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Tsakonian (also TsaconianTzakonian or Tsakonic; Tsakonian: τσακώνικα, α τσακώνικα γρούσσα; Greek: τσακώνικα) is a modern Hellenic language which is both highly divergent from other spoken varieties of Modern Greek and, from a philological standpoint, is also linguistically classified separately from them. It is spoken in the Tsakonian region of the Peloponnese, Greece. Tsakonian descends from Doric, which was an Ancient Greek language on the Western branch of Hellenic languages, and it is its only living descendant[3] (along with the debatable Maniot dialect of Modern Greek). Although Tsakonian is treated as a dialect of Modern Standard Greek,[4][5][6] some compendia treat it as a separate language,[7] since Modern Standard Greek descends from Ionic and Attic which are on the Eastern branch of the Hellenic languages, while Tsakonian (as a descendant of Doric) is the sole surviving member of the Western branch.

Tsakonian is critically endangered, with only a few hundred, mostly elderly, fluent speakers left.[7] Tsakonian and Modern Greek are not mutually intelligible.

It is named after its speakers, the Tsakonians, which in turn may be derived from 'exo-Laconians' 'Outer Lakonians'.[citation needed]

Geographic distribution[edit] Edit

Old ethnic map of Peloponnese; Tsakonian-speaking areas in blue

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).

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. In addition, during the war, the Turkish army drove the Tsakonians east, and as a result, their de facto capital shifted from Prastos to Leonidio, further making the people significantly less isolated.[8] There began a rapid decline from an estimated figure of some 200,000 fluent speakers to the present estimate of a speaker count between 200 and 1,000.[7]

Since the introduction of electricity to all villages in Tsakonia by the late 1950s, the Greek mass media can reach the most remote of areas and profoundly affect the speech of younger speakers. Efforts to revive the language by teaching it in local schools do not seem to have had much success. Standard Modern Greek is the official language of government, commerce and education, and it is possible that the continued modernization of Tsakonia will lead to the language's disappearance sometime this century.[citation needed]

The area where the language is found today in some villages Tsakonia slopes of Parnon in the southern province of Kynouria, including the towns of Leonidio and Tyros and villages of Melana, Agios Andreas, Vaskina, Prastos, Sitaina and Kastanitsa.

Official status[edit] Edit

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.[9]

Dialects[edit] Edit

There are three dialects of Tsakonian: Northern, Southern, and Propontis.

The Propontis dialect was spoken in what was formerly a Tsakonian colony on the Sea of Marmara (or Propontis; two villages near Gönen, Vatika and Havoutsi), whose members were resettled in Greece with the 1924 population exchanges.[7] Propontis Tsakonian appears to have died out around 1970, although it had already stopped being the primary language of its community after 1914 when they were internally exiled with other Greeks in the region due to the outbreak of World War I.[10] Propontis Tsakonian was overall grammatically more conservative, but it was also influenced by the nearby Thracian dialects of Greek which were much closer to Standard Modern Greek.[11] The emergence of the Propontis community is either dated to the 13th century settlement of Tsakonians by Emperor Michael VII, explicitly referenced by Byzantine George Pachymeres[12] or around the time of the 1770 Orlov Revolt[13]. For an example of the standardizing Thracian Greek influence, compare the Northern and Southern word for water, ύο (ýo, derived from Ancient Greek ὕδωρ) to Propontic νερέ and Standard νερό (neréneró).


Of the two mainland dialects of Tsakonian, Southern Tsakonian is spoken in the villages of Melana, Prastos, Tiros, Leonidio, Pramatefti and Sapunakeika, while Northern Tsakonian is found in Sitena and Kastanitsa. The Northern villages were much more exposed to the rest of Greek society, and as a result Northern Tsakonian experienced much heavier Standard Greek lexical and phonological influence, before it began to die out much faster than Southern Tsakonian.[14] As early as 1971, it became difficult for researchers in the northern villages to find any informants who could offer more than "a few isolated words".[15] There may have once been a fourth, Western, dialect of Tsakonian given the forms attested by Evliya Celebi in the 17th century.[16]

(Tsakonian/Greek) "Our language is Tsakonian. Ask and they'll tell you./Groússa námou eíni ta Tsakónika. Rotíete na nioúm' alíoi./I glóssa mas eínai ta Tsakónika. Rotíste na sas poun.", bilingual (Tsakonian and Standard Greek) sign in the town of Leonidio.

