6. “Certain Things Never Change and Those Sound Better in Griko”: Living with the Language

While surfing the internet one December morning, I came across an article in the Italian online newspaper La Repubblica about five commercials aired by RAI—the Italian state owned public service broadcaster. It was 2010 and the advertising campaign for the renewal of the license fee was dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy. Each of the five commercials had the same format: it presented three scenes in which contemporary characters spoke their local dialect and were not understood by their interlocutors. There was a basketball coach who explained his game plans in ‘Neapolitan’ to the players who did not understand him; a school teacher thought mathematics in ‘Salentine’ to his students who could not follow him; a priest officiated a wedding in ‘Piedmontese’ before the eyes of the incredulous bride and groom; a politician spoke in ‘Ligurian’ to a journalist who stared back at him, astonished. The commercials ended with the Italian flag waving, while the Italian hymn Fratelli d’Italia played in the background; the commentator concluded by saying, “If Italians were those of 150 years ago, they would probably still communicate this way. Since then, we made a very important journey and Rai has always been with us.” Each one of the characters closed the commercial with a positive comment in Italian (such as “How marvelous,” “How lovely,” “Fantastic,” “Isn’t it beautiful?” and “Simple, isn’t it?” [1] ).
The commercial’s text emphasized that dialects are not mutually intelligible, while implying that they are not spoken today since doing so would divide an otherwise linguistically united Italy. Italian regional and local ‘dialects,’ together with minority languages, had indeed been the targets of what De Mauro (1979) defined as ‘dialect-phobia,’ the State intolerance towards them, which was based on a deep-rooted aesthetic and moral prejudice that equates them with backwardness. Italian television presented instead the journey from Babel to modernity, as it were, by celebrating its utility in standardizing and diffusing Italian (see Chapter 2).
The commercials motivated a Facebook protest, “Facebook against the RAI commercial 2010 on ‘dialects’: shame, they are living languages.” In less than two weeks, three thousand people had joined the protest, and several blog posts appeared that criticized the commercials’ underlying negative stance towards dialects. In mid-December I read an article that triumphantly announced that RAI would replace them, so when I traveled back to Italy to spend Christmas with my family, I was struck by the new commercial. It showed the same actors from the previous one—the priest, the politician, the schoolteacher—each of whom used their dialects to offer seasonal best wishes. The voiceover said, “In the Italy of the regional identities and cultures there are many ways to give wishes.” Once again, the RAI logo appeared superimposed on the Italian flag followed by the message “RAI: 150 years of such wishes” accompanied by the Italian national anthem. [2]
The protests against these commercials reflect the missions of Unesco and other European bodies that seek to protect language diversity. As with minority languages, the revitalization of dialects is part of a wider valorization process, but the vignette above also illustrates how this global discourse of ‘unity in diversity’ finds particularly fertile ground among Italians. By drawing on phraseology such as “intangible heritage” and Italy “as the outcome of the unity of diverse identities,” the protests reproduce its underlying language ideology, which led the RAI to do the same in the replacement commercial. As a matter of fact, Italy is characterized by a multilingualism that far exceeds the twelve minority languages recognized by Law 482, since Italy’s so-called regional ‘dialects’—which are in fact unofficial languages that developed from Latin (Tosi 2004:248)—are not protected by Law 482. This in turn has opened up debates about the need to equally safeguard Romance dialects; significantly, in the very title of the Facebook group, dialects are referred to as “languages,” challenging the official distinction between the two. In reality, there is nothing intrinsically linguistic to differentiate them; as Gal and Irvine (1995) highlight, the distinction is rendered by social forces that are external to the linguistic practices themselves; what distinguishes them is ultimately the political power assigned to national languages. [3]
Interestingly, almost ten years later the Facebook protest group against the RAI commercial is still very active, and followers now post and comment articles about linguistic topics, displaying their attachment to the values of local dialects. Against the moral panic about their disappearance not only has the use of dialects persisted, but since the 1990s they have enjoyed a renewed vitality or renaissance. Salentine has increasingly been employed in domains other than the traditional oral one: in local TV commercials, in comics, and in local newspapers and computer mediated communication. The dialect is also used by the nationally famous music group SudSoundsystem, who have helped pioneer this trend by composing songs in Salentine, or alternating Salentine with Italian, a trend that has been followed by new local singers ever since. [4] We also find it in the movies, directed by the local director Edoardo Winspeare. Moreover, typical Salentine expressions and proverbs have entered the everyday visual space, appearing on t-shirts and various types of paraphernalia (keychains, backpacks, gadgets, etc.). The vignette above, however, also shows the continuous tension between the ‘new’ (European) and the ‘old’ (nation-state) language ideology, a tension within which Griko is caught.

