Conclusion. Chronotopes of Re-presentation

When I embarked on this journey though Griko I was often told that there was no point in learning a language that only the elderly used and mastered—‘a language of the past.’ Indeed, I was often confronted with what seemed at the time a rather resigned attitude. It is not surprising that, having long dealt with the chronicle of Griko’s death foretold, locals have internalized the scholarly predicament of Griko as a ‘dying language.’ This ethnography has confirmed that Reversing Language Shift (à la Fishman 1991)—reintroducing Griko as a language of daily communication—is not a project locals have faith in; more to the point, it is not what they now expect or strive for, and this is probably the least contested aspect of this story. One could interpret this resigned attitude as inevitable in the face of a reality that includes only a limited pool of speakers and of people engaged with or learning the language. In this book I have shown, however, how this eternal precarity of Griko—whether perceived or real—has also fueled the moral imperative to preserve it, leading some locals to strive to keep Griko ‘alive,’ as it were. Or rather, I have shown the multiple ways in which these locals live with Griko, highlighting the activities they promote, the cultural rules they follow, and the ideological references they evoke. By debating, performing, singing, and composing in—or translating into—Griko, they express their multiple understandings, feelings, and ideas about the role of this language in both the past and the future.
Through this process Griko keeps forming part of the textures of these locals’ lived experiences, acquiring a meta-meaning that has not just replaced but overtaken its value and function as a language of communication. The use of Griko for performative and artistic purposes has indeed increased while its use as a vehicle to convey information has progressively faded; ultimately, the more Griko seems to be ‘dying,’ the more it is being performatively ‘resurrected’ in a dialectical process. But Griko is not simply used for performative and artistic purposes; I contend that it is precisely through the conscious and intentional use of Griko that linguistic identities are performed—however limited, partial, and circumstantial such use may be. Instead of treating this phenomenon as a failure, I consider it a cultural performance in itself, a reenactment of the value infused in Griko and in its cultural distinctiveness. This led me to argue that the revival of Griko is ideological in nature, as it is based on a broader reevaluation of the past and its cultural manifestations, in a reflexive negotiation of being-in-time. Griko has ultimately become a post-linguistic resource and a metalanguage for talking about the past in order to position oneself in the present.
The past and its multiple accounts have been ever present in this book. Throughout it we have continually encountered examples of the cultural temporality of language, of the multiple relations that locals entertain with Griko through its past, and with the past through it. By engaging in this temporal dialogue through these performances they evoke, redeem, and reenact the past, expressing in the process their moral alignments and projections. Yet, Griko meant, continues to mean, and is meant to mean different things to people of different ages, backgrounds, and ideological orientations. To elderly Griko speakers, and to the majority of those who remember Griko as a language of communication, the relevant historical touchstone remains a recent experiential past embedded in the subalternity of the Italian South. Here is at play the semiotic process of indexicality, which creates meaning through relation; Griko therefore points to that historicity, and to locality becoming indexical of them. Meanwhile, Greek aficionados of Griko, as well as some cultori del Griko and activists, advance claims to the Hellenic and/or Byzantine past, influenced by the modern cultural ideology of Hellenism. They evoke the similarity between Griko and MG—that is, the iconic relationship between them—and interpret it as inevitable. Indeed, in semiotic terms, iconization describes the process of creating meaning through resemblance.
Yet, as Herzfeld points out, the very notion of resemblance needs to be problematized for being potentially misleading, and this is reflected in the modern popular misuse and abuse of the term ‘icon’ itself. An iconic relationship, however persuasive, is never totally organic; it is rather created to cultivate a shared sense of thingness potentially carrying political implications (Herzfeld 2005: 93, 94). Or to use the words of Umberto Eco, cultural resemblance becomes conventional “step by step, the more its addressee becomes acquainted with it” (1976:204–205). I have in fact shown how local dynamics have been increasingly interacting with the modern-Greek cultural ideology of Hellenism and historical continuity; this has been embedded into the construction of the Greek nation-state, and is now being recursively and retroactively applied to Griko and its speakers. Indeed, the perceived resemblance between Griko and MG and/or other ‘Greek dialects’—what I have referred to as romantic iconization—is increasingly evoked, and is used to invest Griko with a more than local symbolic significance. Griko thereby transcends locality and is projected as a symbol of global Hellenism.
Griko ultimately exists in a non-homogeneous, non-synchronous present, since its very subjects do not share the same phenomenological points of reference to it. “Not all people live in the same Now,” as Ernst Bloch (1977:22) points out. Griko has entered what we might call a symbolization process, though which multiple temporalities collapse and new meanings emerge and compete. An arbitrary sign functions as a symbol by creating meaning through convention, yet a symbol becomes a social force that broadens the space of what it actually ‘stands for’. It is exactly the vagueness and openness of any symbol that makes it possible to indicate what is always beyond one’s reach (Eco 1984:130). Such a surplus of meaning emerges as people start to impute to Griko plural meanings and a variety of claims. Griko remains therefore open to evaluation and interpretation: According to which historicity is evoked and by whom, Griko functions as a symbol of a redeemed and revalued local past, or as a symbol of the distant and glorious Hellenic past.
The complex dynamics through which all these terms of description simultaneously operate contributes to the continuous shifting of the chronotopes of the re-presentation of Griko. The cultural temporality of language presupposes in fact a semiotic relationality of time and space, since they are not separable from one another in our living perception (Bakhtin 1981:243). According to Bakhtin, “it is common moreover for one of these chronotopes to envelope or dominate the others … Chronotopes are mutually inclusive, they co-exist, they may be interwoven with, replace or oppose one another, contradict one another” (1981:252). The multiple chronotopes associated with Griko indeed co-exist in dynamic and dialogical tension, while locals keep negotiating the meanings and values they attach to the language by reacting to and interacting with the changing historical, socio-cultural, and economic environment—but also by proactively shaping it themselves.

