Tsakonian Language
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Tsakonian Language
Native toGreece
RegionEastern Peloponnese, around Mount Parnon
Native speakers
300-1,500 (2010)[1]
  • Propontis +
  • Northern +
  • Southern
Language codes
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Tsakonian (also Tsaconian, Tzakonian or Tsakonic; Tsakonian: , ? ?; Greek: ) is a modern Hellenic language which is both highly divergent from other spoken varieties of Modern Greek and, from a philological standpoint, linguistically classified separately from them. It is spoken in the Tsakonian region of the Peloponnese, Greece. Tsakonian descends from Doric, which was an Ancient Greek language on the Western branch of the Hellenic languages, and it is its only living descendant.[3] Although Tsakonian is treated as a dialect of Modern Standard Greek,[4][5][6] some compendia treat it as a separate language,[7] since Modern Standard Greek descends from Ionic and Attic which are on the Eastern branch of the Hellenic languages, while Tsakonian (as a descendant of Doric) is the sole surviving member of the Western branch.

Tsakonian is critically endangered, with only a few hundred, mostly elderly, fluent speakers left.[7] Tsakonian and Modern Greek are not mutually intelligible.


It is named after its speakers, the Tsakonians, which in turn may be derived from 'exo-Laconians' 'Outer Lakonians'.[]

Geographic distribution

Old ethnic map of Peloponnese; Tsakonian-speaking areas in blue

Tsakonian is found today in a group of mountain towns and villages slightly inland from the Argolic Gulf, although it was once spoken farther to the south and west as well as on the coasts of Laconia (ancient Sparta).

Geographical barriers to travel and communication kept the Tsakonians relatively isolated from the rest of Greece until the 19th century, although there was some trade between the coastal towns. The rise of mass education and improved travel beginning after the Greek War of Independence meant that fluent Tsakonian speakers were no longer as isolated from the rest of Greece. In addition, during the war, the Turkish army drove the Tsakonians east, and as a result, their de facto capital shifted from Prastos to Leonidio, further making the people significantly less isolated.[8] There began a rapid decline from an estimated figure of some 200,000 fluent speakers to the present estimate of a speaker count between 200 and 1,000.[7]

Since the introduction of electricity to all villages in Tsakonia by the late 1950s, the Greek mass media can reach the most remote of areas and profoundly affect the speech of younger speakers. Efforts to revive the language by teaching it in local schools do not seem to have had much success. Standard Modern Greek is the official language of government, commerce and education, and it is possible that the continued modernization of Tsakonia will lead to the language's disappearance sometime this century.[]

The area where the language is found today in some villages Tsakonia slopes of Parnon in the southern province of Kynouria, including the towns of Leonidio and Tyros and villages of Melana, Agios Andreas, Vaskina, Prastos, Sitaina and Kastanitsa.

Official status

Tsakonian has no official status. Prayers and liturgies of the Greek Orthodox Church have been translated into Tsakonian, but the ancient Koine of the traditional church services is usually used as in other locations in Greece. Some teaching materials in Tsakonian for use in local schools have reportedly also been produced.[9]


There are three dialects of Tsakonian: Northern, Southern, and Propontis.

The Propontis dialect was spoken in what was formerly a Tsakonian colony on the Sea of Marmara (or Propontis; two villages near Gönen, Vatika and Havoutsi), whose members were resettled in Greece with the 1924 population exchanges.[7] Propontis Tsakonian appears to have died out around 1970, although it had already stopped being the primary language of its community after 1914 when they were internally exiled with other Greeks in the region due to the outbreak of World War I.[10] Propontis Tsakonian was overall grammatically more conservative, but it was also influenced by the nearby Thracian dialects of Greek which were much closer to Standard Modern Greek.[11] The emergence of the Propontis community is either dated to the 13th century settlement of Tsakonians by Emperor Michael VII, explicitly referenced by Byzantine George Pachymeres[12] or around the time of the 1770 Orlov Revolt.[13] For an example of the standardizing Thracian Greek influence, compare the Northern and Southern word for water, (ýo, derived from Ancient Greek ?) to Propontic ? and Standard ? (neré, neró).