The People with Two Languages

Quiddhu ca volia an sonnu me venia! (Salentine)
Ci’ppi telo ivò assinnu to torò! (Griko)
Quello che vorrei appar nei sogni miei (Italian)
I dream what I want
I dream what I want
I dream what I want
Quiddhu ca volia, Lyrics by Rocco De Santis, Avleddha
In their sociolinguistic survey investigating “the vitality of Griko,” linguists Alberto Sobrero and Annarita Miglietta (2010) remark that locals’ linguistic repertoire is now dominated by Salentine, as only twenty-two percent of the sample is able to complete a conversational turn started in Griko without switching to the Romance dialect; this led them to conclude that only one person from Sternatia out of five people has a ‘good’ conversational competence in Griko, and therefore that “the overall competence is rather modest” (Sobrero and Miglietta 2010:129, 133). In the same article the authors call into question the Unesco Language Vitality Index, designed to determine languages’ degree of vitality or endangerment according to six main factors (intergenerational transmission, number and proportion of speakers, shift in domains of language use, response to new domains and media, material for language education, and literacy); highlighting the methodological issues arising from these classifications, Sobrero and Miglietta define such instruments as contradictory, misleading, and insufficient to describe the local linguistic reality, which may therefore lead to equally misleading and contradictory results (2010:133–136).
Linguists have indeed criticized the unreliability of such instruments in assessing languages’ vitality; it is telling, however, that notwithstanding their own critical reading of the Unesco chart, Sobrero and Miglietta (2010) define the overall vitality of Griko in Sternatia as ‘modest’ based on the prevalence of code switches to Salentine. This reveals, I argue, the pervasiveness of what Alexandra Jaffe defines an approach to ‘language-as-code,’ which prevails in academic and policymaking spheres, and which delegitimizes the mixed codes and practices deriving from language contact and shift (Jaffe 2007:61–67)—and with them the resulting hybrid linguistic identities. [5]
If we look back at the lyrics of the song Quiddhu ca Vulia (by the Griko singer and songwriter Rocco De Santis) above, we can easily see how he uses Griko, Salentine, and Italian, alternating them, providing a characteristic example of the specificity of the case at hand, which needs to be taken into account. The coexistence of Griko, Salentine, and Italian renders this a highly heteroglossic languagescape where the boundaries between Griko and the Salentine dialect have long been flexible (see Chapter 1); indeed, the alternation of Griko/Salentine is very common, while, as we have seen, the acceptance of mixed forms has contributed to the very persistence of Griko to the present day. Moreover, the use of Salentine is a widespread and accepted practice that interests all ages, with no distinction of social class or gender. As for Salentine/Italian, Sobrero argued that we can talk ‘simply of alternation’ of the two codes (1992:27–28).
As for Griko, the title of one of the De Santis brothers’ CDs is telling: it’s called Ofidèa, which means ‘snake.’ I remind the reader of the ‘offensive’ expression “people with two languages/tongues, people with two faces” (Chapter 2). Here the De Santis brothers, Rocco and Gianni, reappropriate this image to elevate its meaning, and to transfer it to the language itself. Yes, Griko the language—rather than its speakers—becomes the snake:
[One could] identify Griko with the snake: its so-called two-pronged tongue brings us ideally to Griko bilingualism; the nature of Ofidèa is bilingual, as bilingual was the Byzantine culture from which we descend and it is expressed in the Romance dialect and in Griko.
Rocco De Santis (liner notes)
Griko, like a snake, has two tongues, but this is no reason for self-deprecation. In their songs the De Santis brothers alternate between both languages, just as Griko speakers do. To resort to Salentine while speaking Griko, or to alternate both codes, had become a ‘natural’ practice—blurring the linguistic boundaries. This is reflected in traditional songs that alternate strophes in Griko and Salentine. In light of such a heteroglossic and dynamic languagescape it is therefore hardly surprising that locals draw on all linguistic resources available to them, together with their symbolic weight. Yet, guidelines such as those provided by Unesco to assess languages’ vitality/endangerment transcend academic discussions, carrying important implications for the community. As Hacking argued, those belonging to a specific classification—the minority language speakers in this case—may be affected by it, and their experiences of themselves may be changed by being so classified (Hacking 1999:11).
Similarly, the academic insistence on describing Griko as always on the verge of disappearing can in fact be understood as the enactment of the semiotic process of erasure, which renders invisible those patterns of speaking that do not fit the prescriptive scholarly ideology (Gal and Irvine 1995). Defining tout court the alternate use of Griko/Romance or any instances of code-switching as an intrinsic “lack of competence” implies the objectification of language-as-code. I argue instead that, in order to fully appreciate what is happening on the ground, we need to move beyond the search for “unadulterated and authentic speech” (Gal 1989:316), a tradition in which studies of language ‘death’ have been long embedded. In order to grasp the nuanced ways in which linguistic identities emerge, it becomes essential to pay equal attention to those creative uses of minority languages that are often disregarded or considered marginal.
In this chapter I address Sobrero and Miglietta’s (2010) call for a study of actual linguistic behavior; but my aim here is not to assess Griko’s vitality, or speakers’ competence. Following Alexandra Jaffe I apply, instead, an approach to ‘language-as-practice’ (Jaffe 1999, 2007) wherein multiple forms of language practice become socially and culturally meaningful for locals beyond the boundaries of ‘full competence’ or full communicative use of the language. I therefore show how non-Griko speakers and those with a passive competence creatively resort to Griko, making the best of the limited linguistic resources available to them. Rather than focusing on their lack of competence, I stress the socio-cultural relevance of such instances of language use, however limited or partial, and their implications for personal and community self-representation. After all, linguistic practice is also always metadiscursive (Jaffe 1999:14).
Griko is indeed part of the texture of locals’ everyday life in multiform ways; it has reentered the experiential reality of the larger community and is increasingly being used in domains other than the traditional ones. I therefore analyze the many ways in which locals live with Griko and engage with it other than by speaking it, and I foreground the various modalities in which the language finds space for expression—writing, singing, reciting poems, storytelling, etc. As we will see, the performative/artistic dimension in which Griko is embedded dominates such events, with locals continually drawing on the Griko linguistic-cultural tradition. Through this process, they reenact old practices, revealing their relationship with the past and the emotional and moral values it evokes, providing further instances of the power of the cultural temporality of language in shaping language practices.

The Young Generation’s Repertoire in Griko

When, as in this case, the shift takes more than one generation and takes place through a restriction in the language’s functions, the result is a pool of speakers with varying degrees of competence. This is mainly a generationally dependent variation; competence is often partial and sometimes only passive, as is the case for the ‘in-between generation,’ born in the years following WWII, who were not taught Griko as their mother tongue. Those belonging to the younger generation—that is those born in the 1970s and after—are bilingual Italian/Salentine speakers and cannot (largely) be defined as Griko speakers. Clearly ‘age in a vacuum’ is not a marker in itself, as the exposure to Griko depends on the specific biography of each speaker, and to the time they spent with their grandparents and elderly people in general. Take Donatello (born in 1970), whose parents are Griko speakers who often used Griko at home and with extended family; since we were young adults he would speak Griko—often repeating his mother’s words—and he keeps using it when meeting his friends from Sternatia. Mattia (born in 1980) inherited the ‘“passion for Griko’ from his father; his maternal grandfather was Greek, so he is also fluent in MG. Or take Enrico (born in 1982) who made a conscious effort to learn the language from his grandfather, and who is now fluent in Griko. Since those who have actively engaged in either improving their limited competence or in acquiring the language remain the minority inside the minority, these ‘exceptions’ tell a lot about the individual.
Exceptions aside, the competence in Griko of the young generation, if any, varies considerably, moving from knowing just a handful of words, to knowing a handful of sentences, to knowing a number of formulaic expressions. Indeed, the small repertoire the young generation skillfully makes convenient use of consists mainly of such formulaic expressions. Among them we find greetings such as greetings: Pos pame? Pos istèi? Pame kalà; istèo kalò/kalì (How are you doing? How are you? I am well); salutations: Kalinnìtta, stasu kalò/kalì (goodnight, goodbye); exclamations: Pame? Tela ‘ttù. Anòise? Anòisa. Ìpa ivò (Shall we go? Come here; did you understand? I understood; I said); insults/swear words: amo ce piatti sto’ kkolo; Ti kazzo lei armènu? (Go to hell! What the fuck are you saying?). This repertoire is constituted by formulae that the young generation can imitate and reproduce more easily. At times more competent speakers may (inadvertently or not) trigger the insecurity of those younger speakers who ‘make an effort’ to speak the language.
For example, consider Alessandro, a man is in his early forties; sipping coffee with him and his father Giovanni, born in 1951, a fluent speaker, we were talking about his family history in relation to Griko. At a certain point, Giovanni expressed regret for not having taught it to his children, but immediately clarified that his eldest son, Alessandro, does speak it: “'O mea to kuntei, olo to kuntèi, 'o minciò to anoà” (Griko)—“The eldest [son] speaks it; the small [son] understands it.” This is when Alessandro intervened in Griko to explain to me that he learned the language with his grandfather and father because they would speak it covertly (see Chapter 2); hesitating, he said: “Me to’ ciuri, me to’ nonno, jai cini kuntèane atse skuso” (Griko)—“With my father, with my grandad, because they would speak it covertly.” Alessandro’s use of the Salentine “skuso” for “covertly,” however, immediately triggered Giovanni’s reaction, who sanctioned it and used instead the Griko “krifà.” I sat with them drinking coffee for another half an hour, but Alessandro did not intervene in Griko again; as his competence had been sharply scrutinized and corrected by his father, he switched to the Romance dialect for the rest of the conversation, while Giovanni and I kept alternating between Griko and the Romance dialect. [6]
It is, however, not unusual to hear what in prescriptive terms are non-Griko speakers resort to Griko occasionally. This confirms, I argue, the relevance of the practice of retrieving and creatively putting into use the available linguistic repertoire in Griko—however little this may be. These instances of language use fall under what, building on sociolinguist Ben Rampton (1995, 2009), I call ‘generational crossing’: the practice of using Griko by citing and reappropriating words or entire expressions from the stock of memory, and of recontextualizing them in the present.

