Native toGreece
RegionEastern Peloponnese, around Mount Parnon
Native speakers
2,000–4,000 (2018)[1]
  • Propontis
  • Northern
  • Southern
Language codes
ISO 639-3tsd
Tsakonian is classified as Critically Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
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Tsakonian or Tsaconian (also Tzakonian or Tsakonic, Greek: τσακώνικα and Tsakonian: τσακώνικα, α τσακώνικα γρούσσα) is a highly divergent modern variety of Greek, spoken in the Tsakonian region of the Peloponnese, Greece. Contrary to all other extant varieties of Greek, Tsakonian derives from Doric Greek rather than from the Attic-Ionic branch.[2] Although it is conventionally treated as a dialect of Greek,[3][4][5] some compendia treat it as a separate language.[6] Tsakonian is critically endangered, with only a few hundred/thousand, mostly elderly, fluent speakers left.[6] Although Tsakonian and standard Modern Greek are related, they are not mutually intelligible.[7]


The term Tsakonas or Tzakonas first emerges in the writings of Byzantine chroniclers who derive the ethnonym from a corruption of Lakonas, a Laconian/Lacedaemonian (Spartan)—a reference to the Doric roots of the Tsakonian language.[8]

Geographic distribution

Old ethnic map of Peloponnese; Tsakonian-speaking areas in blue

Tsakonian is found today in a group of mountain towns and villages slightly inland from the Argolic Gulf, although it was once spoken farther to the south and west as well as on the coasts of Laconia (ancient Sparta).

Geographical barriers to travel and communication kept the Tsakonians relatively isolated from the rest of Greece until the 19th century, although there was some trade between the coastal towns. The rise of mass education and improved travel beginning after the Greek War of Independence meant that fluent Tsakonian speakers were no longer as isolated from the rest of Greece. In addition, during the war, the Turkish army drove the Tsakonians east, and as a result, their de facto capital shifted from Prastos to Leonidio, further making the people significantly less isolated.[9] There began a rapid decline from an estimated figure of some 200,000 fluent speakers to the present estimate of a speaker count between 200 and 1,000.[6]

Since the introduction of electricity to all villages in Tsakonia by the late 1950s, Greek mass media can reach the most remote of areas and has profoundly affected the speech of younger speakers. Efforts to revive the language by teaching it in local schools do not seem to have had much success. Standard Modern Greek is the official language of government, commerce and education, and it is possible that the continued modernization of Tsakonia will lead to the language's disappearance sometime this[ambiguous] century.[citation needed]

The area where the language is found today in some villages Tsakonia slopes of Parnon in the southern province of Kynouria, including the towns of Leonidio and Tyros and the villages of Melana, Agios Andreas, Vaskina, Prastos, Sitaina and Kastanitsa.

Official status

Tsakonian has no official status. Prayers and liturgies of the Greek Orthodox Church have been translated into Tsakonian, but the ancient Koine of the traditional church services is usually used as in other locations in Greece. Some teaching materials in Tsakonian for use in local schools have reportedly also been produced.[10]


There are three subdialects of Tsakonian: Northern, Southern, and Propontis.

The Propontis dialect was spoken in what was formerly a Tsakonian colony on the Sea of Marmara (or Propontis; two villages near Gönen, Vatika and Havoutsi), whose members were resettled in Greece during the 1924 Population exchange between Greece and Turkey.[6] Propontis Tsakonian appears to have died out around 1970, although it had already stopped being the primary language of its community after 1914 when they were internally exiled with other Greeks in the region due to the outbreak of World War I.[11] Propontis Tsakonian was overall grammatically more conservative, but it was also influenced by the nearby Thracian dialects of Greek which were much closer to Standard Modern Greek.[12] The emergence of the Propontis community is either dated to the 13th century settlement of Tsakonians by Emperor Michael VII, explicitly referenced by Byzantine George Pachymeres[13] or around the time of the 1770 Orlov Revolt.[14] For an example of the standardizing Thracian Greek influence, compare the Northern and Southern word for water, ύο (ýo, derived from Ancient Greek ὕδωρ) to Propontic νερέ and Standard νερό (neré, neró).

