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A Greek Gypsy Dialect In Historical Perspective Gordon M. Messing The scientific study of Romany, the language of the Gypsies, began around the middle of the 19th century with A. F. Pott's pioneering work, Die Zigeuner in Europa und Asien. ' It is a sobering thought that we are now nearly 150 years down the road from that beginning, and that in the nature of things both the Romany people and their language have suffered radical changes. Wars, migrations, technological progress, the growth of new political divisions in Europe, persecution of the Gypsies and eventually the murder of many thousands of them in the Nazi death camps—all of these factors have exerted a potent influence on both the Gypsies and on Romany. We have meanwhile gathered an immense amount of fresh data, corrected many errors, traced dialect affiliations and engaged in historical linguistic reconstruction. It should be of interest in many of those areas where we have enough material from the earliest periods of scholarship to make a comparison with current data and take note of agreements and disagreements. I believe that a vista on a particular sector of Romany is afforded us by one of the fundamental books about Romany, Alexander Paspati's famous Etudes sur les Tchinghianés ou Bohémiens de l'Empire Ottoman.2 Paspati was both medical doctor and savant. His profession gave him unusual access to the Gypsies, and he was able to gather material not only from sedentary Gypsies but also from the wildest nomads, the so-called Zapari, who in fact provided him with the greater part of his lexicon. My intention in the present paper is to make some selected comparisons between the dialect described by Paspati and some data of my own which I have collected in the last few years in the Athenian suburb of Agia Varvara. It seems to me that such an attempt is entirely justified, since I am firmly convinced that the Gypsy community in Agia Varvara, not to make larger assumptions for the present about other Greek Gypsies, reached Athens from Turkey. This 121 122 Gordon M. Messing would therefore constitute a migration comparable to other migrations described within the framework of the present conference. Let me venture one methodological observation concerning Paspati's work which has been raised by Jan Kochanowski in the first volume of his Gypsy Studies} Paspati included very few words in his lexicon of non-Romany provenience. This means that the vocabulary he has furnished us must be somewhat falsified since, as he specifically stated, the speech of all the Gypsies encountered by him contained numerous loan words, mainly from Turkish and Greek. For my purpose here, it would have been extremely useful to know exactly which borrowed words were in current use at the time. Naturally , Paspati's aim was rather to seek out genuine Romany words, even if they had fallen into disuse. He was careful, however, to distinguish the sources of this vocabulary, differentiating sedentary from nomad Gypsy usage and where possible even indicating strata within these basic components. A few words now on the Gypsy community of Agia Varvara. There are several hundred Gypsy families forming a substantial minority in the Greek population of this rather poor neighborhood adjoining Aigaleo and about halfway between Athens and Piraeus. When I spoke with the mayor some years ago he indicated that he had only a minimum of contact with and very little interest in his Gypsy fellow-residents. There is, however, a Gypsy social organization which has increasingly worked to register the Gypsies and put pressure on the social ministries of the Greek Government for better housing and other welfare benefits. I might add that many Greeks, and not merely those in Agia Varvara, tend to look upon all Gypsies with aversion and suspicion, and it is hardly a secret that they are undoubtedly the lowest esteemed of all minority peoples in Greece. Nonetheless, the standard of living of these Gypsies has risen somewhat in the last few years. All of these Gypsies, except for very small children, are necessarily bilingual in Greek and Romany. Although older Gypsies are all illiterate, the generation between 18 and 35...


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