Some Recent Greek Views on Aromanian

I am rather proud to give this paper, since by so doing I am breaking my own quite respectable personal record in scholarly charlatanism. I thought that presenting yet another collection of controversial musings on Greek diglossia was hardly the way to honor Zbigniew Gołąb. Thus, although I know little about Aromanian, it seemed to me that a look into what the Greeks have been up to lately concerning that language might be a more appropriate topic; Zbyszek is, after all, the author of an excellent grammar of Aromanian, which I list in the references at the end of this article.

It turns out that the “recent Greek views” that I mention in my title are rather old views, so that I will probably disappoint Geordies (natives of Newcastle) and Athenians by carrying coals to the former and an owl or two to the latter. The attentive reader will discern occasional outbursts of Greece-bashing on my part, intermingled with an occasional defense of Greek positions. That can’t be helped; for while I am willing to defend my country against slander, I will not defend it against just criticism. I will dot my presentation with remarks that we can paraphrase as “on the one hand …; on the other hand ….” Although my own lack of familiarity with much of the literature on Aromanian may be partly to blame for this, at least part of the blame can also be put on the inconclusive and often contradictory nature of the evidence on the Aromanian question.

A few years ago, I bought five video cassettes, each devoted to the folk songs and dances of a different part of Greece — I had seen some of those cassettes on Greek State television. The cassette labeled “No. 1” was devoted to the Aromanian-speaking town of Metsovo (Aminciu in Aromanian), which is situated in Epirus:

Video cassette: ΔΗΜΟΤΙΚΗ ΙΙΑΡΑΟΣΗ No.1. ΤΡΑΓΟΥΔΙΑ ΚΑΙ ΧΟΡΟΙ ΤΟΥ ΤΟΙΙΟΥ ΜΑΣ ΜΕΤΣΟΒΟ (= FOLK TRADITION, No. 1. SONGS AND DANCES OF OUR COUNTRY: METSOVO); 4th musical item: ΦΙΑΤΑ    ΜΟΡ’  ΜΟΥΣΑΤΑ (=fiată mor’ muşată, approximately: ‘oh, pretty girl’); 6th musical item:  ΝΙΙΡΕΦΤΑΡΑ (=ńireftară/Ńireftară   (?); perhaps related to ńiru ‘I admire’).

The Greek commentator extolled the beauties and cultural treasures of Metsovo, and the creativity and industriousness of its inhabitants. Throughout the program, not a word was said about the “alloglot” character of those inhabitants. Not even the two dance-songs sung in Aromanian, namely ΦΙΑΤΑ   ΜΟΡ’  ΜΟΥΣΑΤΑ and ΝΙΙΡΕΦΤΑΡΑ, elicited any comment. One wonders how those Greek viewers who do not know that Metsovo is Aromanian-speaking explain the fact that they do not understand the words to those songs. We all know that “peasants” sometimes talk funny, but hardly that funny!

All this should come as no surprise to those familiar with the official Greek attitude of (at best benign) neglect toward the Christian (or predominantly Christian) linguistic minorities in Greece. Two remarks are in order here. First, I say “at best benign neglect” since the neglect in question is often anything but benign. Second, I use the agnostic term “linguistic” (rather than “ethnic”) when referring to those minorities, because their members often do have a Greek national consciousness. (I confess I am being somewhat Hellenocentric here, both in avoiding the term “ethnic,” since in contemporary Greek έθνικός  means ‘national’, and in allowing the Aromanians to be a linguistic though not necessarily a national minority.) We are often told that there are no ethnic minorities in Greece, only “xenophone Greeks” (ξενόφωνοι Έλληνες). Still, Greeks sometimes push the notion of “linguistic minority” to ludicrous extremes. Thus, in August 1976, in an Athenian newspaper (Η ΚΑΘΗΜΕΡΙΝΗ,  as I recall) a Greek journalist got carried away and referred to “Albanian-speaking, Aromanian-speaking, Slavic-speaking, and Muslim-speaking villages” («άλβανόφωνα, βλαχόφωνα, σλαβόφωνα και μουσουλμανόφωνα χωριά»).

Aromanian speakers in Greece often refer with sadness and poignancy to the ongoing linguistic Hellenization of their group. In his 1978 book, Koltsidas (on what should be page 7 but is unnumbered) speaks of “the preservation of the last treasures of our language (Aromanian)” («τή διασωση τού τελευταίου πλούτου τής γλώσσας μας (τής κουτσοβλάχικης)»). And there are a number of books in circulation which, like the one by Exarchos that I list in the references, are devoted to Aromanian customs, folk tales, songs, proverbs, riddles, wishes, and curses.

