A comic strip on Arnold von Harff

This is for Dimitra Triantafyllidou and for Kelvin Zifla.

It’s in Greek, so it’s not for most of you.

One of the first records of Albanian is in the travelogue of Arnold von Harff, as he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem via the Balkans in 1496. Everywhere he went, he recorded a few words and phrases in the local language.

The phrases included “maiden, shall I sleep with you”? (Not, oddly enough, in the Albanian section.)

I was wondering how to convert the Greek section into a comic strip. Dimitra had the inspired comment: “Hah! Who know that the first pickup artist [καμάκι] of the Balkans was a German!”

The comic strip is in Greek, but I think you get the drift…

Do we remove the first unvoiced ending sound which stands before the /s/ sound in the plural form of words?

Add. Books is /bʊks/, cats is /kæts/, booths is /bʉːθs/. If the ending is unvoiced, you voice the -s: legs is /lɛɡz/, birds is /bɜːdz., molds is /mɔuldz/.

English is quite tolerant of clusters. You’ll only get a segment dropping out when the cluster gets really complicated, and even then pedants will say that is not trying hard enough. sixths, months: /sɪksθs, manθs/, informally /sɪkːs, manːs ~ mants/.

Yes, I’m transcribing Australian English. Why do you ask?

What are the benefits of learning Modern Greek?

My superiors in every way, Michael Masiello and Robert Todd, have given you the high-minded reasons to, and I commend them.

But whenever someone offers to convert to Judaism, it is a Jew’s duty to try and talk them out of it three times. And in that spirit, I assume that, by asking for benefits, you really do want to get into a calculus of pros and cons.


  • Communicating with the locals. Not really. Everyone you’re likely to communicate with as a tourist will speak excellent English. You really have to go to Upper Podunk and seek out someone’s grandfather to use your Berlitz phrasebook.
  • Successful business ventures in Greece. Yes for some kinds of business, and at some stages in history; the current stage isn’t it.
  • Gaining the good will of the locals. Yes. See my own gushing reactions to Martin Pickering on this very forum. They really do appreciate the gesture.
  • Accessing Ancient Greek literature. No. If you want to start with something easier than Thucydides, make like Robert did, and start from Koine. It’s still recognisably the same language, and there’s no shortage of materials.
  • Accessing Byzantine literature. No. Learn Koine and Ancient Greek for that too. For the purposes of this argument, I’m counting late mediaeval vernacular literature as Early Modern Greek.
  • Understanding English etymology. No. Go to the source for that: Ancient Greek. Unless your surname is Portokalos. In which case I should warn you: Greeks in Greece did not find you funny.
  • Learning a different language for the sake of it. Yes. But like my betters have said, if you do that, pick the language that intrigues you: you’ll be much more motivated to stick with it. All languages are wonderful, and all literatures are great, because humanity is great and wonderful. You won’t learn them all (though people like Judith Meyer and Philip Newton come close.) Learn what will reward you with warm fuzzies. That’s a benefit too.
  • Accessing Modern Greek literature. Yes. But beware: to get all the subtleties going on, you’re going have to learn enough Greek to pick up on not just what the authors are saying, but why they’re picking the words and grammar they’re picking. Language politics was always close to the surface in 20th century literature. Magister Masiello named Cavafy and Kazantzakis: they’re at opposite ends of the language debate, and the language debate informs their style.
  • Doing Modern Greek Studies. Yes. Google Translate will only get you so far, and it won’t get you far with Google Books, let alone actual Book books.
  • Understanding the Greek people. Yes. Language being the primary vehicle of culture.
  • Understanding the neighbouring people of Greece. Actually, yes, at least a bit. Not just because we share syntax with them, but because we’ve been their annoying neighbours, and (truth be told) their cultural hegemons for a fair while.

Btw (I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, I just didn’t have an excuse for it): if you’re learning Greek for its literature, and you get enough about the essence of the language debate, you’ll understand why Seferis lionised the unlettered prose of Makriyannis as a lost ideal of Greek writing. His fabled sentence Οι τούρκοι υποψιασμένοι· να ’βλεπαν ρωμιό, κιντύνευε—is Ebonics if you translate it into English. (The Turks be suspicious; they saw a Greek, he in danger.) And that’s not to denigrate African-American vernacular; that’s to point out how culture-bound (and prejudiced) stylistics is.

