Ancient Macedonian language
|Spoken in:||Macedon (extinct language)|
|Language extinction:||absorbed by Common Greek in the Hellenistic Age|
|Language family:|| Indo-European|
possibly Greek genetic affiliation uncertain
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. See IPA chart for English for an English-
based pronunciation key.
The Ancient Macedonian language was the tongue of the Ancient Macedonians. It was spoken in Macedon during the 1st millennium BC. Marginalized from the 5th century BC, it was gradually replaced by the common Greek dialect of the Hellenistic Era. It was probably spoken predominantly in the inland regions away from the coast. It is as yet undetermined whether the language was a dialect of Greek, a sibling language to Greek, or an independent Indo-European language close to the Greek, Thracian and Phrygian languages.
Knowledge of the language is very limited because there are no surviving texts that are indisputably written in the language, though a body of authentic Macedonian words has been assembled from ancient sources, mainly from coin inscriptions, and from the 5th century lexicon of Hesychius of Alexandria, amounting to about 150 words and 200 proper names. Most of these are confidently identifiable as Greek, but some of them are not easily reconciled with standard Greek phonology. The 6,000 surving Macedonian inscriptions are in the Greek Attic dialect.
The Pella curse tablet, a text written in a distinct Doric Greek idiom, found in Pella in 1986, dated to between mid to early 4th centuries BC, has been forwarded as an argument that the ancient Macedonian language was a dialect of North-Western Greek, part of the Doric dialects (O. Masson, 1996). Before the discovery it was proposed that the Macedonian dialect was an early form of Greek, spoken alongside Doric proper at that time (Rhomiopoulou, 1980).
From the few words that survive, only a little can be said about it. A notable sound-law is that PIE voiced aspirates appear as voiced stops, written β, γ, δ in contrast to all known Greek dialects, which have unvoiced them to φ, χ, θ.
- Macedonian δανός danós ('death', from PIE *dhenh2- 'to leave'), compare Attic θάνατος thánatos
- Macedonian ἀβροῦτες abroûtes or ἀβροῦϜες abroûwes as opposed to Attic ὀφρῦς ophrûs for 'eyebrows'
- Macedonian Βερενίκη Bereníkē versus Attic Φερενίκη Phereníkē, 'bearing victory' *ἄδραια adraia ('bright weather'), compare Attic αἰθρία aithría, from PIE *h2aidh-
- βάσκιοι báskioi ('fasces'), from PIE *bhasko
- According to Hdt. 7.73 (ca. 440 BC), the Macedonians claimed that the Phryges were called Brygoi before they migrated from Thrace to Anatolia (around 1200 BC).
- μάγειρος mágeiros ('butcher') was a loan from Doric into Attic. Vittore Pisani has suggested an ultimately Macedonian origin for the word, which could then be cognate to μάχαιρα mákhaira ('knife', <PIE *magh-, 'to fight')
The same treatment is known from other Paleo-Balkan languages, e.g. Phrygian bekos ('bread'), Illyrian bagaron ('warm'), but Attic φώγω phōgō ('roast'), all from PIE *bheh3g-. Since these languages are all known via the Greek alphabet, which has no signs for voiced aspirates, it is unclear whether de-aspiration had really taken place, or whether β, δ, γ were just picked as the closest matches to express voiced aspirates.
If γοτάν gotán ('pig') is related to *gwou ('cattle'), this would indicate that the labiovelars were either intact, or merged with the velars, unlike the usual Greek treatment (Attic βοῦς boûs). Such deviations, however, are not unknown in Greek dialects; compare Doric (Spartan) γλεπ- glep- for common Greek βλεπ- blep-, as well as Doric γλάχων gláchōn and Ionic γλήχων glēchōn for common Greek βλήχων blēchōn.
A number of examples suggest that voiced velar stops were devoiced, especially word-initially: κάναδοι kánadoi, 'jaws' (<PIE *genu-); κόμβους kómbous, 'molars' (<PIE *gombh-); within words: ἀρκόν arkón (Attic ἀργός argós); the Macedonian toponym Akesamenai, from the Pierian name Akesamenos (if Akesa- is cognate to Greek agassomai, agamai, "to astonish"; cf. the Thracian name Agassamenos).
In Aristophanes' The Birds, the form κεβλήπυρις keblēpyris ('red-cap bird') is found, showing a Macedonian-style voiced stop in place of a standard Greek unvoiced aspirate: κεβ(α)λή keb(a)lē versus κεφαλή kephalē ('head').
Due to the fragmentary attestation various interpretations are possible. The suggested historical interpretations of Macedonian include:
- a Greek dialect, part of the North-Western (Locrian, Aetolian, Phocidian, Epirote) variants of Doric Greek , suggested by N.G.L. Hammond (1989) and O. Masson (1996).
