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I’ve finally taken the time to read Günther Henrich’s 1976 thesis on the spread of the -o vocative and -o genitive in Greek.
My blog series has been something like 15 pp written off the cuff, with minimal research. Henrich’s is 270 pp of meticulous historical and dialectal research. He has orders of magnitude more detail than I provided, and his tracing of developments is much more fine-grained than I could have done. (Of course. After all, I spent a couple of evenings on this, and he spent several years.)
It’s an impressive piece of work, all the more so because it was done in 1976; and I’m always impressed with the kind of work people used to do with index cards instead of computer corpora. (My own PhD was at the tail end of that.) I haven’t been well disposed the recent Bible Code-like attempts by Henrich to read cryptogram signatures into the works of the Cretan Renaissance; but the quality of research in this work has more than made up for that.
And I’ll allow myself the gratification that he hasn’t contradicted me. The developments I posited, like the neuter for Manolio(s) “Manuel”, were confirmed. The claims of analogical factors that I’ve made are all there in his thesis: formality, penult stress, proper names, all given with quantitative justification. (Of those original third declension nouns like ɡerɔːn that have switched to the second declension, and which are the core of the o-vocative, 3/4 are penult-stressed, and 2/3 are proper names.)
He also a quirky-looking derivation for the o-vocative (and its related o-genitive), which seemed implausible to me at first, but which has grown on me:
|Early Mediaeval (ca. 1000): Indeclinable||ɣeron||ɣeron||ɣeron||ɣeron|
|Later Mediaeval; Cretan||ɣeros||ɣero(n)||ɣero(n)||ɣero(n)|
In other words, the old third declension in -ɔːn did not switch wholesale to the second declension (-os, -u, -o, -e); it moved one case at a time, and the vocative (subject to less analogical pressure than the genitive, as a more rare case) is the contemporary battleground. That means that Cretan, with its o-genitive corresponding to the o-vocative, is archaic rather than innovative, which is consistent with the o-genitive being more common in Mediaeval Greek. (That also makes more sense because it’s harder to think of the vocative or accusative influencing the genitive, which is what would be required if the o-genitive were innovative.)
Because Henrich had a lot more old data to work from than I did, and because he’s taken more of an old school historical linguistics approach, he spends a lot more time on how the phenomenon got started than how it spread. Not only does he analyse how the original nom. ɡerɔːn, gen. ɡerontos, voc. ɡeron gave rise to the o-vocative; he also introduces a lot of pathways for the o-vocative to have been continually imported into the language, mainly through borrowings (proper names from every Balkan people there ever was, and both proper names and common nouns from Venetian/Italian).
It is a subtle game to establish the relative importance of the factors that bring about language change: the initial reanalysis or borrowing, that brings the change into being, versus the subsequent analogy that generalises it through the language. My own opinion is that Henrich trusts etymology too much: I’m not convinced all those Albanian and Bulgarian names were imported complete with an o-vocative from the very beginning, and without the powerful analogy of proper names already in place, I don’t think the loanwords would have lined up so promptly.
And not all of Henrich’s etymological accounts have the same explanatory power. For example, he thinks that the o-vocative is particularly popular after velars, because it avoids the switch between palatal and velar, which makes the morphology less transparent (that’s how he explains [kakurɣos ~ kakurʝe] “criminal”, [likos ~ lice] “wolf”); but those allophonic switches happen in verbs and nouns constantly, and native speakers are not aware of them at all.
He also posits -ios > -os as a class of nouns that takes the o-vocative: that accounts for eɣiptios > ɣiftos “gypsy”, ɣeorɣios > ɣiorɣos “George”, and several diminutives like -akos > -akios. But that phonological simplification does not particularly explain why the vocative -ie would switch into -o. In fact the laundry lists of reanalysed and borrowed names that take the o-vocative (names formed from verbs! names formed from adverbs! Albanian diminutives! Slavic diminutives!) have a simpler underlying explanation—which he does mention in passing: novel name forms in general will tend to take the analogically spreading form, since the conservative force of the inherited e-vocative is not present there to push it back. All because the o-vocative is now the unmarked strategy for penult proper names (as he himself concludes, already in 1976: “all penult-stressed proper nouns ending in –os can potentially take an o-vocative.”)
And where the o-vocative pushes into previously unavailable terrain (like common nouns), I think semantic similarly counts for a lot more than phonology in how the analogical spread works. The vocative kakurɣo after all shows up next to the vocative ðolofono “murderer”, which has no velar—but a lot semantically in common with the main contemporary class of common nouns taking the o-vocative (murɣos “uncouth”, bufos “fool”, rufianos “informant”).
On the other hand, I probably underestimated the contribution of loanwords: there certainly appear to be a disproportionate number of Italian words among the common nouns that do use the o-vocative, and the dialects where the o-vocative has prospered most (including extending to antepenults) have been the dialects with the longest Italian contact, Cretan and Heptanesian. The fact that Nicolò was indeclinable in Cretan Greek notary documents up until 1500 (appearing as ŋikolo even in the nominative) shows that the o-vocative was certainly going to be reinforced by the influx of Italian names. I had guessed as much, but I hadn’t realised how much that extended to common nouns as well (like say filiotsos < figliozzo “godchild”). And many of the contemporary common nouns that take an o-vocative can be traced to Italian (kamarotos, kouniaðos, bufos, rufianos, tsarlatanos).
The other overall thing I noticed about our different accounts was that too much detail gets in the way of the big picture. That’s not necessarily a fault in an historical account, of course; but analogy does not work by appeal to etymological detail; it works by squinting the eyes, and blurring all the detail into large, arbitrary generalisations. Sort of like I did with my account. Which, after all, was seeking to explain not what had happened in the 11th or 16th century, but what generalisations explain what has been taking place over the last century.
It’s interesting to see both what hasn’t changed and what has. Renaissance Cretan had anticipated a lot of the developments taking place now in Standard Modern Greek (since the o-vocative was more advanced there); the modern military slang neo “newbie”, for example, turns up in a tragedy around 1600, and Phoebus (which Cretan dramatists had only heard of via Italian) gets an o-vocative, like any Italian name: Φοίμπο fibo. (That’s not the same thing as o-vocatives now spreading to learnèd names; but that’s how it gets started. In fact, a much more modern play, Petros Markaris’ translation of Brecht’s Life of Galileo, makes a point of having scholars in the play use the vocative ɣalilee, while commoners use the vocative ɣalileo.)
On the other hand, Henrich still found very little evidence of o-vocatives spreading to antepenult names, let alone common nouns; that’s something that has changed in the last four decades.
It’s also frustrating to realise the examples you don’t come up with if you’re thinking off the top of your head, instead of doing research. I wouldn’t have made the connection between my name, Nikos, and the Mediaeval name Nikōn; it’s too hard coded in my head that Nikos is short for Nicholas, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have initially been the regular development of Nikon. But I should certainly have realised that the Grim Reaper, Charon < Charos, was a canonical example of the shift of -ɔːn to the second declension (and its o-vocative is attested as early as the late 15th century, in Emmanuel Limenites’ Plague of Rhodes. Which, I notice, was recently published in a popular edition by one Günther Henrich.)
Oh, and Philip Newton? Good catch on the e-vocative in γέρε being associated with adjectival use. Henrich argues that the o-vocative does not stick with adjectives, because there is much more analogical pressure to align adjectives with the well-established first and second declensions, since adjectives decline in all genders and numbers. In fact, it’s why third declension adjectives like askʰɛːmɔːn “misshapen” did not keep an o-vocative when they switched to the second declension: nom.masc.sg asximos, voc.masc.sg asxime “ugly”.
In the last few posts, I’ve worked through the analogies that have extended the o-vocative into proper names: M1–M5, O2–O6. There was to-ing and fro-ing, there was nebulous definition and redefinition of rules, there was a whole ballet of criteria. But the ballet orchestration can be formulated: the rules for the analogy are sweeping, even when they seem to be contradictory, and could be distilled in a handful of features: NAME, VERNACULAR, FAMILIAR, PENULT-STRESSED. (Those features are at work even when the rules were redefined: the diminutive -akos suffix for surnames in 1941 was an analogy based on the FAMILIAR feature; the etymological transparency criterion used now is an analogy based on the NAME feature—surnames that look like common nouns are less NAME-like than opaque surnames, so they tend to take the o-vocative less.)
That leaves us with the common nouns of O1. The story for those is going to be less satisfactory, because the analogy does not involve entire well-defined classes of name: they are more typical of analogical spread, in that they involve individual words, and the commonalities at play are harder to discern. This is an area where I may need to be enlightened by Henrich’s thesis on the o-vocative, once I do read it.