Once you’re enlightened, you can see why Seferis had had a gutful of hypotaxis and conjunctions in quotidian Modern Greek, and was yearning for a lost litotes represented by that sentence. And once you’re even more enlightened, you’ll realise (as came to me in a flash last night) that Classical Greek had that same litotes: ὑποψιασθέντες δὴ οἱ τοῦρκοι· ἑωρακόντων ῥωμαῖον, κινδυνεύοι.

I posted that because I felt like it; but if you’re going to appreciate 20th century Greek literature, that’s the level of language savvy you’re going to need…

Is there a searchable version of “Etyma Graeca: an etymological lexicon of classical Greek” online?

I don’t know of one; but Hjalmar Frisk’s dictionary (which is 80 years more recent) has been OCR’d online (do Google it, and I’ve seen an online searchable version) and , and I have a PDF of Chaintraine that fell off the back of a truck (60 years more recent). (Not linking because it may or may not violate copyright.)

Etyma Graeca has been superseded, and any production of a searchable Greek etymological dictionary is going to focus on more recent versions…

Why do I experience a profound feeling when I read and understand old writings of my mother language?

Oh. This is a fascinating question, Kelvin. And Faleminderit to you, shoku!

I don’t get that feeling with Ancient Greek. I don’t get that feeling with Old, Middle, or Early Modern English. I do get a slight feeling of something with Early Modern Greek.

Allow me to speculate.

A lot of it is missing what you haven’t had. With Greek, we have had the glorious 3000 year history of the language pummelled into us. At least in my millieu growing up, that did not inspire yearning and beauty; it inspired annoyance. It was an imposition. To the extent that I like Ancient Greek writing at all, that came much later.

With English, Shakespeare is part of the ether all around you; there’s a joy to reading him, but it’s a joy of art, not of heritage. Beowulf and the Wanderer are recognisably not English; it’s hard to feel they’re in your language. Chaucer… maybe the closest to what you’re describing in English: recognising the echoes of the early version of your language—unfamiliar, because I wasn’t taught Middle English, but familiar, because it is identifiably English.

I felt that connection more strongly with Early Modern Greek; but ideologies of language always play a role in Greeks’ connection to their language. From a Demoticist perspective, with Early Modern Greek you see glimpses of what could have been, if it were not for the pedants: a pristine ideal of the true vernacular language. That’s a myth, of course: there’s no such thing as a pristine language, and the pinnacle of pristineness, the Cretan Renaissance, was a purist Demotic that quite artfully hid its own artifice. But it’s a seductive myth none the less.

My idle speculation—and tell me if you take offence:

Albanian hasn’t had a millennium or two of written tradition. It has maybe a couple of centuries of intense literary production. In Buzuku’s missal, you see a canonical text, with all the weight of 1500 years of religious tradition behind it, in a language you recognise as yours, but which is also archaic and unfamiliar. And you’re no naive reader, Kelvin, from your other answers here: you know Albanian dialect pretty damn well.

So the text feels to you like what you were missing, and what your neighbours have taken for granted. A complex, monumental, literary forebear.

You’re lucky. Because I open the New Testament in Koine, and just think “meh”.

You remind me of the contrast between my visit to London and my visits to Crete.

London is my dominant culture’s home. I went to London, and was agape at seeing the Globe and St Paul’s and St Clement’s and Big Ben. It felt wondrously like coming home. It felt like coming home, because I’d never been there before, yet I recognised so much.

As opposed to how I feel when I actually go home to Crete. “Meh, not this shit again.” 🙂

Why did the Ancient Greek alphabet differentiate between κ (kappa) and ϙ (koppa)?

See: Koppa (letter)

Or, see what I have written on the subject:


The Phoenecian alphabet was adapted for Greek more stupidly than we might think. The greater dumbness occurred with san; but koppa also owes its short tenure to archaic Greeks being slow on the uptake.

Phoenecian had a velar plosive, kap̱ (Hebrew kaf, כ), and a uvular plosive, qôp̱ (Hebrew qof, ק). When the Greeks adopted the Phoenecian alphabet, they took both letters on. Greek does not have a uvular; but the /k/ before back vowels was pronounced slightly retracted, as one would expect: [ḵ]. So the Greeks spent a couple of centuries writing /ko/ and /ku/ as ϙο, ϙυ; this happened throughout Greece (Jeffery 1990:33). Gradually, though, Greeks realised that [ḵ] and [k] are the same phoneme, and should be written as the same letter; while some Doric regions held on to koppa into the fifth century, it did not survive the switch to the Milesian alphabet.

