Kaliarda XXIII: Dortika

By: | Post date: 2017-12-19 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I’ve left till late a comparison of Kaliarda with Dortika, the earliest researched of the Greek para-Romani cants; and the points 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. Kaliarda is different from para-Romanis: it takes a more schematic, artificial approach to Romani vocabulary, and it was elaborated by speakers who did not particularly identify with or speak in Romani.

Information on Dortika has been provided at length by Triantafyllidis:

  • Triantafyllidis, Manolis. 1915. Τα “ντόρτικα” της Ευρυτανίας. Συμβολή στα ελληνικά “μαστόρικα”. [The Dortika of Eurytania. A contribution to Greek craftsman cants]. Δελτίο Eκπαιδευτικού Oμίλου 5. 219–231. Collected Works: 2: 33–45.
  • Triantafyllidis, Manolis. 1924. Eine zigeunerisch-griechische Geheimsprache. Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschungen 52. 1–40. Collected Works: 2: 46–85.
  • Triantafyllidis, Manolis. n.d. Griechische Geheimsprachen. Collected Works: 2: 90–140.

The most useful thing to do from a Kaliarda perspective is to compare the base Romani vocabulary of Dortika with Kaliarda where they have words in common, and comment on some of the more glaring gaps in core Romani vocabulary in Kaliarda. The etymologies that Triantafyllidis provides in his 1924 work, based mainly on Paspati’s (1870) work on Ottoman Romani, are also very useful to reproduce for Kaliarda. I’m using the Romani spelling given by Triantafyllidis’ sources.

By way of supplement, I’m adding to the table of comparisons words from a second para-Romani, the Romka of Epirus, as recorded in Soulis (1929).1

Common words with Kaliarda:

Dortika Romka Kaliarda Dortika Meaning Dortika Etymology
ˈvela  — aˈvelo to come avela “he comes”; the initial a– could have been metanalysed: θ avela < θa vela “I will come”
baˈkro  ˈbakro paˈɡro “hair, [fleece]” lamb, goat bakro “lamb”
balaˈmos balaˈmos “man, non-Roma” balaˈmos “client of prostitute” man; son-in-law balamo “non-Roma man; boss”
baˈro baˈro “sickness” shop baro “big”
baˈros baˈros “rich; householder; officer” baˈros “fat” (conflation with Romani pharo) big baro “big”; one of the few Romani words appearing in other Greek cants, meaning “householder, boss”
bik ˈbigros “big” < English big? big ?
but  but but very but “very”
ˈdzala ˈdzao, ˈdzazo go, leave djala, “he leaves”
dʒan ˈdzao, ˈdzazo to leave djan, “leave!”
ˈdzuva  tsuˈvi dzoˈvi “louse, fly, bug” < Koutsavakika “louse” louse djuv, pl. djuva “louse”
kaiˈni, ɡaɡˈni  kaxˈni kakˈni, ˈkakna hen kaini, kaghni “chicken”
kaiˈnos, ɡaɡˈnos  kaxˈnos, kaɣˈnos kakˈni, ˈkakna rooster kaini, kaghni “chicken”
ko  — kaˈte < Rom. kathe “here” that k’o “masc.dat article” < ke + o, influenced by Greek masc. article o
kuraˈvela  kaˈmela kuraˈvelta (noun), kuraˈvalo (verb) coitus kuravela, (unattested?) 3sg causative of kurava “he hits, he masturbates, [he fucks]”
 ˈluvu luˈbina “prostitute; gay bottom” prostitute lubhni, “whore”
 latsiˈos latˈsos “good, beautiful” good, beautiful, white, rich lačho, “beautiful”
manˈdo manˈdo manˈdo bread mando “bread”
maˈto  maˈtos Older Kaliarda mataˈlo drunk matto “drunk”
mol  mol mol “water, liquor” wine mol “wine”
 — mzio muˈdzo female genitals mindž “vagina”
patsarˈxa  patsaˈre; tiˈrax tiraˈxa shoes triakha “shoes” + Greek paputsia “shoes” + Greek tsaruxia “clogs” (Soulis: Romani batsari “clog” vs tiraxni “shoe”)
 peˈlos baˈla, beˈle, peˈle “testicles” penis Not clear if related, or if Kaliarda neut.pl baˈla is derived from fem.sg. ˈbala “ball”
pxiˈnela  piniliˈazu “to chat, to know, to mock”; piˈnela “talk!” (< peneliˈazo, peˈnela) beˈnavo < Romani phenav “I say” say phenela “he says”
rakˈlos  — iraˈkli “woman” < Romani rakhli “non-Roma girl” boy raklo “non-Roma boy”
ˈromis  ˈromus romaˈnas “Gypsy” smith, Gypsy? [γύφτος: ambiguous with “smith” in Greek], craftsman rom “Roma, person, husband”
san  — dziˈnavo “to know” < ˈdžanav “to know” + džiˈnav “count, to read” know djanava “to know”, though the reduction to /s/ is hard to explain
taˈba  daˈvas “beating” dap “masturbation; Older Kaliarda: beating”; dup “beating” beating; to beat tab, tap, pl. taba “beating”
tsoˈrela, tsuˈrela  tsuˈrela tsurˈno “theft (of top’s wallet by accomplice during sex)” theft čorela “he steals”
ˈxala  ˈxala “food”, xaliˈau “to eat” ˈxalo to eat khala “he eats”
ˈxasoi  ˈxala “food” xal (< khala “he eats”), xaˈlemata (+ Greek nominalisation), xalemanˈde (+ pseudo-French ending) food khashoi, khasoi “food, dish”


