2. “The World Changed”: The Language Shift Away from Griko

When I began to research the process of language shift in my home village of Zollino and asked my elderly friends to recount what led them to shift away from Griko, with few variations they responded, “O kosmo kàngesce!”—“The world changed.” Antimino (born in 1927) more reflexively preceded his “O kosmo kàngesce” with “Pos enna po?”—“How shall I say?” My friend and life teacher Splendora (1922–2015) prefaced her “O kosmo kàngesce” more inquisitively with “Ti teli na sceri?”—“What do you want to know?” My parents’ neighbor ’Ndata (born in 1927) added her usual term of endearment—“my child”—to sweeten her tone: “O kosmo kàngesce, kiaterèddhamu.” Not surprisingly, my elderly friends from Sternatia, whom I had met more recently, and with whom I had built a personal relationship over time, almost apologetically stumbled over themselves in replying, “Kàngetse o cerò, kàngetse o kosmo ce tikanè” (Griko, Sternatia)—“The times changed, the world and everything with it.” My Griko mother-tongue friends used these formulaic expressions as if they were self-explanatory and not much else needed to be added. But of course they had a lot to add, and gradually they did, glad to have found in me an attentive ear.
In the previous chapter we saw how the first ideological revival of Griko promoted by what I describe as the ‘philhellenic circle of Calimera’ did not reach Griko speakers at large. The social transformations of the post-unification process that these intellectuals feared in fact had little impact on the lived reality of the ‘bearers of the language’, who lived in closed communities immersed in a rural society. It is precisely this reality and their therefore limited, albeit steadily growing, contacts with the surrounding Salentine-speaking environment that is considered a major reason for the preservation of Griko … at least until “the world changed.” [1] Elderly people do refer to ‘change’ in a rather systematic way when recollecting their past, and describe it as sudden, notwithstanding it involved a progressive abandonment of agriculture and access to wage labor, often supplemented by farming. Change can be dressed up and be referred to as ‘progress’; it almost takes on an anthropomorphic dimension, in expressions such as ‘when progress arrived,’ or ‘when progress started accelerating.’ [2]
The post-WWII period was indeed a time of profound socioeconomic changes, which affected Italy and the Italian linguistic landscape more broadly; until then, Italians at large continued to speak their local vernaculars, and languages as the rhetoric and policies of the Fascist period that aimed to eradicate dialects and minority languages had failed to provide incentives to use Italian in daily life. [3] Language shift away from Griko is certainly embedded in this broader national transformation, but the story of Griko is not a ‘typical case’ of language contact/domination/shift to the national language. To fully appreciate this process, I necessarily pay attention to the multiform ways in which dynamics at the national level interacted with, and played out within, the local languagescape, which includes Salentine.
Until fairly recently, approaches to language shifts tended to attribute the phenomenon to macrosociological factors linked to modernization, such as economic development, urbanization, migration, etc., but it would be reductionist to consider them as mechanically determining the shift. Language shift is moreover a process that is not tidily periodized, nor can I explain it by simply narrowly identifying its causes, for there are many of them. So, drawing on personal accounts of the history of language use that I collected from my elderly friends in Zollino and Sternatia, I focus instead on their own interpretations of these processes—of the ‘changing world’—and analyze how these recursively affected their language ideologies and use, leading them to stop transmitting Griko to the next generation. [4] As Don Kulick (1999:9) argues, “the study of language shift becomes the study of a people’s conceptions of themselves in relation to one another and to their changing social world, and of how these conceptions are encoded by and mediated through language.”

