Mehmet Günaydın

Community consultant - Pontic Greek (Romeyka, Rumca)

I am a biology teacher living in Bursa. I was born in İskenderli (Tonya, Trabzon) in 1967. Back then, when I was a child, we spoke my base language Romeyka, with all the relatives and most of my friends. The first time I got in contact with the Turkish language was in school. It was dangerous to speak Romeyka in public back then, luckily the times have now changed. We can speak Romeyka when and where we want, it's free like other languages. I like to speak it and for me it feels like "my real language" and I would do anything and invest every free moment to documenting and protecting it from disappearing.

Over the years, I recorded videos of elderly people in and around my childhood village. When losing the people we also lose the words and the cultural meaning they carry. This aspect is extremely worrying, since every language deserves staying alive. But nowadays we can change something. Especially in the case of Romeyka which is still spoken also in Northern Greece. Our language, together with the standard Greek language connects us with the people in Greece with whom our people are in good relations. Difficult times in the past reveal as useless today. As neighbors we endured war and hostility, but there is more to unite us than to divide us. When travelling to Greece I speak Romeyka to the people i meet and we can understand each other. Especially elderly people could follow me easily. I wish for the younger generation to learn about and to speak this language among each other here and elsewhere in the world, since otherwise this language will slowly vanish. This aspect drove me into beginning my own documentation. Meeting and collaborating with Andreea Pascaru and Thede Kahl back in 2018 motivated me even more to continue this valuable work I started and which I hope I could do as long as possible. Having people visiting my region and the villages I document in has kept me motivated, while the feedback I receive through internet is very important. I like to say to the people: "Come and visit Turkey, get to know the Turkish Black Sea coast, the incredible monastery of Panagia Sumela near Maçka and our Hagia Sophia in Trabzon as well as the beautiful region of Uzungöl, places that reflect the history of our culture and language."

It is my native language, Romeyka, that keeps me motivated in everything I do.

Anatoli Karipidou

Community consultant - Pontic Greek (Romeyka, Pontiaka)

When reflecting on the acquisition of the unforgettable sounds of my ‘mother tongue’ that were implanted in me since my formative years as a child, I think of those heartfelt utterances of my mother and grandmother. In 2014, I revisited my association with this ancient tongue of my people who have kept the Pontic dialect alive in Greece stretching over the numerous epochs in its storied past. If ancient Greek is considered the mother of the western languages, then the Pontic dialect is arguably perhaps the closest dialect to ancient Greek. In many cases the variety retains the original meaning of the words from the ancient initial root word, such as in κλίνω, χαλεπός, χρεία or in έτερος. The origins of the Pontic dialect from the ancient Ionian dialect is indisputable and its obvious Homeric elements can be evidenced for instance by ουκί, the phoneme /e/ for η, and /o/ for ου etc.
The community of linguistic scientists have already unearthed the academic value of Pontic Greek and continue to study its wealth of content alongside the other notable regional dialects. If we schematically represent the Greek language as a tree, at its roots we would identify the foundations of ancient Greek that nourishes and supports the linguistic body in the trunk. Its foliage would be the various dialects with their associated idioms that supply the necessary oxygen to the tree. If Pontic Greek will disappear, an entire world would be lost. The Pontic dialect has already lost lots of its avid speakers as so many of them were expelled from the geographical area in which it used to thrive. Today it is spoken in a handful of parts of Pontus and in regions of Greece, predominantly by older generations. All of those who know it, in particular those in the scientific community and even everyday individuals, have a duty to uphold its value and survival by giving it life and ensuring that it is heard by a wider audience. Perhaps to even let it become an everyday language of communication again, especially by those who know it and give it currency. Consequently, the clubs, teachers, the Pontian theater, the music and lyrics, and also Pontian publications could take on the serious obligation of preserving it in order to revive it and thus prolong its survival. It is only then that its longevity could be hopefully assured.

Sotiris Rousiakis

Community consultant - Thessalian Greek (Karagoun)

I hold a master’s degree in Philosophy and Historical Balkan Linguistics at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and specialized at King’s College, London, in modern Greek philology and the history of modern Greek literature and linguistics. Since 2018 I have been a PhD candidate at the University of Jena. I am a member of the Karagoun community in Trikala and am an L1 speaker of Karagoun Greek. 

In come from the lowland area of West Thessaly, where in the prefectures of Trikala and Karditsa a regional Greek-speaking population lives, known as the Karagouns (Καραγκούνηδες). Our language is the most common and preserved dialect form in Thessaly. Despite the relative prevalence of the spoken language, the amount of literature has greatly reduced and the dialect spoken by Karagouns has declined and is giving ground towards the powerful common Modern Greek.

The dialect is known and used by men and women over 70 years old who have lived in the villages, middle age speakers’ language knowledge varies, but the majority masters a big part of the vocabulary, though compared to other regions of Thessaly the retreat is much slower.

