Albanian in Italy
Institut de Sociolingüística Catalana
Version française
Albanian in Italy
  1. Introduction
  2. The language in the country
    1. General information on the language community
    2. Geographical and language background
    3. General history and history of the language
    4. Legal status and official policies
  3. The use of the language in various fields
    1. Education
    2. Judicial Authorities
    3. Public Authorities and services
    4. Mass media and Information technology
    5. The Arts
    6. The business world
    7. Family and social use of the language
    8. Transnational exchanges
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

There is no dat for this topic.

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2. The language in the country

2.1. General information on the language community

There is no dat for this topic.

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2.2. Geographical and language background

The Albanian dialect of Italy, a language that now bears little resemblance to the standard language of Albania, which is called Shqip, is spoken over a wide area comprising 49 towns and villages, a veritable archipelago of linguistic islands extending from the Abruzzi Appenines to the south of Italy and to Sicily and situated mainly in mountainous or semi-mountainous regions. These communities are dispersed among seven regions (Abruzzi, Molise, Puglia, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily) and nine provinces (Pescara, Campobasso, Avellino, Foggia, Taranto, Potenza, Cosenza, Catanzaro and Palermo).

Various sources put the number of Albanian speakers in Italy at around 100,000, although it has not been possible to obtain reliable statistics since 1921, when Italy discontinued the practice of collecting census data on linguistic minorities. Moreover, the most reliable sources suggest that between 10 and 20% of the ethnic Albanians in Italy no longer speak the language, which would reduce this figure to between 80,000 and 90,000. In addition, there is a marked, if unquantifiable, decline in the use of Albanian for social interaction among young people, who prefer to use Italian or the Romance dialects of the various regions in which they live.

The Albanian communities, mainly rooted in semi-rural and rural regions of southern Italy, are experiencing the same depopulation phenomenon as is observable in the Italian- and Greek-speaking communities of the region. Massive emigration to the industrial centres of Italy and western Europe is due to a lack of job opportunities and to the gradual and increasingly rapid abandonment of traditional economic activities (cultivation, crafts and trades, livestock farming). The emigration process was particularly intense during the fifties and sixties. Calculations undertaken at the time reveal that the regions where ethnic Albanians live lost almost 20% of their total population during that period. Moreover, the entire Mezzogiorno is suffering constant demographic erosion, despite the large number of retired persons who settle there each year.

The inhabitants who have stayed put are primarily employed in the commercial and service sector (especially in education), whereas there has been a gradual drain on the farming and artisan population. The standard of living in the entire area is noticeably lower than the rest of the country, some sources assessing it at almost 50% below the national average.

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2.3. General history and history of the language

The Albanian spoken in Italy (also called arbërisht, aljbrisht, arbresh or arbëresh) has its origins in the successive migrations of Albanians to Italy which took place from the mid- 15th to the mid-17th centuries, although some Albanians had already settled there in the 13th and 14th centuries. The greatest waves of immigrants arrived during the second half of the 15th century, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the death in 1468 of Skanderbeg, who had successfully led the resistance to the Turkish invaders. These Albanian communities were shaped mainly by warriors and peasants who long enjoyed full administrative autonomy. They were also granted the right to repopulate villages which had been abandoned by their former inhabitants. From the 17th century, however, numerous Albanians, chiefly in Molise and Puglia, were forced to give up their Orthodox faith in the religious repression that sought to eradicate the Orthodox element in southern Italy. For all that, the Albanians managed to preserve a sense of common cultural identity, which enabled them to develop their culture in the course of the 16th century, thanks to numerous translations of classical texts and the emergence of important authors who wrote in Albanian.

During the 19th century, the dynamism of the Graeco-Albanian schools of Calabria and Sicily served to generate intense cultural development among the Albanian communities of southern Italy. Numerous Albanian intellectuals, for example, played an active part in the cultural renaissance of the southern regions of Italy and in the political movement of the Italian Rissorgimento. The second half of the 19th century saw the creation of newspapers and magazines in Albanian.