Talking About the Past

Identifying elderly Griko speakers in Sternatia who could help me with my research was a rather straightforward task. As my friend Gianni De Santis (1957–2015) bluntly told me, “You just need to go to the main square and you will find them sitting and chatting in Griko.” I was aware of this; it is common knowledge locally that Sternatia has the largest number of Griko speakers. This was the last village to shift away from Griko, and there is general agreement that the ‘turning point’ could be located exactly in 1950: children born after that date were taught Salentine and not Griko at home. [5] “Why don’t you go to Chora-Ma on Monday nights? You will find the most talkative of them attending Modern Greek classes,” Gianni added. I followed his advice, and I particularly bonded with three of them: Cosimino (born in 1946), Gaetano (born in 1947)—whom you met in Chapter 1—and Uccio (born in 1942), three retired Griko mother-tongue speakers who indeed were eager to talk to me. Their life paths are rather similar to each other, and they all share crucial life experiences, such as working in the fields at an early age, migrating, and then moving back to Sternatia once they found a ‘stable job,’ after which they got married. What they ultimately share is the memory of that past whose language of expression was Griko.
One Monday I had asked them to meet at Chora-Ma before the MG class; the following “talk about the past”—as they themselves put it—highlights the multistranded processes embedded in the shift away from Griko. In the following segment, Uccio offers his own perspective on the process that led to the language shift.
Ivò leo ka o Griko atti’ chora, attin Grecìa ichàti motti èstase i televisiùna jatì iche kane tseno, cioè armammenu ka echi artommèni si chora, sia jinèke sia antròpi. Erkotte mercanti, per esempio, ka pulùne ce e’sozzi milìsi pleo’ is Grika kundu mia forà. Cino ‘e’ se kapièi, o addho manku se kapièi. Poi su fènete fiakko motte ena ‘e’ to tseri na milìsi is Grika, jatì lei tuo ‘e’ me kapièi arà “ti tèlune na pune atse mena? Lei kakà atse mena, lei kakò,” ce allora … Ti tsero? O motte pai so merkato, so panìri leme itu, sa panìria, cino ka pulì ‘e’ milì is Grika! Cino apù de koste ‘e’ milì is Grika. Jatì mia forà, motte èrkotto cini ka pulùane rucha, o pulùane fruttu, motte stàzzane si chora lèane: “Maledetti! Stu paese cu doi lingue!”
“Jeno me diu glosse” (Griko)
Cu doi lingue (Salentine) lèane perché no no, ‘e’ lèane “me diu glosse”. Lèane per esempiu: “Vàle-tu pleon alìo, vàle-tu pleon alìo”; allora cino ìkue “Vàle-tu pleon alìo, vàle-tu pleon alìo” ce ‘e’ kàpiegge però intùegge, èkane tin intuiziùna ce ele “Tèlune na me piàkune ja fessa?”
Su fènete puru fiakko motte ena ‘e’ se capièi na milìsi griko, ka pistèane ti lei, isù macari ‘e’ lei tìpoti atse kakò.
I’d say that Griko from Sternatia, from Grecìa, disappeared when the TV appeared because some foreigners married and moved to Sternatia, both men and women. Many tradespeople would come, for instance, who would sell, and it wasn’t plausible to speak Griko anymore as it had been once. That person doesn’t understand it, neither does the other. It seems bad to speak Griko when someone doesn’t speak it. Because he would think, “What are they saying about me? They are saying something bad about me,” and so … Or, for example, when you go to the market and the seller doesn’t speak Griko! Neither does the seller next to him, because once upon a time when those who sold clothes or fruits came to Sternatia, they would say, “Damn them: this village with two languages!”
“People with two languages” (Griko)
Cu doi lingue” [Salentine] they’d say, no, no, they wouldn’t say “me diu glosse”. They [Griko speakers] would say “Give him less, give him less,” so he would hear [in Griko] “vàle-tu pleon alìo vàle-tu pleon alìo,” and he wouldn’t understand, but he could guess and think, “Do they want to fool me?” It seems bad to speak Griko when someone doesn’t understand you because they’d doubt, and maybe you are not saying anything bad.
Uccio begins his account by referring to broader macro-changes experienced through time, such as the advent of television. This was indeed more effective in spreading Italian than any language planning, but it only became truly accessible to locals in the 1960s. Crucially, he also refers to the dynamics of the local languagescape and mentions that Griko ‘disappeared’ (literally, ‘went lost’) in Sternatia and the rest of the villages because of intermarriage and the presence of tseni—both men and women coming from non–Griko-speaking villages. Indeed, by this point Salentine had slowly and with varying degrees of competence come to be part of the linguistic repertoire of the majority of Griko speakers. Increased mobility further favored trade and intermarriage between villages; thus, occasions to speak Salentine continued to increase, as did expectations of linguistic adaptation to it. Uccio in fact refers to the generalized impossibility of speaking Griko as they did “in the old days”—“kundu mia forà”—as merchants from neighboring monolingual Salentine-speaking villages would arrive in the village to sell their products. This is when Cosimino intervenes, commenting in Griko that Griko speakers were called “people with two languages.” Uccio, equally promptly, repeats the expression, but in Salentine—“gente cu doi lingue”—insisting that it was uttered by non-Griko speakers. The expression clearly describes the emerging power struggle enacted between Griko/Salentine bilinguals and Salentine speakers that started to play out in these instances. In a situation in which bilingualism is unidirectional—that is, when only one group is competent in the other’s language—bilinguals have access to an additional code.
Their bilingualism thus lent them a degree of control: Uccio goes on to explain that in the typical process of market negotiation, in which Griko speakers were the sellers, in some cases they would use the language to agree among themselves and ‘trick’ the non–Griko-speaking buyer into paying the amount agreed, but for a smaller quantity of fruit, for example. Here we see the violation of the expected practice of speaking Salentine—the unmarked code—with unknown and known outsiders. In the market situation that Uccio describes, what we see at play is the practice of ‘cryptolalia’—from the Ancient Greek κρυπτός (hidden, secret)—and from the Greek λαλέω (to talk, to utter words). Cryptolalia refers to the use of a language as a ‘secret code’ when speakers do not want to be understood; this function is indeed common in many situations of language shift, and in the case of Griko it intensified in the post-WWII period. Speaking Griko as a ‘secret language’ not only was an expression of social cohesion, but also an ‘interested’ practice at the expense of who did not. [6]
However, Uccio adds that it felt wrong, impolite (“Su fènete fiakko”, fiakko curiously being a borrowing from Salentine) to speak Griko in these instances; he comments that this might have led non Griko speakers to believe that something negative was being said about them—even when that was not the case—eventually leading them to distrust Griko/Salentine bilinguals. Crucially, Uccio’s use of constructed dialogue (Ti tèlune na pune atse mena? Lei kakà atse mena, lei kakò) reveals how considerations about the ‘politeness’ or ‘rudeness’ of language use were in fact largely circulated and, to varying degrees, internalized by Griko speakers. Bakhtin argued that “Every word tastes of the contexts in which it has lived its socially-charged life” (1981:293). Uccio indeed blends his own voice with the voice of monolingual Salentine speakers; this points to issues of perceived responsibility and agency in mediating language shift. Interestingly, elderly speakers still diffuse and negotiate their own personal and group responsibility.
The level of circulation and internalization of this moral imperative to speak Salentine is further illustrated by considering the following example offered by Antimino (born in 1923) from Zollino in an informal interview. Antimino, as everyone knows him, is a sweet man of gentle manners and a polite smile, best known as the singer of I Passiùna tu Kristù ʼ(The Passion of the Christ), a traditional Easter performance. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he used to be the sacristan of the main church of the village. At the same time, he worked as a photographer; virtually every middle-aged man and woman in the village had in their homes the portraits he had taken of them as children, with his characteristic choice of background and posture. More often than not when entering his little avlì (courtyard) the door to his back garden is open, which means he is watering or taking care of his plants. I go to visit him as often as I can—never enough, he complains—and we chat in Griko, all the while sipping limoncello, regardless of the time of day (see Figure 12).
Figure 12: Antimino and I. Credit: Daniele Coricciati
Atsìkkose o progresso na pai pano eccetera
ikùane ‘s emèna ka kùntone grika me sena, ce lèane
“Oh ce ‘e ’kuntèi sekùndu s’èkame i mana-su?” per dire
“na anoìsune i kristianì?” Anzi ndirittura ma lèane
“E’ skostumatezza! mott’âchi addhu ka en’anoùane na kuntèscete grika!”
Ce ’llora ce ivò kunta iu per dire mia forà ce kunta diu
e allora cerkèamu cerkèane o cerkèsciamo pos enna po?
Passos ena kunte dialetto sekùndu ìscere ‘nsomma ecco!
Ecco pos ene ka atsìkkose o griko na min kuntescettì pleo’ ce afìsti.
Ce arte ‘nvece e’ pregiao!
Pane in cerca nô mattèsune, pos enna po?
Progress started and so on
they would hear me talking to you in Griko and they would say
“oh and [why] don’t you speak like your mother made you,” so to say
So that people can understand? On top of that, they would even tell us
“It is rude for you to speak Griko when there are people who don’t understand it!”
And so I would speak like this [dialect] one time once and twice
and so we would try, they would try or we tried, how can I say?
Each of us would speak dialect to the extent he was able
So this is how Griko started not to be spoken anymore and was abandoned.
And now on the contrary it is precious
They go and try to learn it, how shall I say?
Antimino chronologically situates the shift in the period of the area’s economic development. Interestingly, like Uccio above, he too uses constructed dialogue, introducing it through the quotative verb lèane (“they would say,” past continuous third person plural) and an undefined agent ‘they’; this is the key to this account, the voice that represents a particular interested position. He refers here to situations in which Salentine monolinguals would tell off Griko-speakers for using Griko in front of them, as they could not understand it. When ‘they’ would hear Antimino speaking in Griko, ‘they’ would tell him to “talk like your mother made you.” This expression is crucial here, for it is also used in Salentine (parla comu te fice mammata), and means to talk in a simple, unpretentious way. In this case, it indicates how speaking Griko was discriminated against on moral grounds. He then lifts the metalinguistic comment “it is rude for you (plural) to speak Griko when there is someone who doesn’t understand it” out of the interactional setting, and by ‘animating’ this utterance he blends the voice with his own and makes it speak Griko, as it were.
This reveals once again the extent to which this negative perception of Griko was circulated and internalized within the Griko-speaking community. Interestingly, however, Antimino uses the markers anzi (on top of that) and ‘ndirittura (even) to signal a disassociation from the quoted voice. He ultimately does not take responsibility for the utterance by emphatically reconstructing the dialogue in an animated tone. In particular he stresses the word scostumatezza (rudeness) and utters it at a slower pace, mimicking the voice. This points to the dialectical struggle he personally went through, a struggle which was, however, collectively shared by Griko speakers, as Antimino’s several pronoun and tense changes indicate; to describe the effort to shift to dialect, he uses the first-person singular pronoun ivò, and then vacillates between the first and third-person plural past continuous (cerkèamo, cerkèane) and first-person plural past tense (cerkèsciamo). This is also emphasized by the utterance, “In short, each of us would speak dialect to the extent he was able,” and suggests varying competence in the dialect. Antimino then shifts temporal domains, referring to the current prestige of knowing Griko. Thanks to the revival, he has indeed become a ‘star of Griko’ because of his performance of The Passion of Christ. This evaluation renders even more sharply the contrast between the negative experience of speaking Griko at that time and the painful experience of abandoning it.
Uccio’s and Antimino’s examples, and more generally elderly speakers’ recurrent use of constructed dialogue, together indicate how a plurality of voices, of speaking personalities, is always embedded in the dynamic of language ideologies’ transformation. The label ‘people with two tongues’ eventually evolved into the stereotype ‘people with two tongues and two faces’: the imagery of the snake with a forked tongue was in fact evoked by monolingual Salentine speakers, epitomizing the stigmatization of Griko speakers who came to be considered as people who could not be trusted. The practice of cryptolalia certainly favored and reinforced stigmatization by non-Griko speakers, but it also depicted monolingual Salentine speakers’ lack of ‘power’ due to their lack of access to Griko; they therefore felt under threat every time they heard Griko spoken, not just in situations of cryptolalia. Griko speakers, for their part, felt pressure to avoid the stigma of being thought of as untrustworthy, and this played an additional role in mediating the shift away from Griko. Focusing on the practice of cryptolalia and its wider implications we find that Griko speakers were faced with this moral evaluation of the use of Griko as something ‘rude and impolite,’ which circulated as a moral evaluation of the language itself: Griko becomes indexical of ‘rudeness’—a marker of it, as it were—and this externally mediated language ideology contributed to unsettling Griko speakers, who grew to have mixed feelings about Griko. Caught in these local dynamics and immersed in the wider national context, over time Griko came to be internalized as something of which to be ashamed.

