Generalised use of να in Early Modern Greek

I've been reluctant to write this post for a couple of reasons:
  1. It requires dropping a moderate amount of linguistic science;
  2. I'm not prepared to do either the research or the bibliographic survey to back it up;
  3. It's probably already been worked out by the Grammar of Mediaeval Greek people.
If the latter is the case, then it won't be the first time Notis is more up to date than I am. But I'll write, and I'll see who bites.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I'd like to do a detailed linguistic survey of the 1420 letter by Manuel Chantakites, and how its language differs from contemporary standard Greek (and for that matter contemporary Cretan). Readers remarked that the letter was remarkably readable. But there is one feature of the text that, although readable, is emphatically absent from contemporary Greek. It has to do with how να is used.

You can no longer say sentences like this:
  • ωσάν ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια, "when I heard that you are asking for rent from your daughter-in-law" (Manuel is not physically present)
  • ήμαθα και ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου από τα σπίτια της, "I have learned you've been saying that you would kick your daughter-in-law out of her houses"
The phrases would now be:
  • σαν άκουσα πως/ότι γυρεύεις από τη νύφη σου νοίκια
  • έμαθα πως έλεγες πως/ότι θα βγάλεις τη νύφη σου από τα σπίτια της.
I'm going to work through why this is an oddity, and what I think has happened. I am also going to tie it in to another expression which is just as impossible in Modern Greek:
  • Τότε να είδες τα βουνά, να είδες και τους κάμπους / να είδες και τα δάσητα, να είδες τας λαγκάδας, "You should have seen the mountains and the prairies! You should have seen the forests and ravines!" (Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds 103-104)
Modern Greek would use after να not the perfective past (the aorist indicative, historically), but the imperfective past (the imperfect indicative, historically):
    Τότε να έβλεπες τα βουνά, να έβλεπες και τους κάμπους / να έβλεπες και τα δάση, να έβλεπες τις λαγκάδες
And I'm going to claim these differences are related.

It will take a lot less time to say this if I presuppose you're all linguists, which you're not; I'm going to give the opaque summary here, and the semantics lesson under the fold.
Early Modern Greek να appears to have been used more broadly as a complementiser than its current distribution associated with events and dubitatives, contrary to its purposive etymology and indeed the further restriction on factual complements in Modern Cretan. This may be associated with a temporary generalisation of να to more "indicative" contexts, e.g. as a future marker, and its use with the historical indicative aorist in optative as well as evidential contexts.
Understood? No? Well, let's walk through this.

In Modern Greek, να is the main subjunctive marker; historically it is derived from ἵνα "in order to". να has displaced the Ancient infinitive, so verbs with να appear where Ancient Greek used the subjunctive, the optative, or the infinitive. One of its main functions, just like the infinitive's, is to introduce complements of verbs: phrases that are the objects of verbs. ("I like to watch", Μου αρέσει να κοιτάζω, φιλῶ βλέπειν).

But whereas the Ancient infinitive could introduce a broad range of complements, να is more restricted. Like the English infinitive, it mostly introduces events, things that happen; and unlike a lot of "indirect discourse" Classical infinitives, it does *not* introduce facts or propositions, pieces of knowledge. Those instead are introduced by ότι or πως. (Some complements also have που or και or nothing, but I don't want to get distracted.) So:
  • Άρχισα να διαβάζω, "I began to study"
  • Θέλω να διαβάσει, "I want him to study"
  • Σε διατάζω να διαβάσεις, "I command you to study"
  • Λέει πως διαβάζει, "He says he's studying"
  • Νομίζω πως διαβάζει, "I think he's studying"
In fact, by switching between να and πως, you change whether a fact or an event is involved, and thereby you change the meaning of the verb. Which is pretty common across languages:
  • Τον άκουσα να βρίζει, "I heard him swear" (I perceived an event)
  • Άκουσα πως έβριζε, "I heard that he swore" (I perceived a claim = proposition, and not an event)
  • Του είπα να διαβάσει, "I told him to study" (I spoke an event—which is reintepreted to: I commanded an event)
  • Λέω να διαβάσω, "I'm considering studying" (lit. "I say that I should study": I spoke an event I will carry out—which idiomatically means I'm thinking aloud about doing an event, I'm making a commitment)
  • Ξέρω πως διαβάζω, "I know that I'm studying" (I know a fact)
  • Ξέρω να διαβάζω, "I know how to study" (I know an event—I know how to make the event happen)
There is an exception in Modern Greek where να can introduce a proposition. That means putting a proposition in a grammatical context which doesn't fit propositions; and the context is expressing doubt about the proposition:
  • Πιστεύω πως διαβάζει, "I think that he's studying"
  • Πιστεύω να διαβάζει, "I *think* that he might be studying"
You can't do that with more certain verbs: ??Ξέρω να διαβάζει, "I know that he might be studying". (Works in English, not in Greek.) And that exception makes sense because of comparable constructions, where the να-clause introduces an inference, rather than a certain fact—i.e., again, a proposition:
  • Πρέπει να διαβάσει, "He must study" (an event that must happen)
  • Πρέπει να διάβασε, "He must have studied" (a proposition that must be true)
  • Να διαβάζει; "Might he be studying?"
The doubting clauses and the inferences are all tied together by the tenses they allow. Normally, να introduces a present imperfective or present perfective—the historical present subjunctive and aorist subjunctive. It can introduce the present imperfect—the historical imperfect indicative—in contexts much like the English conditional and the Classical optative: wishes, counterfactual conditions, future-in-past:
  • Αχ να διάβαζε! "If only he'd study"
  • Αν διάβαζε, θα πρόκοβε "If he'd study, he'd get ahead"
  • Μου είπε πως θα διάβαζε "He said he'd study (= was going to study)"
I'm treating the future marker θα as an extension of να: it is derived from θέλω να "I want to" (like English will), and has similar tense restrictions.

The past perfective—the historical aorist indicative—is normally too "indicative" to appear with να. As it turns out, it never appears with events:
  • *Άρχισα να διάβασα
  • *Θέλω να διάβασε
  • *Σε διατάζω να διάβασες
It only appears with propositions put in doubt, and inferences (which are intrinsically doubtful):
  • Πιστεύω να διάβασε, "I think he might have study"
  • Πρέπει να διάβασε, "He must have studied"
  • Να διάβασε; "Might he have studied?
  • Μου είπε πως θα διάβασε "He said that he will have studied (= must have) studied)"
So this is a reinterpretation of να, away from events and into doubtful propositions. We could speculate that the shift of πρέπει "must", from obligation to inference (deontic to epistemic), came first, because it would explain the shift from event to proposition; but the Ancient subjunctive also conveyed this sort of doubt as a main clause. Typically introduced by μη, but then the Modern equivalent is typically introduced by μήπως:
  • μὴ ἀγροικότερον ᾖ τὸ ἀληθές εἰπεῖν: μήπως να 'ναι πιο αγροίκο να πούμε την αλήθεια: "it might be too rude to speak the truth"
  • εἴπωμεν ἢ σιγώμεν; να μιλήσουμε ή να σιωπήσουμε; "should we speak or keep silent?"
So it could also be an inherited pattern. The tense usage though is an innovation: there's nothing in Ancient Greek to suggest using an "indicative" tense here.

The distribution of ότι/πως vs. να in complements—ότι/πως for facts and propositions, να for events—is pretty stable across Greek dialect. I don't know of any instances where να picks up more than doubtful propositions. In Modern Cretan at least, even that exception is rolled back: "He must be studying" is Πρέπει πως διαβάζει, just like Νομίζω πως διαβάζει and Ξέρω πως διαβάζει (I think/I know that he is reading). So in Cretan, the analogy has gone the other way: analogy has switched "must" from events to propositions, and analogy shifts its following complementiser from the event marker to the proposition marker.

And if you're historically minded, you can find justification for the distribution in the etymology of να: its ancestor ἵνα "in order to" introduced events, things you intended to do. The restriction of the past perfective is also neat, and this all suggests a clearcut system in place since the beginning of Early Modern Greek.

The examples at the start of the post (remember?) do not. The verse from the Quadrupeds shows the past perfective used with wishes, where Modern Greek would use the "optative" past imperfective:
  • Τότε να είδες τα βουνά, να είδες και τους κάμπους / να είδες και τα δάσητα, να είδες τας λαγκάδας, "You should have seen the mountains and the prairies! You should have seen the forests and ravines!"
But that breaks the neat association between the indicative tense and doubt. The wish it introduces is still a proposition that hasn't happened, but doubt is not the point of a wish, and Modern Greek doesn't make that extension. Which means that the Modern restriction wasn't always in place: Early Modern Greek didn't distinguish between wishes and doubts, both could take a past tense after να, imperfective or perfective.

Chantakites' letter points to another breakdown. I've seen similar breakdowns in the Chronicle of the Morea, with ότι να used where Modern Greek uses just ότι (on which more below); but Chantakites' letter is more persuasive because its Greek really does look more unforced. And what Chantakites does is break down the Modern distinction between perceiving an event, with να, and perceiving a fact (second hand), through πως. Manuel is miles away from Crete, but
  • ωσάν ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια, "when I heard that you are asking for rent from your daughter-in-law"
In Modern Greek, you can only use να after "hear" if you're directly perceiving an event: σαν σε άκουσα να γυρεύεις από τη νύφη σου νοίκια, "when I heard you ask(ing) for rent from your daughter-in-law". And you'd have to insert the direct object, σε "you": the syntax of the dependent clause is different, its subject is raised to become the object of the main verb, expressing perception ("I heard him ask" = "I heard the event in which he asked", "I heard him while he was asking"). Whereas what Chantakites said treats να just like ότι, with no raising of the subject.

What's going on? I think there's a hint in the other instance:
  • ήμαθα και ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου από τα σπίτια της, "I have learned you've been saying that you would kick your daughter-in-law out of her houses"
The letter has some instances of what was to become the Modern Greek future construction, εγνωρίσει θέλω "to know I want" > θέλω να γνωρίσω "I want to know" > θα γνωρίσω "I will know" (and Modern Cretan να γνωρίσει θέλω). But that was the start of the future construction: until then in Early Modern Greek, as I've mentioned in earlier posts, the future was expressed with να.
  • Michael Glycas: ὁ βασιλεὺς φιλάνθρωπος καὶ νὰ σὲ συμπαθήσῃ, "the kindly emperor's gonna pardon you"
  • Continuators of Scylitzes: Ἐγὼ σὲ ἔκτισα, φοῦρνε, καὶ ἐγὼ νὰ σὲ χαλάσω, "I built you, oven, and I'll destroy you."
You might argue this construction is still there in Chantakites:
  • Και εθάρρουν εις εσέναν … να φλογοτομάς το αίμα, "I trusted in you even to bleed your own veins" ("I trusted in you that you would bleed your own veins"?)
And you can also read the other instance of an odd να that way:
  • ήμαθα και ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου από τα σπίτια της, "I have learned you've been saying that you would kick your daughter-in-law out of her houses"
This could be like the idiomatic Λέω να διαβάσω Modern construction: "I'm saying for me to read = I'm thinking aloud that I should read = I'm considering reading." Sounds odd to use it outside the first person, but it's possible. But it's likelier that this use of ήλεγες is literal: Manuel has heard reports of his father speaking, and να introduces what he was speaking, as a proposition rather than a figurative event: it is equivalent to Modern έλεγες πως, "you have been saying that…".

The Modern Greek would continue: έλεγες πως θα βγάλεις τη νύφη σου, "you have been saying that you will kick out your daughter-in-law". With a future tense construction. But θα βγάλεις used to be να εβγάλεις, with the old future use of να. So in 1100, this would have been: έλεγες ότι να εβγάλεις τη νύφη σου—with the ότι να combination you can see in the Chronicle of Morea:
  • Ἐνταῦτα ἀπήρασιν βουλὴν ὅ<τι> νὰ ἀπελθοῦσιν, "there they made the decision to depart" (H 145)
  • Κι ἀφότου ἐστερεώσασιν ὅτι νὰ τὸ πληρώσουν, "and after they affirmed that they would pay for it" (H 180)
  • ὑπόσχεσιν τοῦ ἐποῖκαν / ὅτι νὰ βάλουσιν βουλήν, "they made him a promise that they would decide" (H 8546–7)
  • (Jean de Catavas): Κι ὅποιος ἰδῇ ὅτι νὰ τραπῶ ἢ τίποτε δειλιάσω, / ἐχτρὸν τὸν ἔχω τοῦ Χριστοῦ, νὰ μὴ μὲ σφάξῃ εὐθέως, "and whoever sees that I turn or lose courage at all, I shall hold him to be an enemy of Christ if he does not kill me immediately" (H 4755–6)
  • Τὸ ἀκούσει ὁ Ροῦσος ντὲ Σουλῆ ὅτι νὰ γένῃ ὅρκος, "when Rousseau de Sully heard that there would be an oath" (H 7927)
The first three phrases can be expressed in Modern Greek as either ότι θα, a future proposition, or να, an event (commitment): you can decide that you will do something, or decide to do something. If it's an event, ότι looks redundant: "they made the decision that to depart" (Modern πήραν απόφαση να αποχωρήσουν). That kind of redundancy can happen in Early Modern Greek, but I'm sympathetic to reading it instead as the old future: "they made the decision that they will depart" (Modern πήραν απόφαση ότι θα αποχωρήσουν).

The last two instances are verbs of perception, just as we saw with Manuel Chantakites hearing that his father was seeking rent. De Catavas' clause involves direct perception: Modern Greek allows both να and ότι, and would prefer να normally; but the absence of raising ("sees me turn", μὲ ἰδῇ (ὅτι) νὰ τραπῶ) suggests that the clause is really being introduced by ότι, and να is a future marker. The future sense is clearer in Rousseau de Sully's clause, which involves indirect perception: de Sully can't hear people making an oath, because he is agreeing for them all to take the oath that has just been proposed. So he really has heard "that there will be an oath", and that's what the Greek says: ὅτι νὰ γένῃ ὅρκος, Modern ότι θα γίνει όρκος.

Now the point of all that was, it is difficult to work out whether these clauses express events or propositions: the future να turns up with propositions, and makes them sound like events. The sequence ότι να sounds like two complementisers next to each other, and it would be easy to drop the first as redundant, or as a zero-complentiser. (Είπε πως θα παει "He said that he would go", Είπε θα πάει "He said he would go", which in Early Modern Greek would be Είπε να υπάγει.)

If it's difficult for us, it was difficult back then too. So it would be possible for the future (ότι) να in those contexts to be reanalysed as a propositional complementiser: Τὸ ἀκούσει ὁ Ροῦσος ντὲ Σουλῆ ὅτι νὰ γένῃ ὅρκος, "when Rousseau de Sully heard that there would be an oath" could lead to ωσάν ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια, "when I heard that you are asking for rent from your daughter-in-law". The reanalysis may not have generalised, and it certainly hasn't left any traces behind—especially given how Cretan has since got rid of the propositional να in Πρέπει πως διαβάζει, "He must be studying".

But it suggests that the distribution of να as a complementiser was messier, messed up by the use of να as a future marker—which pushed it towards more "indicative" meanings. The neater modern distribution of να, along with the neater distribution of past tenses after inferential να, may have have resulted from a subsequent cleanup of the language—speakers reimposing order on their use of να, rather than inheriting it.

Thank you if you've made it this far; this is properly a paper, but I'm not likely to write it, and it may already be a solved problem. I'm pretty sure it hadn't been worked through in the literature I read for my thesis. But given the spasmodic status of Early Modern Greek linguistics until fairly recently, that's not saying much.
...Read more


King's College department threatened with closure

Someone of you will have already seen this posted on other blogs. The Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies is being threatened with closure, as part of the restructuring planned for much of the School of Arts & Humanities (which will also do away with palaeography and computational linguistics). (For other coverage, see e.g. the History News Network, with extensive background, the Medieval News, A Don's Life, Language Log, and elsewhere.) For BMGS, the likely outcome is a merger into Classics—and winding down Byzantine & Modern Greek as distinct course offerings.

An online petition to save King's BMGS has been set up. As the HNN post points out, snail mail letters count for more:

Professor Rick Trainor,
The Principal,
King’s College,
The Strand,
London WC2R 2LS

Do read the background documents if you will write in—the HNN posting in particular.


Manuel Chantakites, Away from Crete, 1420

Rather than continue from the previous post by presenting the theoretical framework of documentary texts, I will instead give a sample of that kind of text. This is one of the absurdly few private letters we have in the vernacular from the Early Modern period. It's such a rare thing, Kriaras' online dictionary abbreviates it as just Γράμμα κρ. διαλ., "letter in Cr(etan) dial(ect)", with no risk of ambiguity.

The letter has survived through a fluke of history. The State Archives of Venice, "Duke of Candia" (= Crete) section, include a few documents copied for the benefit of Cretans, anxious to have the colonial power's backup for their legal claims. Most of them are dry contracts, and most of those are in Latin: there are several published collections of notary documents in Cretan dialect, but they are all from the 16th and 17th century.

In this instance, we have something different. The widow of Manuel Chantakites, goldsmith of Chandax (= Iraklion), asked for this letter to be notarised and entered into the Venetian archives on March 15, 1446. The letter was from her husband, who had been forced to abandon her and leave Crete. Manuel wrote his letter to be used as a will, because of the dispute over their houses with his father. From the parenthetical note at the end, we know he wanted his wife as much as his father to read the letter. His wife already had witnesses authenticate the letter in December 1420, so we can surmise the letter was sent earlier that year, or maybe a year or so before.

This was the only will the widow had from Manuel, which suggests he never did come back. Given the extraordinary step of having a private letter witnessed in Iraklion and copied in Venice, she clearly continued to be at odds with her in-laws.

As a human interest story, the letter is rich stuff. Manuel admits to abandoning his wife unwillingly: the letter's editor, Manousakas, suspects he had committed homicide. The Kriaras dictonary calls him 'Manuel "Chantakites"', because "Chantakites" just means "from Chandax"; so Manuel was not necessarily using his surname. The letter itself has a potent mix of indignation, threats, and affection. (The sarcasm was potent enough that I contemplated using the irony mark; but this is a 1420 letter, not a 2010 instant message, so that would be a distraction.) I'll let the letter stand on its own, though in a follow-up I'm going to comment on its language extensively.

The vernacular is unusually clean for the period—although Crete was always less macaronic about its Greek writing than the mainland was. There's only one errant δέ "but" in the end of the first paragraph. The author is literate, but not a scholar (like the other vernacular letter writer of the time, Cardinal Bessarion). To be literate meant you were exposed to learnèd Greek, and your writing would reflect that; but given that caveat, this letter is as good as we're going to get as linguistic evidence, without the conscious manipulation of language that characterises literature (vernacular no less than learnèd).

Maybe Machairas' chronicle is a better witness still, come to think of it, simply because there's more of it. But that's Cypriot dialect, and an entirely different post.

I'm reproducing the text from Manousakas' 1962 edition—which appeared in the kind of occasional publication that has guaranteed most copies in existence are photocopies. I've put the text in monotonic, because it's straightforwardly Modern Greek. (I've already posted about the debate over accentuation of editions.) I've respelled the orthographic subjunctives as contemporary indicatives—not because I have any particular enthusiasm for doing so, but to preempt TAK saying I should have. :-) (Manousakas already spells the subjunctives without iota subscript anyway, so he was just using the Modern Greek spelling of his time.)
[Manousakas, M.I. 1962. Ένα παλιό (1420;) ιδιωτικό γράμμα σε κρητική διάλεκτο: Τα παράπονα του ξενιτεμένου Μανουήλ Χαντακίτη για την απονιά του πατέρα του. Kρητική Πρωτοχρονιά 2. 35-39.]

Archivo di Stato di Venezia—Duca di Candia 11: Atti antichi 2, volume 25 bis (1443–1456) folio 3, p. 21v.

† Εις τον πατέραν μου και την μητέραν μου πολλά προσκυνήματα από εμέναν τον υιόν σας τον Μανοήλ τον Χαντακίτην.

Ήξευρε, πατέρα, ότι πολλά με επρίκανες, ωσάν ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια και να τηνε πρικάνεις. Και σώνει την η εδική μου πρίκα οπού της έκαμα (οκαί κατέχεις καλά και μεγάλην πρίκαν της έκαμα εγώ). Και εθάρρουν εις εσέναν, άματά ’μουν μιαν φοράν το παιδίν σου και εξενιτεύτηκα, να φλογοτομάς το αίμα σου να ποτίζεις την νύφην σου και ποτέ πρίκαν να μηδέν έχει από σένα. Και εγώ έμαθα ότι έκαμες ωσάν ήθελες. Και δοξάζω τον Θεόν. Και τούτον σου θυμίζω, ότι, α δώσει ο Θεός, γλήγορα θέλω είσταιν αυτού· οκαί, αν εμίσσεψα από χολής μου πολλής, έλθει θέλω, α δώσει ο Θεός. Και θάρρουν ότι όχι και ήτονε γυναίκα μου, αμέ αν ήθελεν είσται καύχα μου, ουδέν ετύχαινεν να κάμεις ωσάν μού ’παν ότι ήκαμες. Και ευχαριστώ σου πολλά. Και, α δώσει ο Θεός να έλθω και εγώ αυτού, εγνωρίσει θέλω τους καλούς μου εδικούς και τους καλούς μου φίλους. Όμως δε ο Θεός μετά σας.

† Όλα μου τα αδέλφια πολλά καταφιλώ. Και το περιπλέον την σπλαχνικήν μου αδελφήν την κερ-Αντωνίαν την Μαρμαράδαιναν πολλά καταφιλώ χέρια της και τα πόδια της. Ομοίως και τους γαμπρούς μου και τους εδικούς μου όλους.

† Ήξευρε, πατέρα, ότι ήμαθα και ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου από τα σπίτια της, α μου έρθει τίβοτας. Κ’ ήλεγες το θέλημά σου. Και εγώ λέγω, οκαί αν έχω χίλιες χιλιάδες δουκάτα, όχι και α δεν έχω τίβοτας, θέλω να είναι όλα εδικά της, τόσο σπίτια, ωσάν άλλα πράγματα. Και τούτον θέλω το γράμμα να έναι τεσταμέντο και ό,τι γράφω να έναι στερεόν.

Εγώ ανωγεγραμμένος Μανουήλ ο χρουσοχός έγραψα με την χέραν μου.