The land of the re-bitten

As I have shown over the course of this book, Griko and the community at large have been engaged with these dynamics across a spectrum of micro- and macro-level processes, from the personal and interpersonal to the institutional and international. Through the current revival and its recent legal recognition as a minority language, though, Griko and its community have ultimately entered what Hacking labeled “the matrix within which an idea, a concept, or kind is formed” (1999:10), in this case the very social setting within which the category or kind of ‘linguistic minority’ is socially constructed. Yet, the essentializing approach to minority languages that prevails in policy-making spheres, and that is further circulated through international bodies such as Unesco, treats languages as ‘natural’, static, and bounded cultural entities; such an approach implicitly reproduces the musty nineteenth-century paradigm of an unquestioned link between language and people, temporally conflating modern notions of ethnicity, identity, and belonging, and potentially also reproducing its pitfalls. As a result, Griko and its speakers are becoming obliged to communicate themselves through predefined categories of representation within which it does not seem to find an easy fit; meanwhile, those classified may begin to affect the category of classification by conforming, hyper-conforming, or contesting it (Hacking 1995:59).
Salento remains today a “concentric juncture of times and spaces” (Pizza 2015:179–180). Following Giovanna Parmigiani’s (2019) application of Berardino Palumbo’s concept (2006:46, for the case of Sicily), Salento is a “hyper-place,” an “unstable social and political space that produces and reproduces further spaces of aggregation and contrasts.” Salento has been bitten again, one could argue. Indeed, with La Terra del Rimorso , de Martino (1961) referred not only to the land of ‘remorse’ but also the land of the ‘re-bitten’ ( ri-morso ), to the temporal recurrence of a crisis, of a critical and unresolved episode of the past. My reformulation of this concept unravels how this land has been ‘re-bitten’ by the very processes of legitimation and recognition that locals long fought to achieve. These have generated divergent interests and claims linked to the management of Griko and its cultural heritage more broadly, producing contradictions, contestations, and clashes within the community in addition to those arising around it. Griko, pizzica, and the phenomenon of tarantism have equally been immersed in global processes of patrimonializzazione (patrimonialization), or rather merci-patrimonializzazione—a term through which Palumbo refers to “the construction of local cultural specificities in terms of patrimonial goods” (2013:136, my translation). These are produced and consumed by multiple social actors—local, national, and transnational—who create further spaces of ‘collective imagination.’ Yet, in the process, fears of losing control over Griko and its management are revealed at the local level.
Locals are caught once again in the web of the tarantula, and keep contesting the legacy of the past, present, and future in terms of authenticity, authority over practices, and access to resources and to channels of re-presentation. The ethnographic present that I have recorded is ultimately to be interpreted as the result of a complex interplay between local claims and the global framework of re-presentation that these claims are immersed in, which sees a host of social actors competing for the authority to present and re-present Griko and its heritage in time and space. What I witnessed and have captured in this book is this transition, and the resultant destabilization: a temporal collapse though which multiple chronotopes of re-presentation converge and transform themselves, thereby re-storying the past-present-future of Griko and this land between the seas.
“Kàngesce o kosmo, kiaterèddhamu.”
“Umme, tata. Kangèsce o kosmo.
Kàngesce mapàle, kundu panta,” ipe i Rosalìa.

“The world changed, my child.”
“Yes, dad. The world changed.
It changed again, as always,” replied Rosalia.