Pontic was spoken over a very large region of Asia Minor. From the southern shores of the Black Sea it sometimes reached deep into the interior. From the west of Inepolis (ancient Ionopolis, modern Inebolu) it reached east to Rizounta (ancient Rizaion, modern Rize) and Colchis (ancient Athenai, modern Batum). Centres in which the Pontic dialect was spoken were: on the coast, Inepolis, Sinope, Amisos (modern Samsun), Oinoe, Cotyora, Kerasounta (Giresun), Tripolis, Trebizond, Sourmena, Ophi and others. The largest area in the interior in which Pontic was spoken was south of Trebizond, in the regions of Gemoura, Matsouka, Santa, Kromni, Chaldia and others. The Pontic population in these areas was overwhelmingly larger than that of other regions as they accounted for nine tenths of Pontic Hellenism. Within this group, the largest population was that of Chaldia whose capital was Argyroupolis (Gumushane). Pontic was also spoken in some regions in the depths of Asia Minor where there were Pontic mining settlements and in regions north of the Halys river (Kizil Irmak) in Iconium (modern Konya) near the Taurus Mountains in Diyarbakir (Argana). Naturally, even in the regions where the Pontic Greek population was concentrated, such as the northern shores of Asia Minor, a Turkish-speaking population existed, whether in separate settlements or in the same towns and villages as the Greeks. Finally, Pontic was also spoken in south and southeast Russia to which 200,000 Pontic Greeks had fled between the 16th and the 19th centuries and again after 1914, when many Greeks fled to areas in the Caucasus (Kars, Batum) and Russia (Krasnodar, Mariopol' and others) bordering with Turkey.
It is worth noting that, even now, the Pontic dialect is still spoken in three areas in Pontos by Greek-speaking Muslims whose religion excluded them from the population exchange. These three areas are: (a) the city of Tonia and six neighbouring villages, (b) six villages in the Sourmena area and (c) thirty villages in the Ophi river valley.
The Ionian Character of the Pontic Dialect
The Pontic dialect confirms the belief that the history of a people's language is also the history of that people and vice versa. The historical experiences of the people who lived in Pontos were indeed reflected in changes in their language. Thus, today we can trace the beginning of the Pontic dialect to the arrival of the first Hellenic colonists, the Ionians of Miletus, at the beginning of the 8th century B.C. One can see the influence exerted on the colonists' dialect by the different languages spoken by the local people with whom they came in contact, and then the medieval influences on the Pontic dialect acquired during centuries of Byzantine rule. Later, one can trace the decisive impact of the Turkish language on the vocabulary and syntax (in other Asia Minor dialects the influence of Turkish grammar can also be seen) that resulted from the centuries of Turkish rule. And finally one can see the many words and morphemes borrowed by Pontic from the various languages with which it came into contact in latter years (particularly Caucasian languages such as Russian, Armenian etc.), such as peskos (heater), pamitor (tomato), -ava (grammatical morpheme for feminine names with differing meanings) etc.
One of the main and most interesting characteristics of Pontic, "the most fundamental feature of the dialect's antecedents, is the pronunciation of 'n' (ee) as «ε» (eh)." (A. A. Papadopoulos 1941, 171). In other words, Pontic retained the ancient Ionian pronunciation of the letter "n": άκλερος(akleros instead of άκληροςakliros: childless), νύφε(nyfe instead of vucpn nyfi: bride), πεγάδιν(pegadin instead of πηγάδιpigadi: well), εγάπεσα(egapisa instead of αγάπησαagapisa: I loved), ζεμία(zemia instead of ζημιά zimia: damage), έτον(eton instead of ήτον iton: it was), κέπιν(kepin instead of κηπίον kipion: small garden) κλέμα (kleman instead of κλήμαklima: vine), πρέσκουμαι(preskoumai instead of πρήσκομαιpriskomai: to swell), σκωλέκιν(skolekin instead of σκωλήκιον skolikion: worm), επέρα(epera instead of επήρα epira: I took), εκοιμέθα (ekoimetha instead of εκοιμήθηνekoimithin: I slept), χέρος ( cheros instead of χήρος chiros: widower) etc. This important difference in pronunciation is widespread and characteristic of almost all versions of the Pontic dialect. However, in latter years this rule has no longer prevailed and now many exceptions have appeared due to shifts in the language and particularly due to the influence of Modern Greek, as well as school and church. Now Pontians may say ξεραντέριν(xeranterin) instead of ξηραντήριον(xirantirion) but they also say ποτήριν (potirin: glass) and λαϊστέρα(laistera instead of λαϊστήραlaistira: crib), but they also say νιφτήρα(niftira: sink), βροντή(vronti: thunder), ασκητής(askitis: hermit), μήνας; (minas: month), χρήμαν (chriman: money), i.e. they have in some cases adopted the sound of' ‘n' as ee.