Morphology[edit] Edit

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 πφη (/pʰi/) in Tsakonian (note: traditional Tsakonian orthography uses the digraph πφ to represent aspirated /pʰ/). Noun morphology is broadly similar to Standard Modern Greek, although Tsakonian tends to drop the nominative, final  (-s) from masculine nouns, thus Tsakonian ο τσχίφτα for Standard o τρίφτης (o tshífta/o tríftis: "grater").

Contact[edit] Edit

There has always been contact with Koine Greek speakers and the language was affected by the neighboring Greek dialects. Additionally, there are some lexical borrowings from Arvanitika and Turkish. The core vocabulary remains recognizably Doric, although experts disagree on the extent to which other true Doricisms can be found. There are only a few hundred, mainly elderly true native speakers living,[7] although a great many more can speak the language less than fluently.


Phonology[edit] Edit

Vowels[edit] Edit

  • A [a] can appear as a reflex of Doric [aː], in contexts where Attic had η [ɛː] and Modern Greek has [i]: αμέρα [aˈmera] corresponding to Modern ημέρα [imera] "day", στρατιώτα [stratiˈota] corresponding to Modern στρατιώτης [stratiˈotis] "soldier".
  • Ε [e] [i] before vowels: e.g. Βασιλήα [vasiˈlia] instead of βασιλέα [vasiˈlea].
  • O occasionally [o] > [u]: ουφις [ufis] < όφις [ˈofis] "snake", τθούμα [ˈtʰuma] < στόμα [ˈstoma] "mouth". Final [o] > [e] after coronals and front vowels: όνος [ˈonos] > όνε [ˈone], χοίρος [ˈxyros] > χιούρε [ˈxjure], γραφτός [ɣrafˈtos] > γραφτέ [ɣrafˈte], χρέος [ˈxreos] > χρίε [ˈxrie], but δρόμος [ˈðromos] > δρόμο [ˈðromo]
  • 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 [ˈsuka] corresponding to Modern σύκα [ˈsika] "figs", άρτουμα [ˈartuma] corresponding to άρτυμα [ˈartima] "bread"; λύκος [ˈlykos] > λιούκο [ˈljuko] [ˈʎuko] "wolf"
  • Ω [ɔː] in Ancient Greek, regularly goes to [u]: μουρήα [muˈria] (Ancient μωρέα [mɔːˈrea], Modern μουριά [murˈʝa]), αού [au] < λαλών [laˈlɔːn] "speaking".

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

Consonants[edit] Edit

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

Tsakonian has extensive changes triggered by palatalisation:

  • [k] > [tɕ] : κύριος [ˈkyrios] > τζιούρη [ˈtɕuri], occasionally [ts]: κεφάλι [keˈfali] > τσουφά [tsuˈfa]
  • [ɡ] > [dz] : αγγίζων [aŋˈɡizɔːn] > αντζίχου [anˈdzixu]
  • [p] > [c] : πηγάδι [piˈɣaði] > κηγάδι [ciˈɣaði]
  • [t] > [c] : τυρός [tyˈros] > κιουρέ [cuˈre], occasionally [ts]: τίποτα [ˈtipota] > τσίπτα [ˈtsipta], πίτα [ˈpita] > πίτσα [ˈpitsa]
  • [m] > [n] : Μιχάλης [miˈxalis] > Ν(ν)ιχάλη [niˈxali]
  • [n] > [ɲ] : ανοίγων [aˈniɣɔːn] > ανοίντου [aˈɲindu]
  • [l] > [ʎ] : ηλιάζων [iliˈazɔːn] > λιάζου [ˈʎazu]
  • [r] > [ʒ] : ρυάκι [ryˈaki] > ρζάτζι [ˈʒatɕi]. This sound appears to have been a fricative trill in the 19th century, and [ʒ] survived latterly only in women's usage in Southern Tsakonian. A similar change occurred with palatalised [rʲ] in Polish and Czech, whereas in other languages it went in the reverse.

