Interview with George Galdies, Alex Baltazzi and George Poulimenos, authors of ‘A Lexicon of Smyrneika’, October 2012
1- What brought the idea of the book?
As indicated in George Poulimenos’s preface, this was initiated by George Galdies who had this as a project close to his heart, especially after a successful Symposium in Izmir in 2010 demonstrated an interest in Smyrna of old. Alex Baltazzi, an indisputable expert in Smyrnean history, embraced the project with enthusiasm and was soon followed by George Poulimenos, an amateur Greek linguist who could not resist the challenge of taking on the role of draft editor, moderator, and etymological researcher.
2- What earlier sources were you able to use, were they reliable or at times misleading?
Our main resources were the joint memories of Romeika of Alex and George, notes from George’s father, and comments made in Izmir to Alex. We have no recollection of any misleading resources, but literature on Smyrna and recollections of old Levantines corroborated our definitions.
3- Is this now a ‘dead’ language, or is it alive as long as at least one (Izmir Levantine?) family still speaks it at least occasionally at home?
The accepted rule of thumb for a language to be dead, is that there is none left speaking it. This is not the case for Smyrneika, since there are plenty of Levantines in Izmir and overseas who still speak it, also Greeks in Cyprus (in their cuisine), and even a few Greeks in Australia as we understand, still use some Smyrneika words. To a certain extend it could also be said the language is being kept alive in Greece thanks to the lyrics in Smyrneika Songs and Rebetika music.
4- No doubt there were disagreements between you 3 researchers / authors. Do some of these different interpretations still survive or were you able to come to a satisfactory conclusion with all the ‘troublesome’ words?
There were disagreements, mostly due to interpretation of some words. Since Smyrneika and English are both ‘plastic’ languages, the authors considered it their duty to convey the exact meaning, and since a compromise is out of question on a work of this kind, in some cases all meanings were reflected.
5- This language was clearly born out of necessity with a whole variety nations flocking to this once vital port on the Aegean. Did you detect an evolution in the use of some words, words that changed their meaning or emphasis of meaning over time?
We researched and highlighted the evolution of such words, since the Turkish language itself had also evolved from Ottoman into modern Turkish, the authors used great diligence for the contemporary equivalent meaning also to be shown.
6- The nature of the mix of merchant population of Smyrna / Izmir changed over the centuries. Did you also detect this influence mirrored in the words imported into Smyrneika?
Absolutely, and our etymological entries reflect this.
7- Were there regional differences in Smyrneika, either in terms of ethnicity (Greeks vs. Levantines) or region, Smyrna vs. the coastal zones north and south you detected?
The main differences we detected were between ethnic Greek speakers who received Hellenic schooling, and Levantines. And even amongst Levantines, we detected a few differences in pronunciations and accents. For example between Cordelio and Punta.
8- To what extent was Smyrneika also a written language, including letters and diaries? Can you mention any book titles?
Smyrneika was widely used in private correspondence, food recipes, song lyrics, poetry, but above all hymnals, prayer books, and such religious writings. As a live examples, the hymn to St Roche: an important saint for Smyrna and the Islands because of the Plague, and hymns to St Polycarp are written in Fragohiotika and sung in Romeika. Diaries on the whole were written in whatever language the diary keeper had been schooled in; ie French, Italian, English…
9- Your book was published in 3 languages, which is a feat in itself. However some may regret it was also not published in French and Italian. What would your response to them be?
We were very much aware of it, but the task was hard enough as it was. Our next effort will be to add French and Italian, too.
10- I remember the late Edward de Jongh who I used to regulary interview as an ‘old timer’ would refer to the Levantine term of ‘Kouvardaliki’ (meaning to party), which I find is not in your listing and clearly there are still words to be added to the 2000 you have amassed and recorded. Is the project still on-going and is there a way for people to contribute to this effort?
We each have a list or words we had remembered too late for this edition. Regarding the word kouvardaliki; we have the noun kouvardas. Kouvardaliki (kouvardalikia the pl. form) is/are the actions of a kouvarda. Anyone wishing to contribute missing words is welcome to submit them to any of, or to all three authors.
Interview conducted by Craig Encer, October 2012.