Another feature that demonstrates the Ionian antecedents of Pontic is the retention of the Ionic consonantal combination "sp" instead of the more common "sf': σπάζω(spazo instead of σφάζωsfazo: to slaughter), σπίγγω(spingo instead of σφίγγωsfingo: to tighten), σπιχτός (spichtos instead of σφιχτός, sfichtos: tight), ασπαλώ and ασπαλίζω(aspalo and aspalizo instead of ασφαλίζω asfalizo: to lock), ανασπάλω (anaspallo instead of ava-σφάλλω) anasfallo: forget), σποντύλιν(spontylin instead of σφοντύλι sfontyli: flywheel).
Finally, certain other remnants of the Ionic dialect also remain: κοσσάρα(kossara: chicken, in Ionian κόσσα kossa), έγκα(enga: I brought, in Ionic ήνεικαineika, in the Attic dialect ήνεγκα enenga), φορή fori (time) as well as the negative particle ‘κι('ki: not), unique to the Ionic dialect, which in Homeric Ionian was ουκί ouki. Regarding this particle, G. N. Hatzidakis wrote (MNE 1,95): "/.../ With this ουκί instead of the ουχί /.../, Pontos holds on to its Ionian roots." And A. A. Papadopoulos wrote (1953, 85): "In its entirely, the Pontic dialect is differentiated from the Greek, both common and idiomatic, by one single word."
Archaic Elements in the Pontic Dialect
Pontic, like other Modern Greek dialects, has retained many features from classical Greek, a fact that first drew the attention of earlier linguists. Aside from the elements of Ionian Greek referred to above, the oral tradition kept a plethora of archaisms alive from the medieval period up to the present. A grammatical phenomenon that has been the object of great interest since the 19th century is the survival in the Pontic dialect of the classical form of the one-word infinitive, which has disappeared from Modern Greek and its dialects and been replaced by a more analytic syntactical device: δύναμαιλέγειν –δύναμαιίναλέγω – μπορώναλέγω(I can say). It was M. Deffner who in 1878 first wrote about one-word infinitive forms in the Pontic dialect: δώσειναιand δώσ’ναι(to give), ειπείναι(to say), μαθείναι (to learn), σωρευτήναι (to gather), αγαπεθήναι(to love) and αγαπεθήνand others: επόρ’νασταθήναι(I could stand), επόρεσατραβώδέσ’ναι(I could sing), έμαθαεγώναπλέκωμαθέσ’ναικαισυ (I learned to knit, you learn too). Such grammatical forms, possibly used in some Pontic idioms in the past, have not been functional elements of the Pontic dialect for the last hundred years and only survive in some idioms in Ophi and even there in a small number of colloquialisms.
Another interesting type of archaism is lexicological. Many Greek words of extreme antiquity have survived in the Pontic dialect, even some from the Homeric era. Such examples are:
αίχτρια-αιχτριάζω (echtria-echriazo, in Modern Greek ξαστεριά-ξαστερώνω xasteria-xasterono: clear skies-to clear up) (Ancient Greek:αιθρία-αιθριάζω, aithria-aithriazo) βοτρύδιν (votrydin, in Modern Greek τσαμπί tsampi: cluster [of grapes])
(Ancient Greek: βότρυς, βοτρύδιονvotrys, votrydion)
γνάθιν: (gnathin in Modern Greek σαγόνιsagoni-jaw, jawbone) (Ancient:
μοθόπωρον: (mothoporon in Modern Greek φθινόπωροfthinoporo-
autumn) (Ancient: μετόπωρον: metoporon and μεθόπωρονmethoporon)
οστούδιν: (ostoudin in Modern Greek κόκαλο kokalo: bone) (Ancient: οστούνostoun) χώρ(in)
(chor(in) in Modern Greek κρόκοςαβγού krokos avgou-egg yolk) (Ancient: ιχώρichor, οχυμόςπουέρεεστιςφλέβεςτωνθεών-the fluid which ran in the veins of the Gods) ωβόν: (ovon Modern Greek αβγόavgo) (Ancient: ωόν oon)
ωτίν: (otin in Modern Greek αυτίafti) (Ancient: ους-ωτός, ous, otos) etc.