Word-initial [r] > [ʃ]: *ράφων [ˈrafɔːn] > σχάφου [ˈʃafu]

Word-final [s] > [r], which reflects an earlier process in Laconian; in Tsakonian, it is a liaison phoneme: τίνος [ˈtinos] > τσούνερ [ˈtsuner]

In Southern Tsakonian, [l] is deleted before back and central vowels: λόγος [ˈloɣos] > Northern λόγo [ˈloɣo], Southern όγo [ˈoɣo]; λούζων [ˈluzɔːn] > Northern λούκχου [ˈlukʰu], Southern ούκχου [ˈukʰu];

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 [θyˈɣatir] > σάτη [ˈsati], but Ancient θύων [ˈθiɔːn] (Modern σφάζω [ˈsfazo]) > θύου [ˈθiu]

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

  • [ðr, θr, tr] > [tʃ]: δρύας, άνθρωπος, τράγος [ˈðryas, ˈanθropos, ˈtraɣos] > τσχούα, άτσχωπο, τσχάο [ˈtʃua, ˈatʃopo, ˈtʃao]
  • [sp, st, sθ, sk, sx] > [pʰ, tʰ, tʰ, kʰ, kʰ]: σπείρων, ιστός, επιάσθη, ασκός, ίσχων [ˈspirɔːn, isˈtos, epiˈasθi, asˈkos, ˈisxɔːn] > πφείρου, ιτθέ, εκιάτθε, ακχό, ίκχου [ˈpʰiru, iˈtʰe, eˈcatʰe, aˈkʰo, ˈikʰu]
  • [mf, nθ, ŋx] > [pʰ, tʰ, kʰ]: ομφαλός, γρονθία, ρύγχος [omfaˈlos, ɣronˈθia, ˈryŋxos] > απφαλέ, γροτθία, σχούκο [apʰaˈle, ɣroˈtʰia, ˈʃukʰo]
  • [ks] > [ts]: ξερός [kseˈros] > τσερέ [tseˈre]
  • [kt, xθ] > [tʰ]: δάκτυλο, δεχθώ [ˈðaktylo, ðexˈθɔː] > δάτθυλε, δετθού [ˈðatʰile, ðeˈtʰu]
  • [l] after consonants often goes to [r]: πλατύ, κλέφτης, γλώσσα, αχλάδες [plaˈty, ˈkleftis, ˈɣlɔːsa, aˈxlaðes] > πρακιού, κρέφτα, γρούσα, αχράε [praˈcu, ˈkrefta, ˈɣrusa, aˈxrae]
  • [rp, rt, rk, rð] > [mb, nd, ŋɡ, nd]: σκορπίος, άρτος, άρκα, πορδή [skorˈpios, ˈartos, ˈarka, porˈði] > κχομπίο, άντε, άγκα, πφούντα [kʰomˈbio, ˈande, ˈaŋɡa, ˈpʰunda]

In the common verb ending -ζω, [z] > [nd] : φωνάζων [foˈnazɔːn] > φωνιάντου [foˈɲandu]

[z, v] are added between vowels: μυία, κυανός [myˈia, kyaˈnos] > μούζα, κουβάνε [ˈmuza, kuˈvane]

[ɣ, ð] often drop out between vowels: πόδας, τράγος [ˈpoðas, ˈtraɣos] > πούα, τσχάο [ˈpua, ˈtʃao]

