Audio Recording of “Language of Stone”

translated by Peter Constantine
Photo by Nikos Patsiouris
Photo by Katerina Cheiladaki

Translator’s note: Arvanitika, or Arberishte as it is called in the Corinthian mountain villages, is one of the many languages in the world facing extinction. It was once spoken in central Greece and in the Peloponnese and its islands. It has no official writing system or dictionaries and has never been standardized or taught in schools. The few remaining speakers often have no one in their communities with whom they can speak their mother tongue.


Γκλιούχα Εγκούρτε

Ντούα τε σκρούανιε ντίτσι γκα ατό τσ καμ μπένε,
καμ ρούαρρε, καμ ντζίνε,
εδέ νούκου τσιόνιε ξίουνε σι τσ ε θόινε πρίντε,
Αρμπερόρτε ντ Αρμπιρίστε. 

Σκαμ κου τ βέτε, τ μ ντίγνιενε τ ε κουλιτόνιε·
ψε ντ μος ε κουλιτόνιε ου ι ζοτι νουκου ε σκρούανιε.
ψε σντούα νιε ντε νιε κιντ τε μος γέτε εβιρτέτα.
Σκόνιενε ντίτα, γάβε, χερε χερε εδέ μούαι τσ καμ μπέτουρε ντ νιέ μερέ. 

Πίενιε νιέριζιτε τίμ, μίκιτε τσ ντίνε Αρμπιρίστε,
μος κουλιτόνενε ατά, σι ε θόινε τε βιέτιριτε.
Πο νούκου τσόνιε τ ντίχουρε, ούτε νιέ ντ νιέ μίλι.
Μπ τ σούματε χέρε, σι τσ φλε, στρίδινιε μέντε τ πρίρετε πράπα
τριζέτ βίτρα τσ γκίγκιεσι ξίουνε τσ καμ χαρούαρε

εδέ σι τσ ζγκιόνεμε μ κα άρδουρε ντ μέντε
ε σκρούανιε σπέιτ ντ νιέ κάρτε τσ καμ ατιέ μινιάνε.


Language of Stone

I try to write something I have done,
I have lived, I have learned,
but I cannot remember a word once spoken by my ancestors,
Arberors speaking Arberishte.

I have no one to turn to who might help me remember;
if I cannot quite remember the word I will not write it.
I do not want there to be one in a hundred chances that I might get the word wrong.
Days pass, weeks pass, sometimes months, as I linger in mid-line.

I ask my people, friends who still know Arberishte,
if they remember how our ancestors once said a thing.
But I find no help, not once in a thousand.
I wring my mind in sleep, back sixty years
when I last heard the word I have forgotten.

As I wake it is there and I write it
on a piece of paper I keep by my side.

Translation from the Arvanitika
By Peter Constantine


Yorgos Soukoulis was born in 1932 in the Corinthian Arvanit mountain village of Agios Yiannis. After an early life as a shepherd, he joined the Greek air force, retiring in the 1980s with the rank of air marshal. He began writing at the age of seventy, exclusively in Arvanitika. English translations of his poetry have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation

Peter Constantine’s recent translations include works by Augustine, Rousseau, Machiavelli, and Tolstoy; he is a Guggenheim Fellow and was awarded the PEN Translation Prize for Six Early Stories, by Thomas Mann, and the National Translation Award for The Undiscovered Chekhov. He is Professor of Translation Studies at the University of Connecticut.