Homer's language

The language of the Greeks of Calabria is thousands of years old, dating back to the 7th century B.C. (the Dorisms found in the Calabrian Greek vocabulary show us that it is a very ancient language, because when in the 2nd century B.C. the language in Greece was unified and the Attic dialect spread, in Greek Calabria, a peripheral territory, but also in some islands such as Crete, the ancient language, Doric, remained in use), but the Greeks of Calabria unfortunately have not always been able to speak and write their language.

The problems began in 1573 when the Catholic Church in Rome abolished the Greek Rite in Bova and the entire Grecanica area. The Latin liturgy was imposed and therefore people could no longer pray during Mass in Greek (and prayers are very important for the oral transmission of the language). So people are not prevented from speaking Greek, but since the schools were run by the Church, Greek is no longer taught in them and therefore the ability to write it in its characters is lost. People therefore continued to speak it, but began to write it in Latin characters.

Approximately 350 years passed in which Greek of Calabria became an oral language that, if it had to be written down, used Latin characters, and then came Fascism, which, as with other linguistic minorities and dialects, also began to discriminate against Greek of Calabria. Between the 1920s and the 1940s, it is not allowed to be spoken, and so parents no longer speak it in front of their children so as not to induce them to use a language that if used outside the family environment would lead to corporal punishment. It is not even allowed to be used in public offices. This long period causes the natural transmission of the language from generation to generation to break down. The last people, some of whom are still alive, who have memories of their parents speaking Greek in secret so that their children would not hear them, were born between 1920 and 1930.

In 1915 during the First World War, a German linguist Gerhard Rohlfs accidentally discovered the existence of the Calabrian Greek language because he heard some Italian soldiers from Calabria speaking Greek in the trenches. This fascinates him and leads him to venture to Calabria to discover this particular 'linguistic island'. Thus began a series of long journeys that would last until 1980 and that would lead him to get to know people, visit villages and communities, talk, take notes, take photographs and write books. With his in-depth linguistic studies, Rohlfs became convinced that the Greek of Calabria was a continuation of the Magna Greek language. During the fascist period, the scholar, despite being German, was marginalised, and the regime tried to counter his theory, with the complicity of other scholars, that the language had been brought by the Byzantines, who had inhabited and administered the territories of Greek Calabria for years, and that therefore the Greek of Calabria was not a continuation of the Magna Greek language (a situation that would have embarrassed Mussolini's Italy and the Italian race itself) but that there had been a mixture with the medieval Greek of the Byzantines.

Rohlfs' interest aroused a spirit of revenge and self-determination on the part of some scholars from Reggio Calabria who began in the 1970s to create cultural circles in which they spoke Greek of Calabria. Thus began an attempt to recover the language that is still going on today. Unfortunately, the attempt began when Italian policies for the Mezzogiorno induced communities to leave their villages where people, albeit in simplicity, managed to live with dignity (suffice it to say that light arrived in Bova, the most important centre, only in the 1960s) to move to the coast and take advantage of the new job opportunities, which often turned out to be quite different from what was expected. Since 2000, a greater awareness of their linguistic belonging, the 1999 Law 442 recognising the Greek of Calabria as a national historic linguistic minority, and the Regional Law 15/2003 allowing its application, has meant that the language is once again beginning to be valued and, with much effort, revitalised.


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