Notes from Cyprus

By: | Post date: 2023-07-08 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Just spent a week with my relatives in Cyprus.

I’m not going to make this a course on Cypriot, and I’m not going to explain the technical terminology thoroughly; at least not yet. I’m tired, and I just want to capture the things that struck me about Cypriot after a week of hearing it all around me, even if in a potentially attenuated-for-“Penpushers” form.

(“Penpushers”, καλαμαράες, being speakers of Standard Greek.)

Phonology: my family were certainly doing most of the familiar Cypriot processes: double consonants, dissimilation of fricative + fricative (e.g. vɣ > fk, fx > fk), palatoalveolar allophony. They did not seem to be doing a whole lot of fricative + yod dissimilation (e.g. ðj > θc). x > θ I caught only a couple of times. As I’d been warned by Tsimplakou, lots of dropping of intervocalic ɣ, intermittent for ð (though ɣajðurin > ɣaurin “donkey” and koruðes > korues “girls” was regular), none for v.

Something I didn’t know about beforehand: ʎ > j. So I heard /palja/ [paʎa] rendered as [paja] several times.

Accentuation: the three-syllable limit on stress in phonological words is violated, as it is in Pontic: ˈipen-tu-to. The ascending accent of enclitics, which Standard Greek uses to comply with the limit (o ˈanθropos mu > oˈanθroˈpozmu), is alien to Cypriot, so alien that primary school children, per Tsimplakou, have to learn it sing-song—and come away with the impression that Standard Greek is a sing-song kind of language.

Vocabulary: mostly intelligible, though lots of lurking false friends: pefto is “lie down” as well as “fall down”, vareto is “heavy” instead of “boring”. Occasional stumbling blocks which had to be expslained to me, but they were clearly watching their lexis around me. apoloɣume > apoloume as the English calque “apologise” rather than “speak in my defence” is common, and indeed is used instead of mere “I’m sorry”.

Morphology: as pointed out to me by Mertyris, avoidance of the – contract conjugation in favour of – (e.g. efxaristas), though that is a general trend in Greek dialect, and is characteristic of the vernacular away from learnèd influence. When they do use –, it’s not the Standard Greek –jeme, but the compromise with archaic Greek –jume. So “I’m bored”, an early Cypriot teen website, was : bareomai > varjume > varkume by yod dissimilation.

Syntax: the cleft is so omnipresent, I wasn’t even noticing it. As Tsimplakou pointed out, Cypriots can learn that Standard Greek uses focus dislocation for emphasis instead; what they do not pick up is that Standard Greek does not use clefts at all—it is hard to learn from negative experience.

Deixis: discourse deixis in Standard Greek is done by aftos, the unmarked 3rd person pronoun. In Cypriot, it is done by the overt demonstratives, tutos “this one” and dʒinos “that one”. So the unemphatic Standard causative ɣj afto “for that” ends up as the enthusiastic cleft ˈen pu tuto pu… “it is from this [clause] that…”

Intonation: falling, and particularly for men, choppy. That gets in the way of making sense of the vocative particle re. It is a fine line in Standard Greek whether it is to be taken as insulting or pleading, and the pleading interpretation is based on non-final intonation (or uptalk, when the re is added at the end of a sentence). Choppy falling intonation means a lot of very peremptory sounding re, and as a Penpusher, you do need to consciously remind themselves that they are not being rude at all, however it may come across.


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