(† Τούτον, ωσάν το αναγνώσεις, πέψε το του κυρού μου και της μάννας μου.)

† Εγράφη μηνί Μαγίω εις την πρώτην.

To my father and my mother, many obeisances from me, your son Manuel Chantakites.

Know this, father, that you grieved me a lot, when I heard that you are asking for rent from your daughter-in-law, and are grieving her. And the grief I've given her was quite enough. (And you know well that I have given her much grief.) And since I was after all your child and have gone away, I trusted in you even to bleed your own veins for your daughter-in-law to drink, and that she should never have grief from you. And I have learned that you have done as you willed. And I give thanks to God. And I remind you of this: that, should God grant it, I will be back there soon; and though I have gone away with much bitterness, I will indeed be back, should God grant it. And I trusted that, never mind if she were my wife, not even if she were my whore should she deserve for you to have done what they've told me you've done. And I thank you a lot. And should God grant that I will come back—I shall know my true relatives and my true friends. But God be with you all.

Many kisses to all my siblings. And especially my dear sister Lady Antonia Marmaras, I kiss her hands and feet. The same goes for my brothers-in-law and all my relatives.

Know this, father, that I have learned you've been saying that you would kick your daughter-in-law out of her houses, if anything should happen to me. And you have been speaking your will. And I say that, even if I had thousands of thousands of ducats, never mind the nothing that I do have, I want it all to be hers, the houses as much as the other things. And I want this letter to be a will, and whatever I write to be fixed.

I the above-signed Manuel the goldsmith have written this with my own hand.

(When you have read this, send it to my mum and dad.)

Written on the first of the month of May.

...Read more


Philological Reliability: Literary Texts

It's safe to come out now, folks, I'm no longer debating the etymology of Greek four-letter words. But two points that came up in that debate—the reliability of a vernacular phrase in Tzetzes, and the unrelated search for the earliest attestation of the -opoulos suffix, bring up a philological point, about dating linguistic changes through manuscript evidence. This is old hat to philologists, but philologists, alas, are thin on the ground these days.
In fact (to get my polemic on), when I was still in a linguistics department, I threw at the head of the department (an Australianist—oddly enough for a department in Australia) the old dictum from George Hatzidakis: Πᾶς μὴ φιλολογῶν, ο­ὐ γλωσσολογεῖ. "If you're not doing philology, you're not doing linguistics." "... Maybe not your kind of linguistics", he blinked.

But of course, a lot more linguists have to do philology than admit to it (or actually do it). If you understand philology properly. It's not about poring over old manuscripts: philology is understanding the social and historical context of the texts you're working on. Which means factoring the cultural in to your linguistic analysis: language is an instrument of culture, and the choices people make in what to say and how to say it are driven by their culture. To a significant extent, they *are* their culture. And that holds as much for Australian Aboriginal languages as for Early Modern Greek—if not more.
But to the dating of linguistic changes.

For historical evidence, we rely in the first instance on written texts, and only secondarily on reconstruction and comparison between modern languages. And there are two types of written text before the printing press: literary, and documentary.

Literary texts got copied time and again—which is why they survived: LOCKSS, Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. That means we're unlikely to have the autograph, the original author's manuscript—certainly out of the question for Greek antiquity, where the wax tablets and papyri did not survive millenia of Greek dirt. Nor for that matter before the 10th century: as book technology advanced, copies in the old technology were thrown out wholesale—so once lowercase was invented, the older uppercase codexes were discarded.
As I commented over at Roger Pearse's, some leaves from the uppercase autograph of the Life of St Andrew the Fool have accidentally survived—thrown out, and recycled as a book binding. That helps us work out that it was a 10th century text, pretending to be from the 6th century.

Without the autograph, we rely on the fidelity of copyists, our knowledge of the original language, and philological acumen to work out what the original said. With Ancient Greek, our evidence is not perfect, but we're not that badly off. The scribes were typically conscientious. We know Ancient Greek better than the scribes did, so we can often tell if they are wandering off linguistically. We typically have multiple copies of the text, so we can triangulate between them. And as I'll say below, we have other texts to fill out our knowledge of the ancient language.

We're not always there: we suspect for instance that the text of Herodotus we have has been hypercorrected, because it has plurals like τουτέων that look Ionic, but linguistic theory says shouldn't be there (Kühner–Blass 111): some time between 450 BC and 1000 AD, a scribe thought he knew better than the text he was copying, and all subsequent copies of Herodotus reflect his intervention. (The inflection is even more pervasive in the artificial Ionic of Roman-era medical authors.) But that kind of problem with mangled grammar is not debilitating for Ancient Greek.

Things are quite different for Early Modern Greek (and from what I gather, other mediaeval vernaculars). Again, we don't have autographs until well into the Renaissance. But scribes did not revere the language of the original, like they did Ancient Greek: Early Modern Greek had no prestige, and scribes' approach to the verses was influenced by their approach to folk song: liable to adjustment on the fly. So the wording of our multiple copies varies a lot more than we're used to from classical text, in ways where it's not obvious what the original had, if anything. Editors more often have to drop the meticulous stemmatic reconstruction of the text, and go with selectio (gut instinct), or even codex optimus (follow just one manuscript).

It gets worse. Towards the end of the age of scribes, we can see scribes systematically modernising the language of the texts they were copying; that's what the 1625 manuscript of the 14th century Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds did for example. Scribes could also do the opposite: make the language of their text more archaic and proper. The Digenes Akrites romance must have originated in 11th vernacular ballads, but our earliest manuscript, the 13th century Grottaferrata, is in learnèd Greek. The 15th century Escorial manuscript is in the vernacular people were hankering for, but it's unlikely to be a direct reproduction of the 11th century ballads.

So if you have two variants of a passage, one more learnèd and one more vernacular, you can't always tell which reading is original—and use that to date the change back to when the text was originally written. Classical philology has a handy rule of lectio difficilior: if one reading is interesting and the other is boring, go with the interesting reading. That rule is predicated on the ancient author being a literary genius, and the scribe being a drudge: a drudge will simplify a text in copying it, and will not exercise ingenuity. With the Early Modern corpus though, the scribe is not necessarily less of a genius than the author, and feels more entitled to show us that he is.

An example comes from the very title of the Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds. The word "entertaining" is given in two forms in the manuscripts: παιδιόφραστος "entertainment-phrased" is the Paris manuscript, the other four have πεζόφραστος, "prosaically-phrased" (i.e. vernacular). "Entertainment-phrased" is an interesting coinage; "prosaically-phrased" is—well, prosaic. So following lectio difficilior, editors of the text have accepted the reading Entertaining Tale, rather than Vernacular Tale.

Just as George Baloglou and I were going to press with our translation of the Entertaining Tale, i came across a paper by Hans Eideneier, arguing that the Paris manuscript routinely tinkered with the text, making it more archaic or pretentious. To Eideneier's mind, this was another such instance: the scribe thought "prosaically-phrased" was prosaic too, and tarted it up to the similar-sounding "entertainment-phrased". Scribes simply would not do that with Homer; but they had no such compunction with vernacular texts. And if they routinely did so, then lectio difficilior does not count as much in reconstructing the original text.

[Eideneier, H. 2002. Η «πεζῇ φράσει» Διήγησις των τετραπόδων ζώων. In Λόγια και Δημώδης Γραμματεία του Ελληνικού Μεσαίωνα: Αφιέρωμα στον Εύδοξο Θ. Τσολάκη. Πρακτικά Θʹ Επιστημονικής Συνάντησης (11-13 Μαΐου 2000). Thessalonica: Aristotle University. 269-277.]

This all amounts to needing a degree of scepticism about dating linguistic changes from literary texts. We can often work out the date a text was originally written in; and if a preponderance of surviving copies confirm the linguistic feature we're looking at, we can date the feature back then. But if we have only one copy, or if there is a dispute between the manuscripts, the only date we can have real confidence in is the date that the ink on the manuscript dried. For Early Modern Greek, that date is almost always the 14th or 15th century, rather than the 12th.

In fact, of the three Early Modern Greek literary texts dated to the 12th century, at least two are philologically problematic. Spaneas' Polonius-like moralising made it hugely popular; that means lots of copies, with lots of variation, and no obvious reconstruction of a single original text. The Ptochoprodromos cycle clearly was written in the late 12th century; but again, it was popular enough and copied enough that we can't always be sure the manuscripts' language is faithful to the original.

The third such text is Michael Glycas' Prison Verses, written in 1158/9 (and edited by Evdoxos Tsolakis, whose Festschrift featured Eideneier's paper above). In this case, we've been uncharacteristically lucky. We have a date for the poem, because we know what campaign the emperor was on when Glycas was petitioning him (unsuccessfully) for pardon. We have a 13th century manuscript of the text (and we know it used to be in another 13th century manuscript), which is completely unlike other vernacular texts. We have an eponymous author writing in the vernacular, and someone who otherwise wrote in the learnèd dialect; we'll need to wait two centuries for Stephen Sachlikes for the next such eponymous text.

It's the combination of all this that has enshrined the work as the first known Modern Greek text. (A second Glycas poem, written a few years later, presents vernacular proverbs more systematically, and I presume is what TAK was referring to in comments. To my embarrassment, I was not familiar with this work at all.)

This is slightly too good to be true, and if you look at the text, it's not as strongly vernacular as Ptochoprodromos: the substrate is learnèd, with some smatterings of vernacular, especially when proverbial wisdom is brought up. There is a continuum of vernacularness which the polemic fuelled by Greek diglossia skips over: John Camaterus, also from the 12th century, is even less vernacular than the Prison Verses, but still has a few shibboleths. (When Modern Greek liteature begins is a vexed question, and Martin Hinterberger has a lucid overview.)

Still, Glycas has one of the earliest attestations of the Early Modern use of subjunctive να to indicate future tense (supplanted a couple of centuries later by θέλω να "want to" > θα). This excerpt, where an Early Modern να is followed by an Ancient future tense (να συμπαθήσῃ, ῥύσεται), illustrates how macaronic the poem gets. I italicise the clearly vernacular words:
Καὶ στὰς ὁ τάλας ἄφωνος καὶ πεπηγὼς ὡς λίθος
καὶ γεγονὼς περίδακρυς ἔδοξα παρακοῦσαι,
ὥσπερ τινὸς ἐγγίσαντος καὶ πρὸς ἐμὲ λαλοῦντος:
«Ἐδά, Μιχάλη ταπεινέ, φέρε τὸν λογισμόν σου·
ὅσα καὶ ἂν εἶδες ἄφες τα, τοῦτα παιγνίδια οὐκ ἔνι,
φόβητρα δὲ καὶ βάσανα καὶ στοναχαὶ καὶ πένθη,
ἀσυμπαθεῖς ἐξετασταὶ καὶ φοβεραὶ κολάσεις·
τῷ βασιλεῖ σου πρόσδραμε, λέγε τὰ πταίσματά σου·
ὁ βασιλεὺς φιλάνθρωπος καὶ νὰ σὲ συμπαθήσῃ.
Ἐκύκλωσάν σε σήμερον ὠδῖνες τοῦ θανάτου;
Ἐπικαλοῦ τὸν Κύριον κἀκεῖνος ῥύσεταί σε.
I, poor man, standing voiceless, fixed like rock,
becoming full of tears—thought I o'erheard
someone approach and speak to me, as 'twere:
"Now then, poor Mike, put on your thinking cap.
Quit everything you've seen: this ain't no game,
but terrors, torment, moaning, and laments,
unfeeling inquisitions, fearsome penance.
Approach thine emperor, admit your faults:
the kindly emperor's gonna pardon you.
Have pangs of death encircled thee today?
Call thou upon the Lord, and He shall save thee. (Prison Verses, 515-525)

We have some evidence of Early Modern Greek before the 14th century from other literary traditions, but not a lot. The Judaeo-Greek Jonah of 1263 is a word-for-word translation; and the bits of Greek in Rumi and Sultan Walad are hard to read, and probably second-language Greek. We have the occasional vernacular proverb or song mentioned in an otherwise learnèd text, such as the proverb in the Continuators of Scylitzes which is slightly earlier evidence of the να future, the imperial acclamations, or the "Go well my hawk" song in the Alexiad. We'd like to retain that evidence, through lectio difficilior: the vernacular is so out of place that the scribe is unlikely to have tampered with it, especially since they were back to "treat text with respect" mode in their copying. Yet that's an assumption, not a proof.

