Linguistic heritage – A unique variety of Greek in Calabria

By Francesca Politi - JUMP team

According to UNESCO “one language disappears on average every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.”

Protection of linguistic minorities

Linguistic diversity is a world heritage that must be valued and protected.

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of the Council of Europe is the only treaty in the world which aims to protect and promote traditional regional and national minorities’ languages. Italy treasures the greatest diversity of regional and minority languages in WesternEurope. Its legislation for the protection of linguistic minorities recognizes twelve historical linguistic communities present within the borders of the Italian Republic, protected by specific national (such as Framework Law 482/1999) and regional laws. These 12 officially recognised languages are: French, Occitan, Franco-Provençal, German, Ladin, Friulian, Slovene, Sardinian, Catalan, Arberesh (a variant of contemporary Albanian), Greek and Croatian. 

If you’re curious about their sounds, check out this amazing project by Babbel Italia!

Calabrian Greek

Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. We are the result of a mixture of stories, rituals and traditions that came before us and yet different worldviews kept and handed on through our language. Languages are expressions of identity and represent an intangible cultural heritage.

In the Grecian area – also known as Bovesia – history has left an indelible mark. This portion of Calabria is the result of the overlapping of the direct descendants with the first settlers of Magna Graecia, with occurred around the 8th century B.C. on the shores of the Ionian sea.

Naturally protected, to the southeast it is lapped by the Ionian sea, which allowed the arrival of the Greeks onto the Calabrian coasts, whereas to the west the Aspromonte Mountains protected the area and isolated it from the rest of the region. The most notable consequence of this geographic and cultural isolation was succeeding in retaining the residue of greek culture. This area was in fact shielded from external influences that could have led to the dispersal of many evidences of its glorious past. So it was that Grecanico or greco-calabro, a unique koiné, survived several centuries in the mountains of Calabria. 

“Intangible cultural heritage can only be heritage when it is recognized as such by the communities, groups or individuals that create, maintain and transmit it – without their recognition, nobody else can decide for them that a given expression or practice is their heritage.”

Gerard Rohls was a pioneer, the first to show a concrete interest in the enigmatic Calabrian Greek-speaking communities. He was a German linguist whose area of study was Romance languages, in particular those spoken in Southern Italy. (You can visit the Museo della Lingua Greco-Calabra “Gerhard Rohlfs” situated in Bova). He asserted that Italian-Greek descended directly from the days of Magna Graecia, contending that the ancient Romans had not been able to Latinize the entire Italian peninsula. Thereafter, the Greek of Calabria would have been uninterruptedly spoken during the centuries until the present, with local developments.

In the municipalities of Bova, Bova Marina, Condofuri e Roghudi Nuovo this ancient grecanico still survives however with very few speakers. Its vitality is considered severely endangered according to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages .To enable this heritage to survive, there are numerous events taking place with a mutual interest: the desire to save from oblivion these historical traces. This is the case of the initiative called Anno Greko whose aim is to enhance the deep cultural significance of this ancient language.


I grecanici dell’Aspromonte: identità culturale, tradizioni e turismo – Monica Morazzoni – Giovanna Giulia Zavettieri