The Language of Shame

Uccio Costa (1933–2011) from Zollino gives a telling example of the troubled process Griko speakers went through. He did so during an informal interview on a cloudy November afternoon when I went to visit him at his house. Uccio was a Griko mother-tongue speaker who had left the village when he was twenty-three years old to migrate to southern Germany. After spending about fifteen years working there in various fabbriche (factories), Uccio and his wife returned to the village and he opened his own business selling gelato. He lost his wife when their two children were teenagers; his gaze indeed betrayed a touch of sadness. I have always known Uccio to be a man of few words—except when he spoke Griko! He was the father of my sister’s best friend and a friend of my own father. Ever since he retired, you could find him each afternoon playing bocce in the village’s dedicated area, paired with or playing against my father. Whoever lost the game paid for coffee for the winners! I liked visiting him when he carved wood into beautiful human and divine characters (see Figure 13).
Figure 13: Uccio carving. Photograph courtesy of Monica Costa
Manu manu ka ìrtane i mèsce
na mas insegnèsciane ce ‘e’ mas
anoùane, inghìsamo na mattèsome uttin
addhi glossa, ‘o dialetto;
però kulusìsamo panta na kuntèsciume
‘o Griko ros ‘in guerra ce puru dopu.
When the teachers came
to teach us and they couldn’t understand us,
we had to learn the other
language. We learned dialect,
but we always kept speaking it [Griko]
until the War, and afterward too.
Uccio refers to the arrival in Zollino of nuns from other regions of Italy to run the newly established kindergarten—this was in 1932. Tellingly, he uses the first-person plural to depict a collective experience; his account indicates how the ‘turning point’ for the shift away from Griko in Zollino is linked to this specific ‘trigger,’ since children born around that year were, by and large, taught Salentine—note, not Italian—so that they could communicate with the nuns. ’Ndata offers a similar account, reiterating that she only spoke Griko until she went to school. “In school we were meant to speak Italian, but really we learned dialect [Salentine],” she insisted. It might seem ironic that the school institution—the locus of legitimation of national language ideology par excellence—would instead ‘teach’ dialect. The situation needs to be read in light of the school system of the time, when school teachers themselves were not necessarily very competent in ‘standard Italian,’ and would often use dialect or a mixture of dialect and Italian in the classroom. [7]
This may seem even more ironic if we take into account that the language policies of the Fascist period had in fact aimed to eradicate dialects and minority languages using public schools to promote and impart linguistic purism. On the one hand, the impact of the school system on language acquisition and use at this juncture should not be overestimated, as my elderly interlocutors had access to education only for a limited period of time; from their accounts it emerged that a large percentage of them did not finish primary school because their parents needed their help at home and in the fields. Uccio, for instance, attended school only for three years. On the other hand, even though the campaign of linguistic purism failed to ‘teach’ them Italian, as it were, it succeeded in teaching students the ‘inferiority’ of their own vernacular and in creating and circulating what Bourdieu (1977b) calls ‘misrecognition’; that is, the internalization of the (mis)belief in the superiority of one language over another.
Va bene ca t’ûpa pròi komu sia ka mas èkanne riprezzo komu sia ka erkamòsto en’iscèro attu statu (hesitation) arabu ka ìmosto a popolo ka ‘e’ mas karkulèi tispo ce dèsamo oli na mattèsume o dialetto, to italiano ce e’ stammèni i ruvìna dikìmma ka i glossa is’alìu chronu leo 30 40 chronu nde pleo’ ka tossu i glossa chasi completamente en’echi probbio i’ Tsuddhìnu en’echi tipoti pleo’. Ripetèo komu sia ka asce ma mas èkanne, enna skusèsci puru, schifo usi usi glossa ce ene mia glossa ka esistèi asce chijae chronu! Echi jenommèna ricerke de? Ka daveru, ka ci sape tinòn arrikordèi! Ce is alìu chronu imì stasimòsto capaci ka distruggèsciamo tikanène eh! Mena mu dispiacèi jatì ìane mia glossa de cchiui ka ìmì scèramo però motta tin imilùamo ittin glossa quasi ca quasi ca mas èkanne vergogna, en’iscèro manku ti enna po
To us this language we spoke, as I said earlier, it was as if it gave us disgust, as if we came, I don’t even know, from the Arab countries, a people that no one cares about and we all started to learn dialect and Italian and this has been our disgrace, that this language in 30, 40 years— no more than that— the language has completely disappeared there is nothing left of it anymore in Zollino. I repeat: to us it was as if it gave us—you have to forgive me—disgust, that language and it is a language of thousands of years. Research has been conducted on it, right? Really, who know our far back it goes. And in just a few years we have been able to destroy everything! I feel sorry, as it was an additional language we knew, but when we spoke it this language almost made us feel shame, I don’t even know how to say it
Ce jatì vergogna?
Why shame?
En’iscèro ivò, tòa ìu ìane
Ka ìchamo na mattèsume oli tin italiano!
I don’t know, back then it was like that,
that we all had to learn Italian!
In this segment, Uccio self-reflexively refers to the lack of attention paid to Griko speakers at the time, comparing the discrimination they suffered in the past to the discrimination suffered by today’s ‘others’; he identifies them here with migrants who speak Arabic, although he is referring more broadly to the current phenomenon of migration to Italy and Europe as it emerged in other conversations. Uccio seems to imply that Griko speakers started learning dialect and Italian in order to avoid being discriminated against on linguistic grounds. His struggle to make sense of what happened is apparent, for he speaks nervously, playing with a pen throughout our conversation. He then rather bluntly states that learning dialect and then Italian has been a disgrace, and he regrets that in the timeframe of thirty or forty years Griko has disappeared.
He continues his reflection, remembering how Griko speakers felt about Griko, stating that they felt almost (note the repetition of “almost”) ashamed of speaking it at that juncture; interestingly, in an escalation of derogatory ‘feelings’ attached to the use of Griko, ‘disgust’ becomes ‘repulsion’ and then ‘shame’—riprezzo, schifo, vergogna. [8] These descriptions of emotions are important, as they show their centrality at times of perceived sudden changes. Although Uccio keeps using the first-person plural throughout the segment—thus giving his statements a collective agency—he also distances himself from them, apologizing for using the word schifo (repulsion), which suggests that he is the animator and not the author of the comment.
Uccio’s account ultimately shows how the internalization of the national language’s symbolic power prompted a process that, following Tsitsipis (1995, 1998), I call self-deprecation. [9] This led them to internalize these negative perceptions of Griko, which contributed to the already widespread and widely circulated belief that Griko was a ‘bastard language’—a corrupted language that included both Greek and Salentine, as we have seen. Uccio then shifts the temporal register and points out that Griko is a language that had been spoken for millennia, one that studies have been written about; this comment shows the effects of the current language revival on self-awareness and understanding—similar to Antimino’s comment above about Griko’s current prestige—through which it has become a ‘language of pride.’ Uccio then concludes by taking collective responsibility for managing to destroy ‘everything,’ and adds that he feels sorry about it, since Griko was an additional resource.
To my question regarding why they felt ‘shame’ back then, his reply conveys lack of agency: “What do I know?” He continues, “Back then it was like that. We had to learn Italian,” ascribing the shift to a fatalistic turn of events. Uccio seems to acknowledge, on the one hand, the internalization of the dominant language ideology, implying that they had to speak Italian to be recognized as Italians, “as if this Griko” prevented them from being ascribed a full ‘Italianness.’ On the other hand, the ironic tone of the rhetorical question seems to contrast this. This vacillation indicates how Griko speakers are still self-reflexively negotiating their own responsibility for Griko’s (mis)fortune. Shifting languages and stopping communicating in Griko therefore entailed a troubled decision, while the clash between ‘the known past’ and the ‘changing world’ affected Griko-speakers’ ideas and feelings about their languages. What is interesting in the case at hand is that this subtle work of ‘symbolic domination’ (Bourdieu 1991:51) of the national language paradoxically resulted in the perception of Salentine as a resource to get to Italian.