There are, luckily, other kinds of texts we can use as evidence: the documentary kind. They don't yield as copious evidence as the vernacular literary texts do: the literary texts are only macaronically vernacular, whereas the documentary kind are usually vernacular only by lapse—in which we're rather less lucky than Hellenistic Greek, with its abundance of Koine correspondence. Those texts, I look at next post.
...Read more


New TLG words in DGE VII

As I posted last month, the new volume of DGE (Diccionario Griego–Español) has appeared, spanning ἐκπελλεύω–ἔξαυος. As with any lexicographic work of an older language, some philology and textual emendation has been involved; this paper by Eugenio Luján Martínez gives four such instances, in Epicurus, Aretaeus, Nicander, and Galen.

I have gone through this volume and the TLG texts dated from before i AD, to find words not given in the other dictionaries out there (LSJ, LSJ Supplement, Bauer, Lampe, Trapp). I'm posting them here for interest. Note that the list may be small, but that's because the major gaps are in papyri (which are not in the TLG)—not ancient literature, which is already (nominally) well-ploughed land. (There should be quite a few more words from TLG AD texts.) DGE's entries are still much more detailed than LSJ's, and its coverage of antiquity broader. I'm also omitting proper names, which I have been treating differently in lemmatisation.

I'm leaving out the glosses, because the DGE is a commercial product and all. Most of them you can guess the meaning of, if you know your way around Greek vocabulary...

  • ἐκπυρώδης, ες.
  • ἐλάφινος, η, ον. (But Trapp has the variant ἐλαφινός.)
  • ἐλέκεβρα, ας, ἡ. (ἠλεκέβρα, ἰλλεκέβρα, ἐκλεκέβρα).
  • ἐλέσσω.
  • ἑλωρεύς, έως, ὁ.
  • ἕμα, ματος, τό.
  • ἐμβρωσί, τό.
  • ἐμπιεστός, ή, όν.
  • ἐμπύρευσις, εως, ἡ.
  • ἔνδεινος, ον.
  • ἐνναγώνιον, ου, τό.
  • ἔνοψ, πος, ὁ.
  • ἐναντιοεργός, όν.
  • ἐνεδρευτός, ή, όν.
  • ἐνιζυγίς, ίδος, ἡ.
  • ἐντεροκοιλιακός, ή, όν.
  • ἐντραπής, ές.
  • ἐντυπάδιον, ου, τό.
  • ἐξάρακτος, ον.

...Read more


Etymologies and attestation of μουνί

(See also μουνί vs. monín; μούτζα, μουνί and Tzetzes.)

OK, let's draw this talk of μουνίν to some sort of close. I'll present the first attestations of the word, as given in Trapp's and Kriaras' dictionary; and then I'll reproduce Moutsos' presentation of the various proposed etymologies, with a few of my comments.

The attestations are given with date of authorship, followed by date of earliest manuscript. The manuscript date matters because, as you'll have already seen from TAK's comments in previous threads, you can't trust mediaeval scribes not to interfere with the language of what they're copying.
John Tzetzes, Theogony (12th century/ca. 1400)
οὐκ αἰσχύνεσαι, αὐθέντριά μου, νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς;
Aren't you ashamed, my lady, to have a priest fuck your cunt?

The reading is preserved only in one manuscript, ca. 1400 ("turn of 14th century"). There is a possibility that the manuscript scribe has introduced this, pejorating whatever Tzetzes originally had written. The other manuscript preserving the passage, from the 15th century, clearly saw something worth censoring in the original, to have left the second half of the verse out. But given that it also censored the previous verse, mentioning a priest as lover, we can't be sure what it censored was a translation like "fuck your cunt", or something closer to the Proto-Ossetian's "have a love affair".

Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds 467 (ca. 1364/15th century)
διὰ νὰ σηκώνῃς τὴν οὐράν, νὰ δείχνῃς τὸ μουνίν σου
(Sheep to Goat): You're here to lift your tail and show your cunt off!

The translation is due to one George Baloglou and one Nick Nicholas.

Miklosich & Müller, Acta et Diplomata Graeca Medii Aevi, Vol. II p. 53: Church synod condemnation of Constantine Cabasilas (24 August, 1383)
τέταρτον· ὅτι ἐβάπτιζε ποτὲ παιδίον, ἵστατο δὲ ἐκεῖσε καὶ γυνή· ἔχρισεν οὖν τὸ βρέφος τῷ ἀγίῳ μύρῳ, εἷτα λέγει πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα· φέρε μοι τὸ μουνίν σου ἐνταῦθα, ἵνα χρίσω αὐτὸ, καὶ οὐ συγκάπτῃ
Fourthly: that he was christening a child once, and there was a woman standing there too; so he anointed the infant with holy myrrh, and then said to the woman, "bring me your cunt here, for me to anoint it; it won't swallow it up."

I don't quite understand what exactly συγκάπτῃ means here, and I'm not sure I want to. Yes, he was excommunicated. Legal processes, such as this, are usually boring, but at times can give invaluable linguistic evidence. Even though in this case the grammar has clearly been antiquated, the vocabulary has not.

Mass of the Beardless Man (ca. 1500/1515~1519) (Β 165, Α 499)
γραίας πορδὴ μαστίχα σου, γαδάρας μουνὶ πουγγί σου
an old woman's fart is your mastic, a donkey's cunt is your purse

The Mass is a relentlessly scatological parody; as the previous quote shows, not all churchmen were saintly, then any more than now. It was printed in 1553, but the two manuscript versions are if anything even filthier—as is shown here.

Mass of the Beardless Man (ca. 1500/1515~1519) (Α 375)
Μαγαρίζομέν σε, κὺρ Φασούλη σπανέ, καὶ ὑβρίζω τὴν ὡραίαν πατσάδαν σου ὡς ἀντίτυπον γαδάρας <τὸ> μουνίν.
We pollute thee, Sir Bean Beardless, and I curse thy pretty beard as a copy of a donkey's cunt.

Glossae Graecobarbarae (end of 15th century/1614) [cited in Meursius]
τῆς γυναικὸς τὸ αἰδοῖον, ὅπερ καλοῦσι μουνὴν.
The woman's pudendum, which they call μουνί.

The Glossae Graecobarbarae have survived only in citations by the lexicographers Meursius and DuCange; they've been claimed to originate in Cyprus, at the end of the 15th century. (Beaudouin, Mondry 1884. Dialecte chypriote. pp. 109-131 cites the glosses and compares them to Modern Cypriot.)

Stefano de Sabio, Corona Pretiosa (1527) [cited in Meursius]
μουνὴ. Cunnus. αἰδοῖον γυναικὸς.
μουνί. Cunt. "(Ancient Greek) woman's pudendum."

The Corona Pretiosa was published by Stefano de Sabio in 1527, with a reprint in 1543; it's a glossary that translates Modern Greek into Latin, Ancient Greek and (apparently) Italian. I'd like to register my astonishment that this is the first time I've heard of it. I'd also like to register my astonishment that nowadays I can *expect* a 1527 book to be digitised and online. It isn't, but all the other lexica are.

Johannes Meursius: Glossarium Graeco-barbarum (1614)
Μουνή. Membrum muliebre. [cites definitions from Corona Pretiosa and Glossae Graecobarbarae]
Μουνί: Female member.

Little gripe to Kriaras' dictionary: if they're going to cite words as being cited in Meursius, DuCange, Vlachos and Somavera, they really should also have mentioned De Sabio and the Glossae: they push the date back a lot.

Alessio da Somavera (Alexis de Sommevoire), Tesoro della lingua greca-volgare ed italiana (1709)
Μοῦνα, ἡ. μαϊμοῦ μὲ τῆν οὐράν, ἡ. (ζῶον) Mona, gatto fariano. (animale) // Μουνάρα, ἡ. Natura granda di donna. // Μουνί. βλ. Σάρκα. // ἡ Σάρκα. Le parti vergognose, honestamente parlando.
Μοῦνα, ἡ. Monkey with a tail (animal). // Μουνάρα, ἡ. Large feminine organ. // Μουνί. See Σάρκα "flesh". // Σάρκα. The embarrassing parts, to speak bluntly.

Somavera is more hesitant than previous lexicographers, but he does note the augmentative μουνάρα. He also shows that the Venetian monna "monkey", which I mentioned confused matters in Venetian, had also entered Greek at the time.

Now to the etymologies. None of them are straightforward phonologically: there is no obvious Ancient word starting in /mon/ or /mun/, which could account for it.
A friend of mine said he always assumed it was derived from μόνος "only, unique" (as in mono- in English), because there's only one of them. That's in contrast to testicles, presumably, but it doesn't exactly distinguish vaginas from penises though.

No, I'm not going further with that proposal.

Faced with this difficulty, Hatzidakis arrived at the ingenious (too ingenious) parallel of /evnuxos/ "eunuch" > /munuxos/. Each of the steps posited for that transition has precedent in Greek:
  • eunúkʰos
  • evˈnuxos, through regular phonetic change
  • *ˈvnuxos, through aphaeresis
  • ˈmnuxos, through assimilation
  • muˈnuxos, through epenthesis

This allowed people to look for etymologies of μουνίν in something like *βνίν. I admit to some residual scepticism; as I said, the epenthetic /u/ in /munuxos/ could be copying the latter /u/, which wouldn't apply to /vnin/; and neither /mn/ nor /vn/ is always broken up in Greek: /mnimori/ "memorial stone", /keravnos/ "thunder". So if we could find a less awkward etymology for μουνίν, we'd use it.

Like, say, Venetian mona, as I had at first leapt at. But as I've argued, the evidence from Italiot Greek is that the Venetian word probably does have a Greek origin after all, so it doesn't help get rid of the problem.