The one exception documented in Triantafyllidis’ 1941 grammar, for example, is O1a: kapeˈtanios “captain”, kamaˈrotos “porter, cabin body”. Why the navy would be fertile ground for o-vocatives early on, to the extent of extending them to common nouns, is not obvious. They are both Venetian words, and their foreign origin might have encouraged some sort of grammatical streamlining (like I surmised for final-accented names like nikoˈljo < Niccolò); but for those two naval terms, there are dozens of Venetian nouns like kuˈnjaðos “brother-in-law” or maraˈnɡos “carpenter”, which form their vocatives regularly.
The temptation is always there, whenever maritime vocabulary is involved in the Mediterranean, to invoke the Mediterranean Lingua Franca: maybe the o-vocative with maritime vocabulary reflects some sort of pidginisation of Greek, that would have been all too happy to dispense with its now anomalous e-vocative. That’s a little too speculative for my liking, though.
It’s safer to posit that the source of all the analogical extensions of the o-vocative, ˈɣeros “old man”, extended to random other honorifics, one of them being “captain”, and that “cabin boy” patterned after “captain” because it was another naval term.
That’s safer. It’s not more satisfactory, I’ll grant you.
Commenter Pepe had an intriguing hypothesis: “captain” and “old man” are both routinely prefixed before given names (ˈɣero-ˈnikos “old man Nick”, kapeˈtan-ˈnikos “captain Nick”). The prefixed form of “captain” is truncated, but he thinks the o-vocative appears with those common nouns in isolation, because they are so strongly associated with given names. We have seen that historically ˈɣero probably came first (at least, Henrich’s third declension theory explains the parallel ðjako, ðrako “deacon, ogre”); but the association Pepe posits is real enough. I hesitate over it because it requires analogy to apply even when the name is absent, and to generalise from truncated kapeˈtan to the complete vocative kapeˈtanjo. But it’s not impossible.
If there were a foreign-language bias towards the o-vocative, that would also explain it showing up in kumˈbaros “god-sibling”, which is also Venetian. (147 hits for re kumˈbaro on Google, 14.4k for re kumˈbare.) But the explanation is likelier that ˈɣeros “old man” brought it about, as an extension of honorifics to familial terms.
In fact, the most controversial extension on the thread in Sarantakos’ blog was ˈθios “uncle”. There was much discussion about whether it was a regionalism, whether it was slang, and what its precise semantics was with an o-vocative. As Evangelos Lolos insightfully pointed out, there is nothing rural about ˈθios: with its V-V hiatus, it is clearly a learnèd form, and the traditional vernacular forms are either θjos (which forms its vocative regularly as θje), or the Italian loan barbas.
But the learnèd form has been pressed into service in a vernacular function: “uncle” is also used traditionally as an honorific for any older stranger. (That survives jocularly in barbas, but of course the etymology of the word, “beard”, shows that it did not start out as a joke.) My own experience is that if anything, ˈθios is likelier than θjos to be used as a title of respect: it is after all a more polite-sounding word, being phonologically learnèd. And as a title of respect towards elders, ˈθios was more susceptible to influence from ˈɣeros “old man”.
If ˈθios is slang (μάγκικο), and less likely to be used with actual relatives, as it is for Sarantakos, that is all the more reason for the analogy with ˈɣeros to take hold. But this is messy enough that commenter Maria claims the opposite pattern, with the o-vocative used for the relative, not for the honorific directly analogous to ˈɣeros:
If I addressed my uncles as ˈθie, or older men in the neighbourhood as kirie “sir” instead of ˈθio, they would have thought I considered them strangers. I only addressed one uncle as ˈθie, after being duly tutored. But he was a judge.
The miscellaneous terms in O1c are harder to explain because they are miscellaneous; but I suspect they are all tied together by the feature FAMILIAR, which we have already seen at play in given names, and which in common nouns is at its most pronounced when it is used as an overt signal of disrespect.
The miscellany are:
- ˈɣiftos “Gypsy, blacksmith”
- kaˈkurɣos “criminal”
- ˈbufos “horned owl; fool”
- ˈmurɣos “shepherd’s dog; uncouth man”
- slang ˈfilo “buddy!”
- military slang ˈneo “newbie!”
In the 1973 song Come, gypsy/blacksmith, gather hammer and anvil, which I have already posted on here, there is nothing necessarily racist going on: blacksmiths were traditionally Roma, and the song only refers to Roma in that capacity. But of course, there has been no shortage of contempt from ethnic Greeks towards the Roma, and the o-vocative is consistent with that. A word used as a slur (even if it is the unmarked traditional term for Roma) is going to choose the familiar-coloured vocative over the default vocative. That also applies to the other instances of invective on the list, ˈbufos, ˈmurɣos, and the surprising entry in the list, kaˈkurɣos, which ostensibly looks too learnèd to tolerate an o-vocative.
Contemptuous familiarity, for that matter, is overtly behind the military slang ˈneo, as Pepe remarked explicitly; and it’s not that far away either from ˈfilo (Pepe’s example in the same comment is τι μας λες ρε φίλο; “what are you trying to tell us, buddy?”) In fact, we have already seen contempt in the diminutive anθroˈpako “puny little man” (although its parallel filaˈrako “buddy” is amicable, not contemptuous, in its familiarity.)
So it is possible, just, to discern some unifying trends in the few common noun instances to date of the o-vocative—other than the inherited constraint that they are all penult-accented:
- There’s the initial category of third declension nouns (M1);
- Two maritime terms (possibly as a one-off extension of ˈɣeros);
- Two familial terms (possibly as another one-off extension of ˈɣeros, with the secondary sense of ˈθios “uncle” in play as an honorific towards elders);
- Terms likely to be used as disparaging terms, either because of their literal content (“criminal, fool, uncouth”), because of racism (“Gypsy”), or because of slang register (ˈfilo, ˈneo).
The military slang of ˈneo, by the way, can be interpreted in a different contemptuous way: as a neuter, which also ends in -o. The neuter with reference to humans in Greek has a connotation of infantilisation (since children are pre-sexual). It can be used as a sign of affection; and indeed, as Pepe had pointed out and I had failed to acknowledge, the neuter could in fact be behind the putative masculine final-stressed given names in M5, like manoˈljos, nikoˈljos: manoˈljo, nikoˈljo could equally be the vocatives of the neuter hypocoristics manoˈljo, nikoˈljo. But the infantilising neuter can also be used dismissively, particularly in a hypermasculine domain like the army.
There is a different variant vocative which also comes from the military, and which is also used negatively: the use of the nominative instead of a vocative. This extends to first as well as second declension, and is independent of accentuation. In the military, it is de rigeur with surnames, and is how orders and punishments are barked at soldiers: Παπαδόπουλος! Δέκα μέρες κράτηση! “Papadopoulos! Ten days confined to quarters!” The point of the nominative is that the army grunt should feel talked at, not talked to, as part of breaking down their sense of individuality. (What Wikipedia politely refers to as resocialisation.) The military nominative-as-vocative turns up now and again in more general slang, most notably in the not particularly respectful ˈkirios “hey Mister!” As elucidated at slang.gr:
Form of address towards men, usually strangers, not particularly polite nor outright rude. It has long been used to express restrained irritation, combined wiht distance. It is not so familiar as to imply a provocation to fight, but it won’t say no to a few cross words. The counterpart for women is maˈdam.
Nowadays ˈkirios is even used by students towards their high school teacher, without necessarily being provocative. By analogy, the vocative ˈfilos, which can be completely decorous and friendly. [The corresponding entry in slang.gr notes that it can be “either negative or positive”.]
Note: the use of the nominative instead of the vocative, which can only happen grammatically with masculines, expresses distancing. It is used routinely in the military.
- M1: Bisyllabic common nouns that used to be third declension: ˈɣeros “old man”, ˈðjakos “deacon”. (Ancient ɡérɔːn, diákɔːn).
- M2: Bisyllabic truncated, informal given names: ˈɣjorɣos, ˈnikos, ˈðimos (corresponding to the formal forms ɣeorɣios, nikolaos, ðimitrios) “George, Nick, Dimitri”
- M3: The trisyllabic (truncated) name aˈlekos “Alec”
- O2: Bisyllabic formal given names (which are used in both formal and informal language): ˈpavlos, ˈpetros, ˈstavros, ˈmarkos “Paul, Peter, Stavros, Mark”
We accounted for M3 in passing: the bisyllabic restriction on o-vocatives does not appear to have been particularly important; so the class of bisyllabic truncated informal given names in M2 was straightforwardly extended to trisyllabic truncated informal given names. The grammarians have puzzled over aˈlekos as an exception; but the economic way of stating the rule for given names was not about them being bisyllabic (although it’s understandable that grammarians would prefer that criterion, as more linguistically clear cut); it is about them being vernacular and familiar.
So the features that define the o-vocative so far are: GIVEN name, PENULT-ACCENTED, TRUNCATED and VERNACULAR/FAMILIAR. We have just seen that the BISYLLABIC feature was quickly ignored.
The names in O3, which have escaped grammarians’ notice, have dropped the TRUNCATED feature, as indeed O2 have: avɣuˈstinos, maˈrinos, puˈlikos, leoˈnikos “Augustin, Marinos, Poulikos, Leonico”. These names have both e-vocatives and o-vocatives, just like O2. O2 keeps the e-vocative because they are FORMAL as well as VERNACULAR; O3 have taken up the o-vocative because they too are PENULT-ACCENTED, GIVEN, and particularly VERNACULAR: they have no Hellenic heritage, and you’d be hard put to find an Orthodox saint’s name behind them. They keep the e-vocative as well, because they are not as typical of the category of o-vocatives: they are not BISYLLABIC, and unlike M3 they are not TRUNCATED, nor especially FAMILIAR.
What is promoting the o-vocative for those words appears to be that they are disconnected from formal names as used by the Orthodox church, just as the truncated forms like nikos are. Poulikos appears to be a (Pontic?) diminutive of Paul, which means it’s in the same bucket as Alekos and Nikos. There are a couple of St Marinus commemorated by the Greek Orthodox Church (Marinus the Elder, born in Tarsus, martyred in 304; Marinus born in Rome, and a Roman senator, late 3rd century), and Augustine of Hippo is officially an Orthodox saint, although not popular among Orthodox theologians; but it is fair to say they are obscure saints in Orthodoxy (unlike St Marina), so there would likely have been less occasion to hear e-vocatives from them. Leonico is Ladino, and Sephardic Jews would not have an equivalent to liturgical Greek to promote the e-vocative. (The minute commenter Leonicos hellenised his name from leoˈnikos to leˈonikos, he noted, he also hellenised its vocative.)
Friend to this blog commenter Diver Of Sinks raised roˈðolfos “Rudolf” as a counterexample: a trisyllabic given name that does not have an o-vocative. “Rudolf” is clearly not a Hellenic name, nor a name commemorated in the Orthodox church; so the e-vocative isn’t pushing back on the o-vocative because of Koine Greek. But it doesn’t need to. Greek speakers recognise that roˈðolfos is a learnèd loan into the language: the -lf- cluster is enough to indicate that (cf. puristic aðelfos vernacular aðerfos “brother”), and the fact it’s German, inflected, and with a [ð]. Linguistically, roˈðolfos is not German: it’s learnèd. It might as well be Ancient Greek linguistically. And speakers know that learnèd names do not have o-vocatives.
The names in M5, ɣjanaˈkos, ðimiˈtros, ˈnikoljos, manoˈljos “John, Dimitris, Manuel” are given names, vernacular, and familiar, all like O2. But they violate the pervasive restriction of the o-vocative to penult-stressed forms: they are stressed on the final syllable. The analogy with familiar forms has proven stronger than the phonological constraint on stress; but given how pervasive the phonological constraint is elsewhere, one would think that it has had some help to push through. My own speculation is that these forms are based on Italian diminutives: Niccolò, Manolò—and hearing Niccolò, Manolò as vocatives would have reinforced the analogy to use o-vocatives with them when they were taken up in Greek, even though they were the only such instance to use the o-vocative on the final syllable.
The words in M4 and O4, ending in diminutive suffixes like -akos, reflect a different and more far-reaching breakdown, that of the restriction of o-vocatives to given names. In the 1941 Triantafyllidis grammar, those diminutive suffixes are the only instances where the o-vocative shows up in surnames (O4) and common nouns (M4b); so it is reasonable to assume that this class of words started off as given names (M4a), and then extended to surnames and common nouns with the same suffixes.
At the beginning, presumably, came diminutive given names like ɣjorˈɣakos, nikoˈlakos “George, Nick”; they call in the same class as O3, and we just say puˈlikos as a similar name with a slightly different diminutive suffix, and both of them share the feature FAMILIAR with the core class of O2. The o-vocative then would have spread to given names that ended in -akos without any diminutive meaning (kiriˈakos “Cyriac” < “of the Lord”—though you could argue that the suffixes are ultimately related).
And once the o-vocative was associated with diminutive suffixes in given names, like Poulikos and Nikolakos and (seemingly) Kiriakos, it is straightforward analogy to extend the o-vocative to other words ending in the same suffixes: surnames like Dimitrakos and Sarantakos, and common nouns like anθropakos. In the case of the vernacular diminutives, there was not a strong enough pushback by an e-vocative, even if they are common nouns: the vocatives are universally anθropako, filarako “puny little man; buddy”.
Surnames however as they are used in the Modern Greek State are formal Greek, which the State has had its hand in, and speakers know they are formal Greek: they retain Puristic phonology, and Puristic inflections. Because they are formal, and because they are a more recent category, speakers will tend to use e-vocatives for them more than for given names; which is why the o-vocative is still optional with surnames like Sarantakos and Dimitrakos—and is not optional when those same forms are used as given names.
The more recent trend in surnames, reported in Katsoudas’ grammar, is a new rule (O5): etymologically transparent surnames take e-vocatives, etymologically opaque surnames take o-vocatives. There’s an obvious analogy behind that rule too: o-vocatives are characteristic of proper names, therefore e-vocatives are characteristic of common nouns; and if a surname is identical to a common noun, then the analogy with the common noun is pressure to retain the e-vocative. In the absence of that countervailing pressure, the default pattern takes over; and it allows us to see that there has been a markedness shift in names since 1941. In 1941, only diminutive-looking surnames took the o-vocative. Now, the o-vocative has become the default for surnames.
Just as the o-vocative has in fact become the default for given names: the given names that retain the e-vocative have in reality become just those names where the e-vocative is reinforced from Koine or Ancient or Puristic Greek. Which would explain the hitherto sporadic instances reported for given names with o-vocatives accented in the antepenult, like ˈmario (O6): a Romance, unchurchlike given name like in O3, and the stress is no longer a barrier to the o-vocative. For that matter, just like highly Hellenic names like liˈkurɣos “Lycurgus”: penult-stressed like Nikos and Marinos, but Ancient Greek, which should have blocked the o-vocative from ever appearing. Yet Panos in Lowercase reports that he has heard the vocative liˈkurɣo, which suggests that that constraint, too, is starting to break down. And there will be more: commenter Manousos reports an o-vocative for anˈðronikos “Andronicus”, which is not only learnèd (complete with unvernacular -nðr- cluster), but accented on the antepenult—breaking both the restrictions to date. (“Speakers know that learnèd names do not have o-vocatives”, I said above with relation to roˈðolfos “Rudolf”. Not so much any more.)
These analogies are spreading at different rates for different people; it causes me some glee to note that Nikos Sarantakos himself is clearly on the conservative side when it comes to most of these, as well as the extensions of the o-vocative to common nouns. That doesn’t make him a fuddy-duddy blocking language progress. (Or at least, that in itself doesn’t. 🙂 Nor for that matter is guaranteed that all names will end up dropping the o-vocative: the last two decades has seen a resurgence of archaising purism in Greek, and the o-vocatives could yet be stigmatised once the purists actually notice them. But it does mean that the system of Greek vocatives is a lot more in flux than anyone seeking to codify Greek grammar can be comfortable with.
More in flux than anyone trying to decline words consistently can be comfortable with, in fact, and they clearly aren’t comfortable. The use of o-vocatives is unsteady, and strongly influenced by context, because people’s language instinct is uncertain about how to form the vocative for any of these. Thence the spontaneous debates about the proper vocative of “Augustin”. Thence forms like ðimo verikio, where the o-vocative on the etymologically opaque surname confounded Giannis Haris; but if the rule around O5 is new and unsteady to begin with, the mere presence of an O2 o-vocative in ðimo will be enough to undo it.
So we have the messy data on the distribution of the o-vocative in Greek. And we have the tools to try and make sense of that distribution, in terms of features that classes of nouns with the o-vocative have in common.
We also, as it turns out, have an entire PhD thesis on the o-vocative: Günther Henrich‘s 1975 thesis from Aristotle University, Κλητικές και γενικές σε -ο από αρσενικά σε -ος στα μεσαιωνικά και νέα ελληνικά. There is an online summary available, and I have a copy of the dissertation in my mailbag.
AND I WILL NOT READ IT YET. Where’s the fun in that? I’m going to try and work out what happened on my own, given the contemporary data reported by Triantafyllidis, Katsouda, and the commenters from Sarantakos’ blog. And then I’ll read what Henrich found, and see the extent to which my analysis (and his) holds up.
