“When I was a soldier, I ended up in Greece”

By: | Post date: 2010-07-15 | Comments: 5 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
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It’s been a little while since I’ve put up a language sample of an obscure variant of Greek; this is a sample of the Greek spoken in Calabria.

Of the Greek spoken in Italy, the Greek of Salento is healthiest, with something like 20,000 speakers; the Greek of Calabria has less than a tenth of the speakers, but is significantly more archaic. The sample is taken from Minuto, D., Nucera, S. & Zavettieri, P. 1988. Dialoghi Greci di Calabria. Reggio Calabria: Laruffa. pp. 56–58.

The book includes four recorded conversations in Greek from the early 1980s, from Chorio di Roghudi, Gallicianò, and Bova. The texts were gathered by Domenico Minuto, who taught himself Greek and participates in the conversations; they include both old-timers, and younger semi-speakers.

The text below is from villagers originally from Chorio di Roghudi, including the 19–year-old Pietro Zavettieri (whose idea the collection was), his father, his grandmother, and his uncle. The text’s spelling is based on Italian (e.g. <scero> /ʃero/ “I know”, corresponding to standard ξέρω), with the following additions:

















<ddh> is a convention of Calabrese; as in Calabrese, <ddh> reflects historical /ll/. So <addho> /aɖːo/ “other” sounds something like an American drawled “add-draw”, but corresponds to earlier Greek ἄλλο, /allo/. (Just as Calabrese iddha “she” comes from Latin illa.)

The story is revealing, of the type I like to feature in The Other Place: what happens when the Greek-speakers of Italy find themselves at war with the Greek-speakers of Greece. It’s very easy for Greeks to lose sight of it, but through the inhabitants of Roghudi and Calimera spoke Greek, they live in Italy, and their ancestors have lived in Italy for anything between a thousand and three thousand years. Which means they are Italian. Still, Pietro’s unnamed uncle did not end up the worse for wear for it, when he was with the occupation forces in Greece.

I’ll post linguistic commentary separately. Following a common convention of Italiot Greek texts, I italicise the Romance words (many of which are inflected in Greek).

Zio: San immo ssordàto ejàna stin Grècia; ce ìmmaston dio; mu ipe: «Pame oden abucàto pu echi tundo spiti na tu zitìome ticandì na fame.» Ipan egò: «Pame, ma egò en tu ccapèo.» Ecìno ipe «Esù tu ccapèi ti platèi to greco.» Ipan egò: «En tu ccapèoAllùra tu ipan egò: «Platèspe esù: an ecìni platèu ce tu ccapèguo, allùra egò platèo; andè, den platèo proprio.» Tutos ode ejài ecì; tu ipe: «Thelo ligon alàdi, enan pumadòro, ligon ala, na camo mian nzaláta, na fao, ti immo nisticò.»

Uncle: When I was a soldier, I ended up in Greece. And there was two of us. He told me: “Let’s go down here where that house is, to ask them for something to eat.” I said: “Let’s go, but I won’t understand them.” He said: “You will understand them, because you speak Greek.” I said: ” I won’t understand them.” So I said: “You talk: if they talk and I understand them, then I’ll talk; if not, I’m not talking at all.” This man goes there; he told him: “I want some oil, a tomato, some salt, to make a salad to eat, because I have not eaten.”

Tutos ode, o greco, canni: «Ma egò, san de capèguo, ti en scero ecìno pu leghi, en scero, ecìno pu den mu leghi! Ti mu steki lègonda?» San egò ecàpespa ecìno ti eplàtespe manachòstu, ce ipe ola tunda pràmata, tu ipan egò: «Scerise ti theli? Mian stampa alàdi, enan pumadòri, enan crommìdi, na cami mian nzalàta na fai, ti pinài.»

That man, the Greek, goes: “But me, if I can’t understand him, I don’t know what he is saying, and I don’t know what he is not saying to me! What is he telling me?” When I understood what he said on his own, and he said all that, I said to him: “You know what he wants? A little oil, a tomato, an onion, to make a salad to eat, because he is hungry.”

«Ah! Esù leddhé! leddhé! leddhé! Pùtthen isson esù? Putthen isso?» «Putthen immo? Stratiòtes, italiàno.» «Pos’ ecàmese na pàise me tin Italìa? Esù isso leddhé!» Ipan egò pos’ ècama na pao in Itàlia! «M’ epiàsan priguinèri ce arte immo obblighemméno na pao methétu!» Leghi: «Esù leddhé! Ecìno pu thélise, issa a disposiziòni sto spiti ton dicòmmu!»

“Ah! You, brother! brother! brother! Where are you from? Where?” “Where am I from? Soldiers, Italian.” “How did you end up going with Italy? You are a brother!” I told them how I ended up going with Italy! “They captured me as a prisoner and now I am forced to go with them!” He said: “You, brother! Whatever you want is at your disposal in my house!”

Pietro: Vrete esì!

Zio: En calò o den en calò?

Minuto: En calò, po den en calò? Pollì calò.

Pietro: Well look at that!

Uncle: Is that nice or what?

Minuto: It’s nice, how can it not be? Very nice.

