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
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.