But the spoken language has another loss: most of the oral genres are highly endangered and are being preserved only with the help of elderly people. The cultural heritage of the Karagouns is being passed on to the next generations only through organized events, which leads to a purely latent language revival, and not a permanent one. This process is also linked to the prestige of the language which is almost non-existent. In this respect I am now analysing and preparing for publication the material I gathered during fieldwork in the last 15 years. Following my work with the dialect I am now preparing a grammatical description of the Thessalian spoken variety.

Francesco Giannachi

Community consultant - Southern Italian Apulian Greek (Griko)

I am associate professor of Byzantine Civilization at the University of Salento. Having also specialized in Greek Palaeography at the Vatican School of Palaeography, I deal with the manuscript tradition of Greek texts dating from the archaic and classical period (Pindar and Sophocles) to the Byzantine (John Tzetzes, Thomas Magister, Demetrius Triclinius and Manuel Moschopoulus) and post-Byzantine period (Sevastos Kyminitis).

I was born to a Greek speaking family in Southern Italy, in Soleto, one of the Griko municipalities of Southern Apulia. I grew up with two mother tongues, speaking both Italian (at school and with friends) and Griko (with my parents, aunts and cousins). My parents always considered our minority language as an opportunity and not as a badge of shame or sign of backwardness. In his last days, my granduncle Antonio, a veteran of the Second World War who fought on the Greek front, told me about his experience in Greece, saying: “Kratiso stênnù ka o pàppo-ma irte apu ‘cì, attin Grecia. Ce ‘cì èchome t’adrèffia-ma. Vrètimo pata kalò sin Grecia, tus anòigga sin glossa ce me kratùsane san ena tze cinu”. During the war, he really understood his Greek origins and at the end of his life he was able to say to me: “Remember that our ancestors came from there, from Greece, and there we still have brothers. I very much found myself in Greece, I understood their language and the Greeks always considered me as one of them”.

As a Byzantinist and a Griko man, I have a deep understanding of the Greek cultural background of Southern Italy both in the fields of high-register language and in that of the more colloquial and popular forms of language. The most significant aim of my field research is to recover the Griko oral literature and to make a classification in terms of literary genres (love songs; laments for sad or joyful events like death, marriage, natural disasters; begging songs; short stories). It is very important to find, where possible, the literary archetypes of these oral compositions and to understand that for some of these songs or short stories it is possible to find a written archetype, that migrated in a second instance into the oral transmission. It was possible, for example, to find the short story entitled O cunto mô Sopo, an orally transmitted version of the late antique Greek Life of Aesop, which at the end of the 19th century was transcribed by Vito Domenico Palumbo directly from the voice and words of the old Gaetana Palma in the Griko village of Calimera.

In cooperation with VLACH I have made some video recordings of Griko speaking people in Sternatia and have been transcribing their dialogues and speeches. I hope to contribute to the preservation of this Occidental Greek dialect variety, and make some specimens of this language available on the internet, which I think will be very useful for researchers in the fields of linguistics and anthropology.

Savvas Mavridis

Community consultant - Pontic Greek (Romeyka, Pontiaka)

I am a professor and currently head of the Department of Business Administration of the International University of Greece, based in Thessaloniki.

I was born in Kryoneri, a village near Thessaloniki, where I grew up speaking both Greek and Pontic Greek, the latter of which being the native language of both my parents and grandparents. As an undergraduate, I studied the Pontic Greek dialect parallel to my undergraduate studies in law. In my everyday life, the history and culture of the Pontic Greeks was ever-present and I was always fascinated from both a sociological and ethnological point of view by the historical development and the preservation of this variety in the historical Greek regions of Europe and Asia Minor. In addition, I co-edited the six-volume Encyclopaedia of the Pontic Greeks. (Thessaloniki 1990), and translated the book of Jacob Philipp Fallmerayer on the History of the Empire of Trebizond from 1844. I possess many recordings from different regions of Pontos, mainly of musicians and singers.

Since on the one hand Pontic Greek is my native language and on the other hand it is also the only modern Greek dialect that has preserved some original elements of the ancient Greek phonetics, I have attempted to establish and disseminate these associations in my research on the language. For this purpose, I have also used the book by Demosthenes E. Oekonomides, Phonology of the Pontic (Leipzig 1908), a unique book that I am currently translating into Greek.

In cooperation with VLACH, I have been writing transcriptions of Pontic Greek spoken on the Black Sea coast in Turkey and, since 1923, in Greece. Through my work, I hope to contribute to the preservation of this language in written form and to heighten the interest of linguists who are concerned with the comparison of historical linguistic Greek varieties, as well as in the analysis of Pontic traditional cultural assets. I also hope to inspire interest for this linguistic variety among younger generations. My work is geared primarily at generating prestige for the spoken language that has, for a long time, been in the shadow of standard Greek.

I believe that digitization and is an important part of the language preservation process, as the Internet allows for quick access and distribution. Pontic Greek, which has retained elements of ancient Greek both in pronunciation and in vocabulary, and has thus contributed to the World Heritage status like no other, can tell us a lot. In my opinion, embedding video and audio recordings also in language lessons is successful and effective in the long term.