Tsakonian language

Tsakonian language

nativename=Τσακωνικά "Tsakōniká"
region=Eastern Peloponnese around Mount Parnon
speakers=300-2,000 fluent

Tsakonian, Tzakonian or Tsakonic (Greek Τσακωνικά) is a dialect of modern Greek spoken in the Tsakonian region of the Peloponnese, Greece. It is the last surviving descendant of Doric Greek and is named after its speakers, the 'Tsakonians', which is held to be an alteration of 'Laconians' - although Tsakonians themselves did not traditionally use this ethnonym. It is said to be from Exo-Lakones (meaning outer Lakonians) and morphed to Tsakones.


Tsakonian is a dialect of the Indo-European Greek language, now widely agreed to be descended from the Doric branch. Although it is often classified as a dialect of Modern Greek, it can be regarded as a separate Hellenic language, since all other extant Greek varieties are Attic in origin.According to Dr. Nick Nicholas, Greek scholars prefer to use the term διάλεκτος (dialect) for varieties mutually intelligible and unintelligibleClarifyme|date=March 2008 with Greek, while using ιδίωμα (idiom) for intermediate varietiesClarifyme|date=March 2008 ("The Story of Pu", p. 482). Professor Athanasios Costakis (a native Tsakonian) calls it a dialect, while calling its varieties "idioms."

Geographic distribution

Tsakonian is found today in a group of mountain towns and villages slightly inland from the Argolic Gulf, although it was once spoken farther to the south and west as well as on the coasts of Laconia (ancient Sparta). There was formerly a Tsakonian colony on the Propontis (two villages near Gönen, Vatika and Havoutsi), probably dating from the 18th century, whose members were resettled in Greece with the 1924 population exchanges. Propontis Tsakonian appears to have died out around 1970.

Official status

Tsakonian has no official status. Prayers and liturgies of the Greek Orthodox Church have been translated into Tsakonian, but the ancient Koine of the traditional church services is usually used as in other locations in Greece. Some teaching materials in Tsakonian for use in local schools have reportedly also been produced. [P. Trudgill, D. Schreier (2006): Greece and Cyprus. In: U. Ammon (ed.), "Sociolinguistics." Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.]


Tsakonian is divided by scholars into three dialects or idioms, Northern Tsakonian, Southern Tsakonian and Propontis Tsakonian.

Another difference between Tsakonian and the common Demotic Greek dialect is its verb system - Tsakonian preserves different archaic forms, such as participial periphrasis for the present tense. Certain complementisers and other adverbial features present in the standard Modern Greek dialect are absent from Tsakonian, with the exception of the Modern που (pu) relativiser, which takes the form πη (phi) in Tsakonian (note: the traditional Tsakonian orthography uses the digraph πφ + η, giving πφη). Noun morphology is broadly similar to Standard Modern Greek, although Tsakonian tends to drop the nominative "s" from masculine nouns, thus Tsakonian ο τσχίφτα for Standard o τρίφτης (o tshifta/o triftis: "grater"). The Propontis idiom was much more heavily influenced by the modern Thracian dialect and although there were significant grammatical differences, in terms of vocabulary it was much closer to Standard Modern Greek. Compare the Northern and Southern word for water, ύο (io, derived from Ancient Greek polytonic|ὓδωρ) to Propontic νερέ and Standard νερό (nere, nero).

However, there has always been contact with Koine Greek speakers and the language was not entirely unaffected by the neighboring Greek dialects. Additionally, there are some lexical borrowings from Arvanitic and Turkish. The core vocabulary remains recognizably Doric, though experts disagree on the extent to which other true Doricisms can be found. There are only a few hundred, mainly elderly true native speakers alive, although there are a great many more who can speak the language less than fluently.

Geographical barriers to travel and communication kept the Tsakonians relatively isolated from the rest of Greece until the 19th century, although there was some trade between the coastal towns. The rise of mass education and improved travel beginning after the Greek War of Independence meant that fluent Tsakonian speakers were no longer as isolated from the rest of Greece and there began a rapid decline from an estimated figure of some 200,000 fluent speakers to the present fluent core estimated in the hundreds.

Derived languages

There are no creole dialects described in the literature, although as noted above, the Propontis dialect is much closer to the standard dialect of Greek than are the other two, and all dialects have been in constant contact with the standard. The northern dialect which in the mid-twentieth century was retreating much faster than its southern cousin, reportedly had a greater affinity to Demotic Greek. An indeterminate number of persons speak Tsakonian less-than fluently, so it is possible that some degree of creolization has taken place.

Since the introduction of electricity to all villages in Tsakonia by the 1970s, the Greek mass media can reach the most remote of areas and profoundly affect the speech of younger speakers. Some efforts to revive the language by teaching it in local schools seem not to have had much success. Standard Modern Greek is the official language of government, commerce and education, and it appears inevitable that the continued modernization of Tsakonia will lead to the language's disappearance sometime this centuryFact|date=August 2007.



A) /a/ can appear as a reflex of Doric /aː/, in contexts where Attic had η /ɛː/ and Modern Greek has /i/: αμέρα /amera/ corresponding to Modernημέρα /imera/ "day", στρατιώτα /stratiota/ corresponding to Modern στρατιώτης /stratiotis/ "soldier".
Ε) /e/ > /i/ before vowels: e.g Βασιλήα /vasilia/ instead of βασιλέα /vasilea/.
O) occasionally /o/ > /u/: ουφις /ufis/ < όφις /ofis/ "snake", τθούμα /tʰuma/ < στόμα /stoma/ "mouth". Final /o/ > /e/ after coronals and front vowels: όνος /onos/ > όνε /one/, χοίρος /xyros/> χιούρε /xjure/, γραφτός /ɣraftos/> γραφτέ /ɣrafte/, χρέος /xreos/ > χρίε /xrie/, but δρόμος /ðromos/> δρόμο /ðromo/
Υ) Pronounced in Modern Greek /i/, this was /u/ in Doric and /y/ in Attic. The reflex of this phoneme in Tsakonian is /u/, and /ju/ after coronals (suggesting an origin in /y/). σούκα /suka/ corresponding to Modern σύκα /sika/ "figs", άρτουμα /artuma/ corresponding to άρτυμα /artima/ "bread"; λύκος /lykos/ > λιούκο /ljuko/ [ʎuko] "wolf"
Ω) /ɔː/ in Ancient Greek, regularly goes to /u/: μουρήα /muria/ (Ancient μωρέα /mɔːrea/, Modern μουριά /murja/), αού /au/ < λαλών /lalɔːn/ "speaking".

(Note: Tsakonian citation forms for verbs are participles, hence they are given as derived from the ancient participle in -ών.)


Tsakonian in some words preserves the pre-classical Greek "w"-sound, represented in some Ancient Greek texts by the digamma. In Tsakonian, this sound has become a fricative "v": βάννε /vane/ "sheep", corresponding to Ancient ϝαμνός /wamnos/ (Attic ἀμνός).

Tsakonian has extensive changes triggered by palatalisation:

* /k/ > [tɕ] : κύριος /kyrios/ > τζιούρη /tɕuri/, occasionally /ts/: κεφάλι /kefali/ > τσουφά /tsufa/
* /ɡ/ > [dz] : αγγίζων /angizɔːn/ > αντζίχου /andzixu/
* /p/ > [c] : πηγάδι /piɣaði/ > κηγάδι /ciɣaði/
* /t/ > [c] : τυρός /tyros/ > κιουρέ /cure/, occasionally /ts/: τίποτα /tipota/ > τσίπτα /tsipta/
* /m/ > [n] : Μιχάλης /mixalis/ > Ν(ν)ιχάλη /nixali/
* /n/ > /ɲ/ : ανοίγων /aniɣɔːn/ > ανοίντου /aɲindu/
* /l/ > /ʎ/ : ηλιάζων /iliazɔːn/ > λιάζου /ʎazu/
* /r/ > [ʒ] :ρυάκι /ryaki/ > ρζάτζι /ʒatɕi/. This sound appears to have been a fricative trill in the 19th century, and [ʒ] survived latterly only in womens' usage in Southern Tsakonian.

In Southern Tsakonian, /l/ is deleted before back and central vowels: λόγος /loɣos/ > Northern λόγo /loɣo/, Southern όγo /oɣo/; λούζων /luzɔːn/ > Northern λούκχου /lukʰu/, Southern ούκχου /ukʰu/;

Occasionally /θ/ > /s/, which appears to reflect an earlier process in Laconian, but in others /θ/ is retained though the word is absent in Standard Greek: θυγάτηρ /θyɣatir/ > σάτη /sati/, but Ancient θύων /θiɔːn/ (Modern σφάζω /sfazo/) > θύου /θiu/

Word-final /s/ > /r/, which reflects an earlier process in Laconian; in Tsakonian, it is a liaison phoneme: τίνος /tinos/ > τσούνερ /tsuner/

Word-initial /r/ > /ʃ/: *ράφων /rafɔːn/ > σχάφου /ʃafu/

In the common verb ending -zo, /z/ > /nd/ : φωνάζων /fonazɔːn/ > φωνιάντου /foɲandu/

Tsakonian avoids clusters, and reduces them to aspirated or prenasalised stops and affricates:

* /ðr, θr, tr/ > /tʃ/: δρύας, άνθρωπος, τράγος /ðryas, anθropos, traɣos/ > τσχούα, άτσχωπο, τσχάο /tʃua, atʃopo, tʃao/
* /sp, st, sθ, sk, sx/ > /pʰ, tʰ, tʰ, kʰ, kʰ/: σπείρων, ιστός, επιάσθη, ασκός, ίσχων /spirɔːn, istos, epiasθi, askos, isxɔːn/ > πφείρου, ιτθέ, εκιάτθε, ακχό, ίκχου /pʰiru, itʰe, ecatʰe, akʰo, ikʰu/
* /mf, nθ, nx/ > /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/: ομφαλός, γρονθία, ρύγχος /omfalos, ɣronθia, rynxos/ > απφαλέ, γροτθία, σχούκο /apʰale, ɣrotʰia, ʃukʰo/
* /ks/ > /ts/: ξερός /kseros/ > τσερέ /tsere/
* /kt, xθ/ > /tʰ/: δάκτυλο, δεχθώ /ðaktylo, ðexθɔː/ > δάτθυλε, δετθού /ðatʰile, ðetʰu/
* /l/ after consonants often goes to /r/: πλατύ, κλέφτης, γλώσσα, αχλάδες /platy, kleftis, ɣlɔːsa, axlaðes/ > πρακιού, κρέφτα, γρούσα, αχράε /pracu, krefta, ɣrusa, axrae/
* /rp, rt, rk, rð/ > /mb, nd, ŋɡ, nd/: σκορπίος, άρτος, άρκα, πορδή /skorpios, artos, arka, porði/ > κχομπίο, άντε, άγκα, πφούντα /kʰombio, ande, aŋɡa, pʰunda/

/z, v/ are added between vowels: μυία, κυανός /myia, kyanos/ > μούζα, κουβάνε /muza, kuvane/

/ɣ, ð/ often drop out between vowels: πόδας, τράγος /poðas, traɣos/ > πούα, τσχάο /pua, tʃao/


original song-Tsakonian
Πουλάκι έμα έχα τθο κλουβί τσαί μερουτέ ωι έμα έχα
τάχιγα νι εμα ζάχαρι ποκίχα νι έμα μόσκο,
τσαί από το μόσκο το περσού τσαί από τα μυρωδιά
εσκαντάλιστε το κλουβί τσ' εφύντζε μι τ'αϊδίνι.
Τσ'αφέγκι σι νιε τσυνηγού με το κλουβί τθα τζέρρι.
Έλα πουλί τθο τόπο ωτι έλα τθα κατοιτσία
ω'αλάτσου τα κουδούνια ωτι να βάλου άλλα τσαινούρζα.

In Latin characters for pronunciation
Poulaki ema echa t-tho klouvi tse meroute oi ema echa
tachigha ni ema zachari pokicha ema mosko
tse apo to mosko to persu tse apo ta mirodia
eskantaliste to klouvi ts efitze mi taidine.
Tsafegi si ni tsinighou me to klouvi t-tha chera
Ela pouli t-tho topo oti ela t-tha katitsia
o alatsou ta koudhounia oti na valou alla tsenourza

In modern Greek
Πουλάκι είχα στο κλουβί και μερομένο/χαρούμενο το είχα.
το τάιζα ζάχαρι και το πότιζα μόσχο
και από τον πολύ τον μόσχο και την μυρωδιά του
εσκανταλίστη και το κλουβί και μου έφυγε τ'αϊδόνι
Κι ο αφέντης το κυνηγάει με το κλουβί στο χέρι:
Έλα πουλί στον τόπο σου, έλα στην κατοικία σου
ν'αλλάξω τα κουδούνια σου να βάλω άλλα καινούργια

Modern Greek pronunciation - Latin guideline
Poulaki icha sto klouvi ke meromeno to icha
to taiza zachari ke to potiza moscho
ke apo ton poli ton moscho ke tin mirodia tou
eskantalisti le to klouvi ke mou efyghe taidoni.
ke o afegis to kinigai me to klouvi sto cheri
Ela pouli ston topo sou, ela stin katikia sou
Nallaxo ta koudounia sou na valo alla kenourgia

English translation
I had a bird in a cage and I kept it happy
I gave it sugar and wine-grapes
and from the great amount of grapes and their essence,
it got naughty (possibly means it got drunk ) and escaped.
And its master now runs after it with the cage in his hands:
Come my bird back where you belong, come to your house
I will remove your old bells and buy you new ones.


Tsakonian avoids consonant clusters, as seen, and drops final /s/ and /n/; as a result, syllable structure tends more to CV than in Standard Modern Greek. (The use of digraphs in tradition spelling tends to obscure this). For instances, ancient /hadros/ "hard" goes to Tsakonian /a.tʃe/, where /tʃ/ can be considered a single phoneme; it is written traditionally with a trigraph as ατσχέ (= "atskhe").


Tsakonian has undergone extreme morphological simplification: there is minimal case inflection.

The present and imperfect indicative in Tsakonian are formed with participles, like English but unlike the rest of Greek: έννι αού, έμα αού "I am speaking, I was speaking" < ειμί λαλών, ήμην λαλών

Ενεί: Enee =i am
Εσεί: Esi =you are
Ενί: Eni =he/she/it is
Έμε: Eme =we are
Έτε: Ete =you are
Είνι: Eeni = they are

Έμα: Ema = I was
Έσα: Esa = You were
Έκη: Eki =he/she/it was
Έμαϊ: Emai =we were
Έταϊ: Etai =you were
Ήγκιαϊ: Igiai =they were

φερήκου (males) φερήκα (females): ferikou/ferika = I bring
φερήκεις: ferikis =you bring
φερήκει: feriki =he/she/it brings
φερήκουντε: ferikoude =we bring
φερήκουτε: ferikoute =you bring
φερήκουσι: ferikousi =they bring

Writing system

Traditionally, Tsakonian used the standard Greek alphabet, along with digraphs to represent certain sounds which either do not occur in Demotic Greek, or which do not commonly occur in combination with the same sounds as they do in Tsakonian. For example, the "sh" sound, which does not occur in standard Greek, does in Tsakonian, and is spelled "σχ" (much like German "sch"). Another sound recalls Czech "ř". Prof. Costakis invented an orthography using dots, "spiritus asper", and caron for use in his works, which has been used in his grammar and several other works. This is more like the Czech usage of haceks (such as "š"). Lastly, unpalatalized "n" and "l" before a front vowel can be written double, to contrast with a palatalised single letter. (e.g. in Southern Tsakonian ένι [eɲi] "he is", έννι [eni] "I am" -- the latter corresponding to Northern Tsakonian έμι [emi] and Standard Greek είμαι [ime] .)


ee also

*Tsakonian people
*The Lord's Prayer in Tsakonian


External links

* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=tsd Brief Description - Ethnologue]
* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_lang_family.asp?code=TSD Linguistic Lineage]
* [http://www.tlg.uci.edu/~opoudjis/Work/tsakbib.html Tsakonian Bibliography]
* [http://www.christusrex.org/www1/pater/JPN-tsakonian.html The Lord's Prayer in Tsakonian] (text sample)
* [http://arcadia.ceid.upatras.gr/arkadia/realaudio/leitourgia.rm Church Service in Tsakonian] (RealAudio)
* [http://linguistlist.org/forms/langs/get-familyid.cfm?CFTREEITEMKEY=IEG Tsakonian in the Tree for Hellenic]


*cite book|author=Costakis, Athanasios (Thanasis) P.|title=Συντομή Γραμματική της Τσακωνικής Διαλέκτου (Brief Grammar of the Tsakonian Dialect)| location=Athens | publisher=Institut Français d'Athènes| year=1951|id=
*cite paper | author=Nicholas, Nick | title=A Critical Lexicostatistical Examination of Ancient and Modern Greek and Tsakonian | date=unpublished | version=Second Draft | url=n/a
*cite paper | author = Nicholas, Nick | title=The Story of pu: The grammaticalisation in space and time of a Modern Greek complementiser | date=1999 | version = Final | url=http://www.tlg.uci.edu/~opoudjis/Work/thesis.html

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