In order to look into what the Greeks have been up to lately concerning Aromanian, I had originally intended to write about the three most important books by Greek (that is, Greek Aromanian) scholars on Aromanian, namely Koltsidas 1976 and 1978, and Lazarou 1986. On second thought, however, I decided that focusing on the most scholarly of the three, that is, the book by Lazarou, would be more suitable for a relatively brief paper.

A crucial component of the Aromanian question concerns the origin of the Aromanian linguistic community. Are the Aromanians the descendants of Romanized local Balkan populations (Greek scholars typically assume that those were Romanized Greek populations) or are they, as many Rumanian scholars would have it, the descendants of speakers of Rumanian (or Proto-Rumanian) who migrated to the southern Balkans roughly a millennium ago? While I do not wish to impugn the integrity of any of the Greek and Rumanian scholars who have dealt with this question, I often cannnot help feeling that the different axes they have to grind loom a bit larger than a burning desire for the truth. For, as is often the case with this sort of controversy in the Balkans, this has also been a struggle between Greeks and Rumanians for “the hearts and minds” of the Aromanians.

nl19_11f.jpg (18570 bytes)

Samarina, 1989: Woman dancing
(Photo © 1995, James Prineas)

Rumanian scholars usually point out the striking similarities between Aromanian and Daco-Rumanian (what one usually refers to as simply Rumanian), which they consider dialects of the same language — there are some exceptions to that, such as the linguist Ion Coteanu, who regards Aromanian as a language different from Rumanian. Greek scholars, on the other hand, including Lazarou, try to show how different Aromanian is from Daco-Rumanian and tend to regard Aromanian as a separate language. It would be pointless to rehearse here the perennial question of language versus dialect; suffice it to say, unenlighteningly, that Aromanian does indeed show some striking similarities with Daco-Rumanian, just as it differs from it in many respects. To the extent that this is relevant, the two are not mutually intelligible.

Nevertheless, I don’t find the differences between them so great as to invalidate the view that these two forms of Balkan Romance could have split between eight hundred and a thousand years ago. (I quickly mention here that the view according to which the ethnogenesis of the (Daco-)Rumanians took place north of the Danube does create some problems for the position that the ancestors of the Aromanians were separated from the bulk of the speakers of Rumanian. I do not believe, however, that those problems are insurmountable.)

I now turn to Lazarou’s book and to how it deals with the Aromanian question. The book is about Aromanian and its relations with Greek. It is a painstakingly researched piece of work and clearly the result of immense labor. It is the French translation of the author’s University of Athens doctoral dissertation and consists of ten chapters divided into three unequal parts. The first part deals with the origin of the Aromanians and their language; the second part discusses the separation of Aromanian from East Latin and its current state; and the third part consists of an analysis of Aromanian and a comparison of it with Greek from the phonetic, morphological, and lexical points of view.

As is often the case with Greek (and Rumanian) books on Aromanian, this too is a book with a point of view. Its main linguistic thesis is that the genesis of the Aromanian language not only took place south of the Danube but, what’s more, it did so largely in regions that today lie within the borders of Greece. Thus, the Aromanians are allegedly the descendants of linguistically Romanized Greeks and, moreover, have always remained bilingual in Romance and Greek. In Lazarou’s view, Greek has, therefore, never been a foreign language to the Aromanians. Lazarou insists time and again on this alleged bilingualism of the Aromanians. To the extent that Aromanians living in Greece eventually do learn Greek, he is probably right. On the other hand, I remember reading, years ago, reports by Aromanians who, as children, had been beaten and called “stupid Vlachs” at school, because they did not know Greek. But then this supposed bilingualism of the “xenophone” populations living in Greece seems to be an obsession with Greeks in general. When, in September 1991, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis finally did admit the existence of Slavic speakers in northern Greece, he did so only in a half-hearted way: he said that there exist, in Greek Macedonia, some persons bilingual in Greek and a local Slavic form of speech (τοπικό σλαβικό ίδίωμα). Whatever one may say against this self-serving type of reasoning, it has the advantage of turning any controversy about linguistic and national minorities into a non-issue: the German speakers of Süd-Tirol/Alto Adige become Italian-German bilinguals (or Italian-Friulian-German trilinguals), the Maori become English-Maori bilinguals, and pre-1963 Turkish Cypriots become Greek-Turkish bilinguals.

