pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Someone asked recently on gutefrage.net how to tell when to use which letter for the sounds o, i, or s in Greek.

User elgrecovero gave a good answer (as always!) and mentioned that while reading Greek is usually unambiguous, writing is complicated since the spelling follows etymology and so it’s not, in general, predictable how to spell a given word—you’d have to know how it was pronounced in Ancient Greek.

And that made me think about reading Greek and the fact that they’re kind enough to mark the stressed syllable on all words of more than one syllable (very useful given that the position of the stress is, in general, unpredictable! Russian should take a leaf out of Greek’s book!).

And that made me wonder whether there are words that differ only in the position of the stressed syllable.

I was reminded of three incidents from my mission:

  • An elder translating “ο ναός είναι ένας ιερός χώρος” (the temple is a holy place) as “the temple is a holy dance” (as if it had been “ιερός χορός”). I wonder whether the fact that the elder was French had something to do with the mistranslation, since French stereotypically have problems with the position of stress.
  • An elder translating “Η Ελλάδα έχει πενήντα ένα νομούς” as “Greece has fifty-one laws” (as if spelled νόμους) rather than “Greece has fifty-one nomes” (no longer true since 2010, I just found!). Here, the elder was German; I suppose the mistranslation here was due to the fact that νομός is not really an every-day word, at least not for a missionary. (Possibly also the fact that he went on to be a judge, so he was into law :D)
  • I hearing “Ο Έλληνας είναι δύσκολος να πειστεί” (Greeks are difficult to convince) and not understanding the last word but thinking it had something to do with πίστη (faith).

So of those, one (νόμος/νομός) is a perfect example since the vowels are not only pronounced identically but also spelled identically, while the other two have identical pronunciation but not identical spelling.

I had a look to see whether I could find a list (googling for “λέξεις που διαφορούν μόνο κατά τον τονισμό”, then—thank you, Google’s suggestion!—“λέξεις που διαφέρουν μόνο κατά τον τονισμό”), but didn’t find anything offhand, except for one place which offered χώρος/χορός (place/dance), κάλλος/καλός (beauty/good), and φιστίκια/φιστικιά (pistachios/pistachio tree). The last of which is again a good example. (Though the words are related, so it’s more like English pérfect/perféct, présent/presént, etc. than like really different words as in the νόμος/νομός case.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

When you start learning a language and think you’re starting to get the hang of it, you might think you spot errors.

Now, some of those might be real errors, but some are merely you overgeneralising or misunderstanding.

Two examples of my own: when I started learning Greek, I thought that αεροπλάνο was misspelled because my dictionary gave αήρ for “air”—surely, there should be an eta instead of an epsilon in “aeroplane”, then!

Then, later, I learned that the stem of “air” is αερ- (see, for example, the genitive αέρος); I had been misled by assuming that the nominative form (the citation form, found in dictionaries) is the stem or basic form used to derive words.

Another, much more recent example: I had assumed that places that gave kammit as the Inuktitut name for a kind of boot used by Inuit was a typo for kamiit: someone doubling the wrong letter when typing.

While that’s plausible enough, I later learned that inflection used to be more complex, and that the “add -it” rule for forming plurals was a simplification/regularisation/analogical change that is comparatively recent. And it seems that kammit is the older, conservative plural, which is still in use by some people, and kamiit is the newer, more regular but innovative form.

Moral of the story: some errors are real errors, and some are just you not knowing all the rules :)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I was amused, when looking at the Greek Periodical Table of Elements, to find that a couple of element names had been "Hellenised".

Specifically, "Cerium" is "Demetrium" and "Neptunium" is "Poseidonium".

That fits the way that planets, for example, are named; Greek uses the corresponding Greek god rather than the Latin one, so for example, the one with the big rings is not "Saturn" but rather "Kronos". (In order, they are, from memory, Hermes - Aphrodite - Earth (Gaia) - Ares - Zeus - Kronos - Uranus (Ouranos) - Poseidon. Pluto is just Pluto, though.)

So with the elements, we have the Neptune = Poseidon correspondence as well as Ceres = Demeter. (Compare also "cereals", which are "demetriacs" in Greek.)

I must admit I was a bit disappointed that Lawrencium is "Lorensio" rather than "Lavrendio". But it seems that the newer ones tend to be written phonetically (according to modern Greek pronunciation) rather than taking the spelling as the base.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Yesterday, Stella and I went to the dentist’s for our annual appointment. (It had been a year and a half since the last time we went, but “once per calendar year” is the minimum requirement for receiving a bonus from the insurance company so we should be fine on that count.)