I do know one thing from Henrich’s thesis: where he thinks the phenomenon started. I’ll take it as my starting point too, because it makes sense, although I have a vague misgiving about it, and I will advance a secondary mechanism for it.
I’m going to recap the noun classes identified for the o-vocative, and label them. There is a distinction to make between categories where the o-vocative is optional, and where it is mandatory. All other things being equal, it is reasonable to assume that the classes where it is mandatory have had the o-vocative longer, and they are more salient classes from which the o-vocative spreads further to new classes.
- M1: Bisyllabic common nouns that used to be third declension: ˈɣeros “old man”, ˈðjakos “deacon”. (Ancient ɡérɔːn, diákɔːn).
- M2: Bisyllabic truncated, informal given names: ˈɣjorɣos, ˈnikos, ˈðimos (corresponding to the formal forms ɣeorɣios, nikolaos, ðimitrios) “George, Nick, Dimitri”
- M3: The trisyllabic (truncated) name aˈlekos “Alec”
- M4: Given names (M4a) and common noun diminutives (M4b) ending in the diminutive suffix -ˈakos: kirˈjakos, anθroˈpakos “Cyriac, contemptible little man”
- M5: Multiple-syllabic final-stressed diminutive given names: ɣjanaˈkos, ðimiˈtros, manoˈljos)
- O1a: Common nouns, maritime: kapeˈtanios “captain”, kamaˈrotos “porter”
- O1b: Familial terms: ˈθio “uncle”, kumˈbaros “god-sibling”
- O1c: Others: ˈɣiftos “gypsy, blacksmith”, kaˈkurɣo “criminal”, slang ˈfilo “buddy!” and ˈneo “young man!”
- O2: Bisyllabic formal given names (which are used in both formal and informal language): ˈpavlos, ˈpetros, ˈstavros, ˈmarkos “Paul, Peter, Stavros, Mark”
- O3: Plurisyllabic given names (mostly Romance in origin): avɣuˈstinos, maˈrinos, puˈlikos, leoˈnikos “Augustin, Marinos, Poulikos, Leonico”
- O4: Surnames ending in diminutive suffixes: -akos, -ukos, -itsos
- O5: Surnames that are not etymologically transparent: e.g. Venizelos
- O6: Plurisyllabic given names (mostly Romance in origin): ˈmarios “Mario”
These are almost all names, so NAME is the feature that bind almost all of them together. But the starting point Henrich claims for the o-vocative is not a name: it is M1, third declension nouns like ɡérɔːn, diákɔːn, drákɔːn.
Third declension nouns regularly went to the first declension, preserving their full stem from the genitive. In fact, this happened to these nouns: ɡérɔːn, gen. ɡérɔːntos “old man” has the modern form ˈɣerondas “old man, elder”; drȧkɔːn, gen. drȧkɔːntos “dragon” has the modern from ˈðrakondas “dragon”, and diákɔːn, gen. diákɔːnos “helper, deacon” has the modern form ˈðiakonos “deacon” (which has shifted to second-declension). But these forms also have second-declension variants, formed from their shorter nominative stems: ˈɣeros, ˈðjakos, ˈðrakos “old man; deacon; ogre”.
The third declension original nouns had vocatives that ended in -on: ɡéron, diákon, drákon. When they shifted to the second declension based on the shortened stem, the argument would be, they took those vocatives with them: ˈɣeros ˈɣeron, ˈðjakos ˈðjakon, ˈðrakos ˈðrakon. Those vocatives then looked identical to the regular second declension accusative; and when the accusative dropped its final -n, so did the vocatives: ˈɣero, ˈðjako, ˈðrako.
That’s certainly possible, although I’m a bit nervous about the notion of such an archaic vocative surviving like a time bomb in just that very narrow class of nouns. But it is a fact that for ˈɣeros in particular, the o-vocative is almost universal; that implies that it is a core instance of the o-vocative.
… Almost universal; but one will find counterexamples. Not a lot of counterexamples: Google gives 112 hits for ɣere, almost all of them from one song lyric, a New Year’s Day carol (Γέρε χρόνε φύγε τώρα “old year, go away”). For the colloquial vocative particle re, Google gives 7600 hits for re ɣero, and just four for re ɣere:
Τι LIFE COACH ρε γέρε άνθρωπε μίλα ξεκάθαρα!!! Τι έχασα???
What do you mean, “life coach”, old man?! Speak clearly! What have I missed?
— Marrie_Qrie ♏️ (@marrie_qrie) January 26, 2018
That’s an analogical change in the reverse direction, and that’s plausible. Recall that almost all the o-vocatives are names. ɣeros might be historically Ground Zero for the o-vocatives, but analogy doesn’t have a historical memory, speakers form analogies case by case as they notice word similarities. And analogy doesn’t just happen at the local level, of individual words: it also happens with big sweeping classes of words.
There is a spread out of o-vocatives that is based around proper names. That means that an overall rule has emerged, that o-vocatives involve proper names, and therefore e-vocatives involve common nouns. And that leads to an analogy running in the opposite direction: since ɣeros is a common noun, it should have the e-vocative ɣere, like other common nouns. It is not a strong analogical pressure: ɣere is rare. But the pressure is there. And this kind of analogical backwash, of analogies going in the reverse direction to the overall trend, when the overall trend is strong enough, happens a lot. It’s why there was a resurgence in strong verbs in American English (sneaked > snuck), after centuries of strong verbs retreating in English.
ɣero “old man!” as a vocative is common in Greek; more common than its counterpart in English, and certainly more common than “ogre” or “deacon”. As a common vocative, it was clearly a candidate for extension by analogy to given names like nikos “Nick”.
There was an additional pathway for ɣero “old man!” to influence the vocatives of given names. ɣero is used as a prefix before names: ɣero-ðiˈmitris “Old Dimitris”, ɣero-ˈɣjanis “Old John”. The vocative of those compounds would not inflect the prefix: ɣero-ðimitri, ɣero-ɣiani. But those vocatives can be reanalysed as two separate words: ɣero ðimitri, ɣero ɣjani. And if the prefixed given name was itself second declension (ɣero-ˈnikos, ɣero-ˈɣjorɣos “Old Nick, Old George”), there will be additional pressure on the prefixed names to rhyme with the prefix: ɣero-nike, ɣero-ɣjorɣe could easily be remodelled to ɣero niko, ɣero ɣjorɣo. (The rhyme is itself a local instance of analogy, operating on its immediate context.)
In any case, once the o-vocative hits M2, it hits jackpot: even more than the vocative and prefix “old man”, given names like “George” and “Nick” are a common, well-defined group of nouns, that let the vocative be entrenched as an easily learned exception to the global pattern of e-vocatives, and that is distinctive enough to form the basis of further analogies.
If the o-vocative is going to spread further from M2, we need to work out what the features in play are, that will be the vehicles for it to spread further.
Words like ˈnikos,ˈɣjorɣos, ˈðimos are:
- NAMEs of people. More specifically, they are
- GIVEN names. They are
- PENULT-ACCENTED. That feature carries through most of the subsequent instances of the o-vocative, but not all. They are also
- BISYLLABIC. That’s likely how the analogy from ɣeros to M2 carried across, whether remotely (this word sounds like that, and they both refer to a person), or in the context of compounds (this word sounds like that, and they are used together to refer to a person). The names are also
- VERNACULAR: ˈnikos,ˈɣjorɣos, ˈðimos correspond to the official forms niˈkolaos, ɣeˈorɣios, ðiˈmitrios, which traditionally Greek-speakers would have heard in ecclesiastical contexts. And related to that, they are
- FAMILIAR. They are not all familiar to the same extent, and individuals’ connotations will differ. ˈɣjorɣos “George” for example is the unmarked vernacular ways of saying “George”. But ˈðimos is not the only vernacular way of saying “Demetrius”: the unmarked form is ðiˈmitris. And because short Greek given names are rare in the formal version of the language, there will be a correlation between short vernacular forms of names and familiar, diminutive forms of names.
These features overlap, of course, for a particular class of words like M2; and different overlapping features can trigger different analogies with different words. Not all features are as useful in explanation either. For example, grammatical descriptions make a lot of BISYLLABIC. There’s a reason they would: BISYLLABIC is a purely linguistic criterion, that can be diagnosed directly from the linguistic data, without having to appeal to social context or diglossia. It makes the grammarian’s job easier. But BISYLLABIC seems to have run out of steam as an analogical criterion after M2: we have seen those grammarians struggle to make sense of M3 aˈlekos “Alec”, and the bisyllabic restriction is ignored almost all other classes of the o-vocative (although I suspect it plays a part in O1c: ˈɣiftos “gypsy, blacksmith”, ˈfilo “buddy!”).