Since koppa does not represent a real phonological distinction, it is only used in transcription of inscriptions, not in linguistic discussion of dialects. It does not appear in lexica, for example.

Are there any dialects of Greek acknowledged to be unintelligible to mainstream Greek within Greece itself?

Now, this is Dimitris Almyrantis asking, so he deserves some politics in his answer!

“Acknowledged”? Well put, because mutual intelligibility is often more about identity politics than about communication. As in the cause célèbre of the PM of Macedonia bringing along an interpreter to his meeting with the PM of Bulgaria.

Greeks acknowledge idioms where anyone else would say “dialect”, and “dialects” where anyone else would say “that’s a different language”. For the same ideological reasons that people on Quora grouse that there’s no such thing as Northern Greek, and that I got harangued once for saying I work on Middle Greek. At least it never got as bad as Turkey, where linguists were discouraged from researching dialects at all.

That said.

Tsakonian is within Greece, and it’s so, so a different language, it’s not funny. Check out Tsakonian song online for an example. (And hang out there, I’ve written some neat stuff in my time.)

Of the other acknowledged “dialects” of Greek: Actual Cypriot, as opposed to Standard Greek with a nasal sing-song accent, is not mutually intelligible. Griko in Italy can be intelligible, though I think the moribund Calabrian variant is much more of a challenge. Pontic is not mutually intelligible, but it can be picked up (as Dimitra Triantafyllidou has); Mariupolitan ditto. [EDIT: Forgot Cappadocian. Way more different than Pontic.]

Cretan is deemed on the borderline of dialect and “idiom” in traditional Greek dialectology. It does less phonologically odd stuff than Cypriot, and Renaissance Cretan is approachable, but I agree with Bob Hannent: the genuine article is going to be a challenge for Standard Greek speakers

Within Greece, what you have left are “idioms”. The mutual intelligibility of those can be overstated.

Northern Greek, with its raising of unstressed /e, o/ to /i, u/, and its deletion of unstressed /i, u/, is not that interesting morphologically or lexically—but yes, phonetically it’s… something else. That’s what happens when you get rid of half your vowels. I presume that’s what you were exposed to in Northern Euboea, Dimitris.

(If you were in Kymi, you were exposed to a relic dialect related to Old Athenian, preserving /u/ for ancient upsilon. If you were anywhere else in Southern Euboea, what you heard was Arvanitika, and it’s no wonder you didn’t understand it.)

The 2004 international conference on Greek Dialectology happened in Lesbos. Someplace in Mytilini town, a local has scrawled some bon mots in the local dialect on the arch outside his café. Lesbos also has a Northern Greek dialect. So you can picture three internationally renowned Greek dialectologists (OK, two plus me), standing outside the café to the merriment of the locals, staring at the bon mots and trying to fill in the vowels.

The maximum meltdown happens in Samothrace, which has stuck with me because I honestly had no idea what the hell was going on when I first encountered it (in a phonetic transcription of WWI POW’s, published by Werner Heisenberg’s dad, August). The grammar of Samothracian I have, annoyingly has no sample texts.

So you’ve got Greek with half the vowels missing, right? OK.

Now take away all the r’s as well.

mavros “black” > mavwus. riɣani “oregano” > jiɣaɲ. anθropos “person” > aθjipus.

There’s a thesis on Samothracian grammar here: ονοματικό και ρηματικό κλιτικό σύστημα. Read the example sentences out loud to yourselves, and tell me you’d understand them…

In memoriam Gerasimos Arsenis

Context: Dimitra Triantafyllidou’s answer to How does one cook lokma?

I was bantering with Dimitra on the Melbourne nouveau Lokma place, St Gerry’s. Named after the patron saint of Cephallonia, Gerasimus of the Jordan.

Which reminded me of the funniest joke I’ve heard in Greek, told by the late Gerasimos Arsenis, another Cephallonian. As recounted in Greek at Γιώργο, χάσαμε…


And here is the drawn version thereof:

How do you say welcome in Greek?

I normally pass on answering these readily Googleable questions, unless I can say something linguistically interesting about them. It’s your lucky day, Anon.

Two main ways of rendering “welcome” in Modern Greek.

1. Καλώς ήρθες (singular), καλώς ήρθατε (plural): kalos irθes, kalos irθate. Literally, “well you came”; so it corresponds exactly to English welcome.

More importantly, it corresponds exactly to Turkish hoş geldin (sg), hoş geldiniz (pl).