The Young Generation’s 'Crossing'

As I often do, that afternoon I had invited my friend Annu to come over for coffee. She is one of my closest friends; born in 1984, she works in a call-center and is full of resources: she is very creative in manufacturing woolen things and repurposing materials, and she signs her handmade creations with the Griko label maddhì (wool). Her father passed away recently; he was a Griko speaker who worked in the fields all his life, a tiny and shy man with sparkling blue eyes and a beautiful and attuned voice that both Annu and her bother have inherited. Annu has been a lead singer of The Passion of the Christ since 2005; Antimino—the father of this tradition, as it were—often compliments her for her mimicry abilities; indeed, she faithfully reproduces his gestures when interpreting the work. Since 2016, the Bottega del Teatro has been organizing a workshop to keep transmitting this tradition to school children, ages seven to nine, who then perform it during the Easter week—among them my own niece Carola.
Annu’s Griko is mainly restricted to the vocabulary covered by the text of the Passion and to her memories of her grandmother and father speaking Griko; however, she often resourcefully drags the right word out of it and uses it in the right context, always surprised at her own capabilities; this demonstrates the relevance of traditional practices such as this in transmitting fragments of the language. Equally central is the affective dimension in which Annu’s memories of language use are embedded, as they are strictly linked to her closest loved ones; once I asked her to try to describe in Griko what the language means to her; she thought about it for a few seconds, took a piece of paper and slowly and very thoughtfully wrote and then read, “Ivò agapò to Griko jatì ene i glossa ti' manamu, tu ciuriumu ce ti' nonna Teodòssia”—“I love Griko because it is the language of my mother, of my father, and of my grandmother Teodossia.”
That afternoon she was intent on showing me the pictures of her little niece Lara, the daughter of her brother Loreto who also played and sung the Passion. The night before she had dinner with them and she reported, very amused, Loreto’s words to Lara: “So, I turn around and I hear Loreto saying to Lara, ‘Prai ettà’ (Come here), and indeed she went!” Annu exclaimed, laughing. While we were trying Annu’s homemade biscuits, she added all of a sudden, “You know, just on my way back from work there was this guy in the car who didn’t know how to drive, so I told him, almost swearing, ‘Ise ‘na spirì fessa, isù, de?’ (You’re a bit stupid, aren’t you?).
Like Annu and Loreto, those who belong to the younger generation may use expressions they heard in the house, and may resort to Griko from time to time “just for fun” (’na lô is sfottò); to be sure, this may also mean their use of jokingly intimidating expressions their grandparents would occasionally use when the kids misbehaved (among them: arte su sirno ’nan ascla or arte su sirno ’na korpo, both meaning “I am going to slap you now”). These expressions are now cited and reproduced in conversation to create a ‘funny’ effect; for instance, often when someone is too loud or difficult, Annu particularly likes to say Ti ise àscimo kecci. Fonazzi sa' krio—“How bad you are, child. You shout/scream like a ram”; apparently Annu was not an easy child.
As Sobrero and Miglietta (2010:126) note, from Weinreich onwards the playful as well as the cryptic functions of a language have been considered as residual functions of a moribund language. Yet, such instances of language use demonstrate how also for the younger generation words and/or small sentences in Griko are ‘images of/from the past’ linked to their emotional memory, their childhood memories, when they used to spend time with their grandparents and the elderly. From the stock of their memory they retrieve the image and thus the word or the expression linked to it; indeed, in our conversations, when someone said something in Griko, very often a story followed, recalling the situation in which they would hear that word or sentence, and the very people they heard using them, evoking emotions together with memories of language use.
Interestingly, however, in these instances meaning-making may not be their first goal, and they may also create pseudo-communications with the help of a few words or expressions. A characteristic example of this occurred a few years ago on Christmas Eve; we were enjoying our food and wine, when my friend Massimo told me, “Manu, tela ‘ttu na su po ’na prama”—Come here I need to tell you something. Before I could react, my friend Antonio joined in: “Teli krasì?”—“Do you want some wine?” Gabriele intervened, “Fèremu mia rèccia”—“Bring me a reccia [a type of dry bread].” Antonio added, “O kecci! Techùddhi! Pame na plònnume”—“The little boy! Poor baby! Let’s go and sleep.” Maurizio, who comes from a nearby non–Griko-speaking village, exclaimed, addressing his brother in Italian, “You see, I told you they are really indigenous!” We all laughed and kept drinking. [7]
This example shows again the ‘playful function’ of Griko in the younger non-Griko-speaking generation. In this case the speakers come from Zollino and Corigliano, where the younger generation shows an even lower competence in Griko as compared to Sternatia’s speakers of the same age range. [8] They have no regular communication in Griko and their respective knowledge of Griko varies: following Dorian’s terminology (1982), Massimo would belong to the category of a ‘low-proficiency semi-speaker’; he certainly has a good passive knowledge—he is able to understand it—and has the ability to manipulate words in sentences. Antonio and Gabriele have been exposed to Griko only occasionally and they have basically ‘stored’ random words and sentences; they would therefore belong to what Dorian (1982:26) calls “semi-passive bilinguals, who are rarely able to manipulate words in sentences and whose verbal input is mainly short phrases and single-word utterances.” However, what seemed to be a meaningful conversation, in reality was not. Massimo did not need to tell me anything; there was no dry bread on the table and there was no little boy around. They creatively threw a few sentences into the conversation, this time in such a way that it made some sort of sense; at other times, they do not even make the effort to make sense and simply rehearse in turn their knowledge of words or sentences, by listing them, creating an Ionesco-type of scene.
Such instances of ‘generational crossing,’ in which those in the younger generation resort to Griko, therefore acquire a particular relevance. As defined by Rampton (2005, 2009), “crossing” refers to those situations in which a language that does not belong to a speaker is used in order to cross ethnic boundaries; he discusses this through the case of British, Asian, and Caribbean adolescents who borrow and mix codes. In my application of this notion, however, language crossing involves a movement across ‘generations’ rather than social or ethnic boundaries. Indeed, Griko is not a language considered to ‘belong’ to the younger generation; it is rather perceived as the language of the ‘elderly’ and of their experiential world, which the younger generation has not inhabited, but a distant world they have heard being described by their grandparents, and upon which they also reflect. Through an act of emulative performance those belonging to the younger generation therefore imitate the elderly and report their speech acts, in this way crossing the generational boundary that divides them from their phenomenological experience of Griko. The joking and self-ironic effect they consciously may produce through this language use is linked to their own ‘alterity’; however, by evoking that specific chronotope, they use the language as a tool to connect with the elderly, and with the cultural repertoire.
This means that Annu, Massimo, Antonio, and Gabriele do not use Griko because of their ‘Griko-ness’; rather, by crossing the temporal distance, they identify with and perform their ‘Griko-ness’ by using Griko, at times to the exclusion of bystanders. This tacit dynamic is shared by the inner-group and in its inward articulation works as a ‘we code’; it is, however externally oriented too, and plays with the audience’s non-competence. In fact, in the case above, Maurizio and those friends from non–Griko-speaking villages believed my friends were having a proper conversation. In this external orientation, Griko becomes a symbolic resource used by young speakers to perform a rediscovered self-understanding and cultural identification. Interestingly, although this practice was not totally absent before, it has been intensifying considerably in the last few years. Crossing can therefore be considered one of the effects of the current revival.
If Rampton’s notion of ‘crossing’ helps describe the act of bridging the generational gap, Jeffrey Shandler’s (2004) notion of ‘postvernacular Yiddish’ is crucial to address the nature of this use of Griko. With this term, Shandler refers to the contemporary use of Yiddish in the post-WWII United States. Following the decline of vernacular Yiddish after the Holocaust, Yiddish has in fact acquired a new significance, one which transcends communicative purposes, becoming a form of cultural communication. Shandler writes, “In postvernacular Yiddish the very fact that something is said (or written or sung) in Yiddish is at least as meaningful as the meaning of the words being uttered, if not more so” (2006:22). As in the vignette presented above, meaning-making is not what matters the most: what prevails instead—as Shandler argues for Yiddish—is the deliberateness with which Griko is used, when used, and the performative aura in which the language is enveloped. As we will see, this has become a dominant feature of the contemporary use of Griko.
One could argue that the instances described above do not prove the ‘vitality’ of Griko, that they will not ‘save’ Griko’s ‘life’; that they might be ‘isolated’ cases with no statistical relevance. Indeed, the number of those who use Griko as a medium to exchange information in daily life keeps falling, as elderly mother-tongue and fluent speakers die. Griko remains a language for a minority, and a niche language for experts, as the revival has not had tangible effects in terms of raising the number of speakers. Those belonging to the younger generation, and who largely are non–Griko-speakers, may take discursive pride in Griko and its cultural heritage, without feeling the urge to learn the language: here language ideology does not translate in practice; indeed, if young speakers are an exception, more of an exception are young people who want to learn the language. Those who had limited exposure to Griko—thus a weaker emotional attachment to it—and those who show little engagement with the topic of cultural heritage, do not invest much energy, if any, in ‘performing Griko.’
Yet, I consider all these ‘traces of language’ revealing, and I argue that disregarding the communicative practices discussed above would lead to only a partial snapshot of the current languagescape. Beyond its limitations, the revival has enhanced self-awareness and restored prestige to the language. Indeed, and similar to what Shandler (2004) argues for Yiddish (2004), if Annu and Mattia sing in Griko, if Donatello uses it to reconnect with old friends, if Enrico decided to learn it, if Antonio recites Griko poems to his child, it is because they deliberately choose to do so, not because they are ‘naturally’ expected to do so.