- a northern Greek dialect, related to Aeolic Greek and Thessalian, suggested among others by A.Fick (1874) and O.Hoffmann (1906).
- a Greek dialect mixed with Illyrian languages or the Thracian language, suggested by Kretschmer (1896) and E. Schwyzer (1959).
- a Greek dialect with a non-Indo-European substratal influence, suggested by M. Sakellariou (1983).
- an "Illyrian" dialect mixed with Greek, suggested by K. O. Müller (1825) and by G. Bonfante (1987).
- an independent Indo-European language close to Greek, Thracian and Phrygian languages, suggested by A. Meillet (1913) and I. I. Russu (1938).
The discussion is closely related to the reconstruction of the Proto-Greek language.
Hellenic (Greaco-Macedonian) Group
Some linguists consider that the Macedonian tongue was a sibling language to all the Ancient Greek dialects, and not simply a Greek dialect. If this view is correct, then Macedonian and Greek would be the two subbranches of a group within Indo-European, forming a Graeco-Macedonian supergroup, "which could more properly be called Hellenic". This terminology may lead to misunderstandings, since the "Hellenic branch of Indo-European" is also used synonymously with the Greek branch (which contains all ancient and modern Greek dialects) in a narrower sense.
A number of the Macedonian words, particularly in Hesychius' lexicon, are disputed (i.e., some do not consider them actual Macedonian words) and some may have been corrupted in the transmission. Thus abroutes, may be read as abrouwes (αβρουϝες), with tau (Τ) replacing a digamma (F). If so, this word would perhaps be encompassable within a Greek dialect; however, others (e.g. A. Meillet) see the dental as authentic and think that this specific word would perhaps belong to an Indo-European language different from Greek.
Ancient Greek dialect
Another school of thought maintains that Macedonian was a Greek dialect. Those who favour a purely Greek nature of Macedonian as a northern Greek dialect are numerous and include early scholars like H. Ahrens and O. Hoffmann. A recent proponent of this school was Professor Olivier Masson, who in his article on the ancient Macedonian language in the third edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary tentatively suggested that Macedonian was related to North-Western Greek dialects:
- In our view the Greek character of most names is obvious and it is difficult to think of a Hellenization due to wholesale borrowing [...]The small minority of names which do not look Greek [...] may be due to a substratum or adstatum influences (as elsewhere in Greece).Macedonian may then be seen as a Greek dialect, characterized by its marginal position and by local pronunciations. Yet in contrast with earlier views which made of it an Aeolic dialect [...] we must by now think of a link with North-West Greek [...] We must wait for new discoveries, but we may tentatively conclude that Macedonian is a dialect related to North-West Greek.
As to Macedonian β, δ, γ = Greek φ, θ, χ, Claude Brixhe suggests that it is a later development: The letters do not designate voiced stops, i.e. [b, d, g], but voiced fricatives, i.e. [β, δ, γ], due to a devoicing of the voiceless fricatives [φ, θ, x] (= Classical Attic [ph, th, kh]). Brian Joseph sums up that "[t]he slender evidence is open to different interpretations, so that no definitive answer is really possible", but cautions that "most likely, Ancient Macedonian was not simply an Ancient Greek dialect on a par with Attic or Aeolic". In this sense, some authors also call it a "deviant Greek dialect."
Independent Palaeo-Balkan language
Some linguists consider that the Macedonian tongue was not only a separate language, but that it pertained to a different Indo-European branch rather than to a Hellenic (or Graeco-Macedonian) branch, and they propose that it was not especially close to Greek. They reject the strong Greek correspondences found in Macedonian and prefer to treat it as an Indo-European language of the Balkans, located geographically between Illyrian in the west and Thracian in the east.
Some hypothesize that linguistically Macedonian was between Illyrian and Thracian, a kind of intermediary language linking the two. A Thraco-Illyrian language group is highly disputed due to a lack of strong evidence (see Thraco-Illyrian), and a Thracian-Illyrian-(ancient) Macedonian genetic continuum is very speculative, although a Sprachbund in the area is possible. In 1999, A. Garrett has surmised that Macedonian may at an early stage have been part of a dialect continuum which spanned the ancestor dialects of all south-western Indo-European languages (including Greek), but that it then remained peripheral to later areal processes of convergence which produced Greek proper. He argues that under this perspective sound-change isoglosses such as the deaspiration of voiced stops may be of limited diagnostic value, while ultimately the question of whether Macedonian belongs or does not belong to a genetic union with Greek is moot.