Prosody[edit] Edit

Original song – Tsakonian[17] Roman Transliteration IPA transcription[citation needed]
Πουλάτζι ἔμα ἐχα τθὸ κουιβί τσαὶ μερουτέ νι ἔμα ἐχα

ταχίγα νι ἔμα ζάχαρι ποϊκίχα νι ἔμα μόσκο, τσαί ἁπό τὸ μόσκο τὸ περσού τσαὶ ἁπὸ τὰ νυρωδία ἑσκανταλίστε τὁ κουιβί τσ' ἑφύντζε μοι τ' αηδόνι. Τσ' ἁφέγκι νι ἔκει τσυνηγού μὲ τὸ κουιβί τθὸ χέρε. Ἔα πουλί τθὸν τόπο ντι ἔα τθα καϊκοιτζίαι, να ἄτσου τὰ κουδούνια ντι νἁ βάλου ἄβα τσαινούρτζα.

Poulátzi éma ékha tʰo kouiví tse merouté ni éma ékha

takhíga ni éma zákhari poïkíkha ni éma mósko tse apó to mósko to persoú tse apó ta nirodía eskantalíste to kouiví ts' efíntze mi t' aïdóni. Ts' aféngi ni éki tsinigoú me to kouiví tʰo khére Éa poulí tʰon tópo nti, éa tʰa kaïkitzíe na átsou ta koudoúnia nti na válou áva tsenoúrtza.

puˈlatɕi ˈema ˈexa tʰo kwiˈvi tɕe meruˈte ɲ ˈema ˈexa

taˈçiɣa ɲ ˈema ˈzaxaʒi po.iˈcixa ɲ ˈema ˈmosko tɕ aˈpo to ˈmosko to perˈsu tɕ aˈpo ta ɲiroˈði.a eskandaˈʎiste to kwiˈvi tɕ eˈfidze mi t a.iˈðoɲi tɕ aˈfeɲɟi ɲ ˈeci tɕiɲiˈɣu me to kwiˈvi tʰo ˈçere ˈe.a pouˈʎi tʰon ˈdopo di ˈe.a tʰa ka.iciˈtɕi.e n ˈatsu ta kuˈðuɲa di na ˈvalu ˈava tɕeˈnurdza

Modern Greek Modern Greek pronunciation (Roman guideline) IPA transcription (see Greek phonology)
Πουλάκι είχα στο κλουβί και μερομένο 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

Pouláki íkha sto klouví ke meroméno to íkha

to táïza zákhari ke to pótiza móskho ke apó ton polí ton móskho ke tin mirodiá tou eskantalísti ke to klouví ke mou éfige t' aïdóni. Ki' o aféntis to kinigáï me to klouví sto khéri Éla poulí ston tópo sou, éla stin katikía sou n' allákso ta koudoúnia sou na válo álla kenoúrgia.

puˈlaci ˈixa sto kluˈvi ce meroˈmeno to ˈixa

to ˈta.iza ˈzaxari ce to ˈpotiza ˈmosxo c aˈpo tom boˈli tom ˈmosxo ce tim miroˈðja tu eskandaˈlisti ce to kluˈvi ce mu ˈefiʝe t a.iˈðoni c o aˈfendis to ciniˈɣa.i me to kluˈvi sto ˈçeri ˈela pouˈli ston ˈdopo su ˈela stiŋ ɡatiˈci.a su n alˈakso ta kuˈðuɲa su na ˈvalo ˈala ceˈnurʝa

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.

Phonotactics[edit] Edit

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 /t͡ʃ/ can be considered a single phoneme; it is written traditionally with a trigraph as ατσχέ (= atskhe).

Grammar[edit] Edit

Tsakonian has undergone considerable morphological changes: there is minimal case inflection.