“When Everything Started Changing”: Salentine as ‘Conduit’

Uccia from Sternatia is a beautiful woman in her late eighties, the sister of Cesarino De Santis (better known by his nickname Batti), who long loved and fought for the preservation of Griko. To improve my Griko, I spent several summer nights with her, her husband Grazio, and a few of their neighbors, sitting in front of the doorstep of their home. Uccia and Grazio welcomed me to their home on various occasions to help me with my research (see Figure 14).
Figure 14: Uccia. Credit: Theodoros Kargas
Uccia: Until 1950, when my first child was born, it was just normal to teach Griko to children. Twelve years later I had my second child. Well! By that time, people had started abandoning Griko in Sternatia; in the other villages, Griko had already been abandoned. In the previous three or four years all children had been speaking dialect [Salentine]. I said, “What shall we do with our child now? And when he goes to kindergarten and he wants to go to the toilet, how will he be able to say it if he doesn’t yet know the dialect?” Like the others in the village, we too decided all of a sudden to teach him dialect too.”
Grazio (her husband, interjecting to correct her): Italian!
Uccia: Italian? And who knew Italian back then?
Grazio: Who knew it? Come on, dialect is a sort of Italian, isn’t it?
Uccia: We taught him diale—(she hesitates) Italian.
Ethnographer: Dialect or Italian?
Uccia (looking at Grazio): If my husband wants to say Italian, I have to say Italian too, but it is not true. I have to say dialect, not Italian. What Italian did we know? We taught him dialect so that he could communicate with the other children when he would play, and when he would go to the kindergarten. And then he would learn Italian too. We were influenced.
Uccia’s words reveal the troubling decision that faced Griko speakers when bringing up their own children “when everything started changing.” Elderly speakers indeed often comment that they wanted to prevent their children from suffering the discrimination they had suffered for knowing ‘only’ Griko: this would render them too inadequate in ‘a changed world.’ Recurrent statements such as “I do not want my children to suffer what I suffered” clearly point to the troubles they endured during this process, and their experience of Griko as a handicap (in school, while migrating, etc.). As often happens in the process of language shifts, such statements also show that parents believed that they had to ‘choose’ which language to transmit, that it was an either/or decision. [10] What emerges from this vignette is that Uccia ‘decided’ to teach Salentine, the Romance dialect, to her second child to facilitate his entry to kindergarten and then to school, while the mother tongue of their first child, born in 1950, was Griko. The fact that Grazio confronts her with the contention that they taught their child Italian is an example of the symbolic power of the national language, and of the confusion about the difference between Salentine and Italian. This is one of the many instances in which my interlocutors fought on this issue. When I asked them to which language they shifted, they would initially say Italian; someone would join the conversation and note that they did not know Italian, that they spoke dialect with ‘some words’ in Italian; someone else would reiterate that they spoke Italian, and so on, until agreement was eventually reached: “We changed the dialect a bit, and we spoke Italian,” they concluded.
This last statement points to the relation between Italian and Salentine; linguist Oronzo Parlangeli (1953:37–38) argued at the time that, “If they speak Italian, it will be a strongly Romanized Italian in the more educated individuals and it will be Salentine with a weak Italian flavor in the less educated.” Back then, Italian was not an available resource for Uccia and Grazio—or for the others; instead, Salentine came to be considered a resource—a conduit—to access Italian and the world of opportunities its knowledge promised. To be sure, the differences between Salentine and ‘standard Italian’ are not insignificant; nevertheless, Griko speakers perceived the shift from the Romance dialect to Italian as a movement along a linguistic continuum, in contrast to Salentine and Griko and Italian and Griko. The affinities between Italian and Salentine, whether merely perceived or real, ultimately led Griko speakers to consider Salentine ‘more valuable’ and perceived speaking it—or an ‘Italianized’ version of it—as a tool of social inclusion in itself, as the vignettes show. [11]
The primary effect of the national language ideology was in fact not only to demote Griko in relation to Italian, but also in relation to Salentine; the internalization of Italian as the ‘language of the future,’ therefore, unsettled once and for all the local languagescape, as well as the Griko-Salentine power balance; this had been rather stable, and language choice depended on the language of interlocutor, but, in this phase, it did not necessarily manifest a distinction in status. In this highly competitive “linguistic market,” to use Bourdieu’s (1977a:652) terminology, Griko had been devalued not only in relation to Italian but also to Salentine; the consequent difference in status between Griko and Salentine, and the resulting stigmatization of Griko therefore needs to be read as part of the larger picture of the emergence of the symbolic value of Italian.
Yet if we return to Uccia’s vignette above, it becomes apparent that the ‘decision’ not to teach Griko to her second child was ‘influenced’ by the fact that Griko had been abandoned in the other Griko-speaking villages: “We decided all of a sudden to teach him dialect, like the others in the village.” Uccia’s neighbor Giglio (born in 1949) similarly emphasized that, “In the ’50s the ‘fashion’ of Italian started; one family would imitate the other; it was as if everyone had come to the agreement to stop teaching Griko to their children” (my emphasis). We see here the strength of the hegemony of style (Bourdieu 1984), which led Griko speakers to adopt Italian, since knowing and speaking it was perceived as fashionable in line with the symbolic value that had come to be attached to it. What I want to stress is the notion of ‘imitation,’ which kept emerging in my informants’ accounts. Gaetano noted,
There was a period in which some families started sending their children to school to Lecce, and they realized the importance of Italian. Some of us who had migrated returned and had learned some Italian. So, the other families started imitating them and speaking Italian, well uh, or dialect with a few Italian words” (my emphasis).
In the quotations above, I used the verb “imitate” to translate, in the first example, the Romance dialect verb secutare, which literally means “to follow,” and, in the second example, the Griko original ikopièane—itself based on the Romance and Italian “copiare”—which means “to imitate,” “to mimic.” These are the two verbs that recurred frequently in my ethnographic material. Imitation therefore becomes crucial not only in the process of language acquisition but also in language abandonment. The fact that Griko speakers started ‘imitating’ one another, the decision not to transmit Griko reveals the underlying belief that those who were ‘going forward,’ as my informants put it—those who were advancing, as it were—would switch to Salentine and Italian. In fact the Romance verb secutare (to follow) indicates a movement toward something; this ‘something’ is the perceived path to modernization.

The Impact of Migration

It was in the context of migration that the ‘symbolic domination’ of the national language worked at its best, and that my elderly Griko friends came to identify Italian as a tool to access ‘a better life,’ which they had long awaited. Italian therefore came to be perceived as indexical of progress, of what in studies of language shift has been called the ‘prestige code’ (Labov 1966), while in symbolic contrast to it Griko became indexical of the hardship of the past, an index of backwardness, of a life before prosperity, also effectively classifying its speakers as inadequate in a changed world. Indeed, my interlocutors identified migration as one of the main (if not the main) reasons for the abandonment of Griko. The extremely poor economic situation of Grecìa Salentina had obliged people to leave their homes in search of ‘a better life,’ as the locals say.
Migration flows to Northern Italy and abroad, together with the related notion of economic enhancement, had a crucial impact on the perception of Griko; both of these factors affected every village of Grecìa Salentina, and of Salento more broadly, intensifying in the mid-1950s. Although the migration patterns of the villages are rather heterogeneous, the main destinations abroad were Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium, all facilitated by bilateral agreements with Italy; within Italy the main destination was Milan. The length of the migration period varied between a few years and a maximum of three decades. Also fairly common was the pattern of seasonal migration, with some spending a number of months working abroad each year, mainly in Switzerland. At the opposite end of the spectrum were those migrants who had recently retired and returned ‘home’ to spend their ‘old age’ there.
My interlocutors consistently refer to the difficulty of communication they encountered when they migrated to the North or abroad in search for jobs. As Gaetano characteristically said, “We were used to speaking mainly Griko, and when we left and migrated we realized that Italian was more important, but we were not able to speak Italian. We wondered how we were supposed to speak now?” Mario (born in 1961) from Sternatia told me, “I could not understand why it was better to speak this way and not the other way. I felt I had one foot in the ‘old world’ and one in the ‘modern world.’” Griko speakers were therefore caught in this transitional moment where contradictions and tensions between the past and present worldviews were encoded in tensions between specific languages. This is the tension that, according to Bahktin (1981:291, 292) derives from heteroglossia: [12]
The co-existence of socio-ideological contradictions between the present and the past, between differing epochs of the past, between different socio-ideological groups in the present, between tendencies, schools, circles and so forth. All the languages of heteroglossia … are specific points of view on the world, forms for conceptualizing the world in words, specific worldviews, each characterized by its own objects, meanings, and values.
Heteroglossia—from the Greek ètero (other) and glossa (language/speech)—is therefore particularly apt to describe the local languagescape constituted by Griko, Salentine, and then Italian, and to highlight the struggle of ‘voices’—the speaking consciousness (Bahktin 1981)—embedded in the process of language shift. Such a coexistence of multiple linguistic varieties and the emerging tension among them engenders what I call ‘language displacement’: an experiential displacement encoded through language, which unsettled Griko speakers and led them through a complex process to evaluate and negotiate the meanings attached to each linguistic code, and to ‘adapt’ to them linguistically and existentially. Crucially, displacement refers not to substitution but instead captures the sense of confusion my interlocutors felt about when and why to use a given language. Semiotician Julia Kristeva (1980:27) has also stressed that in times of abrupt change, when identity is unstable, language is unstable too.
The following excerpt from Gaetano offers the most explicit discussion of how the sense of displacement experienced by Griko speakers at the time indeed transcended linguistic competencies. This led them to experience a complex mixture of feelings, which is not ‘simply’ related to the fact that they did not speak Italian well enough, but which became an ‘experiential displacement’: shifting away from Griko equally required a shift from a ‘traditional’ worldview to a ‘modern’ one.
1 Ivò motte ìcha dekapènte chronu ìstigga già is Milana When I was 15 years old I was/lived already in Milan
2 quindi is dekapènte chronu iane già lu sessantadue so when I was 15 years old it was already ’62
3 millenovecentosessantadue 1962
4 Ittù en’ene ka iche kaggiètsonta, ittù mesa mesa so paìsi Here nothing had changed here inside, inside in the village
5 javènnane ta pròata, javènnane t’ aleàte, tinà goats passed by, cows passed by
6 izùamo ankora me ti ... mi zoì, jènato i zoì ka jènato panta. we still lived with life was as it had always been
7 Isù ìgue (…) ìgue so pornò You would hear in the morning
8 iche kammia strata asfaltata there were some paved streets
9 allora ìgue tus tus trainu so you would hear the carts of
10 t’ampària, plaplapla, te staffe ka staffilèane (...) the horses plaplapla the stirrups
11 Motte èplonne ka so porno ìgue citta ampària When you were sleeping in the morning you would hear those horses
12 probbio ìane mia musika mia it was really like music
13 ’na pramma òrio ka finka it was really nice and until
14 chronu ampì poi arikordèome a few years back I remember
15 motte èplonna si ciuricacì ce iche kanèna aghitòniso when I’d sleep on Sundays and there was some neighbor
16 ka ankora iche to traino me to (.) me t’ampàri (.) who still had the cart with the horse.
17 Motte jàvenne mu èrkatto stennù ola ta pràmata When it passed by, I’d remember all these things.
18 tuso ampàri, cisi, cisi musika probbio atte staffe att'ampària that horse, that music really
19 Allora ivò motta pirta is Milana So when I went to Milan
20 àtsikkosa na torìso che i annamurati I started seeing that partners
21 ghènnane manechùddiattu went out on their own
22 Eh, ma ittù pane manechùddiatu so cìnema But here they go on their own to the cinema
23 guènnane manechùddiattu they went out on their own
24 filèatto mesa si strata they kissed on the street
25 Ce so cìnema ‘mbratsònanto, na capu de [cardu] And in the cinema they hug each other, what the [hell]
26 Itù manechuddi ittù? They live like this here?
27 Allora me tus kumpàgnu dikummu So with my friends
28 Ma imì motta jenomèsta mali But we when we get older
29 motta èchume pedia imì when we have our own children
30 Eh pos enna kàmome? Eh how shall we do it?
31 Ma ta rotùamo is se ma stesso We asked ourselves
32 Pos enna kàmome? Kundu mas kàmane se ma? What shall we do? Like it was done to us?
33 Na mi tus kàmome n’aggune antàma manechùddhiato Shall we forbid them to go out alone
34 o kànome kundu ittù kundu kànnune is Milana? or shall we do like they do in Milan?
35 En’itsèrame manku emì na dòkume mia risposta We didn’t even know how to answer.
Gaetano’s narrative starts with autobiographical references that provide information about the setting (Milan) and the time (1962) of his migration, but he soon shifts and provides a detailed image of village life back then (lines 4–18) showing involvement with his own memory. In 1962, nothing had changed in the village and ‘life still was as it had always been,’ Gaetano argues, suggesting a notion of time (up to then) devoid of radical changes. Here the use of the temporal adverb ‘nkora (still) allows Gaetano to convey a sense of opposition, anticipating that things did change drastically later on. He goes on to recall how, until a few years earlier, he used to be awakened by the sound of the horses passing by—when he ‘still’ (‘nkora) had neighbors with horses—implying this has now become unusual; the repetition of this temporal adverb (lines 6 and 16) further builds on the idea of a break from a continuous unchanged past. This sound, which he tries to mimic, this music, as he calls it, catalyzes a nostalgic flashback, and Gaetano “remembered all these things” and evaluates them in light of the present, in so doing dissipating the hardships of the past and portraying the past almost as desirable.