  • As noted, Dortika verbs are uninflected; Romka and Kaliarda verbs are inflected.
  • There is much less meaning shift in Dortika and Romka: vela only means “to come”, bakro has expanded from “lamb” to “goat”, but has not shifted to “hair”, mol has not become “water”.
  • The one clear meaning shift is of baros from “big” to “rich, householder” in Romka and in other Greek cants.
  • We have already noted that Kaliarda using a 1sg form for benavo, dzinavo < phenav, džanav is not what you’d expect of someone who actually knew Romani; the expected 3sg form phenel is what underlies Dortika uninflected pxinela, Romka piniliazu < peneliazo.
  • Soulis corrects Triantafyllidis, deriving patsarxa, patsare from a word for clog, batsari; I can’t find it on ROMLEX, but it appears related to paćarel “to wrap”.
  • There’s a clear narrative behind Kaliarda balamos “boss, gadjo” < “client of prostitute”. There’s just as clear a narrative behind the Dortika speakers, so eager to assimilate, using the word for non-Roma as the generic word for “man”, and certainly for themselves.
  • Dortika preserves distinct Romani words for “food” and “to eat”; both Romka and Kaliarda only use the verbal form for both.

The Romani words Kaliarda has not taken up, which Dortika and Romka have, are more revealing:

Dortika Romka Kaliarda Dortika Meaning Dortika Etymology
anaˈnai ˈnaka, ˈnuku < Albanian nukë? there is no, without nanai “not, there is not”
jak  jaˈko ðikelˈto “seen thing” eye yak, yag “eye”
jaku  jak “coal” xorˈxora (onomatop.) fire yak, yag “fire”; the Dortika –o > –u by analogy with foko < It. fuoco “fire”
ɡar  maʃˈno, peˈlos sarmela; bara “crowbar” penis kar “penis”
gaˈdzana, gaˈdzi  ˈɡadzo “woman” iraˈkli < Rom. rakhli “girl” married woman gadji “non-Roma woman”
kʃiˈer  ker tsarði < Turkish house kher, kxer, her “house”
ˈlava  — aˈvelo take lava “to take”
lordo, lordos  — runa < papaˈruna “poppy” (< Koutsavakika: Spatholouro has found a report from 1906) policeman lûrdo, lurẹdo “gendarme, solider”
mas  miˈaʃ ˈkarno < It. carne take mas “meat”
ˈmeko  — ˈmoko se, ˈmokolo (Koutsavakika: ˈmoko) < Old. It. moco “nothing” be silent! mek, imperative of mukâva, mekâva “to leave, to let” + -o by analogy with Greek siko “get up!” (Related to moko?)
mireˈlos  — baˈros < Romani baro “heavy” sick merela “he is dying”, merdo “dead, sick”
balaˈmi, balaˈmina  balaˈmina iraˈkli < Romani rakhli “non-Roma girl” woman balamo “non-Roma man; boss”
naˈʃto  nas ˈdzao, ˈdzazo < džav “to go” to leave nashto “left” < nashava “to leave”
ˈdela  diliˈazu aˈvelo to give dela “he gives”
diliˈnos  dilˈnos dzasˈlos, dzas-nioniˈo, ˈdzatestos “someone gone, someone whose mind is gone” mad, fool dilino “crazy”
paˈni  paˈni mol “water, liquor” < mol “wine” water pani “water”
ʃapaˈno  — laˈtsos “good, beautiful” < lačho “beautiful” good sapano “wet, moist, hazy; (German Romani) dear”
sum ˈnal  — laˈtsos “good, beautiful” < lačho “beautiful” good, beautiful Albanian shumë “very” + Romani -al + Romani sukar “beautiful”

Kaliarda has jettisoned basic Romani vocabulary such as “eye”, “fire”, and “meat”, in favour of Italian, Turkish, (possibly) Albanian, onomatopoeia, generalisations (water > wine) or circumlocutions (“seen thing” for “eye”, “gone mind” for “mad”, “heavy” for “sick”). Being an urban language, Kaliarda also doesn’t have use for rural vocabulary Dortika considers core, such as “wood”, “milk”, or “horse”. And in pursuit of schematicism, Kaliarda has jettisoned several basic verbs in favour of its two defaults: avelo “come, [have]” replaces Romani verbs for “take” and “give”, and dzazo “go” replaces the verb for “leave”. (However, Kaliarda daˈvelo “take” might be related to dela “he gives”, or even lava “to take”.)

The most Romani a lot of Greeks will have ever heard is the chorus to the 1990 song Balamos (lyrics: Dionysis Tsaknis; the music is traditional, ):

Νάς̌ μπαλαμό, νάς̌ μπαλαμό
και το λουμνό τ’ αφεντικό
νάγια ντόμλες ατζ̌έι μπαλαμό

Naš balamo, naš balamo
and that lubhni boss
naya domles adjei balamo

Get lost, gadjo, get lost, gadjo
and that disgusting boss
Don’t put up with that gadjo

That’s Romani; and some of it is Romka or Dortika; but very little of it is Kaliarda, and the way that it is not Kaliarda tells you how Kaliarda is not Romani:

  • naš “leave!”, displaced in Kaliarda by the more generic džav “to go”.
  • balamo “non-Roma, gadjo”, transmogrified in Kaliarda to “client of prostitute” (so referred to by the first speakers of Kaliarda, Roma sex workers, servicing gadjos)
  • lubhni “whore” (applied to men and women; the Greek gloss you’ll see for the word in that song is πρόστυχος “vulgar”); used by the sex workers who originally spoke Kaliarda as their self-designation, and by the gays who ended up speaking the language as one of their self-designations.

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