The late fifties marked the start of a certain cultural revival of Albanian, thanks to the founding of the Associazione Italiana per i Rapporti Culturali Italo-Albanesi, which published the journal Rassegna di Studi Albanesi from 1961 to 1963. Other cultural activities for the promotion of Albanian were the magazines Zgjimi, which disappeared in the late sixties, and Shêjzat, which was published from 1957 and 1974, the creation in 1969 of the Unione delle Comunità Italo-Albanesi and the founding of the Lega Italiana di Difesa della Minoranza Albanese in Cosenza in 1981, the celebration of the Settimane della Cultura Albanese in 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1981 and of the Prima Settimana della Cultura del Cossovo in Italia in 1980.

Nowadays, however, Albanian in Italy has all the characteristics of the subordinate language in a diglossia situation. There is no organized Albanian cultural movement - apart from the AIADI (Associazione degli Insegnanti Albanesi d'Italia) - covering all of the areas inhabited by Albanian communities; cultural and linguistic initiatives always result from individual ideas which are subsequently supported by particular defenders of the language and certain local public authorities, ideas such as the literacy classes and courses in Albanian culture organized in some villages in 1987 by Education Office No 19 for Castrovillari with assistance from the EC.

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2.4. Legal status and official policies

The Albanian language spoken in Italy is not one of the group of minority languages that enjoy the special protection of the State under Article 6 of the Italian Constitution. At regional level, however, Albanian is accorded some degree of official recognition in the autonomy statutes of Calabria, Basilicata and Molise. In the case of Calabria, the region is to provide for recognition of the historical culture and artistic heritage of the populations of Albanian and Greek origin and to promote the teaching of the two languages in the places where they are spoken. Article 5 of the autonomy statute of Basilicata lays down that the regional authorities "shall promote renewed appreciation of the originality of the linguistic and cultural heritage of the local communities". Finally, the autonomy statute of the Molise region stipulates that the region "shall be the guardian of the linguistic and historical heritage and of the popular traditions of the ethnic communities existing in its territory and, by agreement with the interested municipalities, shall promote renewed appreciation of them". In certain communes the local authorities support cultural and linguistic activities promoted by the ethnic Albanian communities and have agreed to the erection of bilingual road signs.

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3. The use of albanian in various fields

3.1. Education

There is no official teaching of Albanian at preschool and primary levels within the Italian education system, apart from some courses outside compulsory school hours without any continuity, despite the fact that a large number of Albanian-speakers would like to see the introduction of compulsory Albanian classes in primary schools.

At secondary level there is only one regular course, offered as an option at the San Demetrio Corone senior grammar school, while some schools in other villages occasionally run optional Albanian courses. The 50 or so pupils who are taking these courses are experiencing serious problems in finding textbooks in Albanian.

As far as technical and vocational education are concerned, there is a total absence of Albanian, and the same applies to adult education.

As for teacher training, Albanian is available as a subject of study for future secondary teachers during their degree courses at the universities of Rome, Naples, Bari, Cosenza and Palermo, but, since there is only one regular official post for a teacher of Albanian (at San Demetrio Corone), potential teachers of Albanian have to commit themselves to teaching another modern language in view of the fact that the chances of obtaining a post as a teacher of Albanian in any other secondary school are practically nil. Two refresher courses for Albanian-speaking primary-school teachers were organized by AIADI in 1965 and 1975, thanks to government support.

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3.2. Judicial authorities

Albanian is never used in court proceedings.

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3.3. Public authorities and services

It is sometimes possible to use Albanian in the post offices of certain villages with a large ethnic Albanian majority. Moreover, in certain Albanian communities the names of public streets and squares are properly signposted in Albanian, while local authorities also permit the adoption of forenames in their Albanian form. As for public signposts, although public buildings such as town halls are signposted in Italian only, the signs marking the boundaries of certain villages, as well as nameboards of schools and other municipal services, are written in Albanian and Italian.

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3.4. Mass media and information technology

The Italian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression in the media, although the national, regional and local authorities do not encourage the use of Italy's minority languages.