Of the two mainland dialects of Tsakonian, Southern Tsakonian is spoken in the villages of Melana, Prastos, Vaskina, Tiros, Leonidio, Pragmateftis and Sapounakeika, while Northern Tsakonian is found in Sitena and Kastanitsa.[15] As early as 1971, it became difficult for researchers in the northern villages to find any informants who could offer more than "a few isolated words".[16] The Northern villages were much more exposed to the rest of Greek society, and as a result, according to linguist Nick Nicholas, Northern Tsakonian experienced much heavier Standard Greek lexical and phonological influence, before it began to die out much faster than Southern Tsakonian.[17] It is generally believed that Northern Tsakonian has been influenced by modern Greek and there are indeed some examples where Northern Tsakonian uses "more modern" vocabulary than its Southern counterpart.[15] The principal difference between Northern and Southern Tsakonian is the loss of the intervocalic consonant /-l-/ which exists in Northern Tsakonian but is absent from Southern Tsakonian.[15] According to Maxim L. Kisilier, professor of Modern Greek in the Saint Petersburg State University, the /-l-/ in Northern Tsakonian is unlikely to be an innovation influenced by Standard Modern Greek, and, as such, according to him, it's more likely that Southern Tsakonian changed instead.[15]

There may have once been a fourth, Western, dialect of Tsakonian given the forms attested by Evliya Celebi in the 17th century.[18]

(Tsakonian/Greek) "Our language is Tsakonian. Ask and they'll tell you./Groússa námou eíni ta Tsakónika. Rotíete na nioúm' alíoi./I glóssa mas eínai ta Tsakónika. Rotíste na sas poun.", bilingual (Tsakonian and Standard Greek) sign in the town of Leonidio.


Another difference between Tsakonian and the common Demotic Greek dialect is its verb system – Tsakonian preserves different archaic forms, such as participial periphrasis for the present tense. Certain complementisers and other adverbial features present in the standard Modern Greek dialect are absent from Tsakonian, with the exception of the Modern που (/pu/) relativiser, which takes the form πφη (/pʰi/) in Tsakonian (note: traditional Tsakonian orthography uses the digraph πφ to represent aspirated /pʰ/). Noun morphology is broadly similar to Standard Modern Greek, although Tsakonian tends to drop the nominative, final (-s) from masculine nouns, thus Tsakonian ο τσχίφτα for Standard o τρίφτης (o tshífta/o tríftis: "grater").


There has always been contact with Koine Greek speakers and the language was affected by the neighboring Greek dialects. Additionally, there are some lexical borrowings from Arvanitika and Turkish. The core, base vocabulary remains recognizably Doric, although experts disagree on the extent to which other true Doricisms can be found. There are only a few hundred, mainly elderly true native speakers living,[6] although a great many more can speak the language less than fluently.

Phonological history



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

Tsakonian has extensive changes triggered by palatalisation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Original song – Tsakonian[19] Roman Transliteration IPA transcription[citation needed]

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

Poulátzi éma ékha tʰo kouiví tse merouté ni éma ékha
takhíga ni éma zákhari poïkíkha ni éma mósko
tse apó to mósko to persoú tse apó ta nirodía
eskantalíste to kouiví ts' efíntze mi t' aïdóni.
Ts' aféngi ni éki tsinigoú me to kouiví tʰo khére
Éa poulí tʰon tópo nti, éa tʰa kaïkitzíe
na átsou ta koudoúnia nti na válou áva tsenoúrtza.

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

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

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

Pouláki íkha sto klouví ke meroméno to íkha
to táïza zákhari ke to pótiza móskho
ke apó ton polí ton móskho ke tin mirodiá tou
eskantalísti ke to klouví ke mou éfige t' aïdóni.
Ki' o aféntis to kinigáï me to klouví sto khéri
Éla poulí ston tópo sou, éla stin katikía sou
n' allákso ta koudoúnia sou na válo álla kenoúrgia.

