Greek (Griko) in Italy
Institut de Sociolingüística Catalana
Greek (Griko) 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

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2. The language in the country

2.1. General information on the language community

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2.2. Geographical and language background

The Greek language spoken in Italy, known by the names grico, griko, greco-bovese or greco-calabro, is written in Roman characters and is a highly corrupted form of modern Greek. Griko is not a unitary language since it is spoken in two geographically and linguistically distinct enclaves, one in the area known as Bovesia near Reggio di Calabria and the other near Lecce, in the area known by the name of Grecia Salentina.

The Greek-speaking territory of Bovesia lies in very mountainous terrain and is not easily accessible. In recent times, many descendants of the early inhabitants of the area have left the mountains to set up home by the coast. The Grico speakers of Calabria live in the villages of Bova Superiore, Bova Marina, Roccaforte del Greco, Condofuri, Bagaladi, Polizzi and Gallicianò. The villages of Chorio and Roghudi were abandoned after the floods of 1971 and 1972, and their inhabitants were resettled in Mélito di Porto Salvo.

In Grecia Salentina, the Grico speakers are to be found in the villages of Calimera, Martignano, Martano, Sternatia, Zollino, Corigliano d'Otranto, Soleto, Melpignano and Castrignano dei Greci, although Grico seems to be disappearing from Martignano, Soleto and Melpignano.

The number of Grico speakers is very limited in Bovesia. Some authors speak of 3,900 speakers at the end of the seventies, principally in Roghudi and Gallicianò. The number of Greek speakers also appears to have fallen by around 70% since the fifties.

Bovesia has lost large numbers of its indigenous population, especially from its mountainous areas. Around 10% of the population born there have left the area in a wave of emigration that peaked during the sixties because of the job shortage, the industrial crisis, the crisis in agriculture, crafts and trades and the redundancies that followed the closure of a factory. This contrasts with the fact that around 80% of the present population of Bovesia came to the area as a result of the development of the tourist industry, the establishment of second homes for the retired and the creation of new industries. Around 30% of the population are employed in agriculture, 35% in the construction industry and service sector and a substantial percentage, although no precise figures are available, in forestry and related occupations. Bovesia also has a very high unemployment rate.

The situation in Grecia Salentina is fairly similar, since until recently the economy of the province of Lecce depended more or less directly on the size of the harvest of grapes, olives, tobacco, tomatoes, etc. Moreover, the existence of numerous huge landed estates (masserie) was one of the main reasons for the underdevelopment of agriculture that persisted into the sixties. Nowadays there is still a marked tendency among the rural population to emigrate to the urban centres. It is this very situation of economic underdevelopment, added to the fact that, until the agrarian reforms of 1950-51 took effect, the Grico-speaking peasants lived out a virtually self-sufficient existence on the masserie, that has enabled them to preserve their language for such a long time.

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2.3. General history and history of the language

Towards the end of the 13th century, the political and cultural decline of the Byzantine Empire engulfed the Hellenism of Calabria in a crisis, which it withstood very effectively until the 15th century. From that time on, the various Romance dialects began to prevail in everyday interaction, especially in the urban centres that were open to external influences. There were even scattered pockets of bilingualism in the more remote towns and villages.

Italian and its regional dialects spread like wildfire among the population, due to their far superior social and cultural standing to that of Calabrian Greek. The results of this were a reduction to about twelve in the number of villages where Grico was still in common use at the start of the 19th century and the emergence of a situation of general bilingualism. Thus the first general census conducted in Italy after unification identified only seven Greek-speaking communes in Calabria, which represented some 8,000 people.

Universal schooling in Italian after the Second World War, compulsory military service, the law of 1901 granting freedom to emigrate (which caused serious depopulation throughout southern Italy) and the growing influence of the Italian mass media put an end to the bilingualism that had existed since the 17th century and reduced Greek to a dead language as far as social intercourse between communities was concerned.

Initiatives designed to promote the language were launched in the late fifties, thanks to the growing awareness of some intellectuals from the middle classes in Reggio di Calabria and Bova Marina and the interest shown by foreign researchers such as Rohlfs. A group of university students from Bovesia, for example, published a pamphlet entitled La Ionica.

In 1970, the group reconstituted itself as the La Ionica Cultural Circle, and the pamphlet became a periodical, in which poetry and prose in Italian and Greek are published.

The La Ionica Cultural Circle establishes contacts with the Greek speakers of Grecia Salentina, which brought about the creation of the UGIM (Unione dei Greci dell'Italia Meridionale). That association unsuccessfully petitioned the Regional Tourist Office for the introduction of bilingual road signs and five minutes' broadcasting time on Radio Cosenza. The private radio stations Radio Bova, Radio Mélito and Radio San Paolo in Reggio di Calabria proved to be more sympathetic.

The Greek Government, through the International Association of Greek Speakers (SFEE), has established close links with La Ionica and invites the Grico children from Calabria every year to attend summer camps in Greece. At the present time there are several Grico cultural groups: Zoí ce glossa (Life and Language) in Reggio di Calabria, Cinurio Cosmó (New World) and Jalò tu Vúa in Bova Marina, CUMELCA in Gallicianò and Roghudi and Apodiafázi (Daybreak) in Bova Superiore.

These groups have organized various different activities to promote the language: conferences on the Calabrian Greek language - one of which spawned the Istituto Regionale Superiore di Studi Ellenofoni in August 1993 - poetry prizes in 1990, 1991 and 1992, cultural exhibitions and the publication of the periodicals I Riza and CUMELCA.

