Leading article: Not such a dead language

Monday 03 January 2011 01:00

It is a taunt that anyone who has ever studied classical languages will have heard: What's the point? Where are you going to speak Latin or ancient Greek? Well that argument loses a little of its force with the identification of a small community in northern Turkey that converses in a Greek dialect that seems intriguingly similar to the language of Pericles, Plato and Socrates.

The Romeyka community on the Black Sea coast even play the lyre. If they were to wear chitons and take up the study of philosophy, they could open up an ancient Greek theme park and make a large number of classics professors around the world very happy.

The community lives on the site of the ancient Greek region of Pontus, from where Jason and his Argonauts were supposed to have set out on their quest to find the Golden Fleece. And like Jason, linguists have a considerable job on their hands. They need to complete their studies before the language, which has only 5,000 speakers left, becomes extinct. We wish them good fortune on their quest. But might we also suggest that, while they are there, they check whether any of the Romeykans possess a particularly luxurious, gleaming, sheepskin rug...

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