Tsakonian song online

By: | Post date: 2009-05-05 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
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For our next text in our tour of Greek linguistic oddities: this collection of Tsakonian songs has been online for something like ten years, and it’s about time I tried to translate the one song in Tsakonian.

Before I do, a trap for the unwary. The first song, Σου ‘πα, μάνα, πάντρεψέ με “I told you mother, marry me off”, is not in Tsakonian but standard Greek. It is however the song to which the Tsakonian dance is danced. At least one Internet denizen who didn’t know Greek and found the song on YouTube was misled to say how she liked the sound of Tsakonian.

Our Tsakonian song, posted without translation, is this. Exercise to Greek readers: do you have any idea what this says? Coz if not, Tsakonian is a language distinct from Greek.

Απατζά τσυρά Μαρούα
Απατζά το Μαρασία
Απατζά το Μαρασία
Τσ ‘ ακατούσε τθάν Ελία
Τσ ‘ ακατούσε τθάν Ελία
Εκεί έχα τθα κουνία
Ζατσ ‘ οβού τσυρά Μαρούα
Ζατσ ‘ οβούε τθαν Ελία
Ζατσ ‘ οβούε τθαν Ελία
Τσε κατσούτσε τθα κουνία
Τσίντα βου τσυρά Μαρούα
Τσιντα βούα κακομοίρα
Τσιντα βούα κακομοίρα
Πε κατσούτε α κουνία
Πε κατσούτε α κουνία
Πφού θα ζάει το τσίε Λία

OK, lemme try and make sense of this. I’ll use my transliteration (which is pretty much the lay translation plus my hobbyhorse τχ), and I’ll put a literal Greek gloss next to it to illustrate how the Tsakonian happened.

  • ρζ [r̝, ʒ] < [rj]
  • σχ [ʃ]
  • τσχ [tʃ]
  • τθ [tʰ]
  • πφ [pʰ]
  • κχ [kʰ]
  • ννι [ni] < /ne/
  • νι [ɲi] < /ni, mi/
  • λλι [li] < /le/
  • λι [ʎi] < /li/
  • τχ (or τζ) [tɕ] (or [tsʰ] < [c]
  • ντζ [dz]

My Tsakonian rendering Greek crutch
Απαντζά (α) τχυρά Μαρούα
Απαντζά το Μαρασία
Τχ ‘ ακατούσε τθάν Ελία
έκι έχα τθα κουνία
Ζατχ ‘ ο βού’ τχυρά Μαρούα
Ζατχ ‘ ο βούε τθαν Ελία
Τχαι κατσχούτχε τθα κουνία
Τσχίντα βου’ τχυρά Μαρούα
Τσχίντα βούα κακομοίρα
Πφ’ έ’ κατσχούτε α κουνία
Πφού θα ζάει το τσίε Λία

όπᾳ-αντί (α) κυρά Μαρία
όπᾳ-αντί το Μαραθία
και κάτωσε σταν Ελέα
ήτο έχουσα στα κωνίς.
Διάβηκε ο βους κυρά Μαρία
διάβηκε ο βους σταν Ελέα
και τσάκωσε στα κωνίς
τσίζουσα βοών κυρά Μαρία
τσίζουσα βοώσα κακομοίρα
που ένι τσακωμένο α κωνίς
πώς θα διαβείς (σ)το zio Ηλία
Standard Greek


Απέναντι η κυρά Μαρία
απέναντι το Μαραθία
και αποκάτω στην Ελέα
είχε (σ)τη στάμνα
Πήγε το βόδι κυρά Μαρία
πήγε το βόδι στην Ελέα
κι έσπασε τη στάμνα.
Λύπηση–κλάψα κυρά Μαρία
λύπηση–κλάψα κακομοίρα
που είναι σπασμένη η στάμνα
Πώς θα πας στο μπάρμπα-Λία.

Opposite—Lady Mary—
opposite Marathias
and under Elia
she had a jar
The ox went, Lady Mary,
the ox went to Elea
and broke the jar.
Sorrowing and lamenting, Lady Mary,
sorrowing and lamenting poor thing
that the jar is broken.
How will you get to Uncle Elias?

Not terribly confident in the emendation of the transcription, but that’s what I’ve come up with. There are alternations of τo “the” and τθο “to the” in the text given which don’t make sense, and I’ll put down to mishearng? Note that κουνία “jar” is *not* κούνια “cradle” (which also exists in Tsakonian). οβού is likely ο βού, but βούε is the plural oxen, which doesn’t make sense after singular article ο: poetic license, or utter misunderstanding on my part? In Tsakonian κακομοίρα should be only κακόμερε according to Costakis’ dictionary (feminine as well as masculine), and κακομοίρα is a loan from Standard Greek which matches the metre; so the song would have been composed with Standard Greek influence on the vocab. I’m hoping I got τσχίντα βούα right as the active participles “sorrowing and lamenting”, which is not at all a Standard Greek way of saying things.

[EDIT: Translation confirmed.]


  • George says:

    Translation indeed — provided by a middle-aged Tsakonopoula whose name I no longer recall (nor do I know the station’s name). The song came from a CD … that you need to locate and buy 🙂 [Could there be a hidden sexual meaning there, by the way? Notice that in different
    versions we may have an uncle or a stepmother, but the ox remains the same.]

    The program in question was probably hour-long, and I watched the last 40 minutes or so. At some point a tea cup with the caption “shut up
    and drink” (or rather “drink and stay mute”) was produced: during a certain wedding the bride heard the toast, apparently in Tsakonian,
    “may you have lots of children” and asked her mother how she should respond; the mother whispered to her, in Tsakonian, “shut up and
    drink”, and so the bride lifted her cup and repeated that to everybody 🙂 [Is this a situation — familiar to linguists perhaps — where the people themselves satirize the gradual loss of their dialect?]

  • opoudjis says:

    Breaking news: George B. reports hearing this song on TV today in Greece; the girl in the TV version goes back to her stepmother rather than Uncle Elias. (I’m assuming a translation was supplied then. 🙂

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