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

  • Ένει (Ení) = I am
  • Έσει (Esí) = you are
  • Έννι (Éni) = he/she/it is
  • Έμε (Éme) = we are
  • Έτθε (Éthe) = you are
  • Είνι (Íni) = they are
  • Έμα (Éma) = I was
  • Έσα (Ésa) = you were
  • Έκη (Éki) = he/she/it was
  • Έμαϊ (Émaï) = we were
  • Έτθαϊ (Éthaï) = you were
  • Ήγκιαϊ (Ígiaï) = they were
  • ένει φερήκχου (masculine) ένει φερήκχα (femimine) ένει φερήκχουντα (neuter) (feríkhou/feríkha/ferikhouda) = I bring
  • έσει φερήκχου (masculine) έσει φερήκχα (feminine) έσει φερήκχουντα (neuter) (feríkhou/feríkha/ferikhouda) = you bring
  • έννι φερήκχου (masculine) έννι φερήκχα (feminine) έννι φερήκχουντα (neuter) (feríkhou/feríkha/ferikhouda) = he/she/it brings
  • έμε φερήκχουντε (masculine, feminine) έμε φερήκχουντα (neuter) (feríkhude/feríkhuda) = we bring
  • έτθε φερήκχουντε (masculine, feminine) έτθε φερήκχουντα (neuter) (feríkhude/feríkhuda) = you bring
  • είνι φερήκχουντε (masculine, feminine) έμε φερήκχουντα (neuter) (feríkhude/feríkhuda) = they bring

Note: Participles change according to the gender of the subject of the sentence


Tsakonian has preserved the original inflection of the aorist indicative.

  • ενέγκα (enéga) = I brought
  • ενέντζερε (enédzere) = You brought
  • ενέντζε (enédze) = He/She/It brought
  • ενέγκαμε (enégame) = We brought
  • ενέγκατε (enégate) = You brought
  • ενέγκαϊ (enég) = They brought

Writing system[edit] Edit

Traditionally, Tsakonian used the standard Greek alphabet, along with digraphs to represent certain sounds that either do not occur in Demotic Greek, or that do not commonly occur in combination with the same sounds as they do in Tsakonian. For example, the [ʃ] sound, which does not occur in standard Greek, does occur in Tsakonian, and is spelled σχ (much like German sch). Another sound recalls Czech ř. Thanasis 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 hačeks (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 ένει [eɲi] "I am", έννι [eni] "he is" – the latter corresponding to Northern Tsakonian έμι [emi] and Standard Greek είμαι [ime].)

Transcribing Tsakonian[18]
Digraphs Costakis IPA
σχ σ̌ ʃ
τσχ σ̓
ρζ ρζ
τθ τ̒
κχ κ̒
πφ π̒
τζ (Κ) τζ ̌ – τζ & τρζ ̌ — τρζ

(Λ) τζ ̌ – τζ

(K) tɕ, trʒ

(L) tɕ d͡ʒ

νν ν̇ n (not ɲ)
λλ λ̣ l (not ʎ)
Note: (K) is for the northern dialect of Kastanitsa and Sitaina, (Λ) and (L) for the southern which is spoken around Leonidio and Tyros.

Examples[edit] Edit

English Modern Greek Tsakonian (Greek alphabet) Tsakonian (Latin script) Tsakonian (Costakis Notation)
Where is his/her/its room? Πού είναι το δωμάτιό του/της; Κιά έννι το όντα σι; Kiá éni to óda si? κιά έν̇ι το όντα σι;
Where is the beach? Πού είναι η παραλία; Κιά έννι το περιγιάλλι; Kiá éni to perigiáli? κιά έν̇ι το περιγιάλ̣ι;
Where is the bar? Πού είναι το μπαρ; Κιά έννι το μπαρ; Kiá éni to bar? κιά έν̇ι το μπαρ;
Don't touch me there! Μη μ' αγγίζεις εκεί! Μη' μ' αντζίζερε όρπα! Mi m' andzízere órpa! Μη με ατζίζερε όρπα!


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