Kaliarda IX: Montoliu

By: | Post date: 2017-11-25 | Comments: 6 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I’ve already posted the etymological information from Montoliu’s 2005 paper on Kaliarda.1 This is what else the paper covers:

p. 300. There is a Romani-based gay cant used in Istanbul2. The Istanbul cant and Kaliarda share words and linguistic features, and may be related from Ottoman times.

p. 301. Kaliarda is derived from Romani kaljardo “blackened” < kalo “black”—which is also the name of the Spanish–Romani language Caló. So, “the language of the dark-skinned”, meaning the Roma themselves.

p. 303. Kaliarda is not morphologically exotic—its grammar is just Modern Greek; but it has a huge amount of foreign vocabulary that make it unintelligible to Standard Greek speakers, not restricted to Romani. The polyglot nature of Kaliarda is not characteristic of Para-Romani languages (mixed Gypsy languages used in language shift), but of secret Romani-based languages spoken by non-Roma. But it must have been initially coined by Romani bilingual speakers, before being transmitted to Greek speakers who developed it further.

Kaliarda treats Romani voiced and voiceless stops as allophones in free variation: pagro “hair” < bakro “sheep”. This is common to Turkish and Southern Italian “dialects”.

p. 305. The following counts obtain for different classes of Kaliarda words:

  • Base words are 51% non-Greek: 7% Romani, 22% Italian, 8% English, 8% French.
  • Compound words are 63% non-Greek. 39% of them are Romani, 31% Italian, 16% Turkish.
  • Derived words are 60% non-Greek. 43% of them are Romani, 30% Italian, 10% Turkish.

p.307. So foreign words are overrepresented in compounds and derivation—which is consistent with this being a secrecy language, being obfuscated by foreign words used to form new words.

A very large proportion of words are compounds—40%. This is likely the most radically extensive instance of compounding among Modern Greek variants.

p. 308. Romani is overrepresented because of the persistent use of a small number of constituents, which are arguably grammaticalised, and are certainly highly combinative. That includes avelo, as well as the compound constituents balo “fat”, baro “fat”, kulo “shit”, molo liquid, mudzo “vagina”, pagro “hair”, piselo “sleep”, pulo “arse”, puro “old”, dzus ~ dzas “flight, sacking, throwing away”, dzinavo “to be gay”, xal “food”.

The high score of Italian reflects the high prestige of Italian in the Ottoman Empire; the French and English contributions to the vocabulary are smaller, and must date from rather later. Examples used in compounding are vivo “living”, groso “big”, gran “big”, lakrimo “tear”, lutso “light”.

p. 309. There is common relexification and calquing of Greek expressions and concepts via Romani in Kaliarda, as is common in Romani-based slangs. So the Standard Greek use of θeo- “God” as an intensifying prefix is rendered in Kaliarda with English godo-; the derogatory use of Standard Greek palio- with Romani puro- or Italian veko-. The use of pagro “hair” from Romani bakro “sheep” is only possible because Greek conflates fleece and human hair as mali.

The use of mol “wine” to mean “water” is also a demonstration of creativity, extending to mololetra “water company letter”; on the other hand moliazo “to get drunk” preserves the original Romani meaning.

p. 309. but gratsiozo “thank you” , lit. “very thankful”, from Romani but + Italian grazie, affixes Italian -oso to make the word look even more Italian—or as a misconstrual of grazioso “graceful” as “grateful”.

p. 310. In koza tembo avelis “what time have you got?”, Italian (che) cosa has been generalised from “what thing” to a generic interrogative, reminiscent of what happens in creoles.

p. 311. kularo tin isandes prezanda “Fuck you, Your Excellency!”, lit. “I shit your presence”, is a calque of Turkish and Arabic hazret “presence” to mean “Your Excellency”. Kaliarda has not used the equivalent Greek “your lordship” i afentia su; whoever coined this expression used the Turkish idiom, calqued it into Italian presenza, and wrapped it with a French ending. Which only makes sense if Kaliarda was born in the multilingual Ottoman Empire. And had Petropoulos recorded more Kaliarda, we would have found more such instances.

Compounds have the following patterns:

  • Adj + N (most common): balo-muskulos fat-muscled = muscular, ilektro-popilo-buso electrical people bus = trolleybus, latsokangela good iron-bar = good metal = gold, latsotemba beautiful weather = summer, calque of Greek kalokeri
  • O + V almo-biseliazo soul–put-to-sleep = hypnotise, animatsurnos soul-thief = death, panxalo eat everything = autumn
  • V + O dzas-moliazo expel-liquid = sweat
  • N + N, apposition lutso-lakrimo light-tears = candle, sodomolu soda wine = champagne, dzastiraxosekeri away shoes sugar = kick the bucket sugar = death sugar = poison

p. 313. Kaliarda often borrows Romani verbs in the perfect (avil, dikhel, hal); this also occurs with Turkish verbs. The meaning of the verbs is not consistently perfective or imperfective. avelo is a light (“delexicalised”) verb, like Greek kano “do”, or more so Turkish etmek “do”, but it has been even more generalised; that is not only because avav has a wide functional range in Romani, but also because the cant was adopted by non-Roma speakers, and again it resembles developments in creoles.

p. 316. Even in Ottoman society, exclusively homosexual activity was marginalised; public displays of exclusively homosexual activity were limited to easily identified, marginalised manifestations, i.e. prostitution and transvestism, and marginalised groups such as the Roma would have been overrepresented among them—just as they were in other looked-down upon professions (blacksmiths, musicians). Both gay men and Roms are well known for their wit and “for their tendency to distort received language as a way to face the conventionalisms of society.”


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    M T W T F S S
    1. Montoliu, C. 2005. Is Kaliarda, Greek Gay Slang, a mixed gypsy language? Erytheia 26: 299–318.

    2. Kyuchukov, Hristo & Bakker, Peter. 1999. A note on Romani words in the gay slang of Istanbul. Grazer Linguistische Studien 51.

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