Of the two mainland dialects of Tsakonian, Southern Tsakonian is spoken in the villages of Melana, Prastos, Tiros, Leonidio, Pramatefti and Sapunakeika, while Northern Tsakonian is found in Sitena and Kastanitsa. The Northern villages were much more exposed to the rest of Greek society, and as a result Northern Tsakonian experienced much heavier Standard Greek lexical and phonological influence, before it began to die out much faster than Southern Tsakonian.[14] As early as 1971, it became difficult for researchers in the northern villages to find any informants who could offer more than "a few isolated words".[15] There may have once been a fourth, Western, dialect of Tsakonian given the forms attested by Evliya Celebi in the 17th century.[16]

(Tsakonian/Greek) "Our language is Tsakonian. Ask and they'll tell you./Groússa námou eíni ta Tsakónika. Rotíete na nioúm' alíoi./I glóssa mas eínai ta Tsakónika. Rotíste na sas poun.", bilingual (Tsakonian and Standard Greek) sign in the town of Leonidio.


Another difference between Tsakonian and the common Demotic Greek dialect is its verb system - Tsakonian preserves different archaic forms, such as participial periphrasis for the present tense. Certain complementisers and other adverbial features present in the standard Modern Greek dialect are absent from Tsakonian, with the exception of the Modern (/pu/) relativiser, which takes the form (/p?i/) in Tsakonian (note: traditional Tsakonian orthography uses the digraph to represent aspirated /p?/). Noun morphology is broadly similar to Standard Modern Greek, although Tsakonian tends to drop the nominative, final -? (-s) from masculine nouns, thus Tsakonian ? ? for Standard o ? (o tshífta/o tríftis: "grater").


There has always been contact with Koine Greek speakers and the language was affected by the neighboring Greek dialects. Additionally, there are some lexical borrowings from Arvanitika and Turkish. The core vocabulary remains recognizably Doric, although experts disagree on the extent to which other true Doricisms can be found. There are only a few hundred, mainly elderly true native speakers living,[7] although a great many more can speak the language less than fluently.



  • A [a] can appear as a reflex of Doric [a:], in contexts where Attic had ? [?:] and Modern Greek has [i]: [a'mera] corresponding to Modern [imera] "day", [strati'ota] corresponding to Modern ? [strati'otis] "soldier".
  • ? [e] [i] before vowels: e.g. ? [vasi'lia] instead of ? [vasi'lea].
  • O occasionally [o] > [u]: [ufis] < ? ['ofis] "snake", ['t?uma] < ['stoma] "mouth". Final [o] > [e] after coronals and front vowels: ? ['onos] > ['one], ['xyros] > ['xjure], ? [?raf'tos] > [?raf'te], ['xreos] > ? ['xrie], but ['ðromos] > ['ðromo]
  • ? Pronounced in Modern Greek [i], this was [u] in Doric and [y] in Attic. The reflex of this phoneme in Tsakonian is [u], and [ju] after coronals (suggesting an origin in [y]). ['suka] corresponding to Modern ? ['sika] "figs", ? ['artuma] corresponding to ['artima] "bread"; ['lykos] > ['ljuko] ['?uko] "wolf"
  • ? [?:] in Ancient Greek, regularly goes to [u]: [mu'ria] (Ancient [m?:'rea], Modern [mur'?a]), [au] < [la'l?:n] "speaking".

(Note: Tsakonian citation forms for verbs are participles, hence they are given as derived from the ancient participle in -.)


Tsakonian in some words preserves the pre-classical Greek [w]-sound, represented in some Ancient Greek texts by the digamma (?). In Tsakonian, this sound has become a fricative [v]: ['vane] "sheep", corresponding to Ancient [wam'nos] (Attic ).

Tsakonian has extensive changes triggered by palatalisation:

  • [k] > [t?] : ['kyrios] > ? ['t?uri], occasionally [ts]: [ke'fali] > [tsu'fa]
  • [?] > [dz] : ? [a?'?iz?:n] > [an'dzixu]
  • [p] > [c] : [pi'?aði] > [ci'?aði]
  • [t] > [c] : [ty'ros] > [cu're], occasionally [ts]: ['tipota] > ['tsipta], ? ['pita] > ['pitsa]
  • [m] > [n] : ? [mi'xalis] > ?(?) [ni'xali]
  • [n] > [?] : ? [a'ni:n] > [a'?indu]
  • [l] > [?] : ? [ili'az?:n] > ['?azu]
  • [r] > [?] : [ry'aki] > ['?at?i]. This sound appears to have been a fricative trill in the 19th century, and [?] survived latterly only in women's usage in Southern Tsakonian. A similar change occurred with palatalised [r?] in Polish and Czech, whereas in other languages it went in the reverse.

