What are the differences between standard modern Greek and the Griko dialect?

By: | Post date: 2016-12-26 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I am delighted to be A2A’d this question.

There has been long-running, nationalistically driven, and tedious argument about how old the Greek dialects spoken in Southern Italy are, with to and fro from Italian linguists and Greek linguists, and with the great Romanist Gerhard Rohlfs kinda weighing in on the Greek side.

There is a significant difference between the Griko of Calabria, and the Griko of Salento. The Griko of Calabria, which is moribund, is much more obviously archaic: it has many more fossilised bits of Ancient Greek which only make sense if it was continuously spoken in place. The Calabrian Mafia’s heartland is in Greek-speaking territory, and its name, ‘Ndrangheta, sounds like something straight out of Sparta: Andragathia, “Manly Virtue”.

Salentino Griko, on the other hand, which is much healthier, is closer to Modern Greek both grammatically and lexically. My own pet theory is that Calabrian Greek is a continuation of Magna Graecia, while Salentine Greek reflects resettlement from Greece in Byzantine times. I’m not seeing much to refute that.

As for differences: if you picture Shakespearean English spoken in a Vaudeville Italian accent, you’ll be reasonably close.

  • Salentine Greek, at least, is just about mutually intelligible, though with a fair bit of difficulty.
  • A lot of the difficulty will be around the massive amount of vocabulary taken from Italian (and Calabrian/Salentino dialect)
  • Some of the difficulty will also be because Griko has become aligned to Italian phonotactics. No final -s anywhere. In most villages, no consonants alien to the Romance dialects: [θ, x, ɣ, ð] gone. Clusters alien to the Romance dialects gone: [ks] > [ts], for instance. Geminates all over the place (like in Cypriot, but unlike all other dialects of Modern Greek), and in fact the characteristic /ll/ > /ɖɖ/ of the Romance dialects.
  • The grammar is certainly archaic: the infinitive survives to a similar extent with Mediaeval Greek, after modals (telo pai ‘I want to go’ instead of θelo na pao ‘I want that I should go’). Participles are much more used as well.

Let me try out a parallel text. The Salentine lament on migration “My Man’s Gone Away” (Andra mu pai) was a hit in Greece in the 70s—which means it was mutually intelligible enough. To try and explain what’s going on, I’ll italicise the Italian words (which in fact Italian linguists routinely do), and I’ll boldface words that Greeks won’t recognise as too archaic. I’ll then give a calque into pseudo-Modern Greek (and bracketted Italian), so you can see the differences.

Klama (Andramu pai)

Telo na mbriakeftò.. na mi’ ppensefso,
na klafso ce na jelaso telo artevrài;
ma mali rràggia evò e’ nna kantaliso,
sto fengo e’ nna fonaso: o andramu pai!

θelo na meθiso (ubriacare), na mi skeftome (pensare)
na klapso ke na ɣelaso θelo tora to vraði
me meɣali orɣi (rabbia) eɣo θe na traɣuðiso (cantare)
sto feŋɡari θe na fonakso o andras mu pai.

I want to get drunk, not to think,
to cry and laugh is what I want tonight.
I will sing with great rage
I will shout to the moon: my husband is gone!

Fsunnìsete, fsunnìsete, jinèke!
Dellàste ettù na klàfsete ma mena!
Mìnamo manechè-mma, diàike o A’ Vrizie
Ce e antròpi ste‘ mas pane ess‘ena ss’ena!

ksipnisete, ksipnisete, ɣinekes!
elate eðo na klapsete me mena!
miname monaxes mas, ðiavike o ai vritsios
ke i anθropi stekun mas pane eks ena se ena

Wake up, wake up, women!
Come here and cry with me!
We have been left alone, the feast of St Britius has passed
And our men are leaving, one by one.

E antròpi ste‘ mas pane, ste’ ttaràssune!
N’arti kalì ‘us torùme ettù s’ena chrono!
è’ tui e zoì-mma? è’ tui e zoì, Kristè-mu?
Mas pa’ ‘cì sti Germania klèonta ma pono!

i anθropi stekun mas pane, stekun tarasune
na arti kali tus θorume eðo se ena xrono.
ine tuti i zoi mas, ine tuti i zoi, xriste mu?
mas pane eki sti ɣermania kleondas me pono

Our men are leaving on us, they’re going.
If things go well, we will see them back here in a year.
Is this our life? Is this a life, Christ?
They are going over there to Germany, crying with pain.


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