Zio: Arte canno àddonen discúrso. To stesso in Grècia. Poi immasto dio pu epìgame viàta ismìa; ejàmmasto ce etrovèspame enan tabakkìno. Sce tundo tabakkìno etrovèspame octò, deca eciúndo greco. Pos arrivèspame ecióssu, mas efèrai ena, ena giro peròtu, possi ìssai eciòssu, na pìome. Poi egò eghìrespa na tus offrèspo ecinòne. C’ ecìni mu errifiutèspai; iche ton bbarìsta, ipe: «Sanàrte sa offrèusi ecìni, avri, methàvri, tu sonnite offréspi esì.» Dopu ti epìame nduttu, ce mas edùcai ciòla enan pakètto sicarètte, peròma ti ìmmasto dio, èrchete o barrìsta ce mu ipe: «Vre ti avri su amènome ode.» «Ma egò den ercho ode» tu ipan egò, «jatì egò en iscèro ta fatti po ppasi.» «Esù avru èrchese ode; sto tali oràrio ti s’ amènu tèssere, pende ghinèke, ti thelu na ivru po pplatèvghise esù to greco

Uncle: Now I’ll tell another story. Also in Greece. There were two of us who always went together. We went and found a tobacconist. At that tobacconist’s we found eight, ten of those Greeks. As we arrived there, they brought us a round for each, everyone who was there, to drink. Then I tried to treat them. And they refused me; the barman was there, he said: “For now they are treating you; tomorrow, the day after, you can treat them.” After we drunk everything, and they moreover gave us a packet of cigarettes each, there being two of us, the barman came and told me: “Look, tomorrow we’ll wait for you here.” “But I won’t come here”, I said to him, “because I don’t know how things will go.” “You’re coming here tomorrow, at such and such a time four or five women will be waiting for you, because they want to see how you speak Greek.”

Ejàmmasto! Ejàmmaston ecì. Epettòame eciàpanu, pu iche mian addhi stanza ce eciòssu accheròai crùnnonda ce chorèonda ce na gustèspu emmè pos to eplàtegua to greco. Pinnonda, cànnonda ecì, emmèna to fucìli mómine. Dopu ti epìame, echorìstima c’ ejàssame ta fàttima. San arrivèspame a un certu puntu, mu canni tutos addo: «Ce to fucìli to dicòssu pu ene?» Tu ipan egò: «Ecì èmine.» Leghi: «Pu to thorìse ple! En su to donnu ple.» Ipan egò: «Condofèrrome, thorùme, an mu to donnu mu to donnun.» Me tin strata ortèo ena pu èrcheto me ton fucìli ton dicòmmu. Mu ipe: «Esù isso leddìdi dicòmma. An den isso leddìdi dicòmma to muskètto en to ìthore ple.» C’ ecòspame ecì.

We went! We went there. We got up there, where there was another room, and inside they started playing music and dancing and enjoying how I spoke Greek to them. Drinking and entertaining myself there, I left my gun behind. After we drank, we started to leave. When we got to a certain point, this man goes to me: “And where is your gun?” I told him: “It’s back there.” He said: “You’re not seeing it again! They won’t give it back.” I said: “We’ll go back, we’ll see: if they give it to me, they give it to me.” Along the way I meet a man coming with my gun. He said to me: “You are our brother. If you weren’t our brother, you would never have seen your musket again.” And we broke off there.


  • John Cowan says:

    So what the (national) Greek guy heard was "You know-a what he wants-a? A little oil, a po-mo-DOH-roh, an onion-a, to make a sa-LAH-dah to eat-a, because-a he is hongry", more or less?

    It reminds me of one of Feynman's stories:

    Once, when I was at Princeton, as I was going into the parking lot at Palmer Laboratory on my bicycle, somebody got in the way. My habit was always the same: I gesture to the guy, "oREzze caBONca MIche!", slapping the back of one hand against the other.

    And way up on the other side of a long area of grass, there's an Italian gardener putting in some plants. He stops, waves, and shouts happily, "REzza ma LIa!"

    I call back, "RONte BALta", returning the greeting. He didn't know I didn't know, and I didn't know what he said, and he didn't know what I said. But it was OK! It was great! It works! After all, when they hear the intonation, they recognize it immediately as Italian — maybe it's Milano instead of Romano, what the hell. But he's an iTALian. So it's just great. But you have to have absolute confidence. Keep right on going, and nothing will happen.

  • pep says:

    Hello, my first post here, if my question has already been asked -and answered- in some previous post, I apologise.
    I know classical and modern greek but I know nothing about the history of Greek language, and I can´t help but wonder how can an isolated and archaic form of the language be so similar to modern Greek (the constant use of the "na" particle for instance). The only answer I can come up with is that it isn´t actually so archaic as it seems. That it´s byzantine greek we´re dealing with here, as the Wikipedia article suggests.
    Perhaps you are going to talk about that in your promised linguistic commentary
    Thanks 😉

  • Trond Engen says:

    … for a while, but soon repeated.

    [Should I add something substantial? The post would deserve that, but I haven't much to say on the subject. But keep it coming.]

  • opoudjis says:

    OK, spam deleted…

  • Trond Engen says:

    "So why, then, are all comments about it in Chinese?"

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