Asia Minor as a linguistic area. Greek-Turkish-Armenian language contacts and the Anatolian substrate

Start - End 
2016 - 2020 (ongoing)
Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication
Department of Linguistics



Three different varieties of Greek used to be spoken in Cappadocia (Turkish Kapadokya) until the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s: Cappadocian, Pharasiot and Lycaonian Greek. From the so-called “Cappadocian tablets”, the earliest cuneiform records dating back to the beginning of the second millennium BC, we know that Cappadocia has always been a multilingual and multicultural area, inhabited by Hatti, Hurrians, Hittites and Assyrians, and later by Phrygians, Persians, Greeks, Armenians, Turks and still others. Inevitably, the symbiosis of so many different peoples speaking languages belonging to different language families has left its traces on the Greek varieties spoken in Cappadocia. Watkins (2001) was the first to present evidence of ancient Asia Minor as a linguistic area (Sprachbund), focusing on the 2nd millennium BC. Bubeník (1989) lists a number of features which distinguish the Asia Minor Greek Koine from other varieties of Koine (Hellenistic) Greek. Many of these have been preserved in Cappadocian, Pharasiot and Lycaonian Greek, e.g. the preservation of the possessive adjectives emós, sós etc. (already on the decline in the Roman period, but prominently frequently used in the Gospel of John) and of the imperfect tense in -(i)šk- (attested in Hittite and, as an iterative formation, Homeric Greek). These varieties also have a number of grammatical features in common with Armenian, e.g. differential object marking (Janse 2004) and reduplication with fixed segmentism (Bağrıaçık & Janse 2015). Interestingly, differential object marking is also found in Turkish, which entered the area in the 11th century and has had a pervasive influence on both Greek and Armenian. The influence of Turkish on both the Asia Minor Greek dialects of Cappadocia and Armenian appears at all linguistic levels: phonology (e.g. vowel harmony), morphology (e.g. agglutinative inflections), syntax (e.g. SOV-type word order phenomena) and the lexicon (e.g. kinship terminology, cf. Janse 2015). The purpose of this part of the project is to study the Asia Minor linguistic area in Cappadocia during the Ottoman period (14th-20th century), with particular attention to the Asia Minor Greek dialects and the influence of the Anatolian substrate, the Armenian adstrate and the Turkish adstrate/superstrate, both in the grammar and in the lexicon. Careful attention will be paid to the social interactions and relations between the different speech communities, because they shed light on important societal questions which are still relevant today, such as language and identity, the relation between dominant/majority and dominated/minority languages, language death and language maintenance, and – last but not least - cultural and religious symbiosis. The Asia Minor Greeks of Cappadocia were (and still are) Orthodox Christians, a majority of whom had become monolingual Turkish-speakers in the course of the Ottoman period, whereas a minority were Greek-Turkish bilingual speakers, suggesting that religion was a stronger identity marker than language at one time. The cultural symbiosis of Greek Orthodox and Muslems produced utterances such as Alláx Panayía mou ‘Allah All-Holy [Mother Mary] of mine’. Asia Minor Greek was a dying variety in Cappadocia at the time of the exchange in the 1920s, even though it was not a dominated/minority language in most of the speech communities where it was spoken. After the exchange, Cappadocian, Pharasiot and Lycaonian Greek did become dominated/minority languages whose speakers were discriminated in their new fatherland (called Ionanistán instead of Elláða). Currently, there are no known speakers of Lycaonian Greek and only a few dozens of speakers of Pharasiot Greek left. Whereas most of the Cappadocian Greek speakers have shifted to Standard Modern Greek, one dialect (Mišótika) has survived to the present day and is even enjoying a temporary survival, suggesting that language has become an identity marker again at least for some Cappadocians. Present-day spoken Cappadocian and Pharasiot Greek, together with a limited number of descriptions from the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries are the only witnesses of the Asia Minor Greek dialects of Cappadocia spoken in the Ottoman period, literate Orthodox Christians in the area being exclusively Turkish-speaking (the so-called Karamanlíðes, who wrote Turkish using the Greek alphabet). They constitute a unique corpus whose linguistic structures can be used to reconstruct the Asia Minor linguistic area in Cappadocia during the Ottoman period.