The non-linguistic (and to my mind, real) thesis of Lazarou’s book is that the Aromanians have always felt themselves to be Greeks and have never been Rumanians. One is seldom comfortable with terms like “always” and “never” in such contexts. Nonetheless, I would be inclined to believe that the Aromanians have for the most part, and for a relatively long time, indeed felt themselves to be Greeks; or at least that they have felt to be Greeks to a greater extent than anything else — other than Aromanians, of course. Note, however, that these remarks may no longer apply to the Aromanians living in the countries adjacent to Greece. (Victor Friedman tells me that there are now two Aromanian newspapers published in the Republic of Macedonia and that efforts are being made there toward the creation of a standard Aromanian language.)

Nevertheless, even if the Aromanians have felt themselves to be Greeks to a greater extent than anything else, they do not seem to have considered themselves to be unhyphenated Greeks. Had they done so, one would be hard put to explain the existence of Aromanian proverbs and sayings with an anti-Greek bent. While we are not likely to find these in Greek publications on Aromanian (like the book by Exarchos), we do find several in Tache Papahagi’s Aromanian anthology. Here are two of them: Greclu-i lemnu putrid ‘the Greek is [like] rotten wood’ and Γumarlu tu yumarangaθi ş’Greclu tu grîdină xeană ‘The donkey [goes?] to the thistle and the Greek to other people’s garden[s]’ (Papahagi 1922:7). Papahagi has been criticized for, among other things, greatly Daco-Rumanianizing the language of the Aromanian texts in his anthology — indeed, its very title, Antologie aromănească, shows clear traces of Daco-Rumanization: a more genuinely Aromanian title might be Anθοloγie armănească. (Unless, of course, that title is meant to be in Daco-Rumanian; if so, however, I cannot explain the vowel in the third syllable of the form aromănească: one would expect aromânească, spelled aromînească, as is Papahagi’s wont in this book.) Still, I find it difficult to believe that Papahagi simply invented the anti-Greek proverbs and sayings that he lists.

Before we move on to a more detailed discussion of some linguistic points in Lazarou’s book, let me mention that he gives a brief but interesting account of the Rumanian “intervention” into Aromanian matters, which began in 1860 (pp. 147-148, especially footnotes 73 and 74). He cites Rumanian sources that outline the reasons why Rumania tried to gain at least a cultural foothold in the Aromanian-speaking areas. The Rumanians were realistic enough not to strive for territorial expansion into the southern Balkans. Their aim was rather to use the Aromanians as a bargaining chip against possible territorial concessions from a future greater Bulgaria. Here is a characteristic quotation from a Rumanian periodical, La renaissance latine, dated 15th July 1904:

Le gouvernement roumain prétend moins créer une colonie éloignée que s’assurer un gage qu’il pourra céder à la Bulgarie contre des avantages plus sérieux, par exemple une rectification de frontières en Dobroudja.

In other words, the Rumanian Government expects less to create a far-away colony than to secure a pawn that it could yield to Bulgaria in exchange for more serious advantages, such as a border rectification in Dobruja.

In addition, Lazarou quotes some other Rumanian sources to support his claim that Rumanian efforts to cause a switch in the national allegiance of the Aromanians in favor of Rumania proved an expensive failure; despite those efforts, the overwhelming majority of the Aromanians reportedly remained loyal to Greece.

For those who read Modern Greek, I recommend the exhaustive and fascinating treatment of the political aspect of the Aromanian question by the late Evangelos Averof-Tositsas, a prominent Greek statesman of Aromanian descent (Averof-Tositsas 1987). But be forewarned: Averof-Tositsas is a Greek nationalist.

I will devote the rest of this paper to some of the linguistic points in Lazarou’s book that I feel most competent to discuss.