The actual criterion that seems to be in play, VERNACULAR/FAMILIAR, is more nebulous to diagnose, and less-language internal: you can’t tell just by looking at the word in isolation. The vernacular criterion presupposes a self-consciousness about diglossia. Yet, as Greek grammarians know, and routinely appeal to in their grammars, Greek speakers are highly conscious of which words in their language are vernacular and which words are learnèd, and it’s usually easy to tell from their phonology and their morphology.
Similarly, the familiarity of names is a semantic criterion, and accounts of morphology would rather operate on just other morphological and phonological criteria: it makes for a much simpler model. But it’s analogy, and nothing about analogy is simple: any factor in language and language context can be brought to bear.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think speakers became aware of the VERNACULAR and FAMILIAR feature immediately in M2: I don’t think that, the minute they started forming the vocative of “George” as ˈɣjorɣo, they thought, “this name is familiar”. The way those features became apparent can be seen by contrasting them with O2: given names that are bisyllabic, but have preserved their e-vocative.
The names that have kept their e-vocatives are names that are the same in formal Greek and vernacular Greek, like pavlos “Paul”. Names like nikos were vernacular, and once the o-vocative was entrenched, there was no reason for an e-vocative to reemerge, as we have seen with ɣere by analogy with common nouns. But for a name like, say, petros “Peter”, which are the same in Koine Greek and Modern Greek, there is an obvious place that an e-vocative can come back into the language from.
ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· Λέγω σοι, Πέτρε, οὐ φωνήσει σήμερον ἀλέκτωρ ἕως τρίς με ἀπαρνήσῃ εἰδέναι.
And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me. Luke 22:34
e-vocatives are associated by speakers with common nouns. e-vocatives are also associated with Ancient Greek and the learnèd language; speakers are aware that the o-vocative is colloquial, and cannot be used in formal language. So if a given name is the same in colloquial Greek and in the language of the church, they will have occasion to hear that name with an e-vocative at least occasionally. Formal forms like pavle, petre, marke will be heard, whereas purely colloquial names will not present forms like nike, ɣjorɣe, ðime. Because names like pavlos, petros, markos are also used in vernacular Greek, the vernacular o-vocatives will also show up: pavlo, petro, marko. And after that, the relative preponderance of e-vocatives and o-vocatives is a matter of contingency and happenstance.
And when speakers realise that o-vocatives are vernacular and not formal, they will correlate them with familiar forms—which are never formal.
We have seen the data on the spread of o-vocatives in Modern Greek. I will post how I make sense of the data. But first, some preliminaries about analogy.
How analogy works
Analogy in language change takes a linguistic rule that applies to one word or paradigm or category, and starts applying it to another word or paradigm or category. To take an example that’s rather removed from o-vocatives: analogy in non-rhotic dialects of English takes the rule “keep the word-final [ɹ] before a vowel, as in more or less [mɔː-ɹ ɔː lɛs]”, and starts applying it in novel contexts, like law and order [lɔ-ɹ ənd ɔːdə].
There was no historical reason for there to be an r after law; that’s creating a new rule where there is no historical justification for it (there is no r to keep). That’s what makes it a linguistic innovation, after all. But there is a linguistic justification for it: it is that more looks like law. When they’re not followed by a vowel, the two words end in the same vowel, and they have the same syllable structure: [mɔː, lɔː].
And that’s how analogy works in general. If a linguistic rule is generalised from A to B, it doesn’t happen at random. It’s because A and B have a feature in common. And linguistics is not powerless to make sense of analogical change: linguistics can identify what features A and B have in common, and use that to explain the change.
This is a diagnostic, not a predictive explanation: it’s the kind of explanation at home in historical linguistics, not synchronic linguistics, because we’re not dealing with a rule here, but a tendency, that could have happened, and could have not happened. But analogy is a bunch of contingent tendencies, and not rules; that’s why language undergoing analogical change is not particularly rule-bound. Or, to put it more informally, a mess.
As analogies spread, if an analogy spreads from A to B and from B to C, that spread can be explained because A, B, and C all have a feature in common. But again, analogy is not that rule-bound or predictable, and the analogy between A and B can be quite independent from the analogy between B and C. The feature B and C have in common may not be a feature A and B have in common; it may well not be present in A at all.
To give a sneak preview of how the o-vocative spread: I will argue that it spread from “old man” to “Nick” to “Venizelos”. The words “old man” and “Nick” [ˈɣeros, ˈnikos] have phonological features in common: they are bisyllabic, and penult-accented. The words “Nick” and “Venizelos” have one out of the two phonological features in common: they are penult-accented, but there is no longer a requirement for the word to be bisyllabic. Yet that’s not enough to explain the analogy: there are lots of penult-accented words that don’t have an o-vocative. The feature that “Nick” and “Venizelos” have in common is that they are names. And that’s a feature that “old man” does not have: as the o-vocative spread from class to class of words, the NAME feature is something it picked up when it started applying to given names like “Nick”. It was not a feature present at the start.
So there are features involved in the spread of a phenomenon by analogy. Those features are how the distribution of the analogy can be made sense of, while it is in progress. And when the analogical spread settles down, they will be the basis of the new rules that govern the phenomenon.
And if an analogical change involves more than one feature, not all features are necessarily equal. The more common or “basic” a particular feature is in a language, the more likely it is that new instances of analogy will be based on it. If an analogy is spreading among, say, names of ethnic groups, there are limits to how far the change is going to spread. If the analogy hops across from ethnonyms to, say, proper names in general, the analogical change has the potential to take over much more of the language.
Similarly (though this is not as obvious), a very common or psychologically salient word, like “old” or “mother”, is likelier to form the model for further analogies than a less common or salient word, like “vague” or “ogre”. I haven’t seen this particular notion articulated explicitly anywhere, though I suspect something to it will have been stated by Kuryłowicz or Dressler, who have theorised extensively on analogy.
What analogy does
Analogy is the mechanism that spreads language change, and makes it make sense. Analogy takes a local change in one instance of language, and spreads it further afield. Analogy spreads such changes in a way that, eventually, can be made sense of by a simple rule, that ends up replacing whatever other simple rule was there before—as the features that enabled the analogy are generalised.
Eventually. Because until the language change goes all the way through, analogy in action is a mess. It’s two rules, the old and the new, clashing, and the context in which one rule or the other applies is completely idiosyncratic: it varies from social group to social group, from semantic category to semantic category, from individual to individual. You’ll have seen a little of that in the disagreements among commenters I related, as to whether “uncle” or “Marinos” had an o-vocative, and what the connotations were if it did.
And that’s not an idiosyncrasy of Greek vocatives: that happens whenever there’s a language change underway. Moreover, while analogy usually runs to completion, and you have a clean new status quo, sometimes it remains messy. Hence the unpredictability of the pronunciation of <ea> in English, for example.
Analogy is the culprit for language learning being exasperating for adults, from a book: it’s where the attempts to formulate simple, learnable rules for language founder. That’s where the infuriating laundry lists of exceptions, and long lists of ifs and unlesses in textbooks come from. Language in preliterate societies, and child acquisition of language, deal with these exceptions and conditions. In fact, they are valuable in tidying them up for the next generation, through logical abduction: confronted with a whole lot of messy data that doesn’t follow nice rules, language learners make up their own rules, which tend to be simpler, and more learnable, and wrong: they overgeneralise from the data they get. Which ends up being a good thing for the language.
Which is fine if you’re two years old, or if you’ve married into a tribe, and have a couple of years on your hands. If you’re in a bit more of a hurry, grammars and textbooks give you shortcuts: they’ve worked out the rules for you in advance. Except where the rules are a mess, because that aspect of the language is in flux, and being pummelled back into non-mess over generations through drift of analogy.
So to any language learner who has groaned about why they have to learn laundry lists of genders, and why there’s so many exceptions, and why there are so many irregularities, I present to a cartoon villain for your dartboard. Commenter Kostas in the discussion of o-vocatives at Sarantakos’ blog:
I rejoice that the unruly people finds a way to escape the norms and shackles set by learned linguists, and in their own unique way they transform, develop, and enliven their language.
And I don’t think that’s by accident. As they learn their mother tongue, they create their own internal mechanisms and rules and they then apply them in its development. I call that language instinct, and I follow it in my life, in my spoken language. In my written language I conform more with the rules posed by linguists and other specialists.
Kostas is of course correct in the second paragraph, in how “language instinct” works: that’s logical abduction in the face of messy linguistic input. Linguists will be shocked to see themselves caricatured in the first paragraph: all descriptive linguists are trying to do is make sense of the rules that people do carry with them in their “internal mechanisms”, which is what the logical abduction is producing: they aren’t setting any shackles for anyone. But of course prescription does have a role to play in the social aspect of language, and linguistic descriptions are recruited for prescriptions. That’s not an evil; that’s just what happens.