Word-initial [r] > [?]: * ['raf?:n] > ['?afu]

Word-final [s] > [r], which reflects an earlier process in Laconian; in Tsakonian, it is a liaison phoneme: ['tinos] > ? ['tsuner]

In Southern Tsakonian, [l] is deleted before back and central vowels: ['lo?os] > Northern o ['lo?o], Southern o ['o?o]; ['luz?:n] > Northern ? ['luk?u], Southern ['uk?u];

Occasionally [?] > [s], which appears to reflect an earlier process in Laconian, but in others [?] is retained though the word is absent in Standard Greek: ? [?y'?atir] > ? ['sati], but Ancient ? ['?i?:n] (Modern ['sfazo]) > ? ['?iu]

Tsakonian avoids clusters, and reduces them to aspirated or prenasalised stops and affricates:

  • [ðr, ?r, tr] > [t?]: , , ['ðryas, 'an?ropos, 'tra?os] > , ?, ['t?ua, 'at?opo, 't?ao]
  • [sp, st, s?, sk, sx] > [p?, t?, t?, k?, k?]: ?, , ?, , ['spir?:n, is'tos, epi'as?i, as'kos, 'isx?:n] > ?, ?, ?, ?, ['p?iru, i't?e, e'cat?e, a'k?o, 'ik?u]
  • [mf, n?, ?x] > [p?, t?, k?]: ?, ?, [omfa'los, ?ron'?ia, 'ry?xos] > , ?, [ap?a'le, ?ro't?ia, '?uk?o]
  • [ks] > [ts]: [kse'ros] > [tse're]
  • [kt, x?] > [t?]: ?, ['ðaktylo, ðex':] > ?, ['ðat?ile, ðe't?u]
  • [l] after consonants often goes to [r]: , ?, , ? [pla'ty, 'kleftis, '?l?:sa, a'xlaðes] > ?, , , [pra'cu, 'krefta, '?rusa, a'xrae]
  • [rp, rt, rk, rð] > [mb, nd, , nd]: , , ?, [skor'pios, 'artos, 'arka, por'ði] > ?, ?, ?, ? [k?om'bio, 'ande, 'aa, 'p?unda]

In the common verb ending -, [z] > [nd] : ? [fo'naz?:n] > [fo'?andu]

[z, v] are added between vowels: ?, [my'ia, kya'nos] > , ? ['muza, ku'vane]

[?, ð] often drop out between vowels: , ['poðas, 'tra?os] > ?, ['pua, 't?ao]


Original song - Tsakonian[17] Roman Transliteration IPA transcription[]

? ?
? ,
? ? ?
' ? ?' .
' ? ?.
? ? ,

Poulátzi éma ékha t?o kouiví tse merouté ni éma ékha
takhíga ni éma zákhari poïkíkha ni éma mósko
tse apó to mósko to persoú tse apó ta nirodía
eskantalíste to kouiví ts' efíntze mi t' aïdóni.
Ts' aféngi ni éki tsinigoú me to kouiví t?o khére
Éa poulí t?on tópo nti, éa t?a kaïkitzíe
na átsou ta koudoúnia nti na válou áva tsenoúrtza.

pu'lat?i 'ema 'exa t?o kwi'vi t?e meru'te ? 'ema 'exa
ta'çi?a ? 'ema 'zaxa?i po.i'cixa ? 'ema 'mosko
t? a'po to 'mosko to per'su t? a'po ta ?iro'ði.a
eskanda'?iste to kwi'vi t? e'fidze mi t a.i'ðo?i
t? a'fei ? 'eci t?i?i'?u me to kwi'vi t?o 'çere
'e.a pou'?i t?on 'dopo di 'e.a t?a ka.ici't?i.e
n 'atsu ta ku'ðu?a di na 'valu 'ava t?e'nurdza

Modern Greek Modern Greek pronunciation (Roman guideline) IPA transcription (see Greek phonology)

? ? ?.