There are many such correspondences between Turkish and Greek, and it’s often quite hard to work out which came first.

The well word, καλώς, is in the archaic form, though that may well be genuine archaism and not Puristic—I’ve seen nothing in the earlier vernacular to suggest that καλά ήρθες was ever used. You will often see the more puristic verb forms, καλώς ήλθες and καλώς ήλθατε, kalos ilθes, kalos ilθate, particularly in more formal/written contexts.

2. Καλώς όρισες (sg), καλώς ορίσατε (pl), kalos orises, kalos orisate, “well you commanded”. This one is more interesting.

Commanding is what a master does to a servant; so you can say “command (me)” to indicate that you are prepared to act like someone’s servant; it’s the same as “at your service” in English.

(At this point you may be reminded of that fine Age of Mythology command, prostagma: What does “Prostagma” mean in Greek? But prostagma is what you give a soldier, not a servant.)

So when the guest comes to you as a host, you as a host get to tell them you’re quite happy to be at their service: “well may you be commanding me”.

The “at your service” equivalent itself in Greek is “command!” This should have been ορίσετε orisete in the politeness plural, but it’s always rendered as the reduced form ορίστε oriste. It originally meant “at your service”; you use ορίστε in Modern Greek to mean “go ahead, I’m listening.” Which is a short distance from “at your service”:

Oriste. [At your service]
—Take out the trash and stop spending time on Quora!
—Grumble grumble.

It can also be used to mean “here you go”; the shift is from “I am at your service” to “I am complying with your request through this”:

—Nick, will you get me a cracker?
—(handing over a cracker) Oriste. (Here you go.) [I am complying with your request, which is part of me being at your service.]

You can also used ορίστε as a question: “… at your service?” It corresponds to “pardon me?”, when you haven’t heard what the other person has asked for, or you’re having trouble believing what the other person has asked for. The implication is that you’re quite happy to be at their service, but you’re putting a question mark on it because you haven’t quite understood how you’re supposed to be at their service.

—Mumble mumble mumble please?
Oriste? (Pardon?) [I’d… like to be at your service; what’s the service again?]
—I said: Take out the trash and stop spending time on Quora!
—Grumble grumble.

—Vicky Gunvalson is a fine human being, and an exemplar to our nation.
—… Oriste?! (WTF?!) [I’d… like to be at your service, if only I can be certain that I heard you right and you are not in fact a lunatic]

And moving further, ορίστε μας “oriste to us”, is an expression of disgruntlement: “how rude! how shameful! what a mess”. Holton et al.’s reference grammar explains it as an ethical dative: “Here you go [referring to a situation that’s crap] for us”.

The singular form, όρισε orise, is what you’d have expected before the 19th century. I’ve only found it in the reduced form όρσε, orse. In 17th century Cretan, it already means “go ahead”: (Stathis IV 174: Όρσε, Πετρούτσο “Go ahead, Petruccio”—spoken by the pedant to a servant, so it’s no longer the literal “at your service”.) But it also has already shifted to mean “here you go”: Anthimos Diakrousis, War of Crete, 6.621: Ὅρσε τὰ κλειδιά, τὸ κάστρον εἶν’ δικό σου, “Here’s the keys, the fortress is yours”—spoken by the Venetians surrendering Canea/Hania to the Ottomans.

In Modern Greek, it’s moved further still: it’s stereotypically Ionian islander, and it’s the exclamation associated with the mountza (the equivalent of flipping the bird)—which elsewhere goes with νά “behold!”. So “here you go” > “take that”, Vicki Gunvalson! [splat].

Which is a very, very far way to go from “at your service”.

3. Both the “welcome” and the “here you go” senses of oriste are also present in the Turkish equivalent verb, buyurun:

does anyone know what does the turkish phrase “buyurum efendim” means?

Buyurun efendim, literally “Say your wish, sir/madam”, used either when giving someone something (“Here you are”), or an invitation to come in or sit down (“Please do come in” or “Welcome”)

Again, it’s chicken and the egg about which language came up with it first, though the Cretan examples predate Ottoman rule of Crete, so they suggest Greek before Turkish.

4. Btw, there is an English cognate to oriste and those other forms of “command”, though it is reasonably obscure. orizō is originally “to define, to delimited”. The past tense of Greek that is not delimited is the one whose aspect is open-ended—it could be either completed (perfective) or ongoing (imperfective). That’s the Simple Past of Greek, and its name is “undelimited”, a-orist.

