Makedonika II: The Ancient Macedonian Words


AncientMacedonianHistory1 Makedonika II: The Ancient Macedonian Words

 Today, over a hundred Macedonian words and a few hundred Macedonian names are known from a variety of sources. Although the names presuppose words, they will be examined separately for a number of methodological reasons.

A total of one hundred and twelve words, with ninety-nine different stems, are attested directly. Of these, sixty-five words, or sixty-three stems, have been preserved in lexica, while forty-seven words, with thirty-six stems, survive in various ancient texts, none of which is Macedonian. All the words in the second group are Greek. The opponents of the view that the Macedonians were Greeks refuse to take them into consideration, arguing that they were all words borrowed by the Macedonians from Greek at the time they began to use the Attic dialect as the official language — which they ascribe to the reign of Philip II.

a) the word σφύραινα and the form ΰμμες are not Attic in origin, and are attributed to the Macedonians half a century before the accession of Philip (see above);

b) the majority of these words are military and, as has already been observed, it would be illogical to suppose that Philip would impose a foreign military terminology on the Macedonians; moreover, twelve of these same words are not attested as common to all dialects and fourteen more, while being common words, have a different meaning in Macedonian.

In dealing with the Macedonian material in the lexica, the opponents of the view that the Macedonians were Greeks have made use to varying extents of the following method: they select from amongst these words the ones that cannot be shown to have a Greek derivation; they do not always inquire whether the form of some of these has changed as a result of copying errors; they suggest derivations for these words from Indo-European roots without always demonstrating adequately that their derivations are well-grounded; using this kind of etymology as their point of departure they draw up rules for the conversion of Indo-European vowels or consonants to ‘Macedonian'; finally, since the same rules can be detected in words that are not attested as Macedonian in the sources, they declare that these words, notwithstanding, should be considered Macedonian.”

The latest, and most complete, monograph on the nationality of the Macedonians, devotes hundreds of pages to the study of Macedonian words, and contains some perceptive critical observations and original views. It concludes that fifty-two of the sixty-five words in the lexica are Greek, while the remaining thirteen include not only genuinely non-Greek words but also ambiguous forms, copyists’ errors and words used by children.

Let us assume, however, that all the Macedonian words handed down by the lexica are demonstrably non-Greek (which is not claimed even by the most extreme opponents of the theory that the Macedonians were Greeks). Even in this eventuality, it would not necessarily follow that the Macedonians did not speak Greek. The reason is that these words are not a representative sample of the Macedonian tongue. This would require that they had been preserved at random and from a variety of sources. Quite the reverse is true: they have all been catalogued in lexica whose purpose is the interpretation of rare words only. It follows that the Alexandrian scholars who were the first to compose lexica of this sort (the forerunners of the surviving lexica in which the words in question are preserved) found only a few dozen Macedonian words that required interpretation. However, there is no language or dialect that does not have a number of words of foreign origin.

Michael B. Sakellariou – Macedonia, 4000 years of Greek history

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Want more of this? See these Posts:

  1. Makedonika II – The Ancient Macedonian Names
  2. Ancient Macedonian Language Part II
  3. Makedonika II: The Ancient Macedonian Language (Testimonia)
  4. Makedonika I: The Ancient Macedonian Testimonies (Literary Sources)
  5. Makedonika Collection – The Ancient Macedonian Ethnicity and Language