Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A Word on Words.

First I have to make a big disclaimer here: I’m no expert on Greek, far from it, and doubtless there are those who will read this and pick me up on all sorts of errors.

Learning Cretan Greek is like learning Glaswegian when all the tapes and books you want to learn from are in old-time BBC English, that’s the first hurdle when trying to learn the language here. But that aside, I’ll just focus on what’s called Athen’s Greek and pick on a few examples from my experience.

‘Expensive’ here is akrivos whilst that same word in a different context, tense, whatever, can also mean ‘exact’. This is of course an over-simplification when, for example, from the root word agapi for love (if it is the root) we get agapo for ‘I love’, agapoome for ‘we love’, agapoone for ‘they love’, agapi (again) for ‘he, she, it loves’ agapis for ‘you love’ or agapate if it is formal (polite) or plural. I’ll stop there because that agapi goes on to form over 50 different words depending on whether the word concerned is present, present imperfect, imperfect imperative ... you get the gist. Then of course, in Greek songs, you hear sagapo which, I’m guessing, is a contraction of se agapo, or ‘in I love’ or ‘I am in love’, but don’t quote me on that.

Though in the two versions of akrivos the stress is on the same sounding letter (though different letter; one is omega whilst the other is omicron), this stress on letters is very important in Greek (and context). Two buggers for me have been póteh and potėh, the first with its emphasis on the ‘o’ the second with the emphasis on the ‘e’. The first means ‘when’ whilst the second means ‘never’ – imagine the confusions arising from that!

Learning a language is full of confusions like this. ‘Then’ is meta, whilst then is ‘not’. Then thelis afto is ‘you don’t want this’ whilst then thelis afto meta prospathis ekino is’ ‘you don’t want this then try that’ ... but I’ve gone beyond three words here so probably got it wrong.

Some words are easy: blue is bleh, lemon is lemoni, stone is petra and water is nero. However, there are some big buggers it is difficult to get your tongue wrapped round like (opens dictionary at random) andilamvanomai for perceive or χristooyennitikos for Christmas – that first letter being khi, which in pronunciation is like you’re about to cough up something nasty. Oh yeah, don’t forget, this is all in a very different alphabet with different dipthongs that you need to learn before you can even read a proper Greek/English dictionary. And you need to, because phrase books are full of errors. Mine has beno mesa as ‘come in’ when it really means ‘I come in’. ‘You come in’ is benis mesa.

Stories abound of mistakes that can be made. I’ve seen some myself from the other side, and much hilarity has been had from our builder here confusing chicken and kitchen. Then there’s an English woman here who, whilst in the process of trying out her Greek, went into a bakers to ask for a large loaf of black bread and apparently ended up asking for a large black penis. Peos is penis whilst psomi is bread so I’m not sure how that happened – certainly some word I don’t know was involved.

And on that smutty note, consider that the verb endings I mentioned for agapo apply generally, then consider that the verb ‘I drink’ is pino. The English here generally choose the formal plural form of ‘you drink’ so as to avoid collapsing in giggles. But it’s one hell of a toast when you’ve had a few.

Let me re-iterate the disclaimer: the more I learn the more I know I know bugger all.


Stacey Smith said...

Now that was some fun reading.

Jebel Krong said...

the best way to learn any language is to be thrown in at the deepend - i have learned that one from experience...

cretan greek does sound awfully confusing though... i look forward to seeing a reference in your forthcoming books, no doubt! :p

Paul said...

At least you're trying and not just Speaking. Loudly. And. Slowly. In. English

'Εξυπνες Συμβουλές said...

Hi Neal , you can use this site to learn greek .

I have found it very easy. Good Luck!

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

lesson learned: dont say
"hi pal, i need black-bread and you know where the pen-is? for the love of miklos where can i get a stiff drink?" when in the land of omicron omega.

Bob Lock said...

Reminds me of when I lived in Italy and thought I could speak Italian, I was proved wrong when I went to a chemist's in the hope of finding one of those pumps for cleaning out your ears (been swimming and had a blocked ear). As 'pompa' means pump and usually Italians add 'inno' to words to show a diminutive or something small, i.e. Furgone-Van/Lorry Furgoncinno-Small Van/Lorry, I added it to pompa, making it pompinno. There lady assistant behind the counter wasn't amused, it was only later that I found out I had asked her for oral sex...

(Excuse my poor Italian above, it has been a while!)

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

what a prude!

Theo d'or said...

Hi Neal, I've worked in bars and as a windsurfing instructor in Spain and Turkey. learnt Turkish and Spanish along the way, too. Best way to learn a language is to get a book on basic grammar, so you know how the language works, then just start speaking. Forget a dictionary, ask people what words and things mean.

Apart from that I envy you. Loved the Mediterranean.