? ?
' ? ? ?:
? ? , ?
?' ? ? ?

Pouláki íkha sto klouví ke meroméno to íkha
to táïza zákhari ke to pótiza móskho
ke apó ton polí ton móskho ke tin mirodiá tou
eskantalísti ke to klouví ke mou éfige t' aïdóni.
Ki' o aféntis to kinigáï me to klouví sto khéri
Éla poulí ston tópo sou, éla stin katikía sou
n' allákso ta koudoúnia sou na válo álla kenoúrgia.

pu'laci 'ixa sto klu'vi ce mero'meno to 'ixa
to 'ta.iza 'zaxari ce to 'potiza 'mosxo
c a'po tom bo'li tom 'mosxo ce tim miro'ðja tu
eskanda'listi ce to klu'vi ce mu 'efi?e t a.i'ðoni
c o a'fendis to cini'?a.i me to klu'vi sto 'çeri
'ela pou'li ston 'dopo su 'ela sti? ?ati'ci.a su
n al'akso ta ku'ðu?a su na 'valo 'ala ce'nur?a

English translation

I had a bird in a cage and I kept it happy
I gave it sugar and wine-grapes
and from the great amount of grapes and their essence,
the nightingale got naughty [possibly means it got drunk] and escaped.
And its master now runs after it with the cage in his hands:
Come my bird back where you belong, come to your house
I will remove your old bells and buy you new ones.


Tsakonian avoids consonant clusters, as seen, and drops final [s] and [n]; as a result, syllable structure tends more to CV than in Standard Modern Greek. (The use of digraphs in tradition spelling tends to obscure this). For instances, ancient [hadros] "hard" goes to Tsakonian [a.t?e], where /t/ can be considered a single phoneme; it is written traditionally with a trigraph as (= atskhe).


Tsakonian has undergone considerable morphological changes: there is minimal case inflection.

The present and imperfect indicative in Tsakonian are formed with participles, like English but unlike the rest of Greek: Tsakonian ? , "I am saying, I was saying" ? Greek ? , ? .

  • ? (Ení) = I am
  • ? (Esí) = you are
  • ? (Éni) = he/she/it is
  • (Éme) = we are
  • ? (Éthe) = you are
  • ? (Íni) = they are
  • (Éma) = I was
  • (Ésa) = you were
  • (Éki) = he/she/it was
  • ? (Émaï) = we were
  • (Éthaï) = you were
  • (Ígiaï) = they were
  • ? (masculine) ? ? (femimine) ? (neuter) (feríkhou/feríkha/ferikhouda) = I bring
  • ? (masculine) ? ? (feminine) ? (neuter) (feríkhou/feríkha/ferikhouda) = you bring
  • ? (masculine) ? ? (feminine) ? (neuter) (feríkhou/feríkha/ferikhouda) = he/she/it brings
  • (masculine, feminine) (neuter) (feríkhude/feríkhuda) = we bring
  • ? (masculine, feminine) ? (neuter) (feríkhude/feríkhuda) = you bring
  • ? (masculine, feminine) (neuter) (feríkhude/feríkhuda) = they bring

Note: Participles change according to the gender of the subject of the sentence

Tsakonian has preserved the original inflection of the aorist indicative.

  • ? (enéga) = I brought
  • (enédzere) = You brought
  • ? (enédze) = He/She/It brought
  • (enégame) = We brought
  • (enégate) = You brought
  • (enég) = They brought

Writing system

Traditionally, Tsakonian used the standard Greek alphabet, along with digraphs to represent certain sounds that either do not occur in Demotic Greek, or that do not commonly occur in combination with the same sounds as they do in Tsakonian. For example, the [?] sound, which does not occur in standard Greek, does occur in Tsakonian, and is spelled (much like German sch). Another sound recalls Czech ?. Thanasis Costakis invented an orthography using dots, spiritus asper, and caron for use in his works, which has been used in his grammar and several other works. This is more like the Czech usage of ha?eks (such as ?). Lastly, unpalatalized n and l before a front vowel can be written double, to contrast with a palatalised single letter. (e.g. in Southern Tsakonian ? [e?i] "I am", ? [eni] "he is" - the latter corresponding to Northern Tsakonian [emi] and Standard Greek [ime].)