Basic Features of the Pontic Dialect
An analysis of the Pontic dialect will demonstrate that it has only a few peculiarities, which are superficial rather than structural in form, that differentiate it from koine and other Modern Greek dialects.
Phonology: The system of vowels and consonants in Pontic exhibit no differences from common Modern Greek and its dialects. Pontic has all the vowels of Modern Greek: a, o, u, e, i – έρχουμαι(erchoumai: I come), ακόμαν (akoman: still, yet), άνθρωπος; (anthropos: person), αντρίζ’νε (andriz'ne), εκείνος(ekeinos: him), εκατήβαekativa: I descended). It also has two diphthongs, represented as a and o, which came from the merging of ia and io, thus βασιλιάδες, (vassialiades: kings) becomes βασιλάδες (vasilyades) τελειώνω(teliono: to end) becomes τελόνω(telyono). The consonantal system of Pontic includes the 20 consonants of modern Greek and the heavy, voiced and unvoiced sibilants which may be represented as s, z, ts, tz, x, ps. The following words would be pronounced thus: καμίσα (kamisha rather than kamisa), ανάσκελα (anashkela rather than anaskela), χαλάζα(chalazha rather than chalaza), τσαϊρα(tshaira rather than tsaira), φουρουντζίς(fourountzhis rather than fourountzis), δεξιός; (dhexshios rather than dhexios), ανέπσα (anepsha rather than anepsa).
Morphology: The declension of nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and participles and the conjugation of verbs is structurally the same as that of Greek, and exhibit no divergences from modern Greek and its dialects. Below are examples of noun declension:
-nominative singular: o αφέντης, genitive: τηαφέντη accusative: τοναφέντηevocative: αφέντη(or άφεντα),
nominative plural: οιαφεντάδες (άδοι) genitive plural: τωναφεντίων, accusative plural: τοιαφεντάδες (-άδους), evocative plural: αφεντάδες(boss).
-ο ψάλτες, τη ψάλτε, τον ψάλτεν, ψάλτε, οι ψαλτάδες, των ψαλταδίων, τοι ψαλτά-δες, ψαλτάδες (chanter).
-ο πετεινόν, τη πετεινού, τον πετεινόν, πετεινέ, οι πετεινοί, των πετεινών, τοι πετεινούς, πετεινοί (rooster).
-η νυφε, τη νύφες, την νύφεν, νύφε, οι νυφάδες, των νυφαδίων, τοι νυφάδες, νυφάδες (bride).
-το παιδίν, τη παιδί (ου), το παιδίν, παιδίν, τα παιδία, των πωδίων, τα πωδία, πωδία (child).
(Α. Α. Papadopoulos 1955,36-50)
Some verb conjugations are;
-φανερώνω, φανερών(ει)ς, φανερώντς, φανερών(ει), φανερώνομε, φανερώνετε(ν), φανερών(ου)με (torevealtense)
(εφανέρωνα, -ες, -ε(ν), -αμε, -ετε(ν), -αν(ε) (torevealpastcontinuous).
-εφανέρωσα, -ες, -ε(ν), -αμε, ετε(ν), -αν(ε) (torevealpasttense, aorist).
-τιμώ, -άς, -ά, -ούμε (ν), -άτε (ν), ούν (ε) (to honour, present tense).
-τιμούμαι, -άσοι, -άται, (to be honoured, passive voice). (More in Tombaϊdes 1996,167.)
Syntax: Despite the influences of Turkish, the syntax is that of Modern Greek. Above all, from a structural point of view, the same word combinations exist. As I wrote in the past, "When studying word combinations in the Pontic dialect one quickly concludes that one is faced with the word combinations of Modern Greek in a dialect form. In other words, word combinations function in Pontic in the same way as similar word combinations function in Modern Greek. The differences /.../ are minimal and peripheral, not structural in form." (D. E. Tombaides 1996, 168-170, which contains many examples of all the types of word combinations).