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2.4. Legal status and official policies

The Calabrian Autonomy Statute accords recognition to the historical cultural heritage of the ethnic Albanian and Greek populations and makes provision for the promotion of instruction in both languages in the places where they are spoken. In 1993 the Calabrian regional authorities also set up the Istituto Regionale Superiore di Studi Ellenofoni, which is based in Bova Marina.

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3. The use of the language in various fields

3.1. Education

A regional law of 1980 allows Greek-speaking school teachers or university lecturers to offer courses in the regions where the language is spoken, but there are no teachers or lecturers with sufficient command of Grico to be able to give such courses.

The Grico courses that are held in the schools of Bovesia are due to the initiative of the aforementioned Grico cultural groups. At a local level, the municipal authorities of Bova Marina provide a little economic help for the efforts of the Grico cultural groups to set up courses in the Greek language and training courses for teachers.

Although Calabrian Greek is not used as a classroom language anywhere, optional regional courses in Greek language and culture have been held for the past ten years or so in certain nursery and primary schools in Bovesia, thanks to funding from the regional and religious authorities and the EC. Although the number of pupils who choose to attend these courses is limited (fifty at the very most), there seems to have been a resurgence of interest in learning the Greek language and learning about Greek culture.

Greek is totally absent from the secondary curriculum. Only a handful of particularly motivated pupils attend the extracurricular courses offered by some Grico cultural groups. The same applies to the realm of technical education. The cultural group Jalò tu Vúa organizes Greek courses for adults. For some years now, thanks to European Community aid, Jalò tu Vúa has been organizing training courses in the Calabrian Greek language for teachers.

At the end of the eighties, the Jalò tu Vúa group formed a committee to lay down methodological standards for teaching Greek in each community and to draw up a Calabrian Greek grammar book for the schools in the region. The municipal administration in Bova published a Calabrian Greek grammar in 1979 and an informative pamphlet, La Glossa di Bova, some time later. As far as the Greek-speaking communities of Salento are concerned, there are also several educational publications designed for very young children.

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3.2. Judicial authorities

The language has never been used in the administration of justice since the need has never arisen.

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3.3. Public authorities and services

The language does not feature at all within the public services. Only the municipalities of Bova and Bova Marina have bilingual road signs.

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3.4. Mass media and information technology

There are two periodicals in Grico: I Riza, which is trilingual and is published by Jalò tu Vúa, and CUMELCA, published by the organization of the same name.

The periodical I Riza is published once every four months and half of it is written in Grico, while CUMELCA is a quarterly publication which is also 50% Grico, but in actual fact it appears at very irregular intervals.

The regional authorities award small grants to the Grico cultural groups to enable them to publish these periodicals.

At the time of writing the language is not used for radio broadcasting, although between 1977 and 1984, years that coincide with the zenith of private radio broadcasting in Italy, some stations did broadcast programmes in Greek, among them Radio Antenna Don Bosco in Bova Marina, Radio San Paolo in Reggio di Calabria and RTM in Mélito di Porto Salvo. Grico is never used on television.

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3.5. The Arts

Literary output is very restricted and is limited to some anthologies of poetry, books about the history of the region and a trilingual calendar in Italian, Grico and Greek.

There is a local traditional music group within the Jalò tu Vúa organization which sings at local festivities. The group produced a record in 1982.

Grico is not used in theatre productions, with the exception of two plays performed some years ago by an amateur company, La Clessidra.

An annual festival of Calabrian Greek music and song is held in Bova Marina, but it is now less prestigious than in bygone years.

The municipal authorities in Bova Marina provide a little economic assistance for the activities of the Grico cultural groups.

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3.6. The business world

Grico is never used in commercial and professional transactions as it is not spoken spontaneously by anyone.

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3.7. Family and social use of the language

It seems at the present time that nobody in Bovesia speaks Grico spontaneously, except for a few people will do so if encouraged - especially shepherds and farmers. Grico, in other words, has given way to Italian and the region's various Italian dialects. There has been a total breakdown in oral tradition, especially since the fifties, on account of economic changes, depopulation of the region and the growing percentage of the population who have attended school. The Grico speakers attribute the decline of the language and their lack of interest in it to the following factors: its inferior social status, its lack of usefulness as a vehicle of communication, linguistic and geographical fragmentation, the difficulty involved in learning it and the use of Italian and the other Romance dialects for social advancement.

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3.8. Transnational exchanges

Since the early seventies there have been cultural exchanges with Greece, and these have subsequently been reinforced, especially through the various Greek Ambassadors to Italy and through the universities of southern Italy.

There are also some twinning arrangements between Calabrian and Greek villages, such as those between Bova and Paleio Fáliro and between Condofuri and Alimós, and a partnership between the Jalò tu Vúa cultural group and the Filologhiki Stéghi association in Piraeus.

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4. Conclusion

Since Grico no longer has any social influence and is not spoken spontaneously as a language of everyday communication, the general impression of all observers and, most significantly, of people from the ethnic Greek communities of Calabria, is that it will disappear within a generation, despite the fact that the initiatives taken by the various Grico cultural groups to introduce the language into the education system seems to have aroused a degree of interest in Grico among young people. This rekindling of interest, however, relates more to the value of the language as a relic of the region's past than to its value as a means of communication.

The fact is that throughout the entire territory only 2,500 people know and understand the language. Among young people and adults below the age of 35, there are only about 50 who understand the language and even fewer who can speak it, despite the fact that several Greek courses are run each year. The main cause of this terminal crisis of the Greek language in Italy have been the constant depopulation of the area since the early 20th century, universal compulsory schooling and the growing influence of communications and the mass media. This situation has been exacerbated by the lack of interest in the language among young people.

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