Kaliarda XIII: The Turkish Gay Cant

By: | Post date: 2017-11-30 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I’ve found the paper by Kyuchukov & Bakker on the gay cant of Istanbul.

Spatholouro’s find and Montoliu’s had built up my expectations that this would be a carbon copy of Kaliarda, with the same polyglot amusements and compounding hilarity. Maybe it was; but the vocabulary Kyuchukov & Bakker recorded is just straight Romani words—like Kaliarda would have been at its very earliest stages. And a lot of the vocabulary is not shared with Kaliarda.

(I’m switching to acutes here, since they are combined in the article with Turkish orthography.)

Dortika, again for comparison, from Triantafyllidis, M. 1924. 7. Eine zigeunerisch-griechische Geheimsprache. Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschungen 52: 1–40. Reprinted in Άπαντα [Collected Works]: 2: 46–85.

p. 96. Although Romani has largely died out in Turkey, some subgroups in Turkey use Romani vocabulary. Romani musicians in Üsküdar use the following:

Turkish Musician cant Gloss Romani Etymology Kaliarda Dortika
maró “bread” maró mandó mandó
baró “stranger” baró “big” barós barós “big”
paní “water” paní mol < mol “wine” paní
cükél “dog” džukel Kaliarda has instead used non-Romani sources: ɣuɣumis (onomatopoeia) ɣuɣulfakis “little wolf” < English wolf + ɣuɣumis, lisaɣman < Greek lisaɣma “state of having rabies” + French -ment, fidelis < French fidèle “faithful” tskil, askél (< t’ askel “the dog” as metanalysis of tskil)
şukár “pretty” šukar Only latsos < lačho sumnal “beautiful, healthy” < Albanian shumë “very” + Romani šukar
román “Gypsy” Rom romanás rómis “smith, [Gypsy]” (Greek γύφτος means both)

p. 97. The paper only lists Romani words from the gay cant. Other words were of Kurdish or Slavic origin, or unknown; they do not mention Italian, French, or English, the other major sources of Kaliarda words.

The paper identifies lubunja “gay” as Slavic, from liubima “darling”. We have seen the equivalent Kaliarda lubína, and likely the older Kaliarda labuní, were derived from Romani lubhni “whore”. A Slavic etymology is not impossible, especially if there are other Slavic words in Turkish gay cant; but there are no Slavic words that I know of in Kaliarda, and the Romani word looks more plausible.

Turkish Gay cant Gloss Romani Etymology Kaliarda Dortika
naş “go away, get lost” nas Only dzaz- < džas naʃto
gaci “woman” gadži “non-Gypsy woman” Not present, although irakli “woman” < rakhli “non-Gypsy girl” is gadzana, gadzi “married woman”
laço “good looking man” latsos < lačho “good” latso
ṣukar “handsome man” šukar “good, pretty Only latsos sumnal “beautiful, healthy” < Albanian shumë “very” + Romani šukar
minca “vagina” mindž mudzo
çangal “shoe” cang “leg” only tiraxo
tato “bath” tato “warm”
phuri “old man” phuri “old woman” puri
p(h)uri balamoz “old man” phuri balamo “old non-Gypsy” puros
denyo “mad, crazy” dejno, dilo, dilino “insane” dilinos, diʎnos
matiz “drunk” mato Older Kaliarda matalo mato
piiz “drinking” pi- “to drink” Would be too close to Greek aorist pi- piela
baaro “male adult” baro “big” baros “fat” baros “big, rich”
but baare “big penis” but baro “very big” bara “crowbar” > “penis” is likely coincidence gar “penis”
but “very” but but but
taliga “taxi” taliga “carriage” Kaliarda would avoid dalika “truck”, which is already in colloqual Greek
taligatör “taxi driver” taliga “carriage”
tariz olmak “falling in love” thar- “to burn”
kelav “prostitute” kelav “I play, I dance”
peniz “talk, talking” pen- “to say, to speak” benavo pʰinela
çorna “theft” čor- “to steal” tsurno tsorela, tsurela
çornaci “thief” čor- “to steal” tsoris, dzortʲs
cici “homosexual” džidže “elder sister” aðerfi “sister” = gay; Kaliarda also has dzidzis, dzidzikis “bohemian, carefree”, which Petropoulos derives from Greek dzidziki “cicada” (via the Aesopian fable of the Ant and the Cricket)
soralo “homosexuals” šoralo “man with big head, leader”
tariz “burning, flame” thar- “to burn”
habbe “meal, food” habe, xabe xal xala, xalion “to eat”

p. 98 phuri preserves Romani aspiration, and baare, piiz vowel length; both are alien to Turkish. By contrast, Kaliarda phonology is thoroughly assimilated to Greek. Dortika, too, preserves Romani phonetics: pʰinela for Kaliarda benavo, kʃier “house” < kher, kxer.

The Kaliarda Romani vocabulary is clearly more parsimonious, which corroborates its greater artificiality: lačho also does the work of šukar, džav the work of nas.

A surprising number of words have no Romani-derived equivalent at all in Kaliarda, or have picked different Romani words (e.g. çangal vs tiraxo). The list of common words (even if we include the calque “sister”) is in fact quite small: “pretty, vagina, old, big (grown up), very, theft, food”.

We know that matalo used to be in Kaliarda; and it would be implausible to suggest an independent genesis of Kaliarda from Turkish Gay cant. But the complete absence of Italian in Turkish Gay cant is striking, given that Montoliu argued it represented the Ottoman, Levantine past of the idiom. Whatever was the case in the past, this is now only a vaguely related cant. And as the comparison with Dortika shows, it is also much closer to its Romani origins than Kaliarda is.


  • alextarran says:

    Hi ? Based on my own contact with speakers of Lubun(ya)ca/Lubunya and my shared fascination with Kaliarda and the Roma languages, I’d add a few shared terms that seem to be derived from Roma to your list or at least seem to be shared lexical items:

    ‘Koli’ which Kyuchokov and Bakker don’t translate I would translate as ‘trade’ as we’d say in English gay slang, i.e. person met for sex or even the act itself (e.g. koli kesmek, koli naşlamak, even kolilemek as an active verb).

    ‘Belde’ is money (there appears to be a similar ‘berde’ in Kaliarda for money). From Spanish maybe? Certainly colours seem to feature in currency in Kaliarda in your other posts.

    ‘Laço’ I would gloss as a good-looking, young-ish, certainly ‘masculine-looking’, top (or so the speaker thinks), a top rent boy is a ‘beldeli laço’.

    Dikel/tikel is to look (verbal noun) but you also find a verb in this case ‘tikelmek’.

    ‘Nakka’ is used for not, much like the Greek equivalent, someone who is clean shaven is ‘nakka trika’, the latter perhaps from Greek? Tarika is also found for ‘moustache’ and ‘nakinta’ for ‘never’.

    The -iz-/-uz-/-ız-/-üz- element you’re finding in a few examples above is a fairly common generalised slang formative in Turkish slang so you can probably gloss it as such, though you’ve clearly already discarded it as part of the etymon.

    Great site btw, thank you ?

  • […] just Romani and the gadjo language, as was the case with Dortika, as seems to be the case with the Gay cant of Istanbul, and indeed as may well have been the case with the Lubinistika of sex […]

  • […] to be made here have already been substantively made elsewhere, including in comparison with the Turkish Gay cant (which is also clearly para-Romani), and in Sechidou’s article on Greek para-Romanis. […]

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