Language learners can keep Kostas on their dartboard though. His convenience and unruliness is your inconvenience and rote-learning. And those language learners do the same in their own native language. (“English is a mongrel language, English has no Academy”, etc. etc.)
And that’s how speakers like Kostas, and everyone else who speaks Greek, comes up with rules for second declension vocatives that look like this:
- Most of the time use -e
- The word for “old man” uses -o
- “Nick” uses -o
- Words like “old man” and “Nick” use -o
Words like “old man” and “Nick”?! What kind of rule is that?
A very porous, ambiguous rule. That’s why speakers disagree so much. And that’s what happens when one aspect of a language is in flux.
This is a story of analogy, based on an article at Nikos Sarantakos’ blog (because the traffic between our two blogs has ever been two-way). Sarantakos’ article in turn cites an older blog post by Giannis Haris, which cites two grammars of Modern Greek.
The story is the retreat of the vocative in Modern Greek. The vocative is a case that strikes many a learner of Classical languages, because most modern European languages don’t have them. The vocative has survived in Modern Greek…
… but it has been restricted. Even in Ancient Greek, the vocative did not show up in all numbers or declensions: a distinct vocative appeared only in the singular, and it did not appear in feminines of the first declension, in neuters of the second declension, or in most subclasses of the third declensions:
- First declension: masc. nom. polítɛːs “citizen”: voc. polîta; fem. nom., voc. kórɛː “maiden”
- Second declension: masc. nom. ántʰrɔːpos “human”, voc. ántʰrɔːpe; neut. nom., neut. paidíon “child”
- Third declension: nom. ɡérɔːn “old man”, voc, ɡéron; nom. sɔːkrátɛːs “Socrates”, voc. sɔ́ːkrates; nom. voc. pʰýlaks “guard”; nom. voc. poimɛ́ːn “shepherd”
The vocative has retreated substantially in Modern Greek.
- In the first declension, masculines use the accusative/genitive as the vocative: nom. politis acc. gen. voc. politi. Puristic Greek did revive the ancient vocative for honorific titles: nom. kaθiɣitis “professor”, voc. kirie kaθiɣita “Herr Professor”. But you won’t find anyone under 70 now using vocatives like that.
- In the vernacular, the survival of the third declension is vestigial: most forms had switched to the first declension. Even where Puristic revived the third declension, it did not bring back with it the distinctive vocatives with the short final vowels.
In fact, the first declension (which in the vernacular expanded to include all five final vowels, in order to deal with loanwords) only has two distinct cases in the singular: nominative vs the rest in the masculine, genitive vs the rest in the feminine.
The second declension masculines, however, hold out. The vocative of anθropos “human” remains anθrope, with the same inflection as in Ancient Greek.
(That’s the masculines: the feminines in the vernacular had switched to acting like first declension nouns: Corinth was nom. acc. voc. korθo. gen. korθos. Puristic has undone this development, and restored some feminines in the second declension, although speakers occasionally stumble on them.)
But the vocative is starting to retreat in Modern Greek: there are nouns where the vocative in -e is replaced by the accusative ending -o, analogous to what happens in the first declension. It is retreating in specific classes of nouns, and the retreat is spreading from subclass to subclass of those nouns. The data, which I’m going to present in this blog post, looks at first somewhat random. But if you identify the classes of nouns, and the categories people think they belong to, the retreat makes a lot more sense. As does the confusion and vacillation of speakers about which vocative to use; because this is an ongoing change in Greek, and there are plenty of grey areas among those subclasses.
(The categories are established in the grammars that have been cited; but the analysis is not particularly parsimonious, and I’m going to try and make it more general.)
So where is the vocative retreating now in Modern Greek?
The -o vocative is mandatory in:
- Penult-stressed nouns
- A small number of bisyllabic nouns that used to be third declension: ˈɣeros “old man”, ˈðjakos “deacon”. (Ancient ɡérɔːn, diákɔːn). (As commenter Panos in Lowercase points out, when those nouns are compounded they go back to the old vocative: paˈljoɣere “stupid old man”.)
- (Etymologically truncated) bisyllabic given names: ˈɣjorɣos, ˈnikos, ˈðimos (corresponding to the formal forms ɣeorɣios, nikolaos, ðimitrios) “George, Nick, Dimitri” (Astonishingly, noone picked up on the truncation being the explanatory factor until commenter and fellow Esperantist Angelos, 119 comments down.)
- The trisyllabic (truncated) name aˈlekos “Alec” (corresponding to the formal form aleksanðros)
- Given names and common noun diminutives ending in the diminutive suffix -ˈakos: kirˈjakos, anθroˈpakos “Cyriac, contemptible little man”
- Final-stressed nouns
- Multiple-syllabic final-stressed diminutive given names: ɣjanaˈkos, ðimiˈtros, manoˈljos (corresponding to neutral ɣjanis, ðimitris, manolis: “John, Dimitri, Manuel”)
The -o vocative is optional in:
- A few familiar penult-stressed nouns: the grammars give kapeˈtanios “captain”, kamaˈrotos “shipmate”
- A few more nouns not mentioned in the grammars, although these seem to be much more contentious. Commenter Panos in Lowercase gives ˈɣiftos “gypsy, blacksmith”. Friend of this blog Pepe adds kumˈbaros “god-sibling” as having a rare o-vocative (which Sarantakos rejected). Pepe also adduces the vocatives ˈfilo “buddy!” in contemporary slang, and ˈneo “young man!” in older military slang. A few commenters mentioned kaˈkurɣo “criminal!” from literature or old movies.
- The case of ˈθio “uncle!” turned out particularly controversial: Pepe adduced it, Sarantakos rejected it as slang; Pepe insists that ˈθio is widespread, and commenter Alexis believes it is a Northern Greek form, avoided in the Peloponnese.
- Penult-stressed given names that are already bisyllabic in their formal forms: ˈpavlos, ˈpetros “Peter, Paul” (ˈpetre is much rarer than ˈpavle). Stavros is also not truncated; commenter Alexis considered the vocative ˈstavre to be jocular, but commenter SP reports it as extant, though more used by men than women.
- Although the grammars do not say so, longer penult-stressed given names may take an o-vocative too: commenter avɣuˈstinos “Augustin” reported a friend hesitating on what vocative to use for him, Panos in Lowercase reported Marios, and friend of this blog Diver of Sinks reported Marinos and Poulikos (but not e.g. Rodolfos.) Commenter Leonicos accents his name both after the original Ladino as leoˈnikos, and as the more hellenised leˈonikos; following this trend, his vocative of leoˈnikos is leoˈniko, and his vocative of leˈonikos is leˈonike.
The greatest confusion is around penult-stressed surnames. Sarantakos acknowledges this in the title of his post: Κύριε Σαραντάκο ή κύριε Σαραντάκε; “Mr Sarantako, or Mr Sarantake?” Triantafyllidis 1941 grammar claims that the surname Dimitrakos has a mandatory -o vocative, like the other instances of the -akos suffix, and he also extends that rule to two other diminutive endings on surnames, –ukos and –itsos.
Georgia Katsouda (who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting recently at the Historical Dictionary of Modern Greek in the Academy of Athens) wrote a grammar in 2007, which makes a more recent distinction: surnames that are etymologically transparent—that is, surnames that look like common nouns—use the -e vocative: Mr kaˈmene “burnt”, Mr ðefteˈree “second”. Surnames that are etymologically opaque use the -o vocative: Mr aleˈvizo, Mr veniˈzelo. Sarantakos confirms that the distinction is recent: the politician Eleftherios Venizelos a century ago was addressed in the press as veniˈzele, while the vocative veniˈzelo is used for the contemporary politician Evangelos Venizelos (no relation, though Sarantakos could not resist the temptation to stick his partisan boot in). He also cites a mid-19th century work by Panagiotis Soutsos, using e-vocatives in surnames that would now be unacceptable (Karatase, Soutse, Diake, Giatrake, Kanele).
But Giannis Haris, who Sarantakos is citing, attests widespread confusion with surnames: as both the difference in the two grammars and in the treatment of Venizelos shows, surnames appear to be where the vocative is currently volatile. There are lots of surnames that Haris heard take -o on the TV to his surprise:
- Giakoumatos; but that could be because of the patronymic suffix -atos (by analogy with -akos)
- “Dimos Verykios”, ˈðimo veˈrikio; I agree with Sarantakos that veˈrikio is likely influenced by the preceding vocative ˈðimo, and where there is confusion between grammatical alternatives, context is going to have a much bigger sway than normal.