I was hoping orison was related as well; but etymologists who actually know what they’re doing it know that it’s from French oreison < Latin oratio.

5. Both καλώς ήρθες and καλώς όρισες are spoken by the host to the visitor. The visitor formulaically responds καλώς σε/σας βρήκα/βρήκαμε, “well I/we have found you (sg/pl).” This is spoken on initial greeting; it is also spoken when you sit down to eat together.

Or, apparently, when you’re performing to an audience to thousands.

And, what do you know:

Hoş bulduk = καλώς σας βρήκαμε. As in:

“Well have we found you, Vienna and Prague”. “Well found”, not “well commanded”. Because Vienna and Prague are the hosts, and we’re the guests.

First attempt at a Quora-idiomatic pic-heavy post… about Greek grammar. Nah, I don’t think it works…

Do Greek villages near Albania use Albanian words, just like those in Albania use Greek loanwords?

In brief, yes.

First, we need to define “near Albania”. Let’s start with this map from Languages of Greece

I’m going to ignore Arvanitika in Central Greece, because that’s nowhere near Albania. I’m going to ignore the Albanian enclaves near Florina, because they were traditionally surrounded by Macedonian Slavonic, rather than Greek. I’m going to focus on the region around Ioannina.

The map has a patch of Aromanian to the west of Ioannina. That’s likely wrong: that region is Thesprotia, Albanian Çamëria, and it was inhabited by a substantially Albanian Muslim population until WWII.

[Edit: actually, if the map represents contemporary populations, it’s probably right; all that’s left of Çamëria is that small green dot. I think the Çam population is down to a dozen.]

Just north of the Greek–Albanian border, is the region Greeks call Northern Epirus, where there is still a Greek-speaking minority.

So you have, moving in a crooked northwest from Ioannina:

  • Ioannina: Greek
  • Thesprotia/Çamëria: Albanian
  • Northern Epirus (e.g. Agii Saranda/Sarandë, Himara/Himarë): Greek
  • Albania

And the map is patchwork, and there is presumably a continuum in Ioanninia prefecture up through Pogoniani, but yeah.

I’ll ignore Northern Epirus: they’ve a Greek enclave, so of course they’ll have a lot of Albanian. What’s more interesting is, how much Albanian got into Ioannina dialect, being at the northern edge of contiguous Greek-speaking territory. (And yes, that’s Aromanian immediately to its right: Metsovo is the Aromanian heartland.)

There are some dictionaries of Epirot dialect. The one I happened to have on my shelf was not at all promising:

  • Κοσμάς, Ν.Ι. 1997. Το Γλωσσικό Ιδίωμα των Ιωαννίνων. Αθήνα: Δωδώνη. (The Dialect of Ioannina)

It had oodles of Turkish words, some Venetian words, and only one or two Albanian words.

I was going to go further afield, and check out Bongas’ 1964 dictionary (which is rather large, but etymologically patchy), or Aravatinos’ 1909 dictionary. But I didn’t have to.

Nikos Sarantakos maintains the premier Greek language blog, Οι λέξεις έχουν τη δική τους ιστορία. The post Πενήντα ελληνικές λέξεις αλβανικής προέλευσης is his article on 50 words in Greek of Albanian origin. He’s eliminated obscure words from earlier lists (he’d redacted down a list of 89 words); but I’ve got to say, I’ve only heard of 23 of them, and I doubt I’d use more than 5 [Counted: ok, 10]. Note the Greek question marks (;) against several, btw: Balkan etymology is a difficult business.

The Greek nationalists unfortunately discovered the post, and the comments thread gets nasty quickly. But before it did, commenter Grigoris Kotortsinos (comment: Πενήντα ελληνικές λέξεις αλβανικής προέλευσης) mentions that the book

  • Κ. Οικονόμου, Η αλβανική γλωσσική επίδραση στα ηπειρωτικά ιδιώματα, Ιωάννινα 1997 (Albanian linguistic influence on Epirus dialects)

mentions 183 Albanian words in the local dialect, and then cites the 55 he has heard in use.

55 is a lot more than 23, let alone 5; and 183 is a lot more than 89. So yes, there is a larger than usual concentration of Albanian words, in the Greek dialects spoken south of Albania.

Obvious, but good to see it documented.

How’s your Greek, btw, Aziz?

Edit: the source 89-word list, which also tries to find modern Albanian equivalents, is Αρβανίτικες λέξεις στα Ρωμαίικα ή αλβανικά δάνεια στη δημοτική γλώσσα [2011]