Ancient Greek Dialect Discovered in Northeastern Turkey

A quick bit of linguistic anthropology to round off your Wednesday afternoon. Greek linguist, Ioanna Sitaridou, located a population of people in Northeastern Turkish villages, near the Black Sea (or Pontus), speaking the Romeyka dialect of ancient Greek. Ancient Greek has not been in use for thousands of years, so a finding like this can give us a bit of insight into how the language sounded. The reason the language has survived is a bit confusing to me, she explains it is due to religion,

The Romeyka speakers are devout Muslims and were therefore exempt from the large-scale population exchange between Greece and Turkey that took place in 1923, she said.

She’s been mapping the grammatical structures and variations in use as well as recording audio and video of the villagers telling stories. The ultimate aim of the research is to explain how Pontic Greek evolved. According to this source, she gave a talk last year about here research. Did anyone attend? What was it like? Like most of the world’s dialects, they are at risk of extinction especially due to emigration from Trabzon and the Turkish majority.

Hat tip to Stephen Chrisomalis, who blogged about this on Glossographia. You can read more about this language re-discovery at the Independent

14 thoughts on “Ancient Greek Dialect Discovered in Northeastern Turkey

  1. The first quadruped man was also discovered in a Greek man resident in the same region, Northeastern Turkey (see the article below):
    Tan U, Koroglu B. First Quadruped Man Was Found In Turkey A Hundred Years Ago .
    WebmedCentral NEUROLOGY 2010;1(10):WMC001074

    1. Thanks for the link, Uner. I don’t understand how this contextually applies to the news I shared other than being from the same region in Turkey. I know you Turks love it whenever Turkey shows up on the internets.

      Since we’re on the topic of quadrupeds of Turkey, and not ancient Greek dialects, the knowledge of quadrupeds in Turkey is not new, check out here, here, and here.

      1. Thanks for your response to my comments, Dear Kambiz.
        First of all, you don’t know Turks, since your claim “Turks love it whenever Turkey shows up on the internets” does not reflect the truth, and is nothing to do with the linguistic anthropology.
        Concerning the relation of the quadruped man to your report about Pontic Greek, I attached our paper because the man was discovered in the vicinity of the middle Black Sea coast, where these Greek people were living (1) and because there are still some villages in this region with Greek speaking people.
        Our article (1) described the quadruped man first discovered 100 years ago on the historical Baghdad Road near Havza, near Samsun on the northeastern Black Sea coast and first described in the book “Across Asia Minor on Foot” written by Childs in 1917 (2). Given the close relationship between language and culture in linguistic anthropology, anthropologists would find the Child’s book interesting, including the passages on the quadruped man, in a cultural evolutionary perspective. So this was my aim in presenting the quadruped man living a hundred years ago in the same region where the Greg people lived. I also grew up there and spent my entire childhood in the region having lots of wonderful experiences, including the music and the musical instrument your video shows.
        Your statement “…..the knowledge of quadrupeds in Turkey is not new, check out here, here, and here” neglects our recently published article (1), along with the Child’s book, which should be interesting for all of the anthropologists, not because of my “love” for “show-up on the internets”; I merely wanted to attract attention of the cultural anthropologists in a wider perspective.
        (1) Tan U. & Koroglu B. First quadruped man was found in Turkey a hundred years ago. WebmedCentral NEUROLOGY 2010; 1(10): WMC001074.
        (2) Childs WC. Across Asia Minor on Foot. William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh andLondon, 1917.

  2. Very fascinating information. How similar is Pontic Greek to koine? The Black Sea area is an interesting spot. If I’m not mistaken, there was a group of people who spoke a Gothic language living somewhere around there as late as the Renaissance.

  3. I saw that video, “Archaic Greek in a modern world”(short but interesting vid, with neat lyra music in the background), on pontosworld.com. If you don’t mind this site being totally from a Greek perspective (it didn’t bother me), then there is a good bit of info to be had there.

  4. Congratulations, your site is excellent.

    Allow me, though, to post a comment, (in my absolutely poor English), concerning this “romeika” language. I am Greek and not at all advocating any nationalistic ideas, as for example, Dienekes does,
    ( whose, by the way, scientific integrity is undoubted, but his political ideas are almost pro-nazi ).

    On the other hand, I have to express my total disagreement about this discovery of an “unknown”, “archaic” Greek dialect. Of course researchig the remnants of Byzantine empire in Turkiye today, is a very good thing, because it brings together two nations, who share between them more things than Persian cuisine.

    But I am afraid, that there is nothing “new” ” in this dialect. For Romeika is, in fact, Pontic, one of the modern Greek dialects (yes, a bit more archaic than some others) but, surely, not at all unknown.

    To me, the weirdest thing is this name:”romeika”. As you may know, “romeika”, is a slang modern Greek word, meaning “modern Greek language”. Before 1800 ( and sometimes today, as well) we used to call ourselves “Romios”, meaning ” a Greek”, but deriving from the word ΡΩΜΑΙΟΣ, a Roman. Old story.

    A citizen of Byzantium, although Greek speaking, would call himself “Ρωμαίος” and his state: ‘The Roman Empire”, because, actually, it was the Eastern Roman Empire, which had not been fallen until 1453.

    Today, after the 1922 Greek Holocaust in Turkiye , many thousand Pontic speakers (refugees from Pontos) live in Greece. The ones stayed back in Kara Deniz (Black Sea, “black” in the Chinese-Mongol tradition represented North) are the ones been converted to Islam (as Ioanna writes correctly)

    So,tout court, this language is Greek.
    I suspect it could not be called Greek or Pontic , in Turkiye, for political reasons.”Romeika” (or “romeyka” in the Turkish alphabet), is more acceptable, because it is associated with the word “Rum”. Rum was a “Millet” or a recognized religious community of the Ottoman Empire, namely the one of the Greek Orthodox, who were mainly Greeks.

    Anyway, even the fact that the Turkish state ( a very touchy state, when the issue of minorities is brought up), allowed the research , well, this a very good sign.

    *
    Steven Posey
    “…How similar is Pontic Greek to koine? …”

    All modern Greek dialects derived from Koine, so Pontic is no exception.The only real exception is the Tsakonika, which derived from Ancient Doric.
    I m not at all sure if Pontic is more similar to the koine, than other dialects. Perhaps, you can find archaic types in it, not found in other modern Greek dialects. But I can read the original text of the New Testament quite easily, equipped only with my average knowledge of “katharevousa” . I doubt, whether a “romeika” speaker could. Of course I am not an expert on Pontic and I have not read Ioanna’s research yet.
    The article from Independent, though, looks rather like one of those journalists’ fireworks.

  5. I think it’s the Pontian dialect per se that deserves more attention- while all MG dialects are derived from the Koine (with the exception of Tsakonika), Pontian Greek branched out earlier than the others, and retains several archaic features, both syntax- and phonology/phonetics-wise (e.g. the imperative ”eneg” for ”bring”). It would certainly be interesting to see to what extent Romeika presents even more archaic types than its generic Pontiaka. The biggest question would be whether Romeika should be considered a Greek dialect of an age before the Koine (I’m a bit skeptical towards that). That kind of news is far more impressive for the UK audience, I guess- on the bright side of it, people get to know a bit more about the Pontian dialect.

  6. Hi de Ho all. Just watching the short clip. I did find it a tad confusing, but also was quite intrigued. I am a second generation survivor of the so called population exchange of the early 1920’s. I was born bred and educated in Australia, and stangely enough could understand most of the dialogue in the clip. My parents both spoke pontic greek as it was spoken in Turkey up to the 1920’s. Modern greek has probably influenced Pontic greek by now, hence finding those who speak , as I call it, Heavy Pontic greek is now becoming scarcer, yet is still used in throughout the greater diaspora all over the world. Romeika, is but mearly a handle to label the Pontic Greeks of the black sea region who were under Roman rule at one stage in history. The language was in existance prior to the romans conquest of this area. The statement that those who speak Romeika in modern Turkey are muslim is probally now correct, not because of any geneological greek lineage, but due to either forced conversion to islam for fear of extermination, or due to the fact, that romeika was the language widely used in trade, commerce, education etc etc. These facts would have influenced all subjects in these areas, irrespective of race, to adopt this language in common life, and over the centuries, became there mother tongue. The subjects, both of Greek and Turk, as well as Jews, armenian, assyrians would use Romeika as there tool of communications in business/trade etc. Therefore I would also assume, that there are differences in the Romeika language used from village to village due. Just thought I would add my two bobs worth.

  7. Just seen this clip. It’s a bit cheeky using the word “discovered”. Everyone who is interested knows that Pontian Greek is still spoken in this area(albeit by a diminishing number of elderly people – more women than men as is usually the case with dying languages) – a fact that became widely known with the publication in Greek and Turkish of Omer Aslan’s book some years ago. Anyway, Mackridge of Oxford has studied this language (dialect?) for thirty years. “Discovered” indeed !

  8. Cambridge has still a lot to learn… But I’d rather it speeded up, in case pontic greek becomes extinct in the next centuries :-)

  9. my family still speaks that language In The region of macka in trabzon high in the mountains i never expected this to be so old

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