Dean Kalimniou examines the way words from regions and countries have morphed into the Greek language
I know not a great deal about cars, save what is the minimum required to keep me from harm. Yet on Christmas Day, when the veritable plague of hail descended upon Melbourne, denting all metal in its path, I knew that I had to remove my mode of conveyance from my aunt's front yard, where it waited stoically for the conclusion of the family feast, to a place of greater safety. Navigating the torrents of water collecting in the dips and hollows of the area was a task fraught with difficulty, and it was with some relief that I finally pulled into a service station.
The hail had increased in intensity now and was pounding on the asphalt with fury. I stepped out of my car and watched nonchalantly as a battered, pock-marked corolla, looking more like the surface of the moon pulled up beside me. Seeing me, the driver wound down the window to reveal the moustachioed countenance of a friend. "Po, po.. This is nothing. You should see what happened to my son's car," he exclaimed. "Haramistike".
And I told him not to buy it. But what do you expect from kids these days. He doesn't listen. Sikose bairaki." As he enumerated the manifold ways in which his son had aggrieved him, I mused upon the non-Greek words that punctuated his sentences. Verily, there are a plethora of Turkish words, many ultimately of Persian or Arabic origin that punctuate and augment the Modern Greek vocabulary. Haramistike, is derived from the Arabic word haram, which means forbidden. If something is forbidden, it cannot be used and is thus useless - thus the meaning of the Greek verb. Bayrak of course, means flag and to raise the flag, is to assert yourself. Though Turkish loanwords are fewer than they were before, owing to the advent of other linguistic influences such as English or French, the almost constant contact the Greek people have had with the Turkish language, since the invasion of Asia Minor in 1071, has entrenched a good deal of vocabulary into the Greek language.
In regional dialects of Greek, especially regions that were under Turkish rule as late as 1913, such as Epirus, Macedonia and the Aegean Islands, the presence of Turkish words for everyday objects would render much traditional speech unintelligible to one fluent only in the formal tongue. Thus, while visiting the island of Samos, if someone was to ask you: "Μ' pherns ap' tigkda stou gatoun tou bagrats ts' ablazim?" it is highly unlikely that you would understand this to mean: "Can you bring me my aunt's bucket from that corner?" because all of the substantive words in the sentence are Turkish. Bagrac would be rendered in Greek as kouvas, but even this word is a Turkish loan, from the word kova.
Similarly, I had to go to Greek school in order to learn that the Greek word for sock was not τσουράπι, from the Turkish corap but kaltsa, as until that time, my grandfather would always beg me: "Fora ta tsourapia's. Ta podia's buz ine." Buz of course, means ice in Turkish. As such, it is fascinating that diverse regional Greek dialects are influenced by the dialect or idiolect of the variety of Turkish they come into contact with. Sometimes, as the use of haram suggests, Turkish Greek loanwords come to develop different nuances of meaning and phonology than their original 'donor' word, exemplifying the process of linguistic assimilation.
A few days after the Christmas hail storm, I found myself perched precariously upon the frame of my pergola with my father, attempting to replace the hail shattered fibre glass roof.
"Make sure you line up the screws. We don't want to be taken for a bunch of ajamides." An ajamis in Greek, is a clumsy amateur. The original Arabic root word ajami, literally meaning mute, was originally used as a reference to denote those whom Arabs in the Arabian peninsula viewed as "alien" or barbarian including all of the peoples with whom the Arabs had contact including Persians, Greeks and Ethiopians. It is easy to see how a foreigner who knows nothing, can be seen as an amateur. Similarly, the word rachati, which is synonymous with laziness or sloth, literally means comfort in Arabic, though one can appreciate the logical progression of one meaning to the other.
The word tembelia, from tembel, is also borrowed from Turkish, leading one of my Greek school teachers to assert that a Turkish word had to be used, as the concept of laziness was unknown to the Greeks and was only introduced during Turkish occupation. This is a most ridiculous, but thoroughly amusing theory. Dalaveri, meaning a transaction, is also a Turkish import. However, dalavere, the original root word, denotes a trick or some sort of deceit, which could be a consequence of a transaction.
Do we blame a Turkish counterpart of my Greek school teacher for asking why Greeks would use the word 'deception,' in order to denote a transaction…? Similarly, it bears asking why the word karyola, which means bed in Turkish, has evolved in Greek, into an insult for women. Maybe some things are better left alone… The use of Islamic expressions by some Greeks can actually be quite startling among Middle Eastern Christians, who, conscious of the need to preserve their own specific identity, avoid such phrases.
The other day, I was accosted in church by an aunt who demanded to know when I would stop being foolish and apply myself to the production of children. Having advised her that I would concern myself with the subject as soon as reasonably practicable, upon which she exclaimed "Mashallah," moving both hands over her mouth as she did so, in a manner reminiscent of Islamic prayer.
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