Still speaking Greek in Italy

When the classic Greeks expanded their empire in the 8th and 7th centuries BC, many colonies were established on faraway maritime seaboards, such as the Black Sea* and Massalia (modern Marseille). Naturally, nearby southern Italy was one of the earliest places where they settled.

The Greek empire finally crumbled in 168 BC, giving way to the Roman empire, but to this day there are traces of those ancient (and medieval) Greek communities. In southern Italy there still remains a linguistic minority known as the Grici people, who live in the region of Calabria and the peninsula of Salento[1].
The Grici speak Italiot Greek otherwise known as Salentino-Calabrian. Italiot Greek consists of two dialects: Salentino Greek (Griko) and Calabrian Greek.

The Italiot-speaking area of Salento comprises nine small towns in the Grecìa Salentina region (Calimera, Martano, Castrignano de' Greci, Corigliano d'Otranto, Melpignano, Soleto, Sternatia, Zollino and Martignano), with a total of 40,000 inhabitants. The Calabrian Greek region also consists of nine villages in Bovesia, (including Bova Superiore, Roghudi, Gallicianò, Chorìo di Roghudi, Bova Marina and Melito di Porto Salvo) plus four districts in the city of Reggio Calabria (San Giorgio Extra, Rione Modena, Arangea and Sbarre), but its population is significantly smