How I found out about the Trakatroukides

By: | Post date: 2010-05-14 | Comments: 6 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, History, Linguistics, Modern Greek
Tags: , , ,

This post has been put off for a long time, and its sequel even longer; but one of its protagonists has just asked for it here, so I will not put it off further. This is a translation of a derailed comment thread last October, over at the Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos’ Blog, through which I discovered the existence of the Trakatroukides of Kızderbent (Kizdervent, Κίζδερβεντ, Къздервент). Kızderbent is a village in Turkey which spoke “Trakatroukika”; Trakatroukika is reportedly a heavily Turkicised Bulgarian (possibly with Greek and Armenian elements). The villagers of Kızderbent considered themselves Greek, and their descendants now live in Greece.

There will be two or three followup posts with more detail that I can find about the village and its language, but I wanted to get this out to tide me over. I’d like to thank here the two protagonists of the thread:

  • In the right corner, Cornelius (Κορνήλιος), the polytonicist linguistic reactionary gadfly of the blog—and as it turns out, the grandson of a Trakatroukika speaker. It’s worth noting, for those interested in Greek diglossia, that even if Cornelius is a linguistic reactionary, he can’t quite use Puristic for the Cause in 2010—which underlines how thoroughly Puristic has lost ground by now. (That he is under forty doesn’t help either.)
  • In the left corner, A Butcher of Yore (Ένας Χασάπης Από Τα Παλιά). He’s a Butcher Of Yore because, like many other regulars at Sarantakos’, he used to be on the Hellas mailing list in the 90s, where his moniker was Abdullah the Butcher. Butcher of Yore has deep reserves of scholarship on Greek refugees, and I want to thank him for forcing me to look at the Trakatroukides more thoroughly than I intended to.

I’m going to translate the entire exchange, because it really did come out of nowhere, it went in several interesting directions (including whether it’s worth preserving languages), and it has some great pointers. Like I said, I’ll be supplementing this with more material in future posts (including links to a dialect lexicon, and to a conversation snippet on YouTube).

I’ve inserted some annotation in square brackets; I am editing out some of the ribbing and the language politics, because that would tread on sensitivities further than is necessary (including taking some linguists’ names in vain). But the thread is openly accessible (in Greek).

  • #20 Cornelius: My grandmother calls jars κιούπι, and γκιούμι for metal vessels. Once a gang of antiquities smugglers was arrested, and I was watching it on the television with my grandmother. They were showing some amphorae and my grandmother said, “ah, we got plenty of them κιούπιa.”
  • #21 Voulagx: Cornelius, do you know where γκιούμι comes from? I mean is it a Turkish word, Slavic, or something else?
  • #22 Cornelius: I don’t know. My grandmother in her childhood spoke a language with Turkish, Slavic, Bulgarian, Greek words etc in it—and she was of Asia Minor descent, at that. They’d say mátska for cat and kokóska for hen and kútse for dog and ódzak for fire and sófa for couch. Quite unacceptable. How could I not become an admirer of the learnèd tongue after that? Fortunately my grandmother has almost forgotten that language. Her mother spoke it; her father spoke Greek, and was at war for 10 months and 10 years. Of such a generation do I long to be. My grandmother also uses the word ílem: I don’t know what it means, but I know how to use it instinctively.
    [More on Cornelius teaching himself polytonic at 11.]
    Also from a fairy tale my grandmother used to tell, I remember this song which was supposed to be spoken by a snail on a bridge while a cart went past. I don’t know what language it is or even if I’m breaking the words apart correctly:
    tákar tákar ke priataláh duí sulísperi zebé khantúm
  • #22 Butcher Of Yore: Don’t say it so loud, Cornelius; no matter where you think your grandmother’s descent is from, Tremopoulos will deem you an Oppressed Macedonian, and then you’re in trouble! matska and kutse, he says—why Gruevski will be looking for you as a Grkoman example to avoid! 🙂
    In all seriousness, if your grandmother’s mother was truly from Asia Minor, the only thing I can think of is that she was one of the Trakatroukides of Kızderbent. But there were very few of them.
    Otherwise, should I presume her mother was a local Slavophone, and her father was from Asia Minor?
  • #24 (Me thanking Butcher for the information, and threatening Cornelius with posting about Trakatroukika)
  • #25 Butcher Of Yore: Well someone should work on the Trakatroukides before their language dies out (as with the speakers of Cappadocian, Propontis Tsakonian, etc.) Beyond the aforementioned municipality in Chalcidica, you can also head towards Polykastro in Kilkis and find them there.
    They’re organised: [Facebook group], and there’s a thesis on them. [NN: More links in following posts]
  • #27, #29, #44 (Me burbling further on what I found on Wikipedia, including the claim that they were Bulgarians) [More on that in following posts too]
  • #31 Nikos Sarantakos: (γκιούμι ~ γκιουγκιούμι < Turkish güğüm < Greek κουκούμι(ον) < Latin cucuma) So what is the word? Greek, Latin, Turkish? It turns out to be common property.
  • #33 Voulagx: Sarant, it was an honest question, because we also call it γκιούμι in Aromanian (giumi-a, where -a is the feminine article). I like “common property”, but you’re making me wonder: what if the partners start arguing about their percentage of ownership? Thank you.
  • #34 SophiaOik: Cornelius, I suspect you’re trying to trick everyone with your grandmother; it’s not as if those parts had so large a population, or were fertile enough, for us to bump into their descendants as easily as that.
  • #40 Cornelius: I’m not tricking anyone, I’m telling the truth, and she probably was a Trakatroukis, because I have heard it said, that they spoke “trakatroukika”.
  • #44 #45 #46 (Me and Cornelius about me posting about Trakatroukika)
  • #48 Cornelius: I used to note whatever my grandmother remembered of that language in a notepad, but where might it be? I’ll ask my grandmother when I go to the village on a weekend. They had two versions of “fish”, balúk and ríba. My mother says that my great-grandmother never learned Greek; so when she would go as a child to my great-grandmother’s village, her grandmother, she must have learned some words; but she doesn’t remember them. But I found this [a lexicon at the Motley Word site], and I think I remember ókhtse, I must have noted it in the notepad.
  • #49 Cornelius: In fact they came from the region around Nicomedia to Greece. [Kızderbent is near İznik, Greek Nicomedia.] First they took them to Komotini. [NN: Some Trakatroukides still live in Roditis, 5 km from Komotini.] But my great-grandfather did not want to see mosques, they were sick of them from Asia Minor, and they moved on. It’s all so fitting for me now!
  • #50 E-fufutos: You’re carrying such an imperial treasure with you, and instead of preserving it, you exorcise it with caricatures of the Ancients? Haven’t you heard stories of aunts (like mine or “the Aunt From Chicago”), who thoughtlessly threw out their grandmothers’ furniture, carved from massif wood, to buy fake European stuff out of plywood, only to regret it now?
    I hunt after things like that, maybe because I feel the lack more intensely. My folk have their peculiar origins hidden more deeply.
  • #51 Maria: Cornelius, if your great-grandmother didn’t speak Greek, then your grandmother must have spoken Trakatroukika. She can’t have needed an interpreter to communicate with her.
  • #52 Cornelius: Anyone can consider whatever they want to be a treasure. I don’t consider the leftovers of Ottoman Rule and Bulgarians a treasure. What I consider a treasure are Doric lexical remnants still surviving in the mouths of illiterate villagers. As for old furniture, they are my weakness after old books.
  • #52 SophiaOik: I wouldn’t say they’re an imperial treasure, because their vocabulary would be limited to everyday objects with few abstract notions. Such a mixture might have linguistic interest, but such halfway languages seldom survive long, because they have few speakers and are not spoken outside the group that creates them. If Cornelius works on linguistics, he might write a couple of papers on it, maybe even a PhD. If not, he need not feel guilty.
  • #54 Nick Nicholas: Let’s lay off people: all treasures end up faded and ignored. If someone doesn’t want to be a hostage to his heritage, well, we have to respect that. I do it too, and all of us who are modernised do. If he prefers grave accents [referring to Cornelius and the polytonic], good for him. I prefer English, after all. [By which I meant, I don’t feel an atavistic obligation to use the language of my forefathers in my everyday dealings.]
    I remember a talk on remedies and folk botany in Indonesia in my linguistics department. All us westerners were saying how cute and picturesque it was. But the Indonesian student was irritated: he did not come to the West from Aceh to keep hearing about primitive nonsense. And of course he was under no obligation to stay “picturesque”.
    But Cornelius kept a notepad and submitted entries to the Motley Word. [I was wrong about the latter.] I’m hardly going to tell him off; quite the opposite.
  • #55 Butcher Of Yore: Well, I’ve impressed myself with my correct guess on where Cornelius’ great-grandmother was from. See what obsessing with the Macedonian Issue does to a Southern Greek? Admittedly the Trakatroukides had particularly impressed me when I first found out about them. I’m curious to hear if they really did also have Armenian linguistic antecedents.
    Of course the Bulgarians consider them all their own, Nick 🙂 —they consider the Slavic-speakers of the Albanian Prespa lakes Bulgarians too. (And some though not all of them do call themselves Bulgarians, as their great-grandfathers did.) The same goes for the (Muslim) Gorani of Kosovo. The Bulgarians would even issue them with passports, at least until recently.
    But if you’ve read about Vasil Kanchov [who had researched the Bulgarians of Asia Minor], you immediately realise that these populations had been placed into the game of Balkan nationalisms, since Basil was the ethnographer par excellence of Bulgarian nationalism. (And his work was quite detailed—Lithoxoou treats him as a saint.) So politically Bulgaria clearly tried to stamp them as her own, to use them as a minority, either as leverage and a pressure point, or as a population to exchange (as largely happened). Somewhat like how Rumania used the Rumanian-identifying Vlachs (since there was of course no possibility of advocating for a Rumania reaching the Aegean). [See “Awakening of the Aromanian identity and Romanian sponsorship “]
    What’s interesting to research further is whether the enmity between the Patriarchate and the Exarchate [which marked the ecclesiastical starting point of Bulgarian nationalism] had spread further from Macedonia, Thrace and Constantinople to Bithynia [the region of Kızderbent], and how extreme or even violent it ended up as in Asia Minor. It’s not impossible that those who left for Bulgaria were already pro-Exarchate, and those who stayed behind and were expelled [to Greece] with the population exchanges were pro-Patriarchate—meaning, the national/ecclesiastic split in the Ottoman Balkans had also passed to Asia Minor.
    Trakatroukika have unfortunately gone down the road of all the remaining dialects and languages of the Greek people, though given the small number of its population and its scattering in Greece, it is closer to dying out than the other dialects and languages. It would be good for it to be studied and recorded; I don’t consider it practical to revive it at this late stage, nor do I think it desirable, if it will only be promoted by certain activists, and the majority of the descendants of the Trakatroukides are indifferent to it. But we owe it to the tradition of our people not to let the recollections of local idioms and their treasures be lost entirely—the more so when they are particularly unusual.
    Cornelius, seriously, gather whatever you can preserve. From my grandfather’s Andriote Arvanitika, I can only vaguely remember some curse words (because that’s the only time he’d use it), and I am unhappy about it.
  • #56 Cornelius: I am not denying my heritage, nor am I acting modernised. And don’t think I want those words and their meaning to be lost permanently from people’s memory. When I was noting them in my notepad I thought with some degree of melancholy that one day there would be noone alive who had heard those words used. But that’s one thing, and grave accents are another. Trakatroukika can’t be an official language or a language of literature.
  • #59 Nick Nicholas: True, the idiosyncratic language mixture of one village can’t be an official language. (Of course, Puristic was an idiosyncratic mixture too, but never mind.) But a formal language becomes such through extra-linguistic circumstances. I mean, if we could accept 150 years of Puristic, under different circumstances we could have ended up with an official Trakatroukika.
    So long as we weren’t obsessed with grave accents. [i.e. prioritising continuity with Ancient Greece.] But that’s an extralinguistic factor too.
  • #60 Languagelust: balúk (balık) and ríba (риба)! The first Turkish, the second Slavic. You’re giving us these one by one, Cornelius!
  • #76 E-Fufutos: I don’t believe that languages, dialects and idioms that have started heading towards oblivion should be preserved in formaldehyde at all costs, either, just so we don’t get called nationalists, or for reasons of folklore. If the speakers themselves are reluctant and it doesn’t sit with them, we should let things develop on their own. You have to like something to want to retain it.

    I also have relatives with some Arvanite roots, and nothing has survived, not even a recollection from a grandmother or a great-grandfather who used to speak Arvanitika proverbs; and I consider that natural.
  • #77 Angelos: We should not keep it alive with a respirator and an artificial kidney. But we should preserve it in formaldehyde, like we would piously preserve a mammoth if we found it close to death in Siberia, dying in our hands. Not “just so we don’t get called nationalists, or for reasons of folklore”. But because every manifestation of the human phenomenon par excellence we call language is interesting and worth recording.
    And if Trakatroukika are indeed a “mixture” of Bulgarian, Turkish, Greek and Armenian (and not just a South Slavic dialect which has absorbed a lot of Turkish, Greek and Armenian words), it would be a very rare if not unique linguistic phenomenon. That’s one more reason to record and study it to the extent it is still spoken (if indeed it is at all), even if it’s just ten old ladies.
  • #78 Cornelius: I asked my grandmother today and she told me that ókhtse was the word for a big sheep, and a small sheep was called kuzía.


  • TAK says:

    Dear Nick,
    fascinating stuff, indeed – I agree with Language.
    I have never heard of these Trakatroukides before and somehow I missed Sarantakos's post (no wonder: he posts too many notes per day for me to follow).
    I knew of course, trakatrouka/strakastrouka and I assume that the ethnic name derives from it, though the connection is not at all obvious to me.
    The etymology of the Greek trakatrouka in Triandaphyllides may be only partly correct: it is echopoeia undoubtedly, however I am not sure if it was originally constructed in Greek or if it is yet another Turkish loan word. In Redhouse I find (I copy):
    tırak = bang, clink tırak tırak = bang bang AND
    tırık = imitates the noise of two hard things striking against each other (usually used with tırak); tırık tırak, tırık tırık = clinkingly, clatteringly.

    Though Redhouse does not have tırak tırık (>trak-a-trouk-a), I believe Greek trakatrouka may have come from this. That said, I have heard "trak trouk" many times in Greek as an equivalent of bang bang – but my family comes from Asia Minor and I am not sure if this "trak trouk" is indeed common in Standard Modern Greek.
    Pontos and Aristera in his blog suggests that the name Trakatroukides was given to these people because they spoke a mixed idiom and that's it; see comment 196 here. Does this imply that they would occasionally throw in their speech an unknown to others Slavic, Armenian or Turkish word, more or less like a firework (or strakastrouka)? Dunno, but would very much like to see your next post and your suggestions.
    Best wishes,

  • Ένας Χασάπης από τα Παλιά says:

    Thanks for the post Nick.

    Pierre, Karamanlis the elder was indeed born in Κιουπ-Κιοι, (Πρώτη) and his father was a local Greek teacher and heavily involved (on the Greek side) in the Macedonian struggle. To call him a Turk because of the Karamanli name or the Turkish toponym of his village is as sick a joke as to call Menderes (the person responsible for orchestrating the September 1955 pogrom against the Greeks of Istanbul) a Greek.

  • Language says:

    Fascinating stuff — can't wait to hear more.

  • Pierre A says:

    Küp ( ﻛﻭپ) is not a problem. It is so Turkish that it is probably still accepted by the Türk Dil Kurumu (The government organization that exists to make sure that the language remains permanently unstable). There are probably several locations named Kız Derbend (girl / woman / lady pass), but none of my gazeteers have it. There are remarkably few Kız names for towns or villages.
    Ilem might be a variant pronunciation of ( ﺍﻳﻼﻡ ) Arabic verbal noun 4th form, from the root wlm, to give a banquet. Banquet-giving sounds like a very grandmotherly thing to do.
    It was a fairly common joke in 1959-60 that Karamanlis the elder was from Κιουπ-Κιοι, (Πρώτη), near Ζίχνη.
    I never got around to learning whether that is true. It was part of a heavy-handed claim that Greece was governed by a Turk from Κιουπ-Κιοι while Turkey was governed by Menderes, whose name obviously! betrayed him to be a Greek.

  • opoudjis says:

    *If* the stories that the Trakatroukides came from Ohrid are true. Honestly, I don't know, although a Slavist going through the lexicon at the Motley Word (or the YouTube recording I'll put up next post) should be able to tell.

    Most of the Anatolian "Bulgarians" (it's the conventional title, because they were researched about in the late 19th century, and most left for Bulgaria in 1914) were apparently from Southern modern Bulgaria. Kanchov's writings may identify an origin for Kızderbet based on language data, but his identification with Ohrid seemed surprisingly tentative (if I can judge a second hand report on the Bulgarian Wikipedia via Google Translate, which I can't).

    So if we're certain the words in the dialect are on the west side of the isogloss, sure. I just don't have the confirmation yet.

  • Anonymous says:

    "Bulgarian"? Isn't it "Macedonian"(sic), traitor?

    But seriously, isn't it (it being a Slavic dialect) most related to the Slavic dialects spoken in the area of Ohrid?

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