In line 19, Gaetano then takes up the initial theme about his years in Milan, and he stresses how couples would go out on their own, they would kiss on the street and hug in the cinema (i.e. not chaperoned by anyone as was the dominant custom in Southern Italy at the time). This unexpected turn of events gives way in line 26 to thoughts Gaetano reports as an internal dialogue. In line 25, we find a hint of an imprecation (capu de …). Although Gaetano omits the final part (de cardu)—roughly rendered in English as ‘what the hell’—this hint effectively communicates his own surprise and a feeling of excitement (mixed with envy) at seeing these couples’ behavior in public. This inner speech serves as an attention-getter that prepares the ground for what it is to follow. In line 27, Gaetano moves from his inner speech to including in his thoughts also his friends in Milan, who likewise moved there from the South of Italy. The open-ended problem-solving dialogue introduces the dilemma about how they will act with their own children: whether they will allow them to go out without being chaperoned (like in Milan) or not (like in Sternatia). The opposition between we/them becomes clear. In line 31, Gaetano breaks the constructed dialogue by saying, ‘We asked ourselves.’ The repetition of the same question, ‘what shall we do.’ in lines 30 and 32 intensifies their dilemma (line 35).
Thus in a very condensed space, Gaetano epitomizes the negotiation between a past and a modern worldview—and the struggle to adjust to a shifting chronotope. In the first part of the narrative, Gaetano describes village life before he moved to Milan; crucially, in light of the present, he portrays an image of the past free from ruptures/changes. In the second part of the narrative, he describes a mixed feeling of surprise/excitement about the ‘different’ way in which things were done in Milan. As Elinor Ochs (2004) argues, narratives of the open-ended dialogic problem-solving kind, such as Gaetano’s here, encompass raising and responding to doubts, questions, speculations, challenges, and other evaluative stances. Through narrative, Gaetano brings into dialogic consciousness multiple temporalities and multiple perceptions of the self. Shifting throughout the narrative from autobiographical experiences to collective ones, he provides a moral evaluation of colliding views based on an ongoing dialogical negotiation and appropriation of different voices.
As in Gaetano’s case, the experience of living in the North of Italy, and indeed abroad, exposed Griko speakers to a reality they perceived as drastically different from their own experiential reality. The temporal divide between ‘the known past and place’ and the ‘changing world’—the clash between the agricultural and the urban environment—became apparent and unsettled them. This is a constitutive part of ‘language displacement’, which ultimately affected Griko speakers’ ideas and feelings about their languages. My interlocutors constantly say that ‘they did things differently there’; paraphrasing Hartley (1953), we could say that for them back then, “the future was a foreign country: they did things differently there.” They felt displaced by different customs, which they perceived as ‘modern’ in comparison with their own. This ongoing comparison mediated a self-scrutiny and entailed a number of different emotional reactions, as well as moral evaluations; it entailed surprise and excitement about social and economic emancipation, but also uncertainty, discomfort, and disorientation about colliding values and goals, as we heard in Gaetano’s words above.
The formulaic expression O kosmo kàngesce (The world changed), which elderly speakers use as self-explanatory, therefore refers not simply to the macro changes that followed WWII; rather, these different experiential environments mediated a troubled process of negotiation and self- and group-redefinition that came to be encoded through language. This became evident in another conversation with Uccio from Zollino, who reflected on this transitional moment, saying, “Until then we didn’t even have anything to eat, we didn’t have money; when we migrated we earned money, we saw how life was elsewhere.” This is where I interjected with “O kosmo kàngesce”—“The world changed.” But, crucially, this is where he replied, “Si si kàngesce. Kangèsciamo imì. Imì kangèsciamo”—“Yes, yes it changed. We changed, we changed” (emphasis in original).
As studies following a language ideological approach to language shift have shown, language use is indeed linked to the speaker’s interpretations of macro-processes and language and social relations, and it becomes attuned to shifting group and world conceptions. [13] In other words, it is how Griko speakers interpreted “the changing world,” how they negotiated and internalized it and eventually participated in it, that had an effect on language use. Elderly people still reflect on the implications of change—including its deriving economic enhancement—in light of the present, and still negotiate its meaning and their own personal and group responsibility in shifting away from Griko, but they also admit that change was then welcomed, longed for, and actively pursued. By the same token, the past, whose language of expression is Griko so to speak, may be portrayed by highlighting its hardship—as we heard Gaetano doing in the first chapter—and/or it may be nostalgically reevaluated in light of the present, as he does here, providing evidence of the cultural temporality of language I continue to analyze in the next chapters.
In analytical terms, I identify two language shifts, which concern three generations. Not surprisingly, these shifts are not clearcut, but overlap. The first generation shifted from Griko to Salentine; Griko stopped being transmitted to children as a mother tongue. This shift can be located approximately between the mid-1930s and the end of the 1940s. The Griko-Romance power balance shifted towards Salentine as the ‘Italian’ language ideology progressively penetrated everyday life. At this stage, however, Salentine became a tool for social inclusion, and was perceived as a ‘conduit’ to accessing Italian. Griko was still used as the language of intimacy within the household, as the solidarity code in intragroup communication, and for cryptolalic purposes.
The second generation shifted from Salentine to Italian; this process needs to be read in the larger scale of national dynamics, and in relation to the long war against dialects, which used the school system as the means of eradicating dialects by prescribing and enforcing a form of Italian that had to differ as much as possible from the Romance dialects—what linguist Tulio de Mauro (1979:14) called “dialect-phobia.” However, the impact of television in spreading Italian was tangible and more effective than any language planning ever could have been. Notably, Pasolini provocatively wrote in 1964, “Italian is finally born” (quoted in Tosi 2004: 278). [14] Although today the percentage of Italians who speak only dialect is very limited and Italian is the undisputed national language of Italy, it would be incorrect to say that Italians speak only Italian (Berruto 1993). In fact, according to Grimes (1988, quoted in Tosi 2004: 259), Italian is the first language of only fifty percent of the country’s population, and according to Lepschy (2002:44), Italy is largely a bilingual country.
Bearing this in mind, the distribution of linguistic resources across generations is as follows: the elderly generation is mostly bilingual, speaking Griko and the Romance dialect along with varying degrees of competence in Italian; the young generation is bilingual, speaking Italian and dialect; and the ‘in-between generation’ is trilingual, speaking Griko, dialect, and Italian, with varying degrees of competence in Griko. In light of this discussion, it seems more appropriate to talk of ‘one shift in two phases’ in the case of Griko speakers: the conceptual and existential shift is to Italian, but it is mediated through Salentine. It might therefore be more productive to visualize this process not in terms of oppositions, but in terms of embeddedness within concentric circles, in which one finds Griko embedded in the larger circle of Salentine, which in turn is embedded in the larger circle of Italian. The borders of these circles are fading, a discussion I continue in the next section.

Families’ Interactions and the Transmission of Griko

The fuzzy boundaries between codes are clearly demonstrated by the fact that, even within the same household, parents spoke to their eldest children in Griko, and in Salentine to those children who were born “when everything started changing.” Indeed, although many of my interlocutors perceived and describe this shift away from Griko as sudden, Griko also continued to be transmitted during this transitional time.
Vincenzo (father) Pippi! Tela ittù na su po (Griko)
Pippi. Come here. I have to talk to you.
Pippi (eldest son)Mino ‘na spirì tàta, ste ce èrkomai (Griko)
Wait a second, Dad, I am coming.
(Speaking to his younger brother in Salentine)
Tocca vau, Nucita ca lu tata sta me chiama.
I have to go, Niceta, Dad is calling me.
Vincenzo Nucita, veni cu te dicu puru a tie (Salentine)
Niceta, come. I have to talk to you too.
This is how my father, Niceta (1932–2014), recalls a typical conversation between his own father Vincenzo (born in 1901) and his elder brother Pippi (born in 1926). This practice was widespread among families and emerged dominantly from the interview data within households: parents would speak Griko among themselves, they would address their eldest children in Griko, and speak Salentine to those children who were born “when everything started changing”: the eldest children would reply in Griko to their parents, but speak Salentine to their younger siblings, and so on. Language choice within the same conversation therefore depended on which child/sibling they were addressing. These intragroup interactions help us to understand how at this stage the transmission of Griko was still assured even as parents ‘consciously’ decided not to teach it as the mother tongue. In fact, language transmission and socialization go beyond parent-child interactions. Just as in the case of my own father, many of my interlocutors were exposed to Griko and learned it by hearing the interactions between their parents and older siblings, as well as interactions between their parents, and between their parents and their grandparents. My brother-in-law Salvatore (born in 1954) from Zollino remembers:
My auntie, my father’s sister, used to live with us and also my grandmother, and they would always speak Griko to each other. My mother and father would also speak it between them and with my grandmother and auntie. So even if they did not speak it to us, how could we not learn it? Now it is difficult for us to speak it; I have forgotten it.
Moreover, it was common at this time for grandparents to care for their grandchildren when their own sons and daughters had migrated—as elsewhere in Southern Europe. This is important because even if Griko was not transmitted as a mother tongue, children would spend a considerable amount of time with the ‘elderly,’ and were exposed to it simply because it was the language of the household, of the family, of ‘intimacy.’ At least partially, Griko was therefore transmitted through this intrafamilial practice. This brings us back to the central role played by affect in language socialization and vice versa, and to the ‘affective’ function of Griko linked to the speakers’ autobiographical memory.
This dynamic, moreover, bears crucial implications for the present and sheds light on the nonfulfillment of Morosi’s prophecy about the ‘death of Griko,’ which I discussed in the previous chapter, and the fact that for more than one generation it has been argued that Griko is spoken by the ‘elderly.’ Elderly people—those born between the early 1930s to the late 1940s—today are both those who learned Griko as mother tongue and those who learned it through the intragroup practices described above. Those belonging to the ‘in-between generation,’ as I referred to it earlier, will soon be considered ‘elderly’ too. As is common in instances of language shift, the degree of competence among speakers varies, and likewise there is currently a high degree of heterogeneity in linguistic competence, to which I will return when discussing contemporary linguistic practice in Chapter 6.

Intragroup Cryptolalia

If the cryptolalic use of Griko—its use as a ‘secret language’—allowed Griko speakers to carve out a space for themselves from which those who lacked this resource were excluded, this practice also enforced and reinforced stigmatization by non-Griko speakers, as we have seen. Crucially, however, at a more advanced stage of the shift, Griko was also used for cryptolalic purposes within the family, when parents did not wish to be understood by their children—I have personally experienced it, as my own parents often resorted to this practice. With respect to this, linguist Io Manolessou (2005:106–107) argues that,
the presence of the Romance dialect has denied the dying Griko the main reason of resistance of all minority languages: communicative situations which require its use. … In the case of S. Italy, the linguistic roles which confer high prestige are assumed by Italian, whereas the covert prestige belongs to the local Romance dialect, which is the main instrument of everyday communication and social integration. This leaves no specific role for the Greek dialect to play, except in extreme situations of ‘secret’ communication.
Manolessou’s analysis is in line with research on language shift, which has fruitfully referenced notions variously known as linguistic “prestige,” dominance and power for the dominant/high code, and “covert prestige” (Labov 1966) and more often solidarity for the minority/low code. I suggest instead that those extreme situations of secret communication deserve attentive analysis, as they are themselves communicative situations in which the use of Griko is strategically ‘exploited.’ On one hand, this shows the limits of the intrinsic structuralist paradigm based on high/low, we/they, dominant/subordinate oppositions, which scholars have acknowledged (see Woolard 1999).
This is how my neighbor Giuseppe (born in 1948) from Zollino put it:
I remember vividly my parents speaking Griko with one another or with my grandparents or uncles/aunties when ‘we’ young children were not supposed to understand. And yet, that was the moment in which we children would pay more attention to what was said: we would prick up our ears instinctively, and in most cases we would pick up one or two known words and guess the totality of the interaction.
This type of comment came up time and again in my ethnographic material. Indeed, Raffaele (born in 1963) from Zollino similarly recalled,
When I overheard Griko being spoken by my parents, I knew that something important was going on, something I was not supposed to know … and this is precisely when a child wants to find out! Sometimes I would get it wrong, but I envied them so much! And when I would get it right, they would be angry at me, but for some reason happy too.
The linguistic practice of cryptolalia is indeed constructed and mediated by a language ideology that sees Griko as an additional resource and a valuable asset. Griko is ‘practical,’ Griko speakers often say. [15] “These extreme situations of ‘secret communications’” (Manolessou 2005:107) therefore represent the speaker’s response to both official language ideologies (Italian) and local pressures (Salentine), ultimately confronting heteroglossia.
As Hill (1993:69) rightly observes, the heteroglossia confronted by speakers is reflected in the ways that
codes emerge and are reproduced (or not) through what speakers do as they create and deploy a set of interpretive and productive practices that are ‘interested,’ exploiting the available symbolic materials to try to create those conjunctions of forms and meaning that may be most advantageous.
I therefore suggest treating the practice of cryptolalia as a form of symbolic resistance to linguistic domination. Indeed, Griko speakers experienced self-deprecation, and had internalized the dominant language ideology that considers Griko as a ‘handicap’ in the changed world; they also experienced stigmatization by Salentine speakers and internalized the notion that using Griko was ‘rude.’ They had ‘mixed feelings’ about Griko. The use of ‘cryptolalia’ within the family, however, ensured the transmission of Griko—although at times only passively so—and, more to the point, it had the effect of reproducing the idea that knowing Griko was ‘convenient/practical.’ The current recourse to Griko, including by those with a limited command of the language, is an indicator of the internalization of a language ideology that considers Griko as a ‘valuable resource’ to be exploited when needed, in addition to indexing in-group intimacy (Pellegrino 2019).