- Alimonos: the vocative aˈlimono sounds exactly like the interjection aˈlimono “alas!” (which is of course the origin of the surname: there is no common noun aˈlimonos for the surname to sound like, so the -e vocative would not make sense here)
- Karamanos: maybe because it was explained as Kara-Manos, where Manos is a truncated given name (short for Manuel), of the type that takes an -o suffix.
- Marinos: an -o vocative when it is used as a surname; but always an -e vocative when used as a given name. (We’ve just seen that Diver of Sinks disagrees!)
Haris’ concluding comment is a despairing “Arbitrariness and chaos?” Sarantakos’ conclusion (after dispensing with Evangelos Venizelos) is “this indicates a more general, but very gradual tendency towards o-vocatives.”
There is no unitary set of rules that will explain the distribution of vocatives in Greek, because speakers themselves are clearly confused. But as I indicated, the confusion is explicable, and I will attempt at least some of that explication in the next post.
You can be a great artist, and still be a dick. For that matter, you can be a great artist, and still be clueless about what you’ve wrought.
Bullying Stamos Semsis, the songwriter of Your Firework Eyes, into letting Giorgos Dalaras sing the song on the album? Prick behaviour, but within the game of what can happen in art, I guess:
So I come out [after surreptitiously recording Dalaras singing the song in a single take], and I say to Stamos:
—Are you singing Your Firework Eyes [on the album]?
Dalaras had left. And I tell Stamos:
—Stamos (and this was in front of his wife), there will be no record.
—What are you talking about?
—You heard me.
—That’s what I feel like. Have you got a problem with me?
—Well I’ve got a problem with you. You’ve got the greatest Greek singer guest starring on your record, and you want to be the main attraction. You’re the songwriter, get it? I’ve let you sing too many songs already. Dalaras will sing Your Firework Eyes, or there will be no record.
Maybe that was the right call; I don’t think Malamas’ was the greatest rendering of Princess either. Then again, maybe he could have just waited for the inevitable covers, just as happened with Princess.
And that’s what happened. I’m not joking around, Kostas. I’m not afraid of anything.
Old-school machismo gets tiresome quickly.
He still gives Semsis props, I guess, although they’re not quite as full-throated as they could have been:
A talented composer. His grandfather is the renowned rebetiko musician Salonikios [Dimitris Semsis]. If I’m not mistaken, the album was called “It’s Cold in Greece.” Stamos is very charming in both his looks and his personality. And an excellent musician.
Well, OK. Coming back at the end, though, boasting about his bullying of Semsis on the three albums (“not that I was a tyrant, but I’d always been right before”) is tasteless, and he clearly was a tyrant; but Bourboulis does take the blame for a failed sonic experiment he insisted on, overruling Semsis (different lyrics in the Left and Right speaker). (“I’d always been right before.”) So he has some self-awareness at least.
On the other hand, what he ends the interview on is just contemptible gossip-making and judginess (which explains why he dropped that strange reference to Semsis’ looks), incoherently commingled with grudging admiration; and it’s Bourboulis, not Semsis, who looks bad for saying it:
But I’d advise people never to collaborate with Stamos Semsis. That great talent, and I even christened his son, is an ingrate. Write that down. He left his wife and son. He cannot love. He’s all about himself. He is a player, he is a great talent, and he makes conquests wherever he goes. I mean with women. But he doesn’t care. If you offered him anything at the time—his mother was ingenious, and she built the bridges for him. Him, he can go to hell. Every time I went to his place, he had another girlfriend. He used to stay in Marousi. Now he’s in Paris. A great talent, I’m telling you, and a handsome lad. Then he got cancer, but fortunately he recovered. He’s got incredible guts. He got that from his mother.
Old-school moralising also gets tiresome quickly. And the way he contradicts himself, I think he realises it. Semsis, at least, in his interview, didn’t say much more about Bourboulis than “he’s older than me.” (25 years older; which helps explain why he got away with the bullying.)
I don’t begrudge Bourboulis, either, saying, right after “I’m not afraid of anything”,
Your Firework Eyes is not great, either lyrically or musically. It’s Dalaras that makes it great. If you hear Semsis sing it, he’s slightly better than Dalaras. But he’s no Dalaras.
Dalaras does bring magic and vulnerability to the song, especially in the final stanza. And both the lyrics and the music are flawed; I’d worked that out in the previous post. But the flaws make the song all the more powerful. Which is why it’s survived covers by so many other artists.
No, I can’t begrudge Bourboulis for being a bully in pursuit of aesthetics. I can begrudge him being judgemental, and mixing business and friendship (noone made him christen Semsis’ son, and be invested in a work partner’s personal life.) But that’s a personality flaw. What I find impossible to accept is him spending a long paragraph saying how much he hates the Turks, going all the way back to the Trojan War and forward to the Greek State making a museum of Kemal Atatürk’s house—and then saying that that’s what Your Firework Eyes is all about:
And that frenzy, when they literally massacred us, without it being a war: that’s what I meant by “Your Firework Eyes”, eyes that flash and shine. They are flashes of our race. Because when a ship goes through the straits there [the Bosphorus] and lets off flares [fireworks], just as happens in this country with weddings and festivals, it’s a spectacle. But it’s a spectable from a humiliated people, when its leader Eleftherios Venizelos nominates Kemal Atatürk, after all the massacres, for the Nobel Peace Prize. Write that down! It’s proven.
And then some more about how Turks are a mongrel race and Turkey is doomed.
If Bourboulis wants to be an unhinged nationalist, that’s his right, it’s not like I have to hang out with him in a café. But to claim that Your Firework Eyes is about Greek national humiliation is horseshit. Yes, the Bosphorus reference is about loss, and it’s informed by the narrative he carries within him of national humiliation. You might even read “I lit all the lights. I put on a show” in that light.
But “loneliness drips like rain onto the floor”? “I am trapped now in your perfume, in your name”? Bourboulis wrote a flawed, disjointed, beautiful set of quatrains about love and loss. (One that Semsis’ stepson made more sense of than he had bothered to.) He was thinking of 1922 when he wrote of the Bosphorus; and the cultural resonance enriches the song, laconically and devastatingly. But to conscript the whole song to the narrative of national humiliation dishonours it. And it sells his beautifully flawed masterpiece short, very short.
It is a moving, fragile, beautiful song about the loss of love. And there are some interesting things about how it was put together, that make it so striking. Both lyrically, and musically.
Musically, it is a torch song; it is sorrowful, vulnerable, whispered almost. The more effective in that it’s been sung by two artists who aren’t normally whisperers, who can do steel behind their plaint, and transmute it into something more.
And musically, it goes around and around, obsessively, with the same tune over and over each stanza, sternly sinking down to the tonic in stages, in the relative major (so beloved of Greek song writing), in Phrygian mode, in resigned vi–vii–i. And with no chorus to relieve it. Something unusual for a zeibekiko. But then, this is a very unusual zeibekiko.
It’s astonishing to realise that this is a zeibekiko at all. The zeibekiko, the 9/4 mainstay of bouzouki pop, is realised as a stern, heavy-footed, confident swagger. It can be fatalistic; it certainly gets to be self-important. It doesn’t whisper. It doesn’t sound like this. And that’s the genius of the arrangement, which has been maintained in the covers: it’s a song that undermines its own genre.
I’ve written years ago of another such instance, Markos Vamvakaris’ Είσαι μελαχρινό και νόστιμο, whose notes are the notes of the free-flowing Levantine chromatic lament at the root of rebetiko—but whose ethos is of the jaunty, four-square Peiraeus Sound that followed it. Your Firework Eyes is another such instance of musical alchemy. It would be very easy to sing the notes of the song like an actual swaggering zeibekiko. Noone dares to. This somewhat out-of-tune karaoke recording is the closest I’ve been able to find:
It’s not just about the music, though. The lyrics are doing a lot of work here:
I lit all the lights. I put on a show.
When love dies, it knows no resurrection.
Your firework eyes shine like phosphorus,
like ships passing through the Bosphorus at night.
You switched off the lights and left, you became invisible.
Mist that the wind took away, in an automated town.
Your firework eyes are a bonfire
and loneliness drips like rain onto the floor.
I am trapped now in your perfume, in your name,
and in your eyes, yes, your cold firework eyes.
Your firework eyes shine like phosphorus,
like ships passing through the Bosphorus at night.
Disjointed images of loss, of sorrow, of cold. With a lot going on that’s culturally specific to Greek.
Like the mention of the Bosphorus. Phosphorus and Bosphorus are the rhyming words in the original: Τα βεγγαλικά σου μάτια φέγγουν σαν το φώσφορο / σαν νυχτερινά καράβια που περνούν το Βόσπορο. In English, that sounds too marked to be anything but silly. (I’ve received a guffaw about it that is in retrospect painful. There’s some personal associations going on here.) That is why I’ve had to dodge the rhyme in English.