The Alternative ‘Lives’ of a ‘Dying Language’

Griko has also reentered the experiential reality of the locals in a renewed form, acquiring a ‘visual’ dimension. One sees Griko more often than one hears it (Pellegrino 2016a). This is attested by the spread of the use of Griko for the names of restaurants, taverns, bars, B&Bs, associations, projects, etc., which started in the late 2000s and intensified throughout the 2010s. It has most recently been chosen as brand names for local products (such as beer), or even as the name of parties for local elections. Griko becomes, this way, symbolic of a recent reappropriation and reassessment of its value in various domains—including as a marketing tool, since it adds a distinctive and exotic flavor.
However, if we were to refer to Factor 5 of the Unesco Index, the vitality of endangered languages is determined by the number and type of domains in which they are used; these are subsystems of a community, such as the family, the economy, the church, and so on (Fishman 1965). Therefore, not only do old domains need to be maintained, but new ones—such as the media, broadcast outlets, and the Internet—need to emerge in line with the times. Text messaging in Griko can be accounted among these. Interestingly, this also seems to help semi-speakers’ linguistic production. Among these is my friend Monica (born in 1971), whose father and mother were Griko speakers who characteristically did not teach it to their children, but who kept using it among themselves as a secret code when they did not want to be understood by their children (see Chapter 2). Equally characteristically, Monica has a good passive knowledge—she understands it all—but she states that she cannot put a sentence together; when I returned to the village in 2008 to start my fieldwork, she proudly gave me a copy of Spitta that she had translated word by word into Italian. In reality, she underestimates her own understanding of Griko; if it is true that she does have difficulties speaking it, she easily writes in Griko: “It is easier, I take to time to think and remember how my father would have said …” That is, Monica relies of her memories of language use within the family to construct her own sentences. Here is a sample, taken from her text messages:
sozzo erti sesena sti Grecia? prin se filò depoi se mbrazzèo

puru ca stei larga isù mu stei panta ambrò st’ ammàddia

su arizzo na pakko asce friseddhe? su ndiazete, de?
Can I come to [see] you in Greece? First I kiss you and then I hug you

