Saving an endangered native language in Greece

Hi everyone,

Here’s an article I was just enjoying and thought others here might find interesting as well:
How a headmaster is trying to save an ancient language

This is an excerpt:

Tsakonian is considered the only descendant of Doric Greek, a classical Hellenic language last spoken more than 2,000 years ago around the military city-state of Sparta. Tsakonian managed to survive in this corner of southern Greece, whose hilly and rocky paths discouraged foreign occupiers and hindered contact with other regions. UNESCO has labeled Tsakonian a “critically endangered” language spoken by about 300 people.

Now, Panagiotis Tsagouris, headmaster of Leonidio’s public primary school, has taken on the task of, if not making Tsakonian widely spoken, at least preserving it in the computer era…

Doric and its dialects ruled the Peloponnesus in ancient times, and its variants stretched from Sicily in Italy to Anatolia in Turkey. The decline of Sparta and the unification of Greece under Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC brought about the wane of Doric and the rise of Attic Greek from Athens, the precursor of Modern Greek.

Tsakonian and Greek are mutually unintelligible, even to the most attentive listener. Unaware Greeks are startled when they hear it, with its distinctive phonetics and verb conjugations.

While Tsakonian survived centuries of Greek contact with Franks, Turks, and others, it may not live through the challenges posed by globalization, electronic communications, and a state that may be indifferent to, or unable to finance, minority culture education.

“People come to this region to excavate and uncover ancient ruins,” says Tsagouris, who counts 34 years as an educator. “I always think, Are they waiting for our language to be buried so they can excavate it, too? Let’s protect this treasure now.”

And maybe one day… SSiTsakonian? :grinning:


First of all, thanks for this interesting post - I’d never heard of Tsakonian.
Secondly, I apologise fpr this slightly off-topic post.
The language/dialect spoken around Aberdeen where I grew up and throughout lowland Scotland in earlier times was called “Doric” although it has no apparent link with the Hellenic Doric.
Wikipedia’s explanation for this can be read here: WikiScotsDoric
Now - back to your topic :slight_smile:


Nor had I! :smile: It does sort of go to suggest how many “lesser-used” languages there are out there — even in Europe, let alone the rest of the world — that have been almost completely buried under a dominant language and culture, to the point where most people aren’t aware of them any more (possibly even in that country itself).

I ran across a quote somewhere once from a linguist in reference to the alarming rate of language extinction worldwide — something to the effect of “No other discipline faces the prospect of 50-90% of its subject material being lost within the next century.” :anguished: (I can’t remember the exact wording or who said it — does anyone recognise it?) But that’s why it’s always so good to hear about initiatives like this one in Greece.

I did remember someone started a thread asking if we could have SSiScots/Doric and was wondering why a dialect of Scots would have a very Greek-sounding name! :wink: Now I know — thanks for that info.

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a thread asking if we could have SSiScots/Doric

i was an enthusiastic participant in that thread :slight_smile:

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Looking at endangered languages I googled the Caucusus, because i knew this was one of the areas of the world linguists love to do research and where lots are expected to die out in the future. I stumbled upon this American book from 1855 (in English), which is a bit of fun - the Author tries to lay claim to all number of things in the world being of Welsh descent, including the name Caucusus itself and the Caspian Sea. I think the 19th century was a fertile time for all of this sort of thing.

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Oh no, they were really all of Cornish descent, but no-one realised because the Cornish language was almost dead by 1855, so those pesky Welsh got all the credit as usual. :grin: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :wink:

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Kernow is De Cymru isn’t it - best put a hat on before I get showered with pasties.

Better than being De Cymru Newydd. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

(I’m from Melbourne myself :wink:)

I wonder why a yorkshireman like Cpt James Cook called it New Wales or New South Wales. He is also credited with making the note in his journal about the Penguin name coming from his Welsh sailors. I guess he had some affinity for Wales or maybe just showing some allegiance to the next in line to the throne.

Who knows… maybe he wanted to call the place New York, but that had been done before. :grin:

That note was in Sir Francis Drake’s journal, (made by his chaplain, if I remember correctly.).

(It may have been in Captain Cook’s journal as well, sometime afterwards, of course. I have no idea.)

I stand corrected - mixing up Drake and Cook, something I have done more than once over the years, despite the large time gap between them.

Some time back, during the Rugby World Cup, I found that the language of Georgia is Kartveli. I know no more than that, but I posted a question about Latvia in another thread
and @tatjana kindly moved the topic to a new thread here
Basically, I was chasing resemblances between customs in Latvia and Cymru and found a mention of the Latvian language having Indo-European Celtic roots. It is a small world, no?
Oh, and surely Cornwall and Cymru, being Prydeinig, spoke the same language, that of Ynys Brydain, as did everyone else here.
Dialects, I am sure, more different than De a Gogledd nawr, but the same language.
Breton was surely exported with those who followed the departing Legions. Doric Scots is no doubt more Norse and Danish than German? Yes/No?
One site listing Celtic languages said that “only Welsh is not endangered”! Such faith in the Welsh Language Act, or is it Cymdeithas?

It is indeed! But I have a suspicion the connection between Welsh and Latvian is on the Indo-European level rather than the Celtic level. :blush:

We do, however, seem to have other things linguistically in common with their situation according to Wikipedia-

“There are several contests held annually to promote correct use of Latvian.[6][7] Notably, the State Language Center holds contests for language mistakes, named “Gimalajiešu superlācis” after an infamous incorrect translation of Asiatic Black Bear. These mistakes, often quite amusing, are both grammatical and stylistic; sometimes also obvious typos and mistranslations are considered to belong here. Organizers claim that mistakes are largely collected in areas heavily populated by Russian-speakers, as well as from Lithuanian-owned chain stores. Mistranslations are not necessarily grammatical, but also stylistic and vocabulary mistakes, such as literal translations from the English language.”

So that we might be able to learn from this country of just over 2 million people, with a large non-Latvian population in other ways-

"The history of the Latvian language (cf. below) has placed it in a peculiar position for a language of its size whereby it is spoken by a large number of non-native speakers as compared to native speakers. The immigrant and minority population in Latvia is 700,000 people: Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, and others. The majority of immigrants came to Latvia from 1940–1991; supplementing pre-existing ethnic minority communities.[citation needed] In a recent survey, 60% of Latvia’s ethnic minorities described their knowledge of Latvian as fluent.[9] Fluency in Latvian is prevalent among the younger generations of the minorities.

The adoption of Latvian by minorities was brought about by its status as the only official language of the country, its prominence in the education system, its sole use in the public sector[citation needed] and by changes in the society after the fall of the Soviet Union that shifted linguistic focus away from Russian. As an example, in 2007 universities and colleges for the first time received applications from prospective students who had a bilingual secondary education in schools for minorities. Fluency in Latvian is expected in a variety of professions and careers."