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

English translation

I had a bird in a cage and I kept it happy
I gave it sugar and wine-grapes
and from the great amount of grapes and their essence,
the nightingale got naughty [possibly means it got drunk] and escaped.
And its master now runs after it with the cage in his hands:
Come my bird back where you belong, come to your house
I will remove your old bells and buy you new ones.


Tsakonian avoids consonant clusters, as seen, and drops final [s] and [n]; as a result, syllable structure tends more to CV than in Standard Modern Greek. (The use of digraphs in tradition spelling tends to obscure this). For instance, ancient [hadros] "hard" goes to Tsakonian [a.tʃe], where /t͡ʃ/ can be considered a single phoneme; it is written traditionally with a trigraph as ατσχέ (=atskhe).


Tsakonian has undergone considerable morphological changes: there is minimal case inflection.

The present and imperfect indicative in Tsakonian are formed with participles, like English but unlike the rest of Greek: Tsakonian ενεί αού, έμα αού "I am saying, I was saying" ≈ Greek ειμί λαλών, ήμην λαλών.

Note: Participles change according to the gender of the subject of the sentence

Tsakonian has preserved the original inflection of the aorist indicative.

Writing system

Traditionally, Tsakonian used the standard Greek alphabet, along with digraphs to represent certain sounds that either do not occur in Demotic Greek, or that do not commonly occur in combination with the same sounds as they do in Tsakonian. For example, the [ʃ] sound, which does not occur in standard Greek, does occur in Tsakonian, and is spelled σχ (much like German sch). Another sound recalls Czech ř. Thanasis Costakis invented an orthography using dots, spiritus asper, and caron for use in his works, which has been used in his grammar and several other works. This is more like the Czech usage of hačeks (such as š). Lastly, unpalatalized n and l before a front vowel can be written double, to contrast with a palatalised single letter. (e.g. in Southern Tsakonian ένει [eɲi] "I am", έννι [eni] "he is" – the former corresponding to Northern Tsakonian έμι [emi] and Standard Greek είμαι [ime].)

Transcribing Tsakonian[20]
Digraphs Costakis IPA
σχ σ̌ ʃ
τσχ σ̓
ρζ ρζ
τθ τ̔
κχ κ̔
πφ π̔
τζ (Κ) τζ̌ – τζ & τρζ̌ — τρζ
(Λ) τζ̌ – τζ
(K) tɕ, trʒ
(L) d͡ʒ
νν ν̇ n (not ɲ)
λλ λ̣ l (not ʎ)
Note: (K) is for the northern dialect of Kastanitsa and Sitaina, (Λ) and (L) for the southern which is spoken around Leonidio and Tyros.


English Modern Greek Tsakonian (Greek alphabet) Tsakonian (Latin script) Tsakonian (Costakis Notation)
Where is his/her/its room? Πού είναι το δωμάτιό του/της; Κιά έννι το όντα σι; Kiá éni to óda si? κιά έν̇ι το όντα σι;
Where is the beach? Πού είναι η παραλία; Κιά έννι το περιγιάλλι; Kiá éni to perigiáli? κιά έν̇ι το περιγιάλ̣ι;
Where is the bar? Πού είναι το μπαρ; Κιά έννι το μπαρ; Kiá éni to bar? κιά έν̇ι το μπαρ;
Don't touch me there! Μη μ' αγγίζεις εκεί! Μη' μ' αντζίζερε όρπα! Mi m' andzízere órpa! Μη με ατζίζερε όρπα!