Although you are far away, I see you always before my eyes

Shall I send you some ‘dry bread’? You need it, right?
Regardless of their language competence, Griko aficionados or experts have increasingly used Griko in our WhatsApp group I glossa grika. Equally important to note is the case of people resorting to Griko for email. My seven-month online ethnography (January to July 2007) of the mailing list of the Magna Grecia newsletter showed that fifty percent of the emails written exclusively in Griko were Easter wishes; in the remainder of messages recourse to Griko was restricted to greetings and salutations. One exception was the email I have transcribed below, in which the author clearly looked for rhymes and produced a semi-poetic message to share his joy for having received the journal Spitta at his house “far from Calimera” (from other email exchanges it was revealed that he lives in the north of Italy).
ettase feonta, sa spitta fse lumera, ettase puru 'sse [the journal] arrived, like sparkle from fire
mena ti steo macrea poddhì atti Calimera. sas xeretò It reached me far away from Calimera
poddhi aderfia grica, nzigno na meletiso, kuntento, I send you all my regards Griko brothers I start
sia ti steo sto paraiso. reading Happy, as if I was in heaven
Besides the relevance of the use of endangered languages in these new domains, and beyond the type of new domains “accepted by the endangered language” (Brenzinger et al. 2003:11)—to use the wording of the Unesco Index—what I find equally crucial is the impact and potential effects of such expansion of domains in terms of community power relations, self-understanding, and representation. With regard to the domain of the internet, for instance, computer mediated communication has become a powerful tool for minority languages, and for the circulation of language ideologies. Indeed, throughout the 2010s the use of Griko on the internet has intensified—also through Facebook where groups focus on dialects or minority languages in general, and where Griko aficionados or speakers also comment and contribute in Griko. They follow with particular interest pages dedicated to Calabrian Greek, as well as other Greek varieties around the world. On these Facebook pages, linguistic kinship—the affinities among Greek variants—becomes itself a language to articulate global belonging; this discourse bears significant implications for the creation of transnational/global ‘imagined’ communities (Anderson 1991), ‘imagined worlds’ (Appadurai 1996), which can only be fully appreciated over time. [9]
As for the domain of occupation, a handful of Griko-speaking musicians have found through the language occupational relief by performing both in Grecìa Salentina and in Greece, where they are regularly invited; there is also a renewed interest by singers who are not Griko speakers to sing songs of the Griko repertoire, and more recently to even cowrite lyrics in Griko. Griko has also officially entered the educational system through National Law 482/99, and with this entry came Griko experts/teachers. However, we have seen how this extension of domains generates internal power dynamics and clashing claims as to who retains authority over Griko and the right to represent the community at large (Chapter 5); this goes beyond the ‘vitality’ of the language itself.
What I want to emphasize here, however, is the broader shift from the traditional oral use of Griko to a written and performed mode. I have already talked about the promotion of writing Griko through initiatives by Spitta and Griko–Hellenic festivals; these are in a way driven efforts; more to the point they only represent the tip of the iceberg. My ethnography shows what—playing with Stewart’s (2003:492) terminology—I call ‘an epidemic of writing’ among elderly mother-tongue speakers and ‘semi-speakers’ alike (Pellegrino 2016a). I consider this emergent abundance of writing activity in Griko and its ‘contagiousness’ to be one of the more interesting outcomes of the revival. [10]
Take Anna-Maria as a characteristic example of those belonging to the ‘in-between generation’: born in 1958, she would fall under Dorian’s (1982:26) definition of a semi-speaker, “an individual who has failed to develop full fluency and normal adult proficiency.” She used to speak Griko with her parents, who were both Griko mother-tongue speakers, and since they died she has become even more engaged in keeping the language alive; she therefore looks for occasions and people to speak it with. She frequently goes across her field to find Paolo, a Griko mother-tongue speaker in his early eighties. She often talks of her gratitude to the De Santis brothers: “Arte enna ringrazième ton de Santis, ka kanni ta travùdia is Grika. Ola ta travùdia pu èkame, ivo ta tsero”—“We have to thank De Santis, who writes songs in Griko. I know all of his songs, they inspire me.” The following is one of her poems, which her then-teenaged son, Fabrizio, set music in 2000 and performed with his band Athànatos (Immortal).
’En ìtela na fiko mai i chora
pu jenìttimo
’en ìtela na fiko na pao a’tto spiti
pu ìstika mi’ mànamu
’en itela na fiko patèra
stin anglisìa
’en ìtela na fiko i kiaterèddha mia
ma, iso choma ene agrikò,
ce ’na prikò sciomì
'nghizzi na pao pleon ambrò.
ma fitisòmme isu ce prakalìse ton Kristò
ja ivò ’en ìtela na fiko tinò
I would not ever want to leave the village
where I was born
I would not want to leave the house
Where I lived with my mother
I would not want to leave the priest
nor the church
I would not want to leave my daughter
But, this land is bitter
and bitter is the bread
I need to keep going
But help me and pray Christ
Because I would not want to leave anyone
Translating into Griko is yet another activity in which the ‘in-between generation’ increasingly engages. Antonio (born in 1950) enjoys translating Greek poems or songs, and he is very careful to reproduce the same metric. Since his retirement a couple of years ago, he has been dedicating himself wholeheartedly to improving his Griko; this is indeed common among the ‘in-between-generation,’ and clearly the free time that comes with retirement facilitates this process. It also suggests that the ‘passion for Griko’ grows as one grows older, as it were, taking on an almost ontological dimension that often reflects people’s nostalgia about their past, which is then articulated through language. Rather than speaking it, Antonio privileges writing it, and he has a whole list of MG poems and songs that he intends to put into Griko, also to show its affinities with MG, he argues, with which he is equally fascinated.
Interestingly, writing is an activity that also engages the elderly. When I met Giglio from Sternatia, he invited me to join him and his neighbors whenever I wanted, so that I could improve my Griko. I would join them during the long and hot summer nights, as they sat on straw-bottomed chairs in front of the doorstep of their house. They gather and simply talk or recite poems they have written; theirs is “the street of the poets,” as I like calling it (see Figure 25). The group usually consisted of two old couples and two widows in their eighties, two men in their fifties, and a young couple in their late thirties; occasionally also a young lady with her toddler would join. Elderly speakers in Sternatia continue to speak it among themselves, within the household, with neighbors, and in the village square or market, for daily communication. Because of my presence, Giglio often chaired the conversation, prompting them one by one, to say a poem or a story in Griko. Some of these were popular poems or stories, either in Griko or dialect.
Figure 25: Giglio and I, Sternatia. Credit: Theodoros Kargas
In one of these encounters, Uccia (see Chapter 2) was enjoying herself thoroughly and congratulating herself after having recited one of the poems she had written—Spitàcimu palèo (Griko: My little old house), which she dedicated to her neighbors when she moved to her new house around the corner, just two hundred meters away. She then moved to recite another of her poems. When I went to visit her on another occasion, she proudly showed me the folder where she collects all her poems—ten at the time—whose topic range considerably. One was about her eldest son who lives in the North of Italy, and a few were spiritual compositions.
Posso mu fènete òrrio o spiti o protinò
Apò motte jùrise mapàle is se mena
Iciumpì echi o jeno pu agapò
Ce pao panta na tus vriko oli mera
Icherèome na kanonìso cittes kambarèddhe
ka ine paleè kundu ‘se mena
Môrkete stennù motte ìmosto chlorèddhe
Ka ikantàlizza nitta ce mera
(Griko from Sternatia)
How nice my first home seems to me
Since when it came back to me
There are the people I love
And I always go to visit them
I feel happy to see those small rooms
Which are old like I am
I remember when they were young
And I would sing day and night
Giglio told me that he compiled and edited a small book (2003) financed by the municipality that was a collection of poems written or composed by elderly people of Sternatia. On the occasion of the yearly Festa degli anziani (Celebration of the Elderly), the authors would then recite their own creations. He also introduced me to Vincenzo, ‘the poet,’ who lived on the same street; he was a cheerful man who died at age 96, whose poems were published by a Greek schoolteacher from Corinth. A similar anthology collects poems composed mainly by elderly people from Corigliano—again, the result of a collaboration between local and Greek aficionados of Griko. [11]
I find particularly telling the very engagement with writing Griko by the literate elderly. We have seen how some elderly people had difficulties reading Spitta; likewise these are people who have not engaged with writing in general, who attended school for a few years and who never ‘needed’ to improve their written competence. Most of them, like Uccia, have composed poems in the past, but transcribed or had them transcribed recently. Their engagement with the written form and/or their desire to have their own poems transcribed thus takes on significance. Through this epidemic of writing and the shift from an oral to a written mode of communication in Griko the elderly seem to ideologically reclaim a place of authority. Simultaneously, by reproducing the dominant language ideology they have long internalized—a language becomes such when it is written, as it were—theirs is an ideological claim for the recognition of Griko as a language.
Moreover, the practice of composing poems in Griko is widespread, attesting to the popular productivity of Griko in this genre; apart from the well-known contemporary poets—Cesarino De Santis from Sternatia, Cici Cafaro and Ernesto Corlianò from Calimera, among others—almost every village prides itself on the presence of a poet. [12] Interestingly, while investigating this topic, I kept encountering more and more people who write poems—regardless of their competence in the language; moreover, locals would recite to me poems composed by their own parents, other relatives, or acquaintances, suggesting that this is an established practice that locals have found productive through time. This is also when I found out that the following poem, which my mother often recites, was not composed by her as I thought, but by her mother—my grandmother Luce (1898–1979)—in the mid-1940s; it describes her pain as her eldest son never returned from the battlefield during WWII—we recently discovered that he died on the Greek island of Rhodes in 1944.
Pu enna chasùne i studi môla ta chartìa,
mu piakane 'a pedì senza kamìa amilìa
ce to vrai pu tàrasse mu màvrise i kardìa
kundu i nitta skotinì
mana, mana, ti mu ponì
na pensèsso citto pedì
mu to pirane sti tàlassa
ce 'e jùrise mai ampì
ce pesèno me ti toja
ka 'e torò pleo itto pedì
Where do all studies and paper have to disappear
they took my child without saying a word
and the night he left my heart turned dark
like the dark night
mother, mother, it hurts
to think to that child
who was taken to the sea
and he never came back
and I will die feeling the pain
of never seeing my child again.
A common feature of these poems is the search for rhymes (which the previous poem demonstrates)—thus there is an alignment to a specific aesthetics, which in its simplicity gives value to the form as much as to the content. As with have seen, the journal Spitta is often criticized on the grounds that its prose does not suit Griko; indeed, Griko is most often portrayed as the ‘the language of the past,’ which supposedly lacks the linguistic resources to describe modernity—without borrowings or adaptations. By the same token, I argue that locals’ engagement with poetry reflects an equally dominant language ideology, which instead confers to Griko the value of expressing timeless emotions and feelings such as love, pain, sorrow, joy. “Certain things never change,” Antonio explained, “and those sound better in Griko,” he added. To be sure, here I look at poetry as the means and not as the object of inquiry, to emphasize how throughout time locals have kept ‘composing in Griko’; by ‘putting them (i.e. their compositions) into writing,’ they have followed the tradition initiated by V. D. Palumbo and the circle of Calimera, who collected poems, songs, and proverbs of the oral tradition, providing a material legacy on which locals could continue to draw (Chapter 1). Like these scholars, locals continue to contribute to this material legacy and enrich it with their own productions of poems, translations, and writings, thereby contributing to the preservation of Griko (Pellegrino 2016a). [13]
Poetry in particular continues to serve a performative function, in multiple ways, since both poems of the popular tradition and also poems by Palumbo have been set to music by the band Ghetonìa. This is telling since it reproduces a traditional practice which blurs the boundaries between poetry and music (Banti and Giannattasio 2004:290). We have indeed seen how, since the 1990s, Rocco and Gianni De Santis have been composing songs in Griko, setting to music some of their father’s and siblings’ Griko poems (Chapter 4). You have also met Luigi, who recently released his CD of poems/songs in Griko to “make the language re-sound in its simplicity,” as he explained to me in Crucially, this practice also has metapragmatic effects, since it has allowed for the circulation of the poems and songs of the traditional repertoire, as well as new poems/songs. We have heard Annamaria’s comments above about how through them she improved her Griko and found inspiration herself, and we have also seen the relevance of music in teaching Griko (Chapter 5). Indeed, over time, ‘composing in Griko’—both poems and songs—has remained the preferred modality of expression for locals, which has also contributed to the transmission of ‘fragments’ of the language and of traditional practices. Writing poems, singing, playing, reciting poems, and storytelling in Griko: it is through its performative tradition that the language has reached the present, despite not being a medium of daily communication.

