Ancient Macedonian Language Part II

Taken from: Macedonia: 4000 years of Greek history and civilization
edited by Professor M. B. Sakellariou and published by EKDOTIKI ATHINON.

When i need to write something in Greek I use the following convention:
g for gamma
h for eta
j for ksi
y for upsilon
c for psi
v for omega
thus the greek alphabet becomes

Various pointers to references are omitted.

The Macedonian Tongue (excerpts from pages 54-63)

The earliest Macedonian written documents contain only names. When more extensive Macedonian texts begin to appear, they are expressed in the Attic dialect. This fact furnishes one of the arguments used by those who deny that the Macedonians were Greeks and claim that the Macedonians were a people who spoke a different tongue and who became hellenized. Those who support the view that the Macedonian were Greeks counter that their kings introduced the attic dialect into the court and the administration because the local dialect was undeveloped. Attic thus became widespread among the Macedonians as a means of expressing themselves in writing. Both these explanations are hypotheses that require proof. And the proof of either depends on other factors that will be examined below.

Despite the lack of Macedonian texts written in the local language the nature of Macedonian may be discerned from certain testimonia; from about 100 surviving Macedonian words; and from several hundred Macedonian names.

1) TESTIMONIA. There are three ancient pieces of indirect evidence of a conclusive nature:
a) in a scene from the attic comedy MACEDONIANS, by the fifth century writer Stattis, an Athenian asks “h sfyraina d’ esti tis;” (‘sledfish, what do you mean?’) and a Macedonian replies “kestran men ymmes vttikoi iklhskete” (‘wha ye Attics ca’ a hammer-fush,
ma freen’) .
In order to appreciate the value of the Macedonian’s reply for the problem under discussion we must not forget that as is clear from many passages in Aristophanes, the attic comedians made their non-Greeks speak broken Greek with an admixture of barbarian words (some of them imaginary) while Lacedaemonians, Megarians Boiotians and other Greeks spoke their own dialects.
The Macedonian’s reply is in good Greek with dialect (ymes, sfyraina) and archaizing elements (kiklhskete)

b) Alexander the Great having selected thirty thousand Persian youths, gave an order that they were to “learn Greek letters and be trained in the use of Macedonian weapons“. From this it may be deduced that the Macedonian soldiers spoke Greek: It would be pointless to teach the young Persians who were to fight alongside the Macedonians a language that the Macedonians did not understand.

c) an ambassador from Macedonia speaking to the Aitolians in 200BC says of the Macedonians, the Aitolians and the Arkanians that they spoke the same language.

The expressions “aneboa makedonisti” “makedonisti th fvnh” klp have been taken by opponents of the thesis that the Macedonians were Greeks as indicating that their language differed from Greek; the supporters of this thesis declare that these formulation indicate a Greek dialect (cf “aiolizein th fvnh”, “attikizei”, “attikisti”, “boivtiazein”,”dvrizein” etc). The expressions are in fact susceptible of either interpretation and cannot therefore be used to form part of the argumentation with which either is supported. Their sense will become clear after Maceonian has been shown to be Greek, or not, from other data.


2) 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, with 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 “sfyraina” and the form “ymmesARE NOT attic in origin and are attributed to the Macedonians half a century before the accession of Philip.
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 MA\acedonians; 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 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 contain 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 didn’t 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.