Vocabulary: here the influence of Turkish is undoubtedly widespread. The number of Turkish words found in Pontic is greater than that found today in koine Modern Greek and other Greek dialects. In terms of vocabulary we could perhaps compare Pontic with the language spoken in Greece immediately after the 400 years of Turkish rule and before the rise of the movement to Hellenise the Modern Greek vocabulary. It is well known that this movement replaced many Turkish and other foreign words with Greek ones (παλαιστήςpailaistis-wresler instead of πεχλιβάνης; pechlivanis; ζωέμπορος, zoemboros-cattle or animal merchant instead of τσαμπάζης, tsambazis). There are, in terms of quantity, fewer Turkish words in Pontic than in other Asia Minor dialects. In terms of the extent of any Turkish vocabulary penetration into the core of the Pontic dialect, it was minimal, almost non-existent. The phonetic and morphological influence of Turkish on Cappadocian, about which R. M. Dawkins has written, "its body remained Greek, but its soul became Turkish", does not apply to Pontic. In Pontic, Turkish words were absorbed grammatically and Hellenised; i.e. they acquired Greek endings and became declinable like other Greek words, later becoming subject to the same rules that apply to derivatives. Thus, the Turkish word aramak meaning to seek or search was adopted by Pontic with the Greek ending- εύωand became αραεύω(araevo), which is conjugated like the Greek verb γυρεύω(gyrevo: to search). The words αράεμαν (araeman) and αραευτής (araephtis) are derivatives of the verb αραεύω. In the same way the Turkish word patul, meaning a handful of carded wool, gave Pontians the word πατού\(iv) (patul[in]), which had the same meaning and is declined like the modern Greek word χωρά(φiv) (choraf[in]: field). Patul became the root of the derivative words n πατούλα(patoula: plump, soft and white), πατουλάζω(patoulyazo: to make tufts of carded wool) and παατουλίουμαι (patoulyoume: to be covered with snow flakes).
At times one has the impression that Turkish words were adopted unchanged in the exact form they had in Turkish, as for example: καρπούζ(Turkish karpuz: watermelon), νεφέσv’ (Turkish nefes: breath), ναμούσ(Turkish namus: honour) etc. This is deceptive as the words in the Pontic dialect are καρπούζινkarpouzin), νεφέσιν(nefesin), ναμούσιν(namusin) and it is only in idioms that discard the "i" after the accented syllable, that the words take on the forms of καρπούζ’, νεφέσ’, ναμούσ’ which also occurs in the Greek words χωράφ’-χωράφιν, τραγώδ-τραγώδιν, σκαφίδ’ –σκαφίδινetc. This is clearer in the declension of these words: τηκαρπουζί (ου)-τακαρπούζαwhich is exactly the same as the declension of the word χωράφ(ιν) –τηχωραφί(ου) –ταχωράφα.
It can be concluded from this brief discussion that:
a) The Pontic dialect generally maintained the features of the Modern Greek vernacular and its dialects and did not differ from these in its grammatical structure, i.e. in phonology, morphology, syntax and vocabulary, and
b) As a result, foreign influences, particularly the influence of Turkish, which were limited in syntax and more extensive in vocabulary, did not alter the Greek nature of Pontic because it had the essential internal mechanisms and the power to absorb foreign elements morphologically into its grammatical system, which remained purely Greek.
The Future of Pontic
All scholars who have studied the viability of Modern Greek dialects agree that they will inevitably disappear at some time. It is worth noting that Robert Browning ends his chapter on Modern Greek dialects with the following sentence: "Greek dialects, like English ones, are doomed to extinction". These assessments may be couched in different terms, but they all conclude that the influence of Modern Greek, which has been exerted in a variety of ways, has been decisive.
Naturally, the linguistic assimilation of Greek refugees from Asia Minor did not take place easily or immediately. It went through various phases, which some day must be studied and defined more precisely. Initially the refugees would replace some words from their dialect with the Modern Greek equivalent (e.g. αδράχτι-adrachti-spindle instead of the Pontic καρμενέτσα –karmenetsa). Later, syntactical differences were abandoned in favour of Modern Greek (e.g. comparatives as in Modern Greek ομορφότερος— omorphoteros- prettier and (κι) άλλοέμορφος). Finally, the refugees used Modern Greek exclusively, with a slight accent or intonation, which
they will probably never be able to eliminate.