Nostalgia and Beyond: Griko Cultural Events

The majority of the projects submitted by municipalities, schools, and cultural associations in Grecìa Salentina to apply for annual funding through Regional Law 5/2012 tend to be metalinguistic in nature; that is, they valorize knowledge of Griko linguistic-cultural traditions over the promotion of Griko as a language of daily communication. They may focus on local intellectuals of the past, on some aspect of local history, or on the traditional repertoire of songs and poems in Griko. Among the most recent examples falls the project Loja ce Lisària. Itinerario poetico in Griko (2017—‘Words and Stones, Poetic Itinerary in Griko’). This project was submitted by the Pro-loco of Corigliano, and resulted in the installation of twelve information posters at significant places in the village. The posters featured the likes of a traditional poem, a saying, or a song from the Griko repertoire, including the New Year and Easter traditional songs (Le strine and I passiùna). Through the QR-code included on the posters, people can access videos, and watch and hear locals old and young, perform the works.
A similar project by the title Sti' ffenèstra: Versi di griko in arte (By the Window: Verses in Griko through Art) was promoted by the municipality of Calimera and the cultural association Ghetonìa. This project was put into place through the installation around the village of thirteen works by local painters, which were associated with verses in Griko by local poets and authors of the past; it is effectively an art gallery on the streets that simultaneously aimed to embellish thirteen blank windows. Once again, we see how this project extensively draws on the material legacy of poems in Griko, which combined with paintings, here fulfills an aesthetic function. Importantly, through these installations around the villages, Griko keeps entering the visual landscape. It is also revealing that these two projects were conceived not only for internal use but also for touristic fruition, as attested by the English translations provided. This points to an emerging trend and a venue for future investigation. [14]
As for cultural events dedicated to Griko, some have become established appointments for Griko activists and aficionados; the Grikanti Festival, for instance, has been held since 2010 in the masseria of a Griko speaker and activist, and it is dominated by music in Griko and Salentine, as well as dance. Attraversando il Griko, which literally means ‘going through Griko,’ is linked to the cultural association Ghetonìa from Calimera (see Figures 26 and 27). It first took place in 2008, and the very choice of the location for the event is telling: participants literally follow the activists through the narrow streets of the village historical center and enter the courtyard of typical local houses—the Griko avlì. These locations reveal the activists’ desire to bring Griko back to the very places where it used to ‘live,’ as it were, as the natural background for the performance of songs, poems, dances, and traditional music.
Figure 26: Attraversando il Griko, Maria and Sandra performing, Calimera
Figure 27: Attraversando il Griko, the crowd following the event, Calimera
At these cultural events Griko often fills the aural landscape without being used as a primary language. Participants usually alternate with each other, singing songs in Griko and Salentine—among them Àremu rindinèddhamu (I Wonder, My Swallow), Kalinìtta (Goodnight), and Lu rusciu de lu mare (The Whispering of the Sea). They recite poems of the oral tradition, as well as their own poems, or their translations into Griko of Greek or Italian poems, thoroughly enjoying themselves in doing so. Locals recollect their memories by telling stories, and through them they evoke more memories of similar performances in the past. Here we see emerging again the centrality of poetry as a social and performative activity, which, together with storytelling, is linked to past practices.
These encounters link those who attend them to past experiences and/or nostalgic representations of that past; the Griko courtyard is indeed often evoked. To use the words of Sandra, whom you met in the previous chapter, the courtyard was “a living space to share and the very heart of community life: everything happened in the courtyard and everyone used to share what they had, even if it was just some bread and they would help each other caring [for] children or the elderly; avlì and ghetonìa (neighborhood) go hand in hand. It was not just a space, but a way of living.” A discursive nostalgia for the Griko-speaking community of the past may emerge; Griko becomes therefore indexical of that ghetonìa, which exemplifies the community of the past; it is, however, not the past itself to be nostalgically longed for, it is rather the social organization based on reciprocity and solidarity to be sentimentally reconstructed and evoked, in sharp contrast to contemporary individualism. [15]
Nostalgia is indeed a sentiment as much as a metacomment on the present: “Passon mia ikrìvete sto villino-tti jiatì èchume ole tin villa arte, de?”—“Each of us hides inside their little house, because now we all have a house, right?” My friend and life teacher, Splendora, would always emphasize how the changing post-WWII environment had improved locals’ living conditions, but had also transformed the living space, the spatial setting, the very habits linked to the place (see Chapter 2). Through this temporal dialogue the present and the past are continuously compared and contrasted; stressing the hardship of the past serves the double purpose of putting into light the comfort of the present, but also its dubious morality, as it were, in sharp contrast to the portrayal of the past. This then leads to expressions such as ‘life was better when it was worst.’ Nostalgia becomes a discursive strategy through which locals express their affective attachment to a ‘time past,’ and morally evaluate the present.

