Ancient Greek Dialect Found Alive & Well in Turkey

Simultaneous with the announcement that Greece wishes to build a wall separating it from Turkey in an effort to stem illegal migration from the East, researchers have reported finding a rare survival of a community which speaks a very pure form of ancient Greek near Trabizon, Turkey (photo).
The article in «The Independent» says about 5000 speakers of this dialect survive, and that the spoken language is purer than any surviving dialect of Greek elsewhere. Linguists believe that it is the closest, living language to ancient Greek and could provide an unprecedented insight into the language of Socrates and Plato and how it evolved.
The community lives in a cluster of villages near the Turkish city of Trabzon in what was once the ancient region of Pontus, a Greek colony that Jason and the Argonauts are supposed to have visited on their epic journey from Thessaly (now Thessaloniki) to recover the Golden Fleece from the land of Colchis (present-day Georgia). Pontus was also supposed to be the kingdom of the mythical Amazons, a fierce tribe of women who cut off their right breasts in order to handle their bows better in battle.
Linguists found that the dialect, Romeyka, a variety of Pontic Greek, has structural similarities to ancient Greek that are not observed in other forms of the language spoken today. Romeyka’s vocabulary also has parallels with the ancient language.
Ioanna Sitaridou, a lecturer in romance philology at the University of Cambridge, said: “Romeyka preserves an impressive number of grammatical traits that add an ancient Greek flavour to the dialect’s structure, traits that have been completely lost from other modern Greek varieties.
The villagers who speak Romeyka, which has no written form, show other signs of geographic and cultural isolation. They rarely marry outside their own community and they play a folk music on a special instrument, called a kemenje in Turkish and Romeyka or lyra as it is called in Greek, Dr Sitaridou said.
Romeykas-speakers today are devout Muslims, so they were allowed to stay in Turkey after the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, when some two million Christians and Muslims were exchanged between Greece and Turkey. Repeated waves of emigration, the dominant influence of the Turkish-speaking majority, and the complete absence of Romeyka from the public arena, have now put it on the list of the world’s most endangered languages.
“We know that Greek has been continuously spoken in Pontus since ancient times and can surmise that its geographic isolation from the rest of the Greek-speaking world is an important factor in why the language is as it is today,” Dr Sitaridou said. “What we don’t yet know is whether Romeyka emerged in exactly the same way as other Greek dialects but later developed its own unique characteristics which just happen to resemble archaic Greek.
(source: independent)


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