So, let's see who Moutsous reports has had a go. I've already mentioned the later etymologies:
DuCange (1688): βουνή, from βουνός "hill, mound". As in mons Veneris
Moutsos cites Psichari and Rohlfs as rejecting it, and there's no good reason for /vun/ to go to /mun/.
Koraes (1835): μύλλον "lip"; cf. μυλλός "cake shaped like a vagina" (Athenaeus 14.647a), and μυλλάς "prostitute".
μυλλός and μυλλάς are derived from μύλλω "to fuck"; μύλλον apparently is unrelated, and there's no obvious reason for /myl/ to go to /mun/, either.
Hatzidakis (1892): εὐνή > *εὐνίον "bed" > *βνίν.
It seems a bit stretched, although I did point out the parallel in Modern Greek with carriola "cradle with wheels" > καριόλα "bed" > "whore". Hatzidakis knew it was stretched too, and didn't want to rule out mona
Filintas (1934): μνοῦς "down" > *μνίον
Moutsos dismisses this; the proposal "drew no attention as being entirely hypothetical". I'm not as sure: the form is semantically possible, and phononologically less indirect: we need only posit *mnin and not *vnin. The word did stick around long enough to show up in the Graeco-Latin glossaries as a gloss of pluma "feather", both as μνοῦς and as the vernacular diminutive μνούδιον.

Moutsos' proposal is that this is a nominalised infinitive of βινεῖν "to fuck". We have several such fossil infintives in Modern Greek: φαγεῖν "to eat" > φαγί > φαΐ "food", πιεῖν "to drink" > πιεί "drink" (dialectal); φιλεῖν "to love" > φιλί "kiss". Moutsos adds γαμήσειν "to get married > to fuck" > γαμήσι "fucking", parallel to λύσειν "to untie" > λύσι "untying" (dialectal); that I'm not as convinced of.
  • On a scale of more to less phonological plausibility—intermediate steps postulated: we have (1) μνοῦς > *μνίον (2 steps); (2) βινεῖν (3 steps); (3) εὐνή > *εὐνίον (4 steps).
  • On a scale of more to less semantic plausibility, we have (1) βινεῖν; (2) μνοῦς > *μνίον; (3) εὐνή > *εὐνίον.
  • On a scale of morphological plausibility, we have (1) βινεῖν; (2) μνοῦς > *μνίον; (3) εὐνή > *εὐνίον. βινεῖν uses a nominalised infinitive, which is attested as a process, but rare. The dimunitives μνίον and εὐνίον are both unattested, and -ίον did stop being a productive suffix sometime in Early Middle Greek. At least μνούδιον shows the word stuck around in the vernacular for a while (the Graeco-Latin glossaries admit colloquial words); I see no evidence that εὐνή made it to the Koine.

On balance, all three have problems, but "bed" has the most problems; and I guess "fuck" has the least (though not by as much as Moutsos thinks).

The other evidence that Moutsos gives is:
  • βινέω seems to have survived into Proto-Pontic: βιντώ "to be in a rut" (> βινητιῶ), βίντος "gadfly".
  • Circumstantial influence of a nominalised τὸ βινεῖν in Alexis, cited in Plutarch:
    τὰς ἡδονὰς δεῖ συλλέγειν τὸν σώφρονα.
    τρεῖς δ’ εἰσὶν αἵ γε τὴν δύναμιν κεκτημέναι
    τὴν ὡς ἀληθῶς συντελοῦσαν τῷ βίῳ,
    τὸ φαγεῖν τὸ πιεῖν τὸ τῆς Ἀφροδίτης τυγχάνειν·
    τὰ δ’ ἄλλα προσθήκας ἅπαντα χρὴ καλεῖν
    The wise man knows what of all things is best,
    Whilst choosing pleasure he slights all the rest.
    He thinks life’s joys complete in these three sorts,
    To drink and eat, and follow wanton sports;
    And what besides seems to pretend to pleasure,
    If it betide him, counts it over measure (Alexis fr. 271 Kock; Plutarch: Moralia 21e)

    Bless those old-school translators for using verse. Damn clever: "to be lucky with Venus" (Ἀφροδίτης τυγχάνειν) as a euphemism for βινεῖν, which happens to rhyme with φαγεῖν and πιεῖν "to eat and drink"—two infinitives that happen to have survived as nouns in Modern Greek. I don't think this is overwhelming evidence that τὸ βινεῖν was a commonplace colloquial expression, let alone an expression that turned into "cunt"; but it's cute anyway.
  • μουνίν and associated compounds are common in Early Modern Greek. True, but they're mostly in the Mass of the Beardless Man (μουνιοτζακάτος, καβουριομουνομέτωπος, σκατόμουνος), which is reasonably late, and doesn't prove anything about etymology.

Moutsos also derives Italiot munno (and Erice Sicilian monnu) from *μοῦνος, explained as an augmentative of μουνί attested in Modern Greek. The augmentative I know is the one Somavera recorded, μουνάρα; but slang.gr confirms the existence of μούνος, adding the improvised proverb κάλλιο μούνος και στο χέρι παρά κώλος και καρτέρι, "A bush in the hand is worth two arses in the bush". I think.) Now, it's true that switching genders can act as an augmentative, although that's because diminutives old and new are neuter, so this can be viewed as a back-formation. But a masculine could also be just an archaism.

To explain: Ancient masculine ποῦς, ποδός "foot" survives in Modern Greek through the diminutive neuter πόδιον > πόδι. The masculine πόδας is also found, and is how ποῦς, ποδός would have developed on its own (switching third to first declension). πόδας is normally interpreted as an augmentative: if people remember that a masculine was bigger than a neuter, and the neuter is now the normal term, then the masculine must be an augmentative of the neuter.

But πόδας is (I think!) the normal Cretan term for "foot", which suggests its an independent survival, unaffected by πόδιον. And that's a problem with munno. μουνίν looks, at first glance, like a diminutive of *μοῦνος. We know of no Ancient noun like μοῦνος. (We do have the Ionic μοῦνος "only, unique", corresponding to μόνος in the rest of Greek; but we've already rejected that track.) It's because we don't have an Ancient *μοῦνος that we've ended up looking at *vnin forms.

But Bova is evidence that there was a *μοῦνος form at some stage after all. And Moutsos' proposal has no room for a *μοῦνος. (Neither does Hatzidakis'; Filintas' does only with accent shift.) Bova could be doing the same gender-switch as Modern Greek, forming a local augmentative. But it really does look more like an original unattested Ancient form, of which μουνίν is the derived form.

But until someone comes up with an Ancient form that can explain *μοῦνος, Moutsos' βινεῖν is the best proposal on the table. Not overwhelmingly good or unproblematic; but that's the thing with etymology. And scholarship. Sometimes, we only have weak hypotheses. As the great Greek humourist (and amateur student of mythology) Nikos Tsiforos once put it, "Scholars argue when they don't know what's going on. When they do know what's going on, they just say '1 + 1 = 2', and they're done."
...Read more


μουνί vs. monín

OK, I don't particularly intend for this blog to be turned over to the etymology of sundry four-letter words, but the etymology of μουνί which I had posted on turns out to be complicated, and interesting. It's certainly attracted a lot of interest in comments; I don't remember my article on πεσσός "pier" getting this much interest.

Things being complicated, I'll break this up in two. The first post is on whether μουνί is originally Greek or Italian. The second goes through the attestation of μουνί in Early Modern Greek, and reviews the proposed etymologies. My godfather (TAK) has raised a major issue in comments, about whether the dates of any phenomena in literary texts before 1400 can be trusted; that's a methodological issue, and will get its own post—hopefully with a lot less vulgarity.

The language advisory still applies, especially because I'll be discussing a metaphor based on said word.

This post and the next is of course secondary scholarship, and is indebted to the linguists who have actually had a go at working out the etymology of μουνί. The latest reference in Kriaras' Early Modern dictionary—which I'm now inclined to agree with— is:
  • Moutsos, Demetrios. 1975. Varia Etymologica Graecanica. Byzantion 45. 118–130.
  • The article also proposes etymologies for: αγνάντια "opposite", ανακούρκουδα "crouching", βότσαλο "pebble", βούρδουλας "whip", μουνί "cunt", βυζί "breast". The alphabetical bias suggests this resulted from lexicon work: Moutsos acknowledges Georgacas' help, and I suspect the article came from Georgacas' unfinished Greek–English dictionary.

The etymology of μουνί "cunt" is complicated alright. If I were vulgar, which of course I am (but not in Greek), I might go so far as to say that the etymology of μουνί... είναι μουνί. The expression doesn't mean what it's a cunt of an etymology would in English—meaning unpleasant, obnoxious. In Greek, it means "it's a mess, it's chaotic". The expression is odd (why would vaginas be chaotic in particular?); and the reason behind the expression is actually a key point later on.

The major complication to note is, we have a very similar word in the Northwest Mediterranean, also meaning "cunt":
  • mona in Venetian (and the Venetian hinterland, in Veneto Guiliano and Trentino)
  • a diminutive monín, which has made it to the Lingua Franca
  • mouni in Occitan, reported as meaning variously "cunt", "monkey", and "cat".

Coincidence can happen, but this kind of coincidence probably didn't: these are likeliest the same word. If they are the same word, and there's no obvious common ancestor, then one language borrowed it from other. So which came first?

I was worried about mon-a becoming μουν-ί(ο)ν: the 12th century is way too late for the Greek diminutive suffix -ίον to have remained productive, and a loanword ending in -a should have become a word ending in -α. (Contrast τιμόνι "steering wheel", from Venetian timón.) The existence of monín in Venetian deals with that problem.

The change of vowel between /o/ and /u/ is another issue; but etymologists rarely care about vowels (as Voltaire apocryphally noted). Greek sporadically has /o/ > /u/ around labials; on the other hand, Venetian borrowed Arabic maimūn "monkey" as monna. So the vowel difference is not something to worry about.

The etymologies I had seen in the previous post were implausible enough that I was happy to accept mona came before μουνί. But there are reasons not to. For starters, we don't actually have an accepted Latin origin of mona. The Loony Tunes Aristophanean etymology of mona from βυνεῖν, mentioned in the previous post, is proof that Italianists couldn't come up with something closer to home. Boerio's old dictionary of Venetian, which TAK cited in comments, left open which direction the word moved in.

But the compelling argument Moutsos mentions is where else the word shows up in Italy. Herhard Rohlfs noted that "cunt" is munno in the Greek of Bova, Calabria; and munnu in the Siciliano of Erice. It would be odd for a Venetian form to show up in the Calabrian and Sicilian hinterland. (OK, Bova and Erice are pretty close to the sea, but still.) Southern Italian Greek is archaic, with much influence on the Romance dialects that replaced it—that's why Rohlfs became interested in it. The word didn't get into Southern Italy from Latin: it's much likelier to have gotten there from Greek than from Venetian.

That doesn't necessarily mean *Ancient* Greek: Southern Italy only became cut off from Byzantium in the 11th century, and Greek was used as a legal language for several centuries longer.

Given Southern Italy, and the lack of a Latin etymon, I'm inclined to go with a Greek origin, then. The one remaining oddity is the ending: if it was difficult to accept mon-a becoming μουν-ίν, it is also difficult to accept μουν-ίν becoming mon-a. But it's entirely possible that mona was backformed from monín, and that monín was the original form that entered Venetian.

That's a matter for Romanists to work out, though; at any rate, Cortelazzo & Marcato's 1992 Dizionario Etimologico dei Dialetti italiani accepts a Greek origin, with an Arabic sideswipe:
The word corresponds to the Modern Greek mouní, and seems to belong to the wave of Grecisms that penetrated into Venice in the 14th and 15th century (Cortelazzo 1970). Alternatively, the homophony with monna "barbery ape, monkey" (from the Arabic maimūn) could let us suspect a transition from the animal name; but there is no lack of other etymological hypotheses, including the personal name Mona, from Simona.