Performing Griko, Evoking the Past

A keen north wind was blowing that night—a relief in the hot Salentine summer. Maria and Ninfa, both from Calimera, were getting ready. Ninfa sat, firmly holding her notes in one hand and her violin in the other; a local singer and musician, she looked almost nervously at Maria one last time, awaiting confirmation that she could start. Maria—a schoolteacher as well as a Griko semi-speaker and activist—was standing next to her. She then turned around, giving her back to the audience; that must have been the agreed signal; indeed Ninfa started almost whispering in Griko: [16]
Nitta, nitta atse fengo
pano sti’ tàlassa
Pedìmmu, pedìmmu,
tsunna na su po
Enna su po
Night, night of moonlight
above the sea
my child, my child
wake up, I need to tell you something
I need to tell you something
Then Maria started reciting in Italian, her voice alternating and at times overlapping Ninfa’s reciting in Griko.
Luna, luna che faccia
luna focaccia
luna allo specchio
sussurro all’orecchio
luna sul mare
mi devo svegliare
Fengo, fengo, ja muso
fengo, mia focaccia
fengo, jail
krifizzi att'aftì
pano sti tàlassa
Tsunna, tsunna
Moon moon as face
moon as focaccia
moon, mirror
whisper in my ear
moon over the sea
I need to wake up
The audience was immediately carried away by this start and attentively followed Maria’s narration.
Che anno è? Il '43, o il '44 (Italian)
e iu stau aqquai (Salentine)
ettù steo, (Griko)
Echo ettà chronu
sette anni tengo (Italian)
umme, e' cerò atse guerra
c' evò ìsteo ettù (Griko)
sto con I nonni miei (Italian)
o tàtamu stei stin guerra (Griko)
papà mio sta alla guerra (Italian)
prima all’albania così mi hanno detto (Italian)
ma però sono 3 anni (Italian)
che non sappiamo più niente di lui (Italian)
What year is it? It is 1943, or 1944
and here I am, I stay here
I stay here
I am seven years old
I am seven
yes, it is a time of war
and I stay here
with my grandparents
my father is at war
my father is at war
he first went to Albania, so I was told
but three years have passed
since we last heard from him
Maria then continued alternating between Griko, Salentine, and Italian to recount a series of stories and anecdotes involving people from Calimera, but representative of the time in which she sets her performance: “ene cerò atse guerra”—“it is a time of war,” she ways, referring to WWII. Ninfa at times intervened, playing the violin in the background; between one story/anecdote and the next she would sing songs of the popular tradition both in Salentine and Griko. She is now an internationally known singer thanks to her participation in the concerts of the Notte della Taranta, where she also sings in Salentine and Griko. The entire performance was rhythmically choreographed by Ninfa’s and Maria’s overlapping voices as they repeated the inception of the performance as a sort of refrain before Maria proceeded to tell the subsequent stories. At the end of the performance, Maria explained—in Italian—that those were stories she had collected from her own father and uncle; she stressed how she had heard them recounted time and again, albeit with a few changes “because memories change,” she pointed out, before adding, “but probably most of you have the same memories, or similar ones.”
Through the years Attraversando il Griko became an established event, increasingly attracting people from neighboring villages, as well as the curiosity of tourists. In the last few years it was organized in collaboration with associations from other villages, effectively becoming a touring cultural event centered around performances, poetry, and the music of the Griko repertoire. Through time, the performative aura with which Griko cultural events are imbued has become dominant; indeed, Griko activists such as Maria started to rehearse for the event, and to curate their contribution/performance more systematically. Significantly, and with a very few exceptions, Griko is not the primary language used in such events. Characteristically, Maria’s and Ninfa’s use of Griko throughout the performance is limited: Maria, who wrote the script of the performance, selectively inserted a few words and sentences, but if pieced together they provide a condensed version of her story. Equally characteristically, in this performance they reproduce the blended local languagescape, using Griko, Italian, and Salentine: this is also a functional and inclusive choice since it allows non–Griko-speakers to follow/appreciate the performance. However, this choice is not necessarily linked to the performers’ or audience’s competence/lack of competence in Griko—Maria admits she has difficulties speaking it, although she understands it.
What prevails in these contexts is the use of Griko to express cultural distinctiveness; similar to what Shandler argues for Yiddish, it is Griko’s exceptional nature that is to be prized here, and not its use of a tool for routine communication. Echoing him, rather than considering this shift as a failure, I find it more enlightening to treat it as “a distinctive cultural enterprise in its own right” (Shandler 2004:38). By doing so, we are also able to appreciate the multiple ways in which locals have responded to the moral panic about Griko’s death and the sense of cultural loss associated with it. This leads me to argue that while the use of Griko as a vehicle to convey information has progressively faded out, its performative and artistic use has increased (Pellegrino 2016). Locals contribute to building the materiality of Griko with their own productions and performances, showing continuity with past practices and recontextualizing them in light of the present.
The choice to resort to Griko even if simply inserting a word or a short sentence here and there reveals an aesthetic taste that has been intensifying over time; but Griko is not simply used for performative purposes; it is precisely through locals’ conscious and intentional use that their linguistic identity takes shape and manifests itself. This indicates, I contend, that the more Griko is dying, the more it is being ‘resurrected’ performatively in a dialectic process—indeed a ‘dying’ language may also have ‘alternative lives’; or rather, it means to acknowledge that people live with languages, engaging with them in multiform ways that often escape rigid classifications aimed at assessing language vitality and endangerment, whose underlying stance tends to delegitimize hybrid linguistic practices and/or ignore the cultural and semiotic functions and uses of languages. Living with Griko means speaking it, alternating it with Salentine, resorting to it for fun or as a symbolic resource to perform cultural identification—it means to write poems in Griko, to sing its songs, to perform it, to translate into it. Griko often resounds through affective echoes: it may spark intellectual curiosity, and at times also the desire to rediscover a sense of cultural belonging. For those who are part of the ‘in-between generation,’ engaging with Griko is often a way to keep redeeming it from the stigma long associated with it.
The analysis of these practices ultimately reveals the power of the cultural temporality of language highlighting the relationship to the past that individuals establish through language. Indeed, in these instances and through these performances, Griko becomes a tool for members of the community to establish a connection to the past—their own experiential past and/or that of previous generations; in other words, to connect with older members of the community. In the performance analyzed here Maria, for instance, effectively interpreted her own father, who was only seven years old at the time of WWII, while his own father was in the battlefield. Younger members of the community like Maria clearly did not experience firsthand the hardship of that past, but they are frequently socialized into it; indeed, the elderly rarely miss the chance to highlight the experiential distance between the past and the present, evoking ‘the hardship of the past,’ the harsh living conditions, the scarcity of food, the lack of comfort. Formulaic expressions such as ‘Toà en’ ìane kundu àrtena’ (Griko: ‘Back then things were not like today, ‘or ‘Back then we all lived in one room, we all ate from the same plate’) are some of the door openers to the past and its story world. Through this discursive practice, the younger generations have been socialized into the phenomenology of the past, as it were. By the same token, by using traditional cultural models—such as storytelling, singing, etc.—they reformulate claims to the past and ‘reenact’ it; importantly, they refer to the past in order to evaluate the present, and in light of the present, they keep negotiating the meanings and values to attach to it, effectively re-storying it and Griko. Indeed, in Maria’s performance referenced above, the past with its memories became the raw material on which she built a story whose message transcends the temporal divide between the past and the present; in this case recalling the wounds of the war years becomes also a plea for peace.
Engaging with Griko may equally entail evoking Hellenic belonging—a language ideology nourished also through personal relations that locals have cultivated through time with Greek aficionados of Griko. The activists of Calimera, for instance, have long-standing relationships with Greek aficionados of Griko, who have often collaborated in Attraversando il Griko. It is also not unusual to find Greek tourists who are attending Griko cultural events to be fascinated by Griko and its history, who contribute to the circulation of a language ideology that celebrates Griko as a living monument of Hellenism. “Griko smells of antiquity,” Antonio from Calimera proudly says. Griko activists advance in this way multiple claims to the past, and at times simultaneously: to a local, more recent and redeemed past, as well as to a distant but glorious Hellenic past, following the footsteps left by local philhellenists. Lastly, among Griko activists there are also those particularly eager to reestablish contact with the Greeks claiming a common cultural heritage. In the next chapter I present my ethnography in Greece and introduce you to Greek aficionados of Griko; the investigation of the dominant Greek language ideologies of Griko will complement the understanding of the dynamics of the current revival. [17]