The adjustment to Modern Greek was quicker for those who spoke Cappadocian, which was more influenced by Turkish. This occurred because when the refugees' early hopes of returning were dashed, they realised that they would have to settle permanently in Greece and quickly set out to integrate into their new environment. On a linguistic level this meant that in order to communicate with other people around them, they had to speak either in Modern Greek or in the idiom of their neighbours. The more different the linguistic idiom of the refugees, the less comprehensible it was to others and therefore the need to abandon it as a means of communication was greater. This is why the idioms that were more influenced by Turkish disappeared or tended to disappear faster. At this point it must not be forgotten that the refugees were not greeted with open arms when they first arrived in Greece. They met with mockery if not downright abuse and the names they were called bear testament to this, i.e. Tourkosporoi (=spawn of Turks) etc. Any hopes they had of social or professional advancement meant they had to get rid of those characteristics, chiefly linguistic, that revealed their refugee status.
It is natural that whenever displaced Pontic Greeks went to refugee settlements, their Asia Minor idiom was retained longer because there were fewer outside influences. This is emphasised by all scholars, and seems natural and reasonable, since the refugees in a camp mostly communicated with each other on a daily basis and therefore held on to their idiom more readily. The need to communicate occasionally with others, outside the familiar environment of their settlements, in another linguistic idiom or in Modern Greek had very little influence on their own idiom. Refugees continued to communicate with their intimates or compatriots in the idiom of their homelands. Like any spoken language, this idiom influences and is influenced by neighbouring languages and in any event evolves: it takes on new forms, different from the old. We do not know precisely to what extent contemporary Pontic differs from pre-1922 Pontic. We do know, however, that phonetically, morphologically and syntactically there are some differences between contemporary Pontic and the earlier form. (D. Tombaides 1996,252-255).
It is well known that certain factors have always operated to unify the Greeks and that these factors, through education and the Church, prevented the Greek language from fragmenting into new "languages". In latter years, from the constitution of the modern Greek State until now, these same factors have exercised an even more cohesive influence on the Greek-speaking population through education, national military service, communications, urbanisation, and chiefly through the mass media, television in particular. With the spread of television, refugees wherever they lived were constantly subjected, whether they liked it or not, to the overwhelming effects of the Modern Greek vernacular, which has had a deleterious effect on the way all Greeks communicate and has greatly reduced if not destroyed regional idioms. Thus, something that would have been the inevitable result of the passage of time and generations of refugees happened in a short time under the influence of the mass media and television. And it is a shame. The extinction of dialects and idioms taking place today is impoverishing the Greek language, as it has closed off the wellspring that was the source of many linguistic elements and which enriched the languages vocabulary, grammatical forms and syntactical structures. For example, the verb types in the reflexive past continuous, γραφόμασταν-γραφόσασταν(graphomastan-graphosastan - we, you were registering), which are tending to become common in Modern Greek, were originally Epirotic. Throughout history, Greek and its idioms were always involved in a dialectical relationship, mutually influencing and borrowing from each other. Soon, the variety and the colour with which we express ourselves will be lost; we will be unable to use expressions such as Πρώταώβοσονκι’ επεκείκακάντσον(Prota ovason ki' epekei kakantson=Try laying the egg first and then laugh) without needing to explain each word.
The Pontic dialect (and to some extent, all refugee idioms whether from Asia Minor or elsewhere) continued to be used not only by elderly Greeks from the Pontos but also by the younger generation, although to a lesser degree and less systematically. As a second language after Modern Greek, Pontic is used in an intimate, family or friendly environment to confirm one's Pontic identity and to preserve Pontic speech. The same applies, but to a more limited extent, to third-generation Pontians. All this is a way of resisting the relentless corruption of the dialect, brought on by time, a resistance carried out for sentimental reasons. From the moment that Pontic, like other local dialects, ceased to be a language of communication, in which case necessity would have imposed its use, it became inevitable that it would slowly become extinct and, in time, become a museum language - a dead language. (In spite of the above, Pontic is the only form of Greek that has been spoken in outer space, when a Russian cosmonaut of Pontic descent communicated with his Pontic-speaking family in Thessaloniki).
One fact that differentiates the future of the Pontic dialect from that of all other Greek dialects is the recent mass migration of Pontians from the former Soviet Union to Greece. These people, who are almost exclusively Pontic speakers, along with their meagre belongings, also brought with them their dialect that can now be heard again, wherever they live, in communication amongst themselves and with others. In this way, Greece is reliving in some way the phenomenon of the 1922 population exchanges, when Greeks first heard this extraordinary language. And despite the fact that it will not last long - as either through various "schools", or through contact with others, Pontic Greeks will acquire the same language as the rest of the Greeks and become linguistically and therefore socially integrated - as long as it does, it will give a boost to the Pontic dialects resistance to the ravages of time.