As often occurs in etymology, of course, coincidences matter: if Venetian had three identical words for "cunt", "monkey", and "Mona", people will start conflating them in their heads. It's plausible that Venetian monín went across to Occitan mouni, and it's also plausible that the confusion took hold there, so that "monkey", "pussy", and "pussy cat" got entwined. (Is "monkey" a term of affection there? It sort of is in Greek, via "mischievous child". Then again, that usage occasionaly turns up in English too.)

So mona has picked up semantic richness in Venice and Toulouse. But that's not inconsistent with mona being borrowed from Greek. All you need is for the word to have become common and entrenched in the receiving language.

TAK also noted the coincidence of the expression "become cunt" in Venetian (deventar una mona), as recorded in Boerio's dictionary, and Greek (έγινε μουνί). The expression also indicates a word common and entrenched enough to support metaphor; but I don't think it is that illuminating. Or rather, it's illuminating, but not illuminating about how the word travelled.

The Greek expression, as I mentioned above, means "to become messed up". To illustrate it, I here reproduce an exchange I witnessed 15 years ago, between two recent female graduates in linguistics, in Salzburg:
GRADUATE 1: I'm not going to put the Mozartkuglen in my luggage, γιατί θα γίνουν μουνί! [Because they will become cunt = they will be ruined, they will be a mess]
GRADUATE 2: *laughs very nervously, because language taboos do still count for something*
GRADUATE 1: Μα θα *γίνουν* μουνί! [Well they *will* become cunt!]

Being a creature of little imagination, I couldn't quite place what the analogy was between "cunt" and "mess". That's because I wasn't aware of the other meaning it has in Greek: "be drenched". (My experience of Greek has been sheltered.) To my surprise, the expression isn't defined in slang.gr, the Greek Urban Dictionary; but it needn't be, it's in the "proper dictionaries".
  • This blog gives Babiniotis' dictionary's definition of μουνί, including the phrase τα κάνω μουνί/γίνομαι μουνί "make things cunt/become cunt": "(i) drench someone/something; (ii) argue strongly with someone, ruin one's relationship with".
  • The Triantafyllidis Institute's dictionary entry skips the verb, and make "mess" (the missing link in Babiniotis' entry) a secondary meaning of μουνί, optionally combined with καπέλο "hat": "Phrase: cunt(–hat): (a) a mess, damage, or turmoil: After the party, his house was cunt(–hat); (b) a turn for the worse; (c) noisy argument: She's become cunt(–hat) with her husband again."

So Babiniotis records the "drenching" meaning as primary, and skips "mess" as a stepping stone between "drenching" and "argument"; OTOH Triantafyllidis skips "drenching", and goes from "mess" to "argument".

I trust my readers can work out the semantic transition "become [like] a cunt" > "become drenched" > "become a mess (physically)" > "become a mess (situation)" > "end up in an argument (with messy consequences)". The metaphor builds on the taboo of μουνί, and packages it with plenty of sexism; but its starting point is the association of μουνί with wetness.

Venetian makes the opposite association: Boerio defines "become a cunt" as "become flabby, wither, dry up: lose freshness, beauty, joy; said of a man".

Venetian's exploiting the taboo of mona too, in the cause of colourful language; but the initial metaphor is not wetness. I'm guessing it is "shameful to behold" > "ugly to behold"; and the unseemliness is emphasised by applying it to the wrong gender. Which appears to involve a different repertoire of sexism.

So we have the same words in the expression, but different connotations leading to different senses. (And of course English has different senses again—let alone the different metaphorical meanings of cunt in American and Commonwealth English, as applied to a person.) That doesn't really tells us which language the word came from. Metaphors cluster around concepts, however they happen to be expressed. Metaphors can travel, because people travel. But metaphors can be coined independently, and end up in different places.

So it doesn't look like "become a cunt" necessarily travelled between Greece and Venice; it could have been coined independently. Still, the word itself clearly travelled. One further piece of evidence for monín getting around the Mediterranean is indirect evidence that it got into Lingua Franca. The *original* Lingua Franca. Kahane & Tietze's reference work on Lingua Franca is based on common nautical loanwords through the Mediterranean, as they have ended up in Turkish. We don't know a lot about the Lingua Franca, and we don't need an intermediate pidgin to explain Italian nautical loanwords in Turkish. But since the Lingua Franca did exist, and was multilingual, it is the most plausible vehicle for such loans to have happened.

Now, one of the entries in Kahane & Tietze is *monín de gassa "cut splice". We don't have evidence for the Venetian expression (unsurprisingly, since it literally means "eye cunt"), but it did survive in Turkish as munikasa or münikasa. (Or at least it did: the Turkish Wikipedia names it as kesik örgü.)

A "cut splice" is a kind of rope splice, that, well, looks like a monín:

It looks more like a monín given that the slit closes when the rope is taut. Venetian sailors weren't the only people who thought so: the English name of the splice is cut splice, but as Wikipedia informs us, there used to be an extra n in cut...
...Read more


Tzetzes' Theogony, continued

I have picked up Hunger's edition of the epilogue to Tzetzes' Theogony, so I can now fill in some of the questions left open in my previous post, and correct some misunderstandings I had, In a separate post, I'll speculate further on the etymology of μουνί. I've changed my mind on it, btw.

But first, to Tzetzes.

We know of five manuscripts of the text
  • V1: Vindobonensis phil.gr. 321 (second half of 13th century)
  • C: Casanatensis gr. 306 (1413)
  • P: Vaticanus Palatinus gr. 424 (16th century)
  • B: Vaticanus Barberinus gr. 30 (15th century)
  • V: Vindobonensis phil.gr. 118 (turn of 14th century)

and most of them give up about the epilogue completely. Here is the translation of the epilogue Language Hat cites from Alexander Kazhdan's Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. I've tweaked the translation where appropriate, and added the reconstructed Proto-Ossetic:

[V1 already gave up copying 45 verses ago: We left out the entire epilogue, because it just went on too long]
One finds me Scythian among Scythians, Latin among Latins,
And among any other tribe a member of that folk.
[P stops copying]
When I embrace a Scythian I accost him in such a way:
"Good day, my lady, good day, my lord:
Salamalek alti, salamalek altugep."
And also to Persians I speak in Persian:
"Good day, my brother, how are you? Where are you from [Missing in C], my friend?
Asan khais kuruparza khaneazar kharandasi?"
To a Latin I speak in the Latin language:
"Welcome, my lord, welcome, my brother:
Bene venesti, domine, bene venesti, frater.
Wherefrom are you, from which theme [province] do you come?
Unde es et de quale provincia venesti?
How have you come, brother, to this city?
Quomodo, frater, venesti in istan civitatem?
[C stops copying: And there were many other verses of sundry dialects, but I omitted them as useless. We're down to V and B]
On foot, on horse, by sea? Do you wish to stay?
Pezos, caballarius, per mare? Vis morare?"
To Alans I say in their tongue:
"Good day, my lord, my archontissa, where are you from?
Tapankhas mesfili khsina korthi kanda," and so on.
(dæ ban xʷærz, mæ sfili, (æ)xsinjæ kurθi kændæ)
If an Alan lady has a priest as a boyfriend, she will hear such words: [verse only in V]
"Aren't you ashamed, my lady, to have a priest fuck your cunt? [missing in B, only given in V]
(οὐκ αἰσχύνεσαι, αὐθέντριά μου, νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς;)
To farnetz kintzi mesfili kaitz fua saunge."
(du farnitz, kintzæ mæ sfili, kajci fæ wa sawgin?)
[Literally: "Aren't you ashamed, my lady, to have a love affair with the priest?"]
Arabs, since they are Arabs, I address in Arabic:
"Where do you dwell, where are you from, my lady? My lord, good day to you.
Alentamor menende siti mule sepakha."
And also I welcome the Ros according to their habits:
"Be healthy, brother, sister, good day to you.
Sdra[ste], brate, sestritza," and I say "dobra deni."
To Jews I say in a proper manner in Hebrew:
"You blind house devoted to magic, you mouth, a chasm engulfing flies,
memakomene beth fagi beelzebul timaie,
You stony Jew, the Lord has come, lightning be upon your head.
Eber ergam, maran atha, bezek unto your khothar."
So I talk with all of them in a proper and befitting way;
I know the skill of the best management."

The language names aren't what they seem:
  • I recognised ἀλτή as Turkic, confirmed that altı is Turkish for "lady", and so assumed "Scythian" was Turkish. It was a bit odd that the Turks were being placed in Scythia—modern Ukraine and Kazakhstan; but maybe Tzetzes was thinking of some Turkic tribe up north.
    In fact he was: Hunger's manuscript has the interlinear gloss Cuman at "when I embrace a Scythian". And Cuman was indeed a Turkic language.
  • With the "Persians", I committed a thinko. I noticed that "friend" in Persian, kharandasi, looked like Turkish kardaş "brother, friend". I also know that by the 14th century, classicising Byzantine historians referred to the Turks as Persians, referring back to the Achaemenids. But surely, I thought, Tzetzes would have actually been familiar with Persians, being part-Georgian. (More on that later.) So he wouldn't have made that Chalcocondylian conflation. As for kardaş, I dunno, maybe it is a Turkish loan from Persian.
    Not so. Hunger's manuscript also glosses "Persian" as "Turkish". I'm not game to suggest a (Seljuk) Turkish rendering of ἀσὰν χαῒς κουρούπαρζα χαντάζαρ χαραντάση; I may get lucky and have a passing commenter do so.
  • Latin is Latin. Tzetzes' dates are ca. 1110-1180; certainly not too late for Latin to have been spoken by scholars, at least.
  • Alanic is Proto-Ossetian. Ironically, Alanic *is* a Scythian language, the Scythians and Alans being Iranic peoples.
  • I also wouldn't object to hearing the wisdom of the crowds on the Arabic.
  • The Ros are the Rus', i.e. Russia. The manuscript actually reads sdra, but Hunger consulted a Slavicist who said it was unattested, and Hunger assumed the ste dropped out as a haplology. Tzetzes, perversely (but unsurprisingly) put the foreign language fragments in the same metre as the rest of the poem; and there is indeed a missing syllable there.
    Hunger finds the orthography δόβρα δένη interesting, because the words still end in full vowels (dobra deni, cf. Modern Russian dobryj denj).
  • The Jews get Tzetzes' anti-Semitism in Hebrew, although the Jews of Byzantium certainly spoke Greek as their everyday language. But admitting that would be admitting they were not space aliens who didn't belong in Byzantium; and Tzetzes couldn't do that. Tzetzes' use of Latin also suggests that his language command was of the debate hall, rather than the marketplace—learnèd Hebrew, rather than spoken Judaeo-Greek. Language Hat's comment thread has some information on Tzetzes' Hebrew.

