Pontic Greek

Glottocode: pont1253

Pontic Greek is a group of modern Greek varieties, deriving from ancient Koine Greek and reshaped by medieval Greek. It has been formed over millennia since the Ionian colonization along the southern Black Sea shores from around the 7th c. BC. It is known as Rumaiic (Pontic Greek: romeika; Greek: romeika; Turk: rumca) by its speakers, whereas Pontic (Greek: pontiaka) is a relatively new term preferred in literal use emphasizing their origin from the Pontos region. Emigration to the northern Black Sea shores since the 18th century, but above all mass expulsion and population exchange since the beginning of the 20th century ensured an extremely disperse spread of the Pontic Greek from their regions of origin in northeast Anatolia and the province of Kars, southern Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia, northern Greece and cities all over Greece, and a huge diaspora in Germany and USA.

Due to the wide spatial distance, the individual varieties are exposed to strong influences of the respective umbrella language (in Russia to Russian, in Greece to Greek, in Turkey to Turkish) and have been developing differently. In Greece and Turkey Pontic has no official status; in the Soviet Union Rumaiic was the de facto language of the Greek minority, but finally Modern Demotic Greek prevailed.

Settlements represented in our collection

Characteristics of the variety

Characteristics of the variety

Pontic Greek varieties can be divided into a western group (Niotika) originating from Oinoi (today Ünye) and an eastern group, consisting of the coastal subgroup of Trapezunta (today Trabzon), the inland subgroup of Chaldia around Argyroupolis (today Gümüşhane) and around Kotyora (today Ordu).

The main characteristics of Pontic Greek are:

In phonology:

  • Preservation of the ancient pronunciation of η (eta) as /e/ instead of Standard Greek /i/
    Pontic GreekStandard GreekEnglish
    νύφε [nífe]νύφη [nífi]bride
    εɣάπεσα [eɣápesa]   αγάπησα [aɣápisa]   I loved
    έτον [íton]ήταν [ítan]was
    ζεμία [ζεμíα]ζημιά [zimɲá]damage
  • Preservation of the ancient pronunciation ω (omega) as /o/ where Standard Greek has /u/
    ζωμίν [zomín]ζουμί [zumí]juice
    ρωθώνι [roθóni]    ρουθούνι [ruθúni]   nostril
  • The cluster sp from the ancient Greek-Ionic is preserved.
    σπιχτός [spiχtós]     σφιχτός [sfiχtós]     tight
    σπάζω [spázo]σφάζω [sfázo]slaughter
  • The final -n is preserved:
    το στóμαν [to stóman]      το στóμα [to stóma]the mouth
    την αυλήν [tin avlín]την αυλή [tin avlí]the yard
    τον αφέντην [ton afendin]   τον αφέντη [ton afendi]   the master
    είπεν [ípen]είπε [ípe]s/he said
  • The stressed vocalic sequences éa and ía are preserved:
    βασιλέας [vasiléas]     βασιλιάς [vasiʎás]     king
    ποδέα [poðéa]ποδιά [poðʝá]apron
    μαλλία [malía]μαλλιά [maʎá]hair
  • Τhe unstressed vocalic sequences ea, ia  evolved into vowel æ
    όρνεα “vultures” > [órnæ]
    οσπίτια “houses” > [ospítæ]
    διαβαίνω “pass” > [ðæváno]
    διάβολος “devil”  > [ðævolos]
    ομοιάζω  “resemble”  > [omæzo]
  • The s is converted to palato-alveolar ʃ before palatal kʹ:
    σκοινί “rope” > [ʃkʹiní]
    σκύλος “dog” > [ʃkʹílos]
    βόσκεται “s/he grazes” > [vóʃkʹete]
  • Τhe palatal ç is converted to palato-alveolar ʃ:
    χέριν “hand” > [ʃérin]
    έχει “he has” > [éʃ]
  • In the area of Ofis [today Of] the palatals k' and g' are also converted to affricates ʧ , ʤ respectively:
    καιρóς [kʹerós] > [ʧerós] “weather”
    κερίν [kʹerín] > [ʧerín] “wax”
    κύρης [kʹíris] > [ʧiris] “master, father”
  • Τhe stress remains stable during the inflection and it can be in more than three syllables from the end:
    Xάραλαμπε [Χáralambe] “Haralambos”
    έκαιγαμε [ékʹɣame] “we were burning’
    έμορφεσα [émorfesa] “beautiful”
    έκατσετεν [ékaʦeten] “you sat”

In morphology (article):

  • Τhe singular genitive type of the article τη [ti] is used in all the genders:
    masculine: τη λύκονος [ti líkonos] “of the wolf”
    female: τη κοσσάρας [ti kosáras] “of the chicken”, τη Παρέσσας [ti Parésas] “of Paresa”
  • The forms of the article with the preposition se “to” are σον , σην , σο [son, sin , so] whereas in Common Modern Greek are στον , στην, στο [ston, stin, sto]:
    στον κύρην > σον κύρην [son kʹírin] “ to the father”
    στην μάνα μ > ση μάνα μ’ [si mána m] “to my mother”
    στο χωράφι > σο χωράφιν [so χoráfin] “to the field”