For Lazarou, it is of crucial importance to show that Greek has greatly influenced Aromanian. And indeed the influence of Greek is evident in several areas of the structure of Aromanian. Consider this example of a Greek loanword in Aromanian with the plural ending -adzi modeled on Modern Greek plurals in -άδες: Aromanian amăxă ‘coachman’, plural amăxadzˇi, like its Modern Greek model άμαξάς, plural άμαξάδες ‘ditto’. And yet, this plural formation with -adzˇi has spread to other types of Greek loanwords in Aromanian, namely to nouns and adjectives in which Greek cannot use the plural ending -άδες. Thus, we have the Aromanian noun stratiγο ‘general’, with its plural stratiγadzˇi, which is unlike Modern Greek στρατηγός, whose plural form, at least in the standard language, is στρατηγοί ‘ditto’. Similarly, the Aromanian adjective pisto ‘faithful’, with its plural pistadzˇi, is again unlike the Modern Greek adjective πιστός, which has the plural form πιστοί ‘ditto’. I took those examples from among many more that Lazarou lists in his book (pp. 204 and 205). Lazarou does not say whether the suffix -adzˇi is used to form the plural of Aromanian words that are not loanwords from Greek.

According to Lazarou, borrowing a plural suffix like -adzˇi from Greek and applying it to instances where Greek would never use it is a strong indication of the indigenous origin of the Aromanians. I hope I am not alone in finding such a conclusion unwarranted and in thinking that all that these examples show is that Aromanian has been in close contact with Greek for a long time. But a long time does not necessarily mean always; several hundred years will do equally well.

Finally, I would like to discuss some of Lazarou’s ideas on the lexicon of Aromanian. At least as far back as the Aromanian lexicographer Nikolaidis at the beginning of the century (cf. Nikolaidis 1909), Greek scholars, including Lazarou, have repeatedly made the point that the lexical differences between Aromanian and Daco-Rumanian are enormous. Among other things, they point out that Aromanian has borrowed lexical material from Greek to a vastly greater extent than Daco-Rumanian has borrowed from Slavic, and also that Aromanian itself has borrowed very little from Slavic. For what they are worth, I reproduce below some of the percentage figures that Lazarou gives at the beginning of his chapter on the lexicon (p. 240):

Words of Slavic origin

Αrumanian 0.26%
Daco-Rumanian 17.5%

Words of Greek origin

Αrumanian 52%
Daco-Rumanian 8%

According to these percentages, Slavic lexical items represent only just over one-quarter of one percent of the Aromanian lexicon but seventeen and a half percent of the Daco-Rumanian lexicon; Greek lexical items, on the other hand, are said to represent an impressive fifty-two percent of the Aromanian lexicon and a mere eight percent of the Daco-Rumanian lexicon.

As the saying goes, however, such statistics must be used “with the utmost care,” if only because they tell us nothing about the relative frequency of the lexical items that form part of the data or about the semantic domains to which they belong. Nonetheless, Greek writers on Aromanian use the very different percentages of Slavic lexical elements in those two forms of Balkan Romance to prove that, when the Slavs arrived in the sixth century, the ancestors of the Aromanians and those of the Daco-Rumanians could not have been in contact, let alone have constituted a single linguistic and national community. Conversely, they point out that the huge numbers of Greek loanwords in Aromanian indicate clearly that the Aromanians and their ancestors have been bilingual ever since they were Romanized.

In order to show that the ancestors of the Aromanians were already in contact with Ancient Greek, it would helpful to find early Greek loanwords in Aromanian. That is not an easy task, however. Greek scholars can — and do — make the plausible claim that, precisely because Greek and Aromanian were always in contact, Greek loanwords in Aromanian have kept changing along with the Greek language itself. Put somewhat differently, and here I paraphrase Lazarou, it is difficult to distinguish the Greek loanwords in Aromanian into ancient, medieval, and modern, because (“allegedly,” I would add) the Aromanians have always lived among the Greeks, have always been bilingual, and have, therefore, always used Greek elements in each new form that they heard from their Greek-speaking neighbors (p. 251). Even so, some scholars, including some Rumanians, believe that they have been able to discover some ancient Greek loanwords in Aromanian. Lazarou gives two lists of Aromanian words reputed to have been borrowed from Ancient Greek. The trouble is that some of those words are also found in Daco-Rumanian, so that their presence in Aromanian is in no way incompatible with the hypothesis that Aromanian became separated from of a common Proto-Rumanian language. Here are three such words, which Aromanian shares with Daco-Rumanian: the verb meaning ‘to find’, aflu in both Aromanian and Daco-Rumanian <άφλώ; the adjective for ‘small’, Aromanian nicu and Daco-Rumanian mic <μικκóς; and the noun for ‘trace; trail, scent, track’, urmă in both Aromanian and Daco-Rumanian <όδμή (όσμή).