The Greek interest in the epilogue is on its use of μουνί, and that use is surprising, because it's not what the Proto-Ossetian says. That's not the only thing strange about the Greek translations, though: they are in red ink in the manuscript, and don't fit the metre like the foreign originals do. Moreover, "fuck your cunt" look a bit over-colloquial to us—although the rest of the translation is consistent with Tzetzes' Koine (πόθεν εἶσαι καὶ ἀπὸ ποίου θέματος ἦλθες;), and the correlation of vulgar with colloquial we make can be anachronistic.
  • As Modern Greek readers will have noticed, "that he fucks" is γαμῇ, not γαμᾷ: the original verb is γαμέω, and while the vernacular was already conflating -αω and -εω conjugations by then (something that had started in the Koine), Tzetzes knew that the original verb is γαμέω—and he'd want you to know that he knew it.

Still, it's a reasonable question to ask: can we be sure the translations are from Tzetzes himself? Hunger agrees with Moravcsik that we can, because Tzetzes was pedantic enough to gloss everything in sight. That's not a compelling reason in my book: if he was that pedantic, why aren't the glosses in metre? The fact that glosses show up in all four manuscripts is more convincing to me.

In particular, whoever wrote the translation "fuck your cunt" in V knew enough Proto-Ossetian to render its meaning misleadingly. Tzetzes did; I'm less certain a random scribe would, especially when most scribes ran away as fast as they could from this Berlitz job application.

Only two scribes persevered with it, and it's interesting what B left out: not just the νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς, but any reference to the lady shacking up with a priest at all. It wasn't just the four-letter words that offended the scribe of the Barberinus, but the social faux pas.

It's an odd thing to do, though, translate "to have a love affair" as "to fuck your cunt". Nikos Sarantakos asked me whether this is some indication of Georgian–Ossetian enmity being a thousand years old.

Let's go to Wikipedia University. Tzetzes *was* Georgian and not Ossetian, right?
  • John Tzetzes: "was Georgian on his mother's side. In his works, Tzetzes states that his grandmother was a relative of the Georgian Bagratid princess Maria of Alania who came to Constantinople with her and later became the second wife of the sebastos Constantine, megas droungarios and nephew of the patriarch Michael I Cerularius. [Garland, Lynda (2006), Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience, 800-1200, pp. 95-6. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 075465737X.]"
  • ("Of Alania", meaning "Ossetian". Crap.)
  • Maria of Alania: "was a daughter of the Georgian king Bagrat IV of the Bagrationi (1027–1072) and spouse of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas and later also Nikephoros III Botaneiates. She is frequently known as Maria of Alania in apparent confusion with her mother Borena of Alania, the second wife of Bagrat of Georgia."
  • Borena of Alania: "was a sister of the Alan king Durgulel "the Great", and the Queen consort of Georgia, as the second wife of Bagrat IV (r. 1027-1072). [...] This was just one of the several intermarriages between the medieval Georgian Bagratids and their natural allies, the royal house of Alania."

Phew. So Borena was Alan, but her daughter was born in Georgia, and her daughter's granddaughter was related to Tzetzes. So we're probably safe.

Of course, instead of Wikipedia University, we could just turn to what Tzetzes himself says. In his Chiliades, Tzetzes dedicates a chapter to the proposition

It's worth going on, because it offers a hint as to Tzetzes dissing the Ossetians:
(5.591) Τῆς Τζέτζου μητρομήτορος ἡ Ἀβασγὶς ἡ μήτηρ
σὺν τῇ δεσποίνῃ Μαριάμ, τῇ Ἀβασγίσσῃ λέγω,
ἣν οἱ πολλοὶ Ἀλάνισσαν φασὶν οὐκ ἀκριβοῦντες,
ἦλθεν εἰς μεγαλόπολιν ὡς συγγενὴς καθ’ αἷμα,
Tzetzes' mother's mother's Abkhazian (Ἀβασγὶς) mother,
together with Lady Mariam—I mean, the Abkhazian (Ἀβασγίσσῃ),
whom most people incorrectly call the Alan (Ἀλάνισσαν),
came to the Great City [Constantinople] as her blood relative

[--- snip two generations ---]
(5.612) Τούτου θυγάτηρ σὺν δυσὶν ἑτέραις θυγατράσιν
τὴν κλῆσιν Εὐδοκία μέν, μήτηρ δ’ αὐτοῦ τοῦ Τζέτζου.
Ἔγνως κατὰ μητέρα μὲν Ἴβηρα τοῦτον ὄντα·
πατὴρ δὲ τούτου Μιχαὴλ ὃς καὶ παιδεύει τοῦτον
ἐν λόγοις καὶ τοῖς πράγμασιν ὡς τὸν υἱὸν ὁ Κάτων.
She was this man's daughter, together with two other daughters;
she was Eudocia by name, and mother of this Tzetzes.
So now you know that he is Iberian (Georgian) from his mother.
And his father was Michael, who taught him
in words and deed like Cato taught his son.

[--- snip ---]

  • We pause here for the Modern Greek readers to stop guffawing at Ἀλάνισσα, which meant "Alan" in Byzantine Greek, and means "tramp" in Modern Greek.

Ossetians, Georgians, and now Abkhazians? What is this, a Russia-NATO impasse? But yes, Georgia had that diversity of peoples back then too. Abkhazia was part of the Kingdom of Georgia at the time, and not yet a separate principality, and Wikipedia at least says the Abkhazian nobility of the time spoke Georgian. So even if Tzetzes' great-grandmother was Abkhazian, she would have spoken Georgian—and would not necessarily have felt affinity with the Alans.

Tzetzes names Maria of Alania as Mariam, which is the Georgian form. But was Maria Alan, Abkhaz, Georgian, or what? Rather than Wikipedia University, we can refer to the roman-emperors.org article on Maria written by Lynda Garland, who actually is a Byzantine historian (and who's cited by Wikipedia U): as far as I can tell, the Georgian monarchy was described by both Georgians and Byzantines as "of the Ap'xaz/Abasgia", but the Bagratid heartland was further south than Abkhazia, and the name doesn't mean the Abkhaz were running things.

But just before Tzetzes confuses us further with the Abkhazians, he says why:
(5.585) Ἡ τοῦ δὲ μητρόμητωρ μὲν Τζέτζου τοῦ Ἰωάννου
τοῦ ἱστοριογράφου τε καὶ συγγραφέως πόσων,
μητρὸς ἧν Μασσαγέτιδος, ἤγουν ἐξ Ἀβασγίδος.
Ἴβηρες δὲ καὶ Ἀβασγοὶ καὶ Ἀλανοὶ ἓν γένος·
οἱ Ἴβηρες πρωτεύοντες, οἱ Ἀβασγοὶ δευτέραν,
οἱ Ἀλανοί δ’ ἐσχήκασι τάξιν τριῶν ὑστέραν.
Tzetzes, John, historian, and author
of so many works: his mother's mother's
mother was a Massageta, namely from Abkhazia.
The Iberians [Georgians] and the Abkhazians and the Alans are one race;
the Iberians hold the first rank; the Abkhaz the second;
and the Alans hold the third and last rank.

Do ignore the Massagetae: an Iranic people in Herodotus, which gave Tzetzes a classical pedigree to hang on to the Abkhaz. Ammianus Marcellinus hanged the label onto the Alans, and Procopius of Caesaria picked the Huns; so the label doesn't mean much.

The Alans were allies of the Georgians, which is why Borena and Maria married into Georgian royalty. Tzetzes could say they were "the same" in some sense; shortly after his death, the Alan prince married the queen of Georgia, which effectively merged the countries for a couple of decades, until they both were conquered by the Mongols.

But the Alans were not the same country yet while Tzetzes lived: they were a neighbouring country, while the Abkhaz were a province of Georgia, and their nobility was assimilated. The Abkhaz were sort of Georgian; the Alans were not, and Tzetzes is eager to put them at the bottom of the heap.

He's also adamant to point out that Maria was not "of Alania"—and true enough, it's her mother that was. We know her as Maria of Alania because most Byzantine historians called her that; and they called her that, as Garland explains, because they didn't give a toss what nowheresville principality she came from. Psellus, for instance, would just as soon not mention where she came from at all. ("Maria may have been a Georgian princess, but in fact her homeland and royal parentage cut little ice with the Byzantines as a whole.")

So Psellus, as Garland mentions, casually disses the Alan Kingdom:
(The emperor) fell in love with a girl, as I have mentioned above, who was a hostage with us from Alania. That kingdom was not particularly distinguished in itself, nor had it any great prestige.
ἐρᾷ τινος μείρακος, ὥς μοι καὶ ἄνω που τοῦ λόγου λέλεκται, ἐξ Ἀλανίας ὁμηρευούσης ἡμῖν· βασιλεία δὲ αὐτὴ οὐ πάνυ σεμνὴ, οὐδὲ ἀξίωμα ἔχουσα. (Chronographia 6.151)
But Psellus wasn't any more respectful to Georgians. As far as he was concerned, "all you Caucasians look alike".

Tzetzes cared though. Yes, he said "we're all the same race (γένος)". But if they were all the same race, the Alans wouldn't have had the last rank. And Tzetzes was enough of a walking rancour machine, that I wouldn't put the uncomplimentary mistranslation "fuck your cunt" past him.
...Read more

Comparison, TLG BC and AD: log-likelihood

Helma Dik left a comment on my post on comparing TLG AD and BC through Wordle, suggesting I use Dunning's Log-Likelihood measure of differential word frequencies in corpora, as Wordled by Martin Mueller. That lets you work out what the real shifts in frequency are, rather than trying to eyeball them through the aggregate word counts.

Here for instance is his comparison of the Iliad to the Odyssey—which words are more frequent in the one, or the other:
Wordle: Odyssey_plusCorrected
Wordle: Iliad_plus
I looked up Ted Dunning's paper, failed to understand it :-( , and used instead the walkthrough of the computation on the user manual of the Wordhoard corpus software package.

And this is the more statistically sound Wordle comparison. Words more frequent BC are in red, words more frequent AD are in black. I'm leaving in stop words this time, and not cleaning up the ambiguity, because this says some interesting things about the changes in Greek grammar between Classical and Late Greek. Do click:
Wordle: TLG AD vs BC comparison, using Dunning's Log-Likelihood metric

Here's my impressionistic notes, that haven't already been covered in the previous post (where I was working through rankings):
  • Both corpora talk about θεός God, but the big jump, of course, is Χριστός Christ. The second biggest jump is in ἅγιος holy, displacing ἱερός. (Was ἱερός too pagan-sounding?)
  • But the biggest discrepancy between BC and AD Greek is the avoidance of δέ but, on the other hand, followed by avoidance of μέν on the one hand. That tells you that AD Greek used different sentence structures, such as a lot more ἀλλά but. Tucked away, there's also more καί and (i.e. more coordinating constructions) and a lot less τε and (a very archaic phrase-second construction).
  • There are a lot more ἤγουν and τουτέστι that is, and a lot less ἐάν if and ἄρα therefore; I'm tempted to think that says something about changing rhetoric in the genres popular in the respective periods—less logic, more exemplification. It's foolhardy, but not impossible.
  • There is a lot more τίς who? being reported, and that's an error in ambiguity, but it's an illuminating error. τοῦ in Attic (though not Late Greek) is ambiguous between "whose?", and the genitive definite article. And there are a lot more definite articles in Late Greek, as you can see by the black ὁ. (My friend Io Manolessou actually wrote her PhD on that shift; nice to see it visually confirmed.)
  • There's also more ἵνα in order to, which suggests Late Greek was already moving towards more subjunctive constructions rather than participles and infinitives, even before Early Modern Greek made the switch completely.
  • Clearly less ὦ Ο!—A very Classical way of addressing people.
  • Some of the odder looking words more prevalent in BC Greek are there because there are a lot more geometric texts in the BC corpus: Ἄβ is actually mistakenly picking up the line ΑΒ, and you can also see in smaller print ΑΒΓ, ΒΔ, ΓΔ, ΕΖ, ΞΖ.

