Greek (Griko) in Italy αγγλικά/ ελληνισμός

Institut de Sociolingüística Catalana Geographical and language

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 timeGeneral 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.