Multiple Linguistic Repertoire

Ma, leo ‘vò, jatì?
E mànema ma milìsane grika
ka cini ìone e glòssama,
oli iu milùsamo, ce màsamo o griko …
depoi mas ènghise na milìsome
o dialetto ja ta pedìa,
ka o griko ‘en ìbbie pleo kalò …
ce màsamo o dialetto.
Depoi irta’ t’anitzia,
ka milùne italiano,
c' ènghise na màsome puru o italiano.
Ma arte, leo evò,
itta loja amerikana,
pètemmu pròbbio,
ti katzo mas endiàzzutte?
(Griko from Calimera)
But I ask why?
Our mothers spoke Griko to us and that
was our language,
we all spoke it, and we learned it.
Then we had to learn to speak Salentine
for our children’s sake,
because Griko wasn’t good anymore
… and we learned it.
Then our grandchildren arrived,
who speak Italian
and we had to learn to speak Italian too.
But now, I say,
these American words,
tell me really,
what the hell do we need them for?
(Mudanzia, from the comedy Loja Americana)
The case at hand points to a complex linguistic repertoire, which is the outcome of the historical Griko-Romance dialect bilingualism described in the previous chapter, and of the shift to Italian. This complex repertoire has been defined in different ways: triglossia without trilingualism (Profili 1985); bilingualism with diglossia with three codes involved (Ineschi 1983); some scholars have even called into question the very applicability of the term bilingualism and refer to “a complex situation of cohabitation of linguistic varieties” (Romano et al. 2002:76). [16] As Kathryn Woolard (1999) argues, scholars’ approach to bilingualism and multilingualism has been influenced by postmodern trends, and has moved away from linguistic theoretical perspectives that, embedded in the monolingual Western intellectual tradition, understood bilingualism and multilingualism to be anomalous.
The case of the Griko-Salentine-Italian relationship contributes to this line of inquiry by showing how speakers, through an admittedly complex process, ‘adapted’ to different linguistic and existential codes, and how they evaluated and negotiated the meanings attached to them. The quotation above makes this point. These coexisting linguistic repertoires are indeed used by speakers to index multiple social identities in alternative terms, as the fluidity of the code boundaries and their manipulation attest. This confirms Bakhtin’s argument that “languages do not exclude each other, but rather intersect with each other in many different ways” (Bakhtin 1981:291). As we will see in the chapters that follow, this intersection continues to have crucial implications, as languages remain indexical of specific worldviews, which are temporally anchored and emotionally charged.


[ back ] 1. See Profili 1996. For the case of Calabrian Greek, see Petropoulou 1995; Profili 1996; Katsoyannou 1995. They argue that the isolation of the Grecanico-speaking villages was pivotal in the preservation of the language. Likewise, natural disasters caused the depopulation of these villages and the dispersion of Greko speakers, contributing to the rapid decline of the language.
[ back ] 2. Until fairly recently the economy of the province of Lecce depended more or less directly on the size of the harvest of 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 1960s.
[ back ] 3. According to an approximate estimate (De Mauro 1970), at the end of WWII, 69 percent of Italians were in a state of diglossia, alternating between using their local Romance dialect and the national language for diverse purposes and with different people: 13 percent were monolingual in the Romance dialect, and 18 percent were monolingual in Italian.
[ back ] 4. For studies that apply a language ideology approach to language shift see Gal 1978; Jaffe 1999; Kulick 1992; and Woolard 1989, among others. I also collected elderly people’s accounts of their history of language use in Martano and Corigliano, but those accounts are not included here.
[ back ] 5. Within the general tendency to abandon Griko, there is indeed a variation internal to the Griko-speaking villages, although it is not critical. Between the villages of Zollino and Sternatia—located merely one kilometer away from each other—there is therefore about a ten year gap with regards to the general trend to stop transmitting Griko to children as their mother tongue.
[ back ] 6. See Petropoulou 1995 for the case of Grecanico; Mertz 1989 for Scottish Gaelic speakers; Jaffe 1999 for Corsican; Dorian 1986 for East Sutherland Gaelic; Shandler 2006 for Yiddish, to mention only a few.
[ back ] 7. See De Mauro and Lodi 1979; Montinaro 1994; Gruppo di Lecce 1979.
[ back ] 8. These terms are Italian loanwords; note that riprezzo is the Romance-dialect equivalent of the Italian ribrezzo; vergogna and schifo are also used in the Romance dialect.
[ back ] 9. Tsitsipis first introduced self-deprecation in 1995, building on Hamp (1978) and further developing his notion.
[ back ] 10. See Jaffe 1999; also Dorian 1981 for Gaelic and Kuter 1989 for Breton. Uccia from Sternatia made a compelling argument when she told me that her first child, whose mother tongue was Griko, had no problem learning Italian and was first in his class, as he learned it from the ‘ground up’; yet her second child, to whom she taught Salentine as a mother tongue, had more difficulty, as he would get confused between Italian and Salentine.
[ back ] 11. This brings us back to notions of ‘purity’ and ‘hybridity,’ which I discussed in the previous chapter in relation to the ‘polluting’ effect of the Romance dialect on Griko. The same dynamic is at play when it comes to Italian, which becomes ‘bastardized/hybrid’ for the same reason. My elderly informants still get away with what they define as ‘homemade Italian’ (Italiano fatto a casa), using what they had available, as it were. See Jaffe (1999), who reports the same dynamic at play in the case of Corsican and Italian, where the boundaries between Corsican and Italian are fuzzy and where speaking Italian meant liberally sprinkling in Corsican. See also Stacul 2001; Cavanaugh 2009.
[ back ] 12. In order to describe the tension among languages and language ideologies experienced by speakers through the process of language shift, scholars have fruitfully applied Bakhtin’s framework. See Tsitsipis 1998, Hill and Hill 1986, among others.
[ back ] 13. See Gal 1978, 1979; Woolard 1989; Mertz 1989; Kulick 1992; Hill 1993 among others.
[ back ] 14. Pasolini referred to the spread of a particular type of Italian imposed by the media, commerce, and industry, which he defined as “technological”: a language created by capitalism.
[ back ] 15. My mother’s brother Uccio, born in 1921, died fighting in WWII. In 1941, not long after he left home, he sent a letter to my grandmother in which he wrote: “Manèddhamu, mu vàlane ‘es katìne sta chèria ce sta pòja. Sto benissimo mamma.” The contents of letters were being checked by the authorities before being delivered to the addressee; he therefore used Griko for cryptolalic purposes to say, “Mother, they chained my hands and feet,” and then in Italian “I am very well, mother.” The practice of cryptolalia is indeed still diffuse, and my informants resort to it in various contexts and for a variety of purposes, including gossiping.
[ back ] 16. The alternative uses of Italian and dialect have been the topic of debate among linguists; Berruto (2005:205), for instance, distinguishes among social bilingualism, diglossia, dilalia, and bidialectism.