  • I don't know whatever happened to my first comment! As far as I remember I was saying that I enjoyed this post very much, and that I only guessed Hamburg, Basel, Calais (?), and Circassians. Oh, and I asked you if you know the puzzle of Χιόναι in Gregorios Palamas…

  • Random guesses: • 2. Καχέτιον Kachétion Kakheti (Georgia)
    • 5. Δοβροτίκης Dobrotíkēs Dobruja
    • 9. Βρούγιοι Broúgioi Bruges
    • 12. Νορόβεργον Noróbergon Nuremberg
    • 13. Ἀμπύργον Ampýrgon Hamburg
    • 14. Σιβίνιον Sibínion Sibiu
    • 15. Σιβίληνα Sibílēna Seville
    • 17. Καλέση Kalésē Calès
    • 18. Βαζιλείη Bazileíē Basel
    • 24. Τζαρκάσοι Tzarkásoi Circassians

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