Fortunately, our teeth were fine. Stella had worried that she had caries in two teeths but it turned out that the spots were just fillings shining through from under the surface.

Amy had a bit of a cough that morning so we let her stay home from school, so she went with us to the dentist’s. She even let the dentist look at her teeth—a first, I think! We had had her with us at least two times already, but she didn’t want to open her mouth. Afterwards, she chose a little plastic car from the bucket o’ goodies.


After that, I went to pick out an umbrella since I seem to have lost mine.

Boring details )

But since I wasn’t quite sure, I asked the lady at the cash register whether I could return it; she said I could as long as I kept the receipt and the little tag attached to the umbrella itself.

So I didn’t use it on the way home, even though the first snow of this autumn was swirling when I came home. (And Stella ended up saying that she didn’t think much of fully-automatic ones. She suggest I check Amazon reviews to help me choose an umbrella I’ll like.)


In the evening, Amy was pretty ill; she was running a fever, falling asleep often, and generally out of sorts. So it was a good idea we had kept her at home. Poor child.

She was still feeling poorly this morning, though her temperature had gone down. I told her she’d probably be best off with a lot of rest and some tea. And this afternoon, I got a phone call—from Amy! Telling me that the tea had been a good idea of mine: Stella had made her some and she apparently liked it. Quite a surprise, since Amy’s not very talkative on the phone and nearly never initiates a call.


This morning on the bus on the way to work, I sat next to a young lady who was talking loudly on her cell phone. After a while, I thought I heard some Greek (είμαι τέτοιο “I’m one like that”(?)), so I listened a bit more closely: and the bits I could understand were mostly German but mixed with quite a bit of (slightly German-accented) Greek. Interesting, because I don’t hear Greek all that often over here.

The first bits I heard sounded pretty German-accented, especially in the vowels, but I heard a tapped /r/ in “Katerina” and a /θ/ in κοιμηθώ at one point, which are both completely non-German, so the accent can’t have been all bad.

Like many young diglossic people, she switched back and forth seemingly easily, sometimes in the middle of a sentence (I remember one “το ξέρει besser als ich” = she knows [in Greek] better than me [in German]).

And I wonder whether her family came from northern Greece since I thought I heard με λέει “she told me” several times, where standard/southern Greek would have μου λέει instead.

Standard Greek has a nominative–“dative”–accusative distinction in pronouns, while at least some varieties of northern Greek have just nominative–accusative, more or less like English. So just as English doesn’t distinguish between “dative” me in he gave me a book and “accusative” me in he saw me, northern Greek doesn’t either, while standard Greek distinguishes between them just like (e.g.) German does (er gab mir das Buch, er sah mich). (Greek would be μου έδωσε το βιβλίο (standard)/με έδωσε το βιβλίο (northern) and με είδε.)

My favourite anecdote about this merger is a story I heard about a lady on the bus in Thessaloniki, who was standing by the rear door and wanted to be let out; she called to the driver Άνοιξέ με από πίσω!. Which means, “Open me up at the back!” and sounds funny to someone who had learned standard Greek, but in the north, it can also be the dative-benefactive “me” that figures in sentences such as “He built me a snowman” = “He built a snowman for me”, i.e. “Open up at the back for me”. (Which in the standard would be, you guessed it, Άνοιξέ μου από πίσω, using the “dative” [historically, genitive] form.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Nick Nicholas has a blog post on the reformed orthography of Greek that was in use in the Soviet Union during the “Springtime of the Nationalities”, and includes a text written in this reformed orthography. (In Demotic much as you might find it in Greece, rather than in Pontic or Mariupolitan.)

Greek Liahona

Thursday, 23 April 2009 20:48
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I just finished reading this year's edition of the Greek Liahona (it only comes out once a year).

It was a bit of a slog at times, though, since the language is a bit archaicising at times (υιός, σχετικώς, απηλλάγη, ένας εκ των καθηγητών, εύρισκε, βαπτισθώ, λέγει, ....).

It makes me wonder why the translators used such language? It almost seemed to me as if somebody wanted to show off how much Ancient Greek they knew, or something. But it makes it harder to read for me, and I wonder what the point is. Do people really talk like that? Why did they think that would be appropriate? What would they have lost by using γιος and λέει like "normal" people?

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