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The Ancient Greek ‘Romeyka’ Dialect in Danger of Extinction in Turkey

Researchers have discovered features that make an endangered form of Ancient Greek, spoken by a few thousand people in isolated mountain villages in northern Turkey, more similar to the language of Homer than they are to modern Greek. As a result, the language has been dubbed a “living bridge” to antiquity.

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Romeyka’s exact speaker count is difficult to determine. It has persisted verbally in the mountain communities surrounding Trabzon, close to the Black Sea shore, while lacking a written form. The ‘Romeyka’ dialect is currently in danger of going extinct due to the aging of its surviving speakers, so a University of Cambridge scholar has created a “last chance” crowdsourcing tool to capture its distinctive grammatical structures before it’s too late.

Worldwide native speakers are invited to submit a recording of themselves speaking the language as part of the Crowdsourcing Romeyka project. Professor of Spanish and historical linguistics Ioanna Sitaridou predicted that many will probably be dispersed around Europe, the US, and Australia. “There is a sizable diaspora that shares so much with the communities in Turkey, despite being divided by religion and national identity,” the speaker stated.

Romeyka is derived from the Hellenistic version of the language spoken in the decades prior to Christ, not from modern Greek, as Sitaridou has demonstrated. It also shares certain important characteristics with ancient Greek. One illustration is the verb’s infinitive form, which in Romeyka still employs the Ancient Greek form. Romeyka thus retains the ancient expression “I want to go,” even though speakers of Modern Greek would say “I want that I go.” By the early medieval period, this arrangement had been rendered obsolete in all other Greek dialects.

Sitaridou states that this refutes the idea that contemporary Greek is a “isolate” language, that is, unrelated to any other European language, and that Romeyka is a sister of modern Greek rather than a daughter of it. The professor claims that Modern Greek and Romeyka are not mutually comprehensible, and that speakers of Portuguese and Italian, which both originate from Vulgar Latin instead of each other, would be a good analogy.

Greek language flourished along with Christianity, yet it is not always simple to separate fact from myth when it comes to the history of Greek presence in the Black Sea. Communities in the valleys continued to speak Romeyka, but the conversion to Islam throughout Asia Minor was typically followed by a linguistic transition to Turkish, according to Sitaridou. On the other hand, Greek-speaking communities that stuck to Christianity evolved toward modern Greek, primarily as a result of widespread Greek education during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Turkey and Greece exchanged their Christian and Muslim populations in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, but the Romeyka-speaking villages in the Trabzon region were left behind because they practice Islam. However, Sitaridou claims that the language is currently threatened because to widespread interaction with Turkish, cultural stigma, and migration. Few young people in the area are learning the language, and a large percentage of native speakers are over 65.

Does she believe Romeyka’s survival as a living language may be aided by the online initiative? She remarked, “I obviously love all languages and would like to see them preserved.” However, I disagree with those who believe that language preservation must be done at all costs. Furthermore, it’s not really up to me in the end. It’s excellent if the speakers decide to pass it on. It is up to the speakers whether or not to pass it on.

Keeping a sense of identity and belonging to oneself is crucial for these speech communities and these minority languages. Because, regardless of how you view your past, it connects them to it.








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