A Greek professor of linguistics at Cambridge University has been credited with identifying an endangered Greek dialect which is spoken in a remote mountainous region in northeastern Turkey and is believed to be a “linguistic gold mine” because of its close similarities to ancient Greek.
The significance of the Romeyka dialect was highlighted by Dr Ioanna Sitaridou, director of studies in linguistics at Queen’s College, following fieldwork in the area around Trabzon, on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. In a short film about her research, Sitaridou said the dialect was unique.
“Romeyka is a living language preserving structures only to be found in Classical Greek, which has been dead for more than 2,000 years,” she remarked. “What these people are speaking is a variety of Greek far more archaic than other forms of Greek spoken today.”
Sitaridou said religion was a major reason behind the dialect’s survival. The Romeyka speakers are devout Muslims and were therefore exempt from the large-scale population exchange between Greece and Turkey that took place in 1923, she said.
The Cambridge linguist’s research has involved trips to villages near the Black Sea (or Pontus) where Romeyka is spoken, where she has mapped the grammatical structures and variations in use. Information is gathered using audio and video recordings of the villagers telling stories.
The ultimate aim of the research is to explain how Pontic Greek evolved. “We know that Greek has been continuously spoken in Pontus since ancient times and can surmise that its geographic isolation from the rest of the Greek-speaking world is an important factor in why the language is as it is,” Sitaridou said.
But the dialect’s survival is at risk due to waves of emigration from Trabzon and the influence of the dominant Turkish-speaking majority. With as few as 5,000 speakers left in the area, Romeyka could soon be “more of a heritage language than a living vernacular,” Sitaridou said.
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