But it’s not silly in Greek. First, because they aren’t Greek words that stick out in English; they are just Greek words in Greek. Second, because the rhyme in Greek isn’t that rich: it’s [ˈvosporo] rhyming with [ˈfosforo]. And third, because ships in the Bosphorus is a painfully rich image in Greek. The romance and melancholy of Istanbul, yes. But also the pain that comes with thinking of Istanbul: the memory that once, this was our city. And now it is lost to us.
Which is just right for what the song is about.
The second thing about the lyrics is that the metre gets disrupted in the final stanza (before the repeat of the Bosphorus stanza). Up until then, the stanzas were all in trochaic octameter, with a masculine ending (i.e. ending on a strong syllable: ´ – ´ – ´ – ´ – | ´ – ´ – ´ – ´ .) The metre of final stanza falters: it adds a weak syllable at the end:
Είμαι πια εγκλωβισμένος στ’ άρωμά σου στ’ όνομά σου
και στα μάτια ναι στα μάτια τα ψυχρά βεγγαλικά σου
And everything falters with it. The music puts that extra note on an uncomfortable minim, that sounds drawn out too long, deliberately out of place. Dalaras captures the hesitation and awkwardness of the notes beautifully. And the lyric matches it: the faltering repetition of “your”, the syntactically disruptive, rueful recapitulation “yes, your eyes”, the forced piling up of adjectives at the end of the stanza.
There’s a third thing. The images are vivid, but they are disjointed, they don’t really come together as a narrative. There’s a reason for that; and the reason tells you a lot about how lyricists work in Greece—and how composers can make a virtue of it. With a little help from their family.
The composer Stamos Semsis has told the story about how the song came to be written. It explains the disjointedness; and it also explains how the obsessive, single-minded tune took the song over.
When I started collaborating with the lyricist Michalis Bourboulis—someone much older than me, and a great writer—the initial material he had entrusted me with was a package of some 80 pieces. He asked me to read through them, to pick what I liked, and take it from there. Most of them were printed, but a large number were handwritten. In the back of a handwritten sheet, he had printed the quatrains of Firework in random order. They turned up there by accident.
I was married at the time, and my stepson Alexandros was around 14. Despite me being his stepfather, we were good friends, and we got along very well. We had the following routine: I’d work mornings at home, and when he’d come back from school, he’d listen to my songs and tell me what he thought of them. I had started working on that particular piece, and I’d constructed the basic tune for one of the quatrains and a small bridge.
When Alexandros came home from school, I told him about the piece, and I explained that it was a little weird, because the quatrains were out of order. He asked to listen to it, and he went crazy. “Look, Stamos, don’t go complicating the melody like you usually do. It’s so beautiful and simple.” When I asked him what order to put the quatrains in, he told me to leave it with him. And that’s what happened. He took a sheet of paper and put the quatrains in order.
That’s how the piece came to have the form it does. “What you’ve just done is producer work”, I told him, and I asked him whether he wanted credits on the album. “No, no, be serious”, he answered. Twenty-odd years on, Alexandros is working in one of the biggest consulting firms in the world.
I am about to post here on late song renderings by Dimitris Mitropanos, and there’s something about what he did with his late repertoire that was special, but that I couldn’t quite put a name to.
Mitropanos had a decades-long career as a Laiko artist: he worked in the mainstream Greek bouzouki pop tradition, singing songs of love and machismo and disillusionment. Nothing too intellectual.
In his later repertoire, Mitropanos sang Entechno repertoire. He sang Entechno with a firmly Laiko sensibility; and that made it all the richer for it.
Entechno music, “art music”, is a parallel tradition to Laiko; for a time it was emblematic of Greek music. (Theodorakis and Hadjidakis were its main early exponents.) The music is of the same family as Laiko, but tends to be more European than Levantine; it is friendlier to acoustic guitars and/or Western orchestral instruments, without letting go of the bouzouki bedrock; and (possibly the most important difference) the lyrics are consciously poetic. It often drew on established poets early on, and the lyricists who worked in the tradition regarded themselves as poets, and usually wrote like that. At their best, they wrote astonishing, richly and darkly allusive poetry. At their worst, they were obscurantist.
There isn’t a good equivalent in Anglo popular music; it’s like the singer-songwriter tradition exemplified by Bob Dylan times a hundred, staying in the mainstream for decades, setting Auden and Eliot and keeping poets in business.
And getting covered by artists like, say, Prince.
Now, I have ventured hesitantly back on Quora, although I can’t see myself putting in the investment there any more that I used to. The reasons I left there still hold, and the feed looks much more dysfunctional than it used to. But it’s good to have rekindled some friendships. Such as friend to this blog, Evangelos Lolos.
And this article draws on two observations he made, when we briefly discussed Mitropanos.
First: I just said that Mitropanos sang Entechno with a firmly Laiko sensibility. Evangelos put it more simply than that:
they are not entechno songs when he sings them.
There is a simpler name to put to it still, in the English tradition: Mitropanos was a crossover artist. That doesn’t necessarily make it a better name though. Crossover in the Anglo tradition has bad connotations of selling out and dilution, but then the Anglo tradition has some curious preoccupations with authenticity and purism.
The exemplar of this kind of crossing over, Evangelos proposed, was the Malamas–Karras effect. The song Πριγκιπέσα started out in the entechno tradition, recorded by singer-songwriter Sokratis Malamas in 2000:
With a lovely, singer-songwritery story behind how he came to write it:
I wrote it as a birthday present for a woman, because I had no money to buy her anything. She was cooking lentils, which is all we had left, and I looked at her and thought: “This song is worth singing at this moment, it’s worth getting out there.” I wrote it and played it immediately, without a pause. I burst out laughing when I played it, I thought it so funny. My friend, who had no idea about music, put down her ladle and said, “When did you write that? Do you realise how good it is? Why would you laugh?”
(And yes, Reader, he married her.)
It’s a lovely, melancholy tune, with tinkling bouzouki and guitar. But the guy is a singer-songwriter, and it shows: I don’t think he does the song justice, he doesn’t sing it with anywhere near enough oomph. Still, there was a rocking tune there, and an even more rocking lyric: a lyric which is full of love and wonderment and magic, like good Entechno should; but also pulsing with bad boy machismo and fatalism—the stuff of Laiko, in fact:
I want one thing, I do another.
How can I make you understand.
I thought, the years are going by,
I’ll go straight.
But it does you no favours
to try and change your nature.
No point in keeping score.
No point in forcing yourself to be good.
The wind blows outside,
but in my heart,
in this house,
your light and the light
dance around us.
The world is unbelievable
and so is our nature.
I want one thing, I do another.
That’s how I’ve ended up here.
Errors, missteps, and passions,
they’ve set me straight.
At dawn in the street,
I cast a line.
I catch myself;
I lose my mind.
As this blog post from 2009 blog put it,
When I first heard the record, I liked the uniform style he maintained on all the songs, but none of them stood out above the rest. (That particular song, I found somewhat confusing.) I found it good, in fact, but non-commercial. It never occurred to me that Pringipessa would become a massive crossover hit, admired by singers ranging from Haris Alexiou to Vasilis Karras, and that it would end up with 1,000,000 hits on YouTube! What I had momentarily missed was the approachability (λαϊκότητα) of Malamas’ songs, which would hit a vein in just two verses; and people wanted to keep listening to them over and over, like vain spells against time: it starts with “I want one thing, I do another, how can I make you understand”, anticipating defeat, and it ends in that conclusion full of bitterness and bewilderment: “The world is unbelievable, and so is our nature.”
That’s what Malamas did with it; this is what Karras does with it:
I love when a good, stern Laiko interpreter like Mitropanos turns Entechno into austere gold. I don’t think Karras can turn anything into austere gold, but it’s clearly not Malamas’ sensibility any more. It is a sensibility more in tune with the initial machismo, but it can’t do anything with the wonderment of the chorus.
Glykeria, on the other hand, turns everything to gold, though I think she too rattles the chorus off.
Peggy Zina does it a little more justice:
I don’t think Mitropanos ever did Pringipessa. I’ll come to what he did turn to gold in a future post.
I have consolidated my old Quora posts http://hellenisteukontos.opoudjis.net/2016-10-01-what-did-your-language-sound-like-1-000-years-ago/ and http://hellenisteukontos.opoudjis.net/2016-10-05-what-did-your-language-sound-like-500-years-ago/, and just had it published in Greek on Nikos Sarantakos’ blog: https://sarantakos.wordpress.com/2019/03/15/nikolaou-3