In morphology (substantive and adjective):

  • The masculine nouns in -os when with the article form the ending in -on:
    λύκος [líkos] “wolf” > ο λύκον [o líkon] “the wolf”
    In the areas Nikopoli and Oinoi this can be found in other categories:
    βασιλέας [vasiléas] “king” > ο βασιλέαν [o basiléan] “the king”
  • The masculine nouns in -os form the singular genitive in -onos:
    λύκος [líkos] “wolf” - λύκονος [líkonos] “of the wolf”, cf. modern greek λύκου [líku]
    νέος [néos] “young” - νέονος [néonos]  “of the young” , modern greek νέου [néu]
  • The non-human female nouns form the plural with the neutral article τα [ta]:
    τα κοσσάρας [ta kosáras] “the hens”
    τα εικόνας [ta ikónas] “the icons” 
  • The ancient ending -os of the female adjective is preserved, whereas in Standard Greek it is in [-i]:
    η άσκεμος [i áʃkʹemos] “the ugly”
    η έμορφος [i émorfos] “the beautiful”
    η αγέλαστος [i aʝélastos] “the unsmiling”
  • The female adjective ending is -έσα:
    καλέσα [kalésa] “good”
    αληθινέσα [aliθinésa] “true”
    άσπρεσα [áspresa] “white”

In morphology (verbs):

  • Preservation of the ancient active past imperative in -on:
    κόψον [kópson] “cut”
    ποίσον [píson] “do”
    σύρον [síron] “drag”
    βάλον [válon] “put”
  • The passive voice is formed in -ουμαι [-ume], -ούμαι [-úme]:
    θερίγουμαι [θeríɣume] “I am harvested”
    χτενίγουμαι [χteníɣume] “I do my hair”
    θυμούμαι [θimúme] “remember”
    φοβούμαι [fovúme] “be scared”
  • The passive past is formed in -θa which derives from the ancient Greek passive past -θην:
    εστάθα [estáθa] “Ι stood”
    εφανερώθα [efaneróθa] “I was revealed”
    εθερίστα [eθerísta] “I was harvesting”
  • In many parts of Pontos the future continuous is only used:
    θa léɣo “I will be saying”  & “I will say”
    θa tróɣo “I will be eating & I will eat”
  • The addition e- is preserved even when it is unstressed
    εσπέρναμε [espérname] “we were sowing”
    εφίλεσα [efílesa] “I kissed”
    εκοιμέθα [ekʹiméθa] “I slept”
    εγάπανα [eɣápana] “I was loving”
  • Use of the modal verb type εν [en] “is” deriving from the ancient Greek ἔνεστι.

In morphology (other):

  • Use of the demonstrative pronoun αβούτος, αούτος [avútos, aútos] instead of Common Modern Greek αυτός [aftós]
  • Use of the possessive pronoun  τ’εμέτερος “our” deriving frοm the ancient Greek τον ἡμέτερον [ton heméteron]. τ’ εμέτερον χωρίον [teméteron χoríon] “our village”.
  • Use of the interrogative pronoun ντο instead of τι: ντο φτάς; [do ftás?] “What do you do?”
  • Use of the negative particle κι [kʹi] deriving from the ancient Ionic Greek ουκί where Standard Greek has δεν [ðen]:
    κι θέλω σε [kʹi θélo se] “I do not want you”, Standard Greek δεν σε θέλω [ðen se θélo]
    κι πάω [kʹi páo] “I do not go”, Standard Greek δεν πάω [ðen páo]
  • Τhe weak types of the personal pronoun are after the verb:
    λέγω σε [léɣo se] “I say to you”
    είδα τον [íða ton] “I saw him”
    ποίσον με [píson me] “do to me”
  • The accusative is used for the indirect object:
    εδώκα την Παλάσαν το φιστάν’ [eðóka tin Palásan to fistán] “I gave Palasa the dress”
    είπα τον κύρη σ’ [ípa ton kʹíri s] “I said to your father”
  • Use of the diminutive ending -όπον:
    μαλλία “hairs”> μαλλόπα “small hairs”
    κορίτσι  “girl” > κορτσόπον “little girl”
    καρδία “heart” > καρδόπον “small heart”


Pontic Greek has been primarily written in the Greek script, examples are folklore texts and some dialectical literature. In Georgia and Russia there was Pontic Greek literature and theatre using the Cyrillic alphabet and in Turkey some people use the Latin script for spontaneous communication. The majority of the Pontic Greeks still do not write the language. Scientific research shows huge knowledge gaps concerning the documentation of the Pontic varieties in Turkey and Abchasia. Even if there should be a few hundred thousand speakers today, all varieties of Pontic Greek are endangered. Besides the active speakers in many villages and cities especially in Northern Greece, it is still spoken by the diasporas in Ukraine, Russia and Georgia, as well as by Muslims around Tonya and Of in the Trabzon Province.

    © Thede Kahl, Andreea Pascaru, Sotirios Rousiakis 2019-2021