Neos Kosmos: Free online course plots a way to Pontian language, culture and history through its songs.

An accessible way to learn a language, its history and culture is through the songs it has inspired and educator Kostas Pataridis has tapped into this rich vein for the free online course on the Pontian dialect of the Black Sea region offered in partnership by Pontiaki Estia, Merimna Pontion Kyrion and Sts Anargiri Greek Language Centre.

Mr Pataridis, who is teaches Legal Studies and Business Management and is the Co-Principal of Sts Anargiri Greek Language Centre in Oakleigh, started the course during the first lockdown in April as a “no-pressure” introduction to the Pontian dialect.

“It is presented in a nice, relaxed way so that you can mistakes and there is no criticism. Each session is with a group of 10 people which is a good basis for a course. The number is increasing each session which is a positive sign that people want to get in touch with their culture even during these difficult times” said Mr Pataridis.

The songs used in the course are derived from the Akritika folkloric tradition and were useful for the course participants to break down and understand the language used while learning something of the traditions and history reflected in the song.

He cited the song I Lemona, which many have thought incorrectly was a traditional song about a lemon tree. Mr Pataridis said the song referred to the Mother of the Sun and was about nature, as the word translates into the “sun’s mother” (του ήλιου η μάνα – ήλεμονα– λεμόνα). It refers to a passer-by taking a fruit from the tree and apologising to the tree if it has damaged it.

“We explain the words of the song and how they relate to historical and cultural context. We work out the important concerns of the participants.”

While the Pontian communities of the Black Sea had created libraries and famous schools in the region, the language did not have a written tradition. Mr Pataridis said the languages lived on in song and oral traditions passed down mainly in the parakath, which were family gatherings where stories were shared and songs sung as a form of entertainment bringing the local neighbourhood together.

The dialect continued to survive after the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey in the aftermath of the First World War. However, there was pressure to speak only Greek in the following years.

READ MORE: Encomium to Trebizond – historical exploration of the Pontian identity

Pontian has been classified by UNESCO in its world atlas as language/dialect that is in danger of disappearing.

“Other groups of Greeks have kept their dialects alive and speak them better than the Pontians do with their own dialects. I think the reason is because we became detached from Pontos,” said Mr Pataridis, who was born in Australia. He learnt the language from listening to his grandparents parents speak.

He shared a story where in the car, his older brother would ask his father for translations of songs and he would sit in the back listening and absorbing the explanations.

The disclaimer about learning Pontian is that while there are two main sub-groups of the dialect, each has many variants.

The courses are open to anyone, with the sessions so far devoted to providing a historical context and learning the Pontian names for the months of the year.

“These are not lectures but a conversation and a way of learning the language together. It is an attempt to maintain the Pontian language and is also a way of being together in a social gathering to use the dialects. It would be unfortunate if our generation subjected the dialect to it’s extinction,” said.

♦ For more information and to enrol in the course contact Mr Pataridis on email: