Earlier this month I was in Cyprus for a wedding. The weather was lovely and warm, the food was delicious, and it was nice to see all my family and friends again. I only spent 5 days on the island, but it was enough time to fit in a couple of trips to Omodos and Pafos.
During those 5 days people around me were speaking Cypriot Greek (CG) which isn’t a language on its own, but it is a dialect. The differences between Cypriot Greek and Standard or Common Greek (SG) are mainly lexical and phonological.
What I realised while speaking the dialect was that modern-day spoken Cypriot is so close to Ancient Greek. One could even say that modern-day Cypriot Greek could be closer to Ancient Greek than modern Greek itself. Resemblances are found in almost all aspects of the dialect. There are lexical and grammatical similarities. In some cases, Cypriot words are exactly the same with Ancient Greek words.
Here are some examples:
The verb to wed somebody to someone in Cypriot is αρμάζω (armazo) and in Greek is παντρεύω (pantrevo). In Ancient Greek we have the word αρμόζω (armozo) meaning to link, to connect. Of course one can argue that the verb pantervo is used in Cyprus as well as in Greece.
Then, think of the preposition with. In Cypriot it’s μιτά (mita) and in Greek it’s μαζί (mazi). In Ancient Greek it’s μετά (meta) like in the phrase μετά τινός (meta tinos) meaning with someone.
And how about the adjective lazy? In Cypriot it’s οκνιάρης (okniaris) and in Greek it’s τεμπέλης (tempelis). Laziness in Ancient Greek is οκνηρία (okniria). See the resemblance?
Other lexical examples of Cypriot words looking like Ancient Greek words are:
συντυχάνω (sintihano) to meet someone accidentally, πέμπω (pempo) to send, άφτω (afto)
to light up and θωρώ (thoro) to see.
A grammatical behaviour that appears to be similar between Cypriot and Ancient Greek is the morphology of the verbs in the past tense. If you want to place a verb in past tense in Cypriot, you place the verb in past tense as you would do in modern Greek and then you attach the prefix –ε (e) at the front of it. Like this:
(SG) Past: Πήγα (piga) (CG) Past: επή(γ)α (epi(g)a) I went
(SG) Past: Διάβασα (diavasa) (CG) Past: εδιάβασα (ediavasa) I read
(SG) Past: Μίλησα (Milisa) (CG) Past: εμίλησα (emilisa) I spoke
The addition of the prefix –ε (e) is a grammatical phenomenon known as the ‘past tense increase’.
See this now happening in the below Ancient Greek verbs:
Present: λέγω (lego) I speak Past: έλεγον (elegon) I was speaking
Present: βαδίζω (vadizo) I walk Past: εβάδιζον (evadizon) I was walking
Present: κωλύω (kolio) I prevent Past: εκώλυον (ekolion) I was preventing
This also happens in Standard Greek, but standard Greek drops the prefix when it is not stressed. In Cypriot though, the prefix remains regardless of which letter carries the stress, just as it does in Ancient Greek.
Of course none of the above is claiming that Standard Greek does not come from Ancient Greek.
It is however making the observation that modern day Cypriot Greek resembles Ancient Greek in a more obvious way than modern day Standard Greek does. And it would perhaps be interesting to find out why.
Vasiliki is a professional translator from English and French into Greek and from Greek into English. She runs Greek to Me Translations from Oxford, UK. She is a Member of the CIoL and the ITI and she is registered the Greek Embassy. She specialises in legal, marketing, psychometrics and food content. Her mission is to help businesses and private individuals reach their goals through the power of words. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org