The ancient Macedonian lexical stock reveals some words that do not have cognates in Greek, but do have in other Indo-European languages. There are also some words that do not have cognates in any other language, and may be of pre-Indo-European origin.
See main article Ancient Macedonians.
There are some classical references that have led a number of scholars to believe that some ancient Greeks viewed the ancient Macedonians as a non-Hellenic tribe, though other scholars maintain that the Macedonians were a Hellenic tribe. Among the references that may indicate that Macedonian was a Greek dialect, there is the dialogue between an Athenian and a Macedonian in an extant fragment of the 5th century BC comedy 'Macedonians' by the Athenian poet Strattis, where the Macedonian speech is presented as a form of Greek. The late historian Quintus Curtius suggests that the Macedonian language was not intelligble to the average speaking person (Hist. Alex. 6.11.4): "He (sc. Philotas) found the country people of Phrygia and Paphlagonia ridiculous, and he was not ashamed, though born in Macedonia, to have an interpreter with him when listening to people speaking his own language." However, this testimony is not conclusive.
Adoption of the Attic dialect
As southern Greek influence increased, Macedonians increasingly began to adopt the Attic dialect (in koine form) as their tongue, and over the centuries, Ancient Macedonian fell out of favor and became relegated to the remote inland areas. Eventually, Attic Greek supplanted it entirely, and Ancient Macedonian became extinct during the first few centuries of the Common Era. Exactly when its final traces disappeared is unknown and perhaps impossible to determine, since the tongue may at the end have survived only among a few individuals .
- ἄβαγνα ábagna 'roses' (Hes. Attic ῥόδα; perhaps Doric ἀβός abós 'young, luxuriant' + ἁγνός hagnós 'pure, chaste, unsullied')
- ἀβαρύ abarý 'oregano' (Hes. ὀρίγανον oríganon, perhaps Attic prefix α a 'not' + βαρύ barý 'heavy')
- ἀβροῦτες or ἀβροῦϜες abroûtes or abroûwes 'eyebrows' (Hes. Attic ὀφρῦς ophrûs acc. pl., ὀφρύες ophrúes nom., PIE *bhru-)
- ἄγημα ágēma, 'vanguard, guards' (Hes. Attic ἄγημα ágēma, PIE *ag-); cf. Polybius, Histories, 5.65.2
- ἀγκαλίς ankalís 'weight, burden, load' or 'sickle' (Hes. Attic ἄχθος ákhthos or δρέπανον drépanon, LSJ Attic ἀγκαλίς ankalís 'bundle', or in pl. ἀγκάλαι ankálai 'arms' (body parts), ἄγκαλος ánkalos 'armful, bundle', ἀγκάλη ankálē 'the bent arm' or 'anything closely enfolding', as the arms of the sea, PIE *ank 'to bend')
- ἀδῆ adē 'clear sky' or 'the upper air' (Hes. οὐρανός ouranós 'sky', LSJ and Pokorny Attic αἰθήρ aithēr 'ether, the upper, purer air', hence 'clear sky, heaven')
- ἄδις ádis 'hearth' (Hes. ἐσχάρα eskhára, LSJ Attic αἶθος aîthos 'fire, burning heat')
- ἄδραια ádraia 'fine weather, open sky' (Hes. Attic αἰθρία aithría, PIE *aidh-)
- ἀκρουνοί akrounoí 'boundary stones' nom. pl. (Hes. ὃροι hóroi, LSJ Attic ἄκρος ákros 'at the end or extremity', from ἀκή akē 'point, edge', PIE *ak 'summit, point' or 'sharp')
- ἀλίη alíē 'kapros, boarfish'
- ἄλιζα áliza (also alixa) 'alder' (Hes. Attic λεύκη leúkē 'poplar', perhaps Pokorny Attic ἐλάτη elátē 'fir, spruce', PIE *ol-, *el-)
- ἀμαλή amalē 'gentle' fem. (LSJ ἀμαλή, Attic ἁμαλή, ἁπαλή hamalē, hapalē)
- ἄξος áxos 'timber' (Hes. Attic ὓλη húlē)
- ἀορτής aortēs, 'swordsman' (Hes. ξιφιστής; Homer ἄορ áor 'sword'; Attic ἀορτήρ aortēr 'swordstrap', modern Greek αορτήρ aortír 'riflestrap'; hence aorta)
- ἄργελλα árgella 'bathing hut' (Cimmerian ἄργιλλα árgilla 'subterranean dwelling' (Ephorus in Strb. 5.4.5) , Old Indian argala-ḥ, argalā 'latch, bolt', PIE *areg-, hence Romanian argea (pl. argele), 'wooden construction', Albanian ragal 'cabin')
- ἀργιόπους argiópous 'eagle' (LSJ Attic ἀργίπους argípous 'swift- or white-footed', PIE *hrg'i-pods < PIE *arg + PIE *ped)
- ἀρκόν arkón 'leisure, idleness' (LSJ Attic ἀργός argós 'lazy, idle' nom. sing., ἀργόν acc.)
- ἄσπιλος áspilos 'torrent' (Hes. χείμαῤῥος kheímarrhos, Attic ἄσπιλος áspilos 'without stain, spotless, pure')
- βάσκιοι báskioi 'fasces' (Hes. Attic δεσμοὶ φρῡγάνων desmoì phrūgánōn, Pokorny Macedonian βασκευταί baskeutaí, Attic φασκίδες phaskídes, perhaps Attic φάσκωλος pháskōlos 'leather sack', PIE *bhasko-)
- γοτάν gotán 'pig' acc. sing. (PIE *gwou- 'cattle', (Attic βοτόν botón ' beast', in plural βοτά botá 'grazing animals')
- γράβιον grábion 'torch' (PIE *grabh-, 'hornbeam', Umbrian Grabovius an oak-god, etymologically linked by LSJ and Pokorny to Attic κράβ(β)ατος kráb(b)atos 'couch, bed', Latin grabātus - which LSJ derives from Macedonian - hence modern Greek κρεβάτι kreváti 'bed')
- δανός danós 'death', δανῶν danōn 'murderer' (Hes. Attic thánatos θάνατος 'death', from root θαν- than-)
- δάρυλλος dárullos 'oak' (Hes. Attic δρῦς drûs, PIE *doru-)
- ἐταῖροι etaîroi 'comrades' nom. pl. (Attic ἑταῖροι hetaîroi, PIE *swe-t-aro < suffixed form of *swe)
- ἴλαξ ílax 'the holm-oak, evergreen or scarlet oak' (Hes. Attic πρῖνος prînos, Latin ilex)
- καλαῤῥυγαί kalarrhugaí 'ditches, trenches' (Hes. τάφροι - attributed to Amerias) -LSJ: Ambraciot word, acc. to Sch.Gen.Iliad 21.259 (in form kalarua).
- κάναδοι kánadoi 'jaws' nom. pl. (Attic γνάθοι gnáthoi, PIE *genu, 'jaw')
- κάραβος kárabos
- 'gate, door' (Hes. Attic 'meat roasted over coals'; Attic karabos 'stag-beetle'; 'crayfish'; 'light ship'; hence modern Greek καράβι karávi)
- 'the worms in dry wood' (Attic 'stag-beetle, horned beetle; crayfish')
- 'a sea creature' (Attic 'crayfish, prickly crustacean; stag-beetle')
- κίκεῤῥοι kí[k]erroi 'pale ones (?)' (Hes. Attic ὦχροι ōkhroi, PIE *k̂ik̂er- 'pea')
- κλινότροχον klinótrokhon, according to Theophrastus a sort of maple of Stageira, Pokorny Attic γλεῖνον gleînon), LSJ: γλῖνος glînos or γλεῖνος gleînos, Cretan maple, Acer creticum', Thphr.HP3.3.1, 3.11.2.
- κόμβους kómbous 'molars' acc. pl. (Attic γομφίους gomphíous, dim. of γόμφος gómphos 'a large, wedge-shaped bolt or nail; any bond or fastening', PIE *gombh-)
- λακεδάμα lakedáma 'salt water with garlic', Hes.; according to Albrecht von Blumenthal, -ama corresponds to Attic ἁλμυρός halmurós 'salty'; laked- is cognate to English leek, possibly related is Λακεδαίμων Laked-aímōn, the name of the Spartans.
- λείβηθρον leíbēthron 'stream' (Hes. Attic ῥεῖθρον rheîthron, also λιβάδιον libádion, 'a small stream', dim. of λιβάς libás; PIE *lei, 'to flow'); note typical Greek productive suffix -θρον (-thron)
- Πύδνα Púdna, a toponym (Pokorny Attic πυθμήν puthmēn 'bottom, sole, base of a vessel'; PIE *bhudhnā; Attic πύνδαξ pýndax 'bottom of vessel')
- σάρισσα sárissa (also σάρισα sarisa), a long pike used by the Macedonian phalanx (Theophrastus, Polybius; etymology unknown – Blumenthal reconstructs *skwrvi-entia- to a root for 'cut', but this is speculative; perhaps Attic σαίρω saírō 'to show the teeth, grin like a dog', esp. in scorn or malice, also 'to sweep clean or away')
- Ancient Greece
- Proto-Greek language
- Paleo-Balkan languages