Hm. Yes, that was somewhat more illuminating. Thanks, Helma!
...Read more


μούτζα, μουνί and Tzetzes

I thank my esteemed commenters on the last post, and have a post-length response to them, concerning:

... Ah yes. There is a Language Advisory on this post.

The Complaint of the Anonymous Naupliot

Nauplion: Ever onward. You should add this one:

The Complaint of the Anonymous Naupliot is not currently in the pipeline to my knowledge, but it's a fascinating text, and I commend to everyone else your post on it.

The Byzantinicity of the Greek insulting gesture of the moutza

Peter: If I'm not mistaken, the μούντζα gesture, not the name itself, goes all the way back to classical times: Greek Sicily.

Hadn't heard that. Everything's possible, but does the source make it clear it's the same gesture?

The Greek insulting gesture of the moutza, involving the spread palm directed at the target (or at oneself, in a Greek equivalent of the facepalm), is traditionally derived as cognate to μουτζούρα "smudge", and referring to pillorying criminals by smearing ash (or worse) on them.

I did find a blog saying someone's written the gesture is Ancient and represents the rays of Helios, which is uh, yeah. The blogger doubts the gesture is Byzantine, because if it was, wouldn't it be attested outside Greece. Well,
  1. who said the gesture was use throughout the Empire,
  2. who said every part of the (increasingly shrinking) empire has had cultural continuity to this day—especially with the massive population movements since the Goths first came for a visit,
  3. who said the gesture isn't used outside Greece? Oh, you mean Nigeria wasn't part of the Byzantine Empire? Damn...

(I have to wonder though: has anyone checked in Albania? Or, given Pierre's comment, the Roma?—these phenomena don't come to a halt at borders finalised in 1912, after all.)

The blogger also disputes that the moutza originated in pillorying, because the Dodecanesian "moutzes and ash on you" is a major curse, and pillorying was meted out for minor infractions.
  • It wasn't limited to minor infractions, as this extensive excerpt from Koukoules' encyclopaedia of Byzantine realia shows: it included adultery, theft, and rebellion; and it could be combined with blinding.
  • She's underestimating the potency of shame culture.
  • If the moutza combined with ash isn't about pillorying, I can't see what else it's about.

The controversy over the etymology of μουνί "cunt"

Pierre: In reference to your last remark, is μουνίν related to the gypsy gesture, the μούντζα? I have always believed with Colin Edmonson that it probably is. (The gesture has power. There is a wonderful story of Eugene Vanderpool, exasperated by a pestilential taxi driver while trying to give an introduction to the "white tower" on the Elusis road. He finally gave the driver all ten, and the taxi ran , not fatally, into a power pole.)

I'd have thought, as much as anything, the taxi driver was astonished that the Frank knew the local gestures: not just the moutza, but the double moutza, at that.

Relate μουνίν to moutza? I don't see it: I don't know where the /dz/ would come from, and the semantics doesn't fit either.

I've seen an obscure Hesychian lemma proposed for μουνί "cunt" (was it Korais?), and Venetian. The etymologies I'm finding in the dictionaries are far-fetched enough to show why scholars have been confused. Not that they're wrong necessarily, they're just not obvious.
Triantafyllidis dictionary: Ancient εὐνή "bed, wedding bed" > Hellenistic diminutive *εὐνίον > Mediaeval *βνίον > *μνίον (cf. εὐνοῦχος > μουνοῦχος "eunuch, gelding", ἐλαύνω > λάμνω "arrive") > *μουνίον (cf. *μνοῦχος > μουνοῦχος)

Hm. I mean, the developments proposed all could have actually happened in Greek: /evnion/ as a diminutive, /vnion/ with deletion of initial vowel, /mnion/ with assimilation, /munion/ with epenthesis. But /mnuxos/ > /munuxos/ is surely repeating the /u/ already there for its epenthesis, and the only mn- word I know survived into the modern vernacular, μνημόρι "memorial stone", didn't go to *μουνιμόρι. (Although given what μουνί means, it couldn't.) I'm not sure /u/ is a regular epenthetic vowel in Greek, but to be honest I can't think of epenthetic vowels in Greek right now.

The semantics seems stretched too. The word εὐνή seems to have been poetic, particularly in any marital connotation; I'd be very surprised if it survived alongside κοίτη. Modern Greek does admittedly use καριόλα "orig. wooden bed" (Italian carriola) to mean "whore": it's a straightforward metonymy, although the carriola was originally a cradle.

(So the Greek dictionary tells me; carriola in Italian now seems to mean "wheelbarrow"... Oh, I see, it was both: "The characteristics of a carriola were that it was a small bed and that it had wheels; this made it easy for a servant or young person to push it under the great bed occupied by the owner of the bedchamber". Thornton, Peter. 1991 The Italian Renaissance interior, 1400-1600. H.N. Abrams. p. 153.)

But the further claimed step of *εὐνίον from "bed" to "cunt"... well, I dunno, anything's possible.

The Triantafyllidis institute isn't convinced by its derivation from "wedding bed" either, because they suggest another derivation:
Ancient μνοῦς "soft feather, down" > Hellenistic diminutive *μνίον > Mediaeval *μουνίον (as in the previous hypothesis) > Mediaeval μουνίν

At least that's slightly more plausible semantically than "little bed", although the attested dimunutive (in the Latin-Greek glossaries) is μνούδιον—and, um, "fine, soft down, as on young birds"? Oooo-kay...

But then, it's all blown skyhigh by the third option:
(But also cf. Venetian mona, same meaning)

As long as we can get a Romance etymology for mona, we can dispense with the epenthetic acrobatics... Except that Tzetzes is a bit early for Venetian loanwords.

Looking at Andriotis' Etymological Dictionary, it turns out all three proposals are pedigree. The "bed" derivation is from Georgios Hatzidakis, the founder of Modern Greek linguistics (though not infallible). The "down" is from Menos Filintas, a good etymologist who hasn't gotten enough attention (although you'll see him very often in Andriotis.)

The Venetian etymology? Gustav Meyer. The contemporary of Hatzidakis who performed an even more valuable service. Thanks to Hatzidakis, we know the rules which derived Modern Greek words from Ancient. Thanks to Meyer, we know that there are words in Modern Greek from other languages. :-) (Meyer did the pioneering work in identifying Albanian, Aromanian and Venetian loanwords in Greek.)

If Tzetzes is early enough to disprove Venetian influence (not a given), and if the Hunger manuscript is preserving Modern Greek as written from Tzetzes, and not the scribe's ad lib on an earlier, cleaner, and more accurate rendering of the Ossetian (which is also not a given)... then I'll go with "down" over "little bed".

Babiniotis' dictionary has another couple of guesses:
  • "*μνίον derived from Ancient βινεῖν 'to fuck'". There are other instances of ancient infinitives turned into modern nouns—φαγεῖν "to eat" > φαΐ "food", φιλεῖν "to love" > φιλί "kiss". And the verb did stick around until the Magical Papyri and Philogelos—the latter dated 4th century AD. But unlike the mn- guesses, there's no obvious reason for /vinin/ to go to /vnin/ > /munin/.
  • "mona may be derived from Greek βυνῶ "to fill" (cf. βυζαίνω), in which case it would be a Rückwanderer [loanword reborrowed into source language]". That "Rückwanderer" (αντιδάνειο) is not an innocent comment: it's vengeance against Meyer. And ultimately it's not that important: if the word came into the language that way, then as far as everyone was concerned, it was Venetian.
    I'd defer to an Italianist on the plausibility of the derivation, but while βυνέω ~ βύω has useful semantics ("to stuff, to plug"), the βυνέω variant occurs only once in Greek literature, in Aristophanes Peace 645, in a decidedly non-sexual context: "sealed their lips with gold". It looks like a pretty far-fetched way to account for a Venetian vulgarity to me—far-fetched enough I'm happy to blame an Italian scholar who doesn't actually know Ancient Greek. If we're going to look for Venetian etymologies that way, βινεῖν is far likelier than βυνεῖν.
  • Babiniotis' dictionary also repeats Hatzidakis' and Filintas' derivations; my memory of Hesychius as an etymology must be his entry μνοιόν "soft", used here to support *μνίον "soft down". God alone knows what Hesychius was referring to with μνοιόν, but I haven't changed my mind: Venetian (ultimate origin unknown) is the most plausible etymology, then "down", then maybe "to fuck".

OK, that's enough four-letter words for one post.

The curious editorial fate of Tzetzes' Theogony

Nikos Sarantakos: Curiously, the TLG text of Theogony does not contain the Ossetian verses -the showing off is cut (abruptly?) after the Latin verses, with a note that "there were many more verses in various dialects but I omitted them as useless"

Yes; I had to do some digging to work out what happened.
  • Tzetzes wrote an epilogue to the Theogony, showing off his command of exotic languages.
  • One scribe got as far as Scythian (Turkish), Persian and Latin, before deciding "screw this, I'm copying a lineage of Gods here, I don't care about Tzetzes' job application to Berlitz". And left the note Nikos cited.
  • That scribe's copy is what Bekker published in 1840.
  • Other scribes had the same reaction: "We have left the entire epilogue unwritten because it just went on too long (διὰ τὴν πολυλογίαν)"
  • Fortunately for Caucasian linguistics, Herbert Hunger discovered another copy of the Theogony, with the epilogue intact. He published the epilogue in: Hunger, H. 1953. Zum Epilog der Theogonie des Johannes Tzetzes. Byzantinische. Zeitschrift 46, 302-7
  • Thanks to Ronald Kim for putting a googleable draft of his paper online, to allow me to discover this. The final paper is Kim, R. 2003. "On the Historical Phonology of Ossetic: The Origin of the Oblique Case Suffix." Journal of the American Oriental Society 123: 43-72. The online draft is Kim, R. 1999. "The origin of the Pre-Ossetic oblique case suffix and its implications". U. Penn Working Papers in Linguistics 6.1.

I'll pick up the Hunger edition when I'm next in the library (it's passé in most circles to physically walk to consult a journal article, but Melbourne University has no motivation to fork out for a subscription of the electronic version). But this is how the epilogue starts, before the scribe fell asleep:
And you'll find me a Scythian to the Scythians, a Latin to the Latins,
and to all other nations, as if I'm of the same race.
And embracing a Scythian, I shall address him thus:
[Good day to you, my mistress; good day to you, my lord]
salá malék altí salá malék
And Persians, I shall address in Persian thus:
[Good day to you, my brother; where are you going? Where are you from, friend?]
asaŋxáis karúparza. xatázar xarantási
And A Latin I shall address in the Latin tongue:
[Welcome, my lord, welcome, brother]
véne venésti, ðómine; véne venésti, fráter.
kómoðo, fráter, venésti in ístan tsivitátem?

[And there were many other verses of sundry dialects, but I omitted them as useless.]

Language Hat has a translation of the entire epilogue up. Which is hardly a surprise. (The "Scythian" is slightly different in that version.)
...Read more