Lazarou is probably at his worst in the last few pages (253-259) of the chapter on the lexicon, which is also the last chapter in the book. Here he gives long lists of Greek loanwords in Aromanian, once again in an effort to demonstrate the Hellenic character of the Aromanian people. He divides those loanwords into four categories. Apart from the last category, which consists largely of ordinary everyday words, the other three categories are utterly irrelevant to Lazarou’s thesis. They are: scientific terms, religious terms, and school terms. Here is an example from each category: arhitectu <άρχιτέκτων, andihristu <άντίχριστος, caligrafie <καλλιγραφία.

The clincher, however, is the last sentence of the last chapter of the book:

Ce vocabulaire riche et varié, qui recouvre presque toutes les situations de la vie quotidienne, montre clairement que les Aroumains sont des Grecs qui, malgré le fait que l’aroumain leur fut imposé comme seconde langue, préservèrent une partie du trésor inestimable de la première langue. (p. 259).

This can be translated as follows: “This rich and varied vocabulary, which covers practically all situations of everyday life, shows clearly that the Aromanians are Greeks who, despite the fact that Aromanian has been imposed on them as a second language, preserved part of the inestimable treasure of the first language.”

The most charitable thing I could do now would be simply to bring this paper to an end. That would be more charitable than to mention the dozens or even hundreds of Slavic technical, religious, and so-called “intellectual” loanwords in Daco-Rumanian that were replaced with mostly French loanwords in the nineteenth century. It would also be more charitable than to allude to the hundreds of Greek words in Arvanitika and Italian words in Arbëresh that correspond pretty closely to Lazarou’s three categories of scientific, religious, and school terms — I say “pretty closely” because the Italo-Albanians do not use predominantly Italian religious terminology (I am grateful to Eric P. Hamp for confirming my hunch about this). And it would indeed be more charitable than to mention that, if English people were to take Lazarou’s last sentence seriously, they might decide that they are almost French. It would certainly be more charitable than to say about recent Greek scholarship on Aromanian that «Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose».

So, since I am a charitable man, and a patriotic Greek to boot, I hereby bring this paper to an end. •

(This paper was originally presented at a conference in memory of the linguist Zbigniew Gołąb on 10 April 1992.)


Averoff-Tositsas = Εύαγγέλου Α. ‘Αβέρωφ-Τοσίτσα, Ηπολιτική πλευρά τού κουτσοβλαχικού ζητήματος (The Political Aspect of the Koutsovlach (=Aromanian) Question, 2nd ed. Trikala: Φιλολογικός Ιστορικός Λογοτεχνικός Σύλλογος Τρικάλων, 1987. (First published in 1948.)

Exarchos = Γιώργης ‘Εξαρχος, Βλάχοι: Μνημεία ζωής και λόγου ενός πολιτισμού που χάνεται  (Vlachs (=Aromanians): Cultural and Linguistic Monuments of a Vanishing Civilization). Athens: Επικαιρότητα, 1986.

Gołąb, Z., The Aromanian Dialect of Kruševo in S.R. Macedonia, S.F.R. Yugoslavia. Skopje: Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 1984.

Koltsidas 1976 = ‘ Αντώνη Μιχ. Κολτσίδα, Οι Κουτσόβλάχοι : ‘Εθνολογική καί λαογραφική μελέτη  (The Koutsovlachs: (=Aromanians) A Study in Ethnology and Folklore.) Salonika, 1976.

Koltsidas 1978 = ‘ Αντώνη Μιχ. Κολτσίδα, Γραμματική καί λεξικό τής κουτσοβλάχικης γλώσσας (A grammar and Lexicon of the Koutsovlach (=Aromanian) Language). Salonika: ‘Εκδοτικός Οίκος ‘ Αδελφών Κυριακίδη, 1978.

Lazarou, Achille G., L’aroumain et ses rapports avec le grec. Thessaloniki: Institute for Balkan Studies, 1986. [Translation of the author’s University of Athens doctoral dissertation, published as ‘Η άρωμουνική καί αι μετά τής έλληνικής σχέσεις αύτής] Athens: ‘Ιστορική καί λαογραφική ‘Εταιρεία τών Θεσσαλών, 1976.

Nikolaidis =  Κωνσταντίνου Νικολαίδου, ‘Ετυμολογικόν λεξικόν τής κουτσοβλαχικής γλώσσης (Etymological Dictionary of the Koutsovlach (=Aromanian) Language). Athens: Σακελλαρίου, 1909.

Papahagi, Tache, Antologie Aromănească. Bucharest: România Nouă, 1922.


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