See also


  1. ^ Campbell, Lyle; Bellew, Anna (2018). Cataloguing the World's Endangered Languages. Routledge. pp. 204–205. ISBN 9781317413899.
  2. ^ Linguist List
  3. ^ Browning, Robert (1983). Medieval and modern Greek. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 124.
  4. ^ Horrocks, Geoffrey (2010). Greek: A history of the language and its speakers (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell. p. 382.
  5. ^ Joseph, Brian D.; Terdanelis, Georgios (2003). "Modern Greek". In Roelcke, Thorsten (ed.). Variation typology: a typological handbook of European languages. Berlin: de Gruyter. pp. 823–836. Joseph, Brian D. (2012). "Lexical diffusion and the regular transmission of language chang in its sociohistorical context". In Hernández-Campoy, Juan Manuel; Conde-Silvestre, Juan Camilo (eds.). Handbook of historical sociolinguistics. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 411.
  6. ^ a b c d e Moseley, Christopher (2007). Encyclopedia of the world's endangered languages. New York: Routledge. s.v. "Tsakonian".
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Europe (Central, Western, and Southeastern Europe). G.K. Hall. 1991. p. 269. ISBN 978-0-8161-1808-3. Tsakonian is a dialect of Greek and is related to, though not mutually intelligible with, modern Greek.
  8. ^ Miller, William (1964). The Latins in the Levant, a history of Frankish Greece (1204–1566). Harvard University. Cambridge, Speculum Historiale; New York, Barnes & Noble. p. 4.
  9. ^ Mansfield, Peter (April 21, 2000). "Letter from Tere-Sapunadzi". The Times Literary Supplement.
  10. ^ P. Trudgill, D. Schreier (2006): Greece and Cyprus. In: U. Ammon (ed.), Sociolinguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  11. ^ Costakis, A. P. (1986) Lexiko tīs tsakōnikīs dialektou. pX
  12. ^ Nicholas 2019, p. 20
  13. ^ Koukoules, F. (1924) Ekthesis peri tou kata to etos 1919 telesthentos diagōnismou tīs en Athīnais Glōssikīs Etaireias [Presentation of the competition conducted by the Linguistic Society of Athens in 1919]. Athina, 36: 254–281. Referenced in Nicholas 2019 : p20.
  14. ^ Costakis, A. P. (1951) Syntomī grammatikī tīs tsakōnikīs dialektou [A brief grammar of the Tsakonian dialect]. Athens: Institut Français d’Athènes Publ., 224 p. (Collection de l’Institut Français d’Athènes. Vol. 35). Pages 151–155
  15. ^ a b c d Kisilier, Maxim L. (2021). "Reconstructing Past Coexistence: Problems and Mysteries in the Multilingual History of Tsakonia, Greece". In Sobolev, Andrey N. (ed.). Between Separation and Symbiosis: South Eastern European Languages and Cultures in Contact. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. p. 229. ISBN 978-1-5015-0921-6.
  16. ^ Haralambopoulos, A. L. (1980) Fōnologikī analysī tīs tsakōnikīs dialektou [Phonological analysis of the Tsakonian dialect]. Thessaloniki: Aristotle University Publ., 195 p. (Aristoteleio Panepistīmeio Thessalonikīs, Epistīmonikī Epetīrida tīs Filosofilkīs Scholīs [Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Scholarly papers of the Faculty of Philosophy]. Appendix. No. 30). Page 7
  17. ^ Nicholas 2019, p. 19
  18. ^ Liosis, N. (2007) Glōssikes epafes stī notioanatolikī Peloponnīso [Language contact in the Southeastern Peloponnese]. PhD dissertation (Linguistics). Thessalonica, Aristotle University. Page 7
  19. ^ This song in its original (polytonic) Tsakonian form is taken from a book called «ΚΛΕΦΤΙΚΑ ΔΗΜΟΤΙΚΑ ΤΡΑΓΟΥΔΙΑ» (KLEPHTIC DEMOTIC SONGS) by N. G. Politou. It can be found in the last few pages of the book under the «ΤΡΑΓΟΥΔΙΑ ΕΙΣ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑΣ ΔΙΑΛΕΚΤΟΥΣ» (SONGS IN GREEK DIALECTS) section on page 269.
  20. ^ Sources: Nicholas, Houpis, Costakis


Further reading