There is no daily newspaper in Albanian, but there are some periodical publications that receive a small subsidy from the local authorities in Calabria: (a) Zjarri, published at irregular intervals, a scientific and linguistic periodical with 30% of its content in Albanian; (b) Katundi Ynë, a popular quarterly magazine with about 20 to 30% of its content in Albanian; (c) Kalendari i Arbëreshvet, an annual publication, 80 to 90% of which is in Albanian. Mention should also be made of the existence of the magazine Zëri i Arbëreshvet and the appearance of some articles in Albanian in the Italian newspaper Renascita Sud. Nevertheless, it must be said that the number of Albanian periodicals has dwindled over the last few years, although the newspaper La Gazzetta di Mezzogiorno publishes a supplement, half of which is written in Albanian and which is addressed to readers from Albania and reaches the various Albanian communities of southern Italy.

As far as the audiovisual media are concerned, only the private radio stations Radio Libera Skanderbeg and Radio Shpresa Europa broadcast some programmes in Albanian with the sporadic support of certain local authorities. However, since none of these magazines and radio stations covers the entire territory in which the Albanian communities live and since the language is fragmented into numerous dialects, the articles and broadcasts are sometimes difficult for some of the Albanian-speakers to understand.

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3.5. The Arts

Some works in Albanian have been published over the past few years (poetry, new pastoral messages and religious works), although we cannot give the number of copies printed.

There is a group called Moti i Parë, from Lungro, who perform popular and traditional music, and a rock group, the Peppa Mariti Band from Santa Sofia d'Epiro, as well as the pop singer Pino Cacozza. Only Pino Cacozza and Moti i Parë have released cassettes of their music. There is also an annual Arbëreshe song festival, the impact of which seems to be fading as the years go by.

Finally, it seems that Albanian has never been used in Italian theatre or cinema.

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3.6. The business world

Albanian has played no part whatever in socioeconomic interaction.

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3.7. Family and social use of the language

The diglossia that prevails in the various Albanian communities results in fairly limited use of Albanian within families. Although until the fifties almost all parents passed on the Albanian language to their children, since then the younger generation have been abandoning the language more and more, and at an ever faster rate, in favour of Italian and the Romance dialects of the region where they live. This trend is reinforced by the fact that there is no real common language - given all the differences in dialect - shared by all the Albanian communities in Italy, which means that ethnic Albanians often use Italian to communicate with each other. The main factors influencing the gradual decline of Albanian in Italy are: (a) the territorial dispersal of the communities, which encourages the penetration of Italian, thereby progressively impoverishing the Albanian dialects; (b) the influence of the education system, which creates a conflict between the language spoken in the home and that taught in the classroom, which in turn causes confusion within the child between two cultural and linguistic models; as a rule, this conflict resolves itself in favour of Italian; (c) the influence of the media of social communication, promoting the invasion of the Albanian environment by the Italian linguistic model; and (d) the massive emigration of ethnic Albanians caused by the precarious economic situation throughout southern Italy and resulting in considerable depopulation of their villages.

This is the situation known as diglossia, in which more than one language is spoken by the members of the same community for social communication, in this case Italian, local dialects and Albanian, and one of the languages - Italian - assumes the role of the prestige language or elaborated code (for official transactions, the school classroom, the media, etc.); the role of Albanian, on the other hand, is reduced to that of the popular spoken language or restricted code (used in the home and in private social interaction).

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3.8. Transnational exchanges

We have virtually no data that would enable us to affirm that regular relations of any sort at all exist between the various Albanian communities dispersed across Italy and the people of Albania.

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4. Conclusion

Given that neither the Albanian speakers nor those who do not speak the language consider mastery of Albanian to be a very useful accomplishment and that the linguistic competence of the former group is diminishing with every passing year, both the specialists and the Albanian speakers themselves see a rather bleak future for their language in so far as they believe that the gradual decline of the language cannot be halted unless it receives more support from the public authorities, particularly in the realm of education.

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