[ back ] 1. Se gli italiani fossero quelli di 150 anni fa probabilmente comunicherebbero ancora così. Da allora abbiamo fatto un cammino molto importante e la Rai è sempre stata con noi.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhwTc0FM9zg.
[ back ] 2. Nell’Italia delle identità e delle culture regionali ci sono molti modi per farsi gli auguri ... Rai, 150 anni di questi auguri.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhwTc0FM9zg.
[ back ] 3. National Law 482 provokes criticisms as it then becomes difficult to justify and to understand why Sardinian or Friulan are recognized as languages while Bergamasco and Venetian are not. At the same time, however, the lobbying for the legal recognition of these other Italian dialects by the national law is contrasted by the minorities already protected, since their recognition would also mean a redistribution of the financial support, and thus a reduction in the funding provided to each minority.
[ back ] 4. See Grimaldi 2006, 2010; Scholz 2004, for the use of Salentine and the alternation of Italian and Salentine in songs; for the renaissance of dialects, see Berruto 2006.
[ back ] 5. Code-switching (CS)—the use of two or more languages in the same conversation or utterance—is a widespread phenomenon in situations of language shift or multilingualism. Blom and Gumperz (1972) made the distinction between situational and conversational code-switching: the first refers to language switches that coincide with a change of interlocutor, setting, or topic, whereas conversational code-switching is motivated by factors within the conversation itself. A third type of CS identified by Gumperz is ‘metaphorical code-switching,’ which occurs where a switch carries a particular evocative purpose deriving from the speakers’ conscious transgression of the ‘typical’ language boundaries.
[ back ] 6. This dynamic is, however, more widespread, as similarly elderly mother-tongue Griko speakers tend to put into question the competence of those belonging to the ‘in-between generation’: Antimino, for instance, often comments on his nephew Vito’s mistakes, pointing out that he only recently started using Griko; this way he reinforces the perception of Griko as a language that belongs to the realm of the elderly, thus claiming his own authority.
[ back ] 7. Robert Moore (1988:463) refers to a similar scenario in the case of speakers of Wasco, a Native American language. “For contemporary Wasco speakers and semi[-]speakers, ‘words’ have taken on certain objectual qualities, and ‘language,’ is seen as a collection of words”; these are however disconnected from grammatical knowledge.
[ back ] 8. As noted, Sternatia was the last village that shifted away from Griko; in practice this means that in Sternatia speakers are generally more competent than speakers in the same age range from other villages. This applies also to younger speakers; among those who were born in the mid-1970s there are also fluent speakers who interact in Griko with the immediate family of origin (parents, relatives at large).
[ back ] 9. An interesting avenue for future research would be the development of an initiative promoted by a young philologist from a village just at the outskirts of Grecìa Salentina, who out of his personal passion for languages got involved with Griko, and he is learning it. Motivated by a summer school for Calabrian Greek organized by the Calabrian cultural association Jalò tu Vua and their dedicated Facebook page, he intends to promote analogous initiatives in Grecìa Salentina. His aim is therefore to gather young people—from within and outside today’s Griko-speaking villages—and infuse into them interest in acquiring Griko specifically as a spoken language, also accessing dedicated European venues for sustaining minority languages. Language ideologies keep traveling, so to speak, and through the visibility offered by Internet, travel much further and faster.
[ back ] 10. With ‘epidemic of dreaming’ Stewart (2003) refers to an outbreak of dreams among schoolchildren on the Greek island of Naxos in the 1930s; this continued a tradition of dreaming of buried icons, which had begun a century earlier, at the time of Greek independence. See also Stewart 2012. My creative paraphrasing of Stewart’s expression intends strictly to refer to the ‘contagiousness’ of the writing activity in Griko.
[ back ] 11. Jeno kalò a’ti' xora (The People from Sternatia) (2008, Chrístos Tártaris, C., and Greco, C. eds.). See also La Poesia grica: una realtà da scoprire e valorizzare (Griko Poetry: A Reality to Discover and Valorize) (1998, Anchora, A. ed)
[ back ] 12. Franco Corlianò was a railway employee and an artist. He is the author of: The Griko-Italian, Italian-Griko Dictionary (2010); Three Owls on the Dresser: The World of Childhood in the Salentine Greek Tradition (2010), a collection of games and toys, lullabies, riddles, and nursery rhymes; and Salentine Greek Proverbs: History, Culture and Tradition (2010). He is best known as the composer of the song Klama (Tears), more widely known as Àndramu pai (My Husband Leaves), a song about migration, which became famous in Greece thanks to its performance by the Greek singer Maria Faranduri. Cici Cafaro from Calimera is a happy and boisterous young man in his early nineties; he keeps writing poems, and he has rendered his courtyard a sort of museum of traditional local artifacts.
[ back ] 13. Azzaroni and Casari highlight instead the social function of Griko poetry by the so-called poeti contadini (Italian: peasant poets) such as Cesarino De Santis and Cici Cafaro, who served a specific function of protest, denouncing social injustices or claiming cultural belonging (Azzaroni and Casari 2015:265). On his site Ciùri ce pedì, Prof. Tommasi includes two sections dedicated to poetry, making a distinction between folk/popular poetry and the more recent Poesia colta. See Montinaro (1994), who presents a collection of poetry of oral tradition comparing it with ancient Greek poetry, focusing particularly on moroloja, funeral laments (the Griko equivalent of what Greeks call miroloja; see also Giannachi 2012).
[ back ] 14. I remind the reader that the funding provided by the regional law is earmarked for municipalities, schools, and cultural associations of Grecìa Salentina; these submit a project to the regional government, which is then evaluated and may or may not be financed (see Chapter 4). In 2017 the total number of projects submitted and financed was twenty-four, out of which three were intended for schools, nine for municipalities, and twelve for cultural associations. Only two were purposely aimed at teaching Griko: Pos Màtome Griko (How We Learn Griko) and Meletò, grafo ce milò Grika (I Read, Write, and Speak Griko). Among the projects submitted in the past and funded by the law, I find Evò ce Esù (Festival of Minority Languages Cinema) of particular relevance. Parco turistico Palmieri, based in Martignano, is the association which promotes and organizes the festival.
[ back ] 15. See Avineri 2012 for the concept of ‘nostalgia socialization’ in the case of Yiddish. See also Cavanaugh 2009.
[ back ] 17. See also Pipyrou (2016:54) for a similar argument about the Grecanico associations of Calabria, who make a case for belonging not only to Ancient but also Modern Greece.