Discover the Regions in Italy Where the People Descended from the Medieval or Ancient Greeks, and Still Speak Greek

All of us, across the world, know that Italy is shaped like a boot. But almost none of us know that, in the regions of Apu­lia and Cal­abria at the coun­try’s “heel” and “toe,” live small com­mu­ni­ties who, among them­selves, still speak not Ital­ian but Greek. The word “still” applies because these peo­ples, known as Griko (or Gre­cani­ci), are thought to have descend­ed from the much larg­er medieval or even ancient Greek com­mu­ni­ties that once exist­ed there. Of course, it would­n’t have been at all unusu­al back then for inhab­i­tants of one part of what we now call Italy to speak a quite dif­fer­ent lan­guage from the inhab­i­tants of anoth­er.

John Kaza­k­lis at Isto­ria writes that “the Ital­ian lan­guage did not become the sta­ple lan­guage until well into the end of the 19th Cen­tu­ry dur­ing the process of Ital­ian uni­fi­ca­tion, or the Risorg­i­men­to,” which turned the Tus­can dialect into the nation­al lan­guage. Yet “there exists today a tiny enclave of Greek-speak­ing peo­ple in the Aspromonte Moun­tain region of Reg­gio Cal­abria that seem to have sur­vived mil­len­nia.”

Are they “descen­dants of the Ancient Greeks who col­o­nized South­ern Italy? Are they rem­nants of the Byzan­tine pres­ence in South­ern Italy? Did their ances­tors come in the 15th-16th Cen­turies from the Greek com­mu­ni­ties in the Aegean flee­ing Ottoman inva­sion?” Every­one who con­sid­ers the ori­gins of the Griko/Grecanici peo­ple (or their Griko/Gri­co/Greko lan­guages) seems to come to a slight­ly dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion.

“I sus­pect they speak a dialect more close­ly relat­ed to the Koine Greek spo­ken at the time of the 11th cen­tu­ry Byzan­tine Empire, the last and final time South­ern Italy was still part of the Greek-speak­ing world,” writes Gre­coph­o­ne Youtu­ber Tom_Traveler, who vis­its the Griko-speak­ing vil­lages of Gal­li­cianò and Bova in the video above. “Or per­haps it was influ­enced by Greek refugees flee­ing Con­stan­tino­ple upon its fall to the Turks in 1453.” How­ev­er it devel­oped, it’s long been a lan­guage on the decline: “the clear­est esti­mate of remain­ing Greko speak­ers seems to be between 200–300,” Kaza­k­lis wrote in 2017, “and num­bers con­tin­ue to decrease.” In the inter­est of pre­serv­ing the lan­guage and the his­to­ry reflect­ed with­in it, now would be a good time for a few of those speak­ers to start up Youtube chan­nels of their own.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed con­tent:

How the Byzan­tine Empire Rose, Fell, and Cre­at­ed the Glo­ri­ous Hagia Sophia: A His­to­ry in Ten Ani­mat­ed Min­utes

Map­ping the Sounds of Greek Byzan­tine Church­es: How Researchers Are Cre­at­ing “Muse­ums of Lost Sound”

Learn Ancient Greek in 64 Free Lessons: A Free Online Course from Bran­deis & Har­vard

Can Mod­ern-Day Ital­ians Under­stand Latin? A Youtu­ber Puts It to the Test on the Streets of Rome

Meet the Amer­i­cans Who Speak with Eliz­a­bethan Eng­lish Accents: An Intro­duc­tion to the “Hoi Toi­ders” from Ocra­coke, North Car­oli­na

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (8)
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  • John says:

    Humans today spend bil­lions on preser­va­tion of ani­mal species. But as for human species, we take it for grant­ed. There are dozens of human cul­tures, races, back­grounds that went instinct in the last half of mil­len­ni­um alone.

  • John says:

    As a south amer­i­can i love italy but i love the ital­ian lan­guage
    .sor­ry to say i find the ital­ian lan­guage much more roman­tic than greek . The ital­ian lan­guage is meant to be sung its close to my span­ish.

  • Vasileios says:

    Το υπουργειο πολιτισμου της Ελλαδος εχει ξεχασει τελειως αυτούς τους Έλληνες. Ισως να μη γνωριζουν καν την υπαρξη τους. Αλλα και να τη γνώριζαν ειναι γνωστο οτι οι Έλληνες πολιτικοι μισούν τη χωρα τους.
    Η μεγαλη Ελλάδα ζει όμως και θα ανθισει μια μερα οταν ξεκουμπιστουν οι καρεκλοκενταυροι κ ελευθερωθουμε

  • Vasileios says:

    Mod­ern greek lan­guage has been mur­dered the last 60 years by politi­cians and acad­e­mia who estab­lished by force the mod­ern greek as more sim­ple greek lan­guage.
    Unfor­tu­nate­ly you are right but if you lis­ten to Cypri­ots and Cre­tans speak the old­est ver­sion you will hear a more sing alike flow in the lan­guage which is beau­ti­ful

  • Hermano says:

    It is not very accu­rate though, since Greek is chant­ed in Ortho­dox Church­es reg­u­lar­ly and hear­ing it chant­ed side by side with Span­ish, Por­tuguese, and Latin, Greek holds it’s own as a beau­ti­ful musi­cal lan­guage, espe­cial­ly paired with Byzan­tine chant. This is com­ing from a native Eng­lish speak­er, there are bias­es with­in native speak­ers. I find Latin, espe­cial­ly lat­er­gi­cal Latin tends to be rough in keep­ing flu­id with paint­ing men­tal pic­tures and keep­ing rhythm in songs; Span­ish, and oth­er latin lan­guages does a much bet­ter job. This tends to be a stum­bling block for litur­gics with­in the Roman Catholic Church, hav­ing one spe­cif­ic lan­guage for ser­vice, and fail­ing to rec­og­nize the miss poten­tial and beau­ty in native tongues.

  • Jean Banitsiotis says:

    I am a Mace­don­ian born in Aus­tralia for par­ents of Flo­ri­na Greece and speak the lan­guage of Mace­don­ian but love Aus­tralia but also love where my par­ent were born NERET in Greece it is a beau­ti­ful vil­lage of Greece well known for there Straw­ber­ries

  • Arberesh says:

    Just in case you missed it:
    All ppl that you r talk­ing about, r eth­nic alba­ni­ans knows as arberesh. They r locat­ed in Syqiel­li, Kal­abri, Pula, Molize, Kampania,etc.
    Ps 1: Arberesh stand for arber or old medieval Alba­ni­ans. 🥰🥰🥰🦅🦅🦅❤❤❤
    Ps 2: Joseph Dio­guar­di, Anto­nio Gramshi, Giusepe Garibal­di, Napoleon Kalemiri (good horse), PM Francesco Krispi, Sil­vester Stal­lone (alban­ian father),Monica Belushi, etc, r all eth­nic Alba­ni­ans with ortho­dox faith. Thank you!

  • Joseph says:

    I was born in Piana Degli Albanese in Sici­ly. Our small city was found­ed in 1488 by the Alba­ni­an’s who were try­ing to escape the Mus­lim invaders from Turkey. They still speak the orig­i­nal lan­guage from Alba­nia & are try­ing to main­tain the Arbresh lan­guage by teach­ing it to the younger gen­er­a­tion. We are Ortho­dox Alban­ian and it is a beau­ti­ful and pic­turesque lit­tle town with won­der­ful tra­di­tions. Every­one should vis­it and get the best can­no­li in the world!

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