Romeyka, or Pontiaka (Pontic Greek), a Greek dialect spoken by a few thousand people living in remote mountain villages of the Pontos region in northern Turkey, has been described as a “living bridge” connecting the ancient Greek language to the modern era.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have found that Romeyka descended not from Modern Greek but from the Hellenistic Greek spoken before the time of Christ. This means it bears striking similarities to the Greek spoken in the time of Homer and the ancient world.

Romeyka preserves the ancient infinitive form for verbs, such as “I want to go” rather than the modern “I want that I go.” Unfortunately, Romeyka faces extinction due to its lack of a written form and the dwindling number of elderly speakers. To preserve its unique linguistic structures before it’s too late, Cambridge professor Ioanna Sitaridou has launched the Crowdsourcing Romeyka project. The project invites the scattered Romeyka-speaking diaspora worldwide to upload recordings of themselves speaking the language.

Sitaridou’s research indicates that Romeyka is a “sister” to Modern Greek rather than a daughter language. This challenges the idea that Modern Greek is a linguistic isolate unrelated to other European tongues. The Greek presence in the Black Sea region has a rich history, but Romeyka’s origins blend history and legend. Christianity played a significant role in the spread of Greek, and some Muslim communities in mountain valleys like Trabzon retained Romeyka while Christian Greek communities gravitated toward the modern standard.

The endangerment of Romeyka comes from various factors, including time, cultural stigma, and migration. However, preserving minority languages allows speakers to maintain their sense of identity and connection to the past, says Sitaridou. The online crowdsourcing offers a “last chance” to record Romeyka’s unique linguistic legacy, bridging the millennia from ancient to modern Greek.

Visit the Crowdsourcing Romeyka project website