Tsakonian language

Native to Greece
Region Eastern Peloponnese around Mount Parnon
Native speakers
at most a couple hundred with "some fluency" (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tsd
Glottolog tsak1248[2]
Linguasphere 56-AAA-b

Tsakonian or Tsaconian (also Tzakonian or Tsakonic, Greek and Tsakonian: τσακώνικα) is a highly divergent modern variety of Greek, spoken in the Tsakonian region of the Peloponnese, Greece. Tsakonian derives from Doric Greek, being its only extant variant.[3] Although it is conventionally treated as a dialect of Greek,[4][5][6] some compendia treat it as a separate language.[1] Tsakonian is critically endangered, with only a few hundred, mostly elderly, fluent speakers left.[1] It is mutually unintelligible with Standard Modern Greek.


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). There was formerly a Tsakonian colony on the Sea of Marmara (or Propontis; two villages near Gönen, Vatika and Havoutsi), probably dating from the 18th century, whose members were resettled in Greece with the 1924 population exchanges.[1] Propontis Tsakonian appears to have died out around 1970.

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 Paliohora to Leonidio, further making the people significantly less isolated.[7] 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.[1]

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.

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.[8]


Tsakonian is divided by scholars into three dialects, Northern Tsakonian, Southern Tsakonian and Propontis Tsakonian.

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 που (/pu/) relativiser, which takes the form πφη (/pʰi/) in Tsakonian (note: traditional Tsakonian orthography uses the digraph πφ to represent aspirated /pʰ/). Noun morphology is broadly similar to Standard Modern Greek, although Tsakonian tends to drop the nominative, final (-s) from masculine nouns, thus Tsakonian ο τσχίφτα for Standard o τρίφτης (o tshífta/o tríftis: "grater").

(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.

The Propontis dialect was much more heavily influenced by the modern Thracian dialect, and although there were significant grammatical differences, its vocabulary was much closer to Standard Modern Greek. Compare the Northern and Southern word for water, ύο (ýo, derived from Ancient Greek ὕδωρ) to Propontic νερέ and Standard νερό (neré, neró).

However, 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,[1] although a great many more can speak the language less than fluently.



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


Tsakonian in some words preserves the pre-classical Greek [w]-sound, represented in some Ancient Greek texts by the digamma (ϝ). In Tsakonian, this sound has become a fricative [v]: βάννε [ˈvane] "sheep", corresponding to Ancient ϝαμνός [wamˈnos] (Attic ἀμνός).

Tsakonian has extensive changes triggered by palatalisation:

In Southern Tsakonian, [l] is deleted before back and central vowels: λόγος [ˈloɣos] > Northern λόγo [ˈloɣo], Southern όγo [ˈoɣo]; λούζων [ˈluzɔːn] > Northern λούκχου [ˈlukʰu], Southern ούκχου [ˈukʰu];

Occasionally [θ] > [s], which appears to reflect an earlier process in Laconian, but in others [θ] is retained though the word is absent in Standard Greek: θυγάτηρ [θyˈɣatir] > σάτη [ˈsati], but Ancient θύων [ˈθiɔːn] (Modern σφάζω [ˈsfazo]) > θύου [ˈθiu]

Word-final [s] > [ɲ], which reflects an earlier process in Laconian; in Tsakonian, it is a liaison phoneme: τίνος [ˈtinos] > τσούνερ [ˈtsuner]

Word-initial [ɲ] > [ʃ]: *ράφων [ˈrafɔːn] > σχάφου [ˈʃafu]

In the common verb ending -ζω, [z] > [nd] : φωνάζων [foˈnazɔːn] > φωνιάντου [foˈɲandu]

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

[z, v] are added between vowels: μυία, κυανός [myˈia, kyaˈnos] > μούζα, κουβάνε [ˈmuza, kuˈvane]

[ɣ, ð] often drop out between vowels: πόδας, τράγος [ˈpoðas, ˈtraɣos] > πούα, τσχάο [ˈpua, ˈtʃao]


Original song – Tsakonian[9]Roman TransliterationIPA transcription

Πουλάτζι ἔμα ἐχα τθὸ κουιβί τσαὶ μερουτέ νι ἔμα ἐχα
ταχίγα νι ἔμα ζάχαρι ποϊκίχα νι ἔμα μόσκο,
τσαί ἁπό τὸ μόσκο τὸ περσού τσαὶ ἁπὸ τὰ νυρωδία
ἑσκανταλίστε τὁ κουιβί τσ' ἑφύντζε μοι τ' αηδόνι.
Τσ' ἁφέγκι νι ἔκει τσυνηγού μὲ τὸ κουιβί τθὸ χέρε.
Ἔα πουλί τθὸν τόπο ντι ἔα τθα καϊκοιτζίαι,
να ἄτσου τὰ κουδούνια ντι νἁ βάλου ἄβα τσαινούρτζα.

Poulátzi éma ékha tʰo 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 tʰo khére
Éa poulí tʰon tópo nti, éa tʰa kaïkitzíe
na átsou ta koudoúnia nti na válou áva tsenoúrtza.

puˈlatɕi ˈema ˈexa tʰo kwiˈvi tɕe meruˈte ɲ ˈema ˈexa
taˈçiɣa ɲ ˈema ˈzaxaʒi po.iˈcixa ɲ ˈema ˈmosko
tɕ aˈpo to ˈmosko to perˈsu tɕ aˈpo ta ɲiroˈði.a
eskandaˈʎiste to kwiˈvi tɕ eˈfidze mi t a.iˈðoɲi
tɕ aˈfeɲɟi ɲ ˈeci tɕiɲiˈɣu me to kwiˈvi tʰo ˈçere
ˈe.a pouˈʎi tʰon ˈdopo di ˈe.a tʰa ka.iciˈtɕi.e
n ˈatsu ta kuˈðuɲa di na ˈvalu ˈava tɕeˈnurdza

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

Πουλάκι είχα στο κλουβί και μερομένο το είχα.
το τάιζα ζάχαρι και το πότιζα μόσχο
και από τον πολύ τον μόσχο και την μυρωδιά του
εσκανταλίστη και το κλουβί και μου έφυγε τ' αϊδόνι
Κι' ο αφέντης το κυνηγάει με το κλουβί στο χέρι:
Έλα πουλί στον τόπο σου, έλα στην κατοικία σου
ν' αλλάξω τα κουδούνια σου να βάλω άλλα καινούργια

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.

puˈlaci ˈixa sto kluˈvi ce meroˈmeno to ˈixa
to ˈta.iza ˈzaxati ce to ˈpotiza ˈmosxo
c aˈpo tom boˈli tom ˈmosxo ce tim miroˈðja tu
eskandaˈlisti ce to kluˈvi ce mu ˈefiʝe t a.iˈðoni
c o aˈfendis to ciniˈɣa.i me to kluˈvi sto ˈçeri
ˈela pouˈli ston ˈdopo su ˈela stiŋ ɡatiˈci.a su
n alˈakso ta kuˈðuɲa su na ˈvalo ˈala ceˈnurʝa

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,
it 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.tʃe], where /t͡ʃ/ can be considered a single phoneme; it is written traditionally with a trigraph as ατσχέ (= atskhe).


Tsakonian has undergone considerable morphological simplification: 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 ενεί αού, έμα αού "I am saying, I was saying" ≈ Greek ειμί λαλών, ήμην λαλών.

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 [ʃ] sound, which does not occur in standard Greek, does occur in Tsakonian, and is spelled σχ (much like German sch). Another sound recalls Czech ř. 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 hačeks (such as š). 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 ένι [eɲi] "he is", έννι [eni] "I am" – the latter corresponding to Northern Tsakonian έμι [emi] and Standard Greek είμαι [ime].)

Transcribing Tsakonian[10]
Digraphs Costakis IPA
σχ σ̌ ʃ
τσχ σ̓
ρζ ρζ
τθ τ̒
κχ κ̒
πφ π̒
τζ (Κ) τζ ̌ – τζ & τρζ ̌ — τρζ
(Λ) τζ ̌ – τζ
(K) tɕ, trʒ
(L) d͡ʒ
νν ν̇ n (not ɲ)
λλ λ̣ l (not ʎ)
Note: (K) is for the northern dialect of Kastanitsa and Sitaina, (Λ) 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 my room? Πού είναι το δωμάτιό μου; Κιά έννι τθο όντα νι; Ciá éñi to óda ni? κιά έν̇ι τ̒ο όντα νι;
Where is the beach? Πού είναι η παραλία; Κιά έννι τθο περιγιάλλι; Ciá éñi to perigiálli? κιά έν̇ι α περιγιάλ̣ι;
Where is the bar? Πού είναι το μπαρ; Κιά έννι τθο μπαρ; Ciá éñi to bar? κιά έν̇ι τ̒ο μπαρ;
Don't touch me there! Μη μ' αγγίζεις εκεί! Μη' μ' αντζίτζερε όρπα! Mē' m'adzíchere órpa! Μαν με ατζ ̌ίτζερρε όρπα!

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Moseley, Christopher (2007). Encyclopedia of the world's endangered languages. New York: Routledge. s.v. "Tsakonian".
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tsakonian". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: 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. 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. Handbook of historical sociolinguistics. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 411.
  7. Mansfield, Peter (April 21, 2000). "Letter from Tere-Sapunadzi". TLS. Times Literary Supplement.
  8. P. Trudgill, D. Schreier (2006): Greece and Cyprus. In: U. Ammon (ed.), Sociolinguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  9. This song in its original (polytonic) Tsakonian form is taken from a book called «ΚΛΕΦΤΙΚΑ ΔΗΜΟΤΙΚΑ ΤΡΑΓΟΥΔΙΑ» (KLEPHTIC DEMOTIC SONGS) by N. G. Politou. It can be found in the last few pages of the book under the «ΤΡΑΓΟΥΔΙΑ ΕΙΣ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑΣ ΔΙΑΛΕΚΤΟΥΣ» (SONGS IN GREEK DIALECTS) section on page 269.
  10. Sources: Nicholas, Houpis, Costakis


Tsakonian language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
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