Transcribing Tsakonian[18]
Digraphs Costakis IPA
(?)  ̌ - &  ̌ --
(?)  ̌ -
(K) t?, tr?
(L) t? d
n (not ?)
l (not ?)
Note: (K) is for the northern dialect of Kastanitsa and Sitaina, (?) and (L) for the southern which is spoken around Leonidio and Tyros.


English Modern Greek Tsakonian (Greek alphabet) Tsakonian (Latin script) Tsakonian (Costakis Notation)
Where is his/her/its room? ? /; ? ? ; Kiá éni to óda si? ? ? ;
Where is the beach? ? ?; ? ?; Kiá éni to perigiáli? ? ?;
Where is the bar? ?; ? ?; Kiá éni to bar? ? ?;
Don't touch me there! ?' ?! ' ?' ?! Mi m' andzízere órpa! ?!

See also


  1. ^ "Tsakonian". Ethnologue. Retrieved .
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tsakonian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Linguist List
  4. ^ Browning, Robert (1983). Medieval and modern Greek. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 124.
  5. ^ Horrocks, Geoffrey (2010). Greek: A history of the language and its speakers (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell. p. 382.
  6. ^ Joseph, Brian D.; Terdanelis, Georgios (2003). "Modern Greek". In Roelcke, Thorsten (ed.). Variation typology: a typological handbook of European languages. Berlin: de Gruyter. pp. 823-836.Joseph, Brian D. (2012). "Lexical diffusion and the regular transmission of language chang in its sociohistorical context". In Hernández-Campoy, Juan Manuel; Conde-Silvestre, Juan Camilo (eds.). Handbook of historical sociolinguistics. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 411.
  7. ^ a b c d e Moseley, Christopher (2007). Encyclopedia of the world's endangered languages. New York: Routledge. s.v. "Tsakonian".
  8. ^ Mansfield, Peter (April 21, 2000). "Letter from Tere-Sapunadzi". The Times Literary Supplement.
  9. ^ P. Trudgill, D. Schreier (2006): Greece and Cyprus. In: U. Ammon (ed.), Sociolinguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  10. ^ Costakis, A. P. (1986) Lexiko t?s tsak?nik?s dialektou. pX
  11. ^ Nicholas 2019, p. 20
  12. ^ Koukoules, F. (1924) Ekthesis peri tou kata to etos 1919 telesthentos diag?nismou t?s en Ath?nais Gl?ssik?s Etaireias [Presentation of the competition conducted by the Linguistic Society of Athens in 1919]. Athina, 36: 254-281. Referenced in Nicholas 2019 : p20.
  13. ^ Costakis, A. P. (1951) Syntom? grammatik? t?s tsak?nik?s dialektou [A brief grammar of the Tsakonian dialect]. Athens: Institut Français d'Athènes Publ., 224 p. (Collection de l'Institut Français d'Athènes. Vol. 35). Pages 151-155
  14. ^ Nicholas 2019, p. 19
  15. ^ Haralambopoulos, A. L. (1980) F?nologik? analys? t?s tsak?nik?s dialektou [Phonological analysis of the Tsakonian dialect]. Thessaloniki: Aristotle University Publ., 195 p. (Aristoteleio Panepist?meio Thessalonik?s, Epist?monik? Epet?rida t?s Filosofilk?s Schol?s [Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Scholarly papers of the Faculty of Philosophy]. Appendix. No. 30). Page 7
  16. ^ Liosis, N. (2007) Gl?ssikes epafes st? notioanatolik? Peloponn?so [Language contact in the Southeastern Peloponnese]. PhD dissertation (Linguistics). Thessalonica, Aristotle University. Page 7
  17. ^ This song in its original (polytonic) Tsakonian form is taken from a book called « » (KLEPHTIC DEMOTIC SONGS) by N. G. Politou. It can be found in the last few pages of the book under the « ?» (SONGS IN GREEK DIALECTS) section on page 269.
  18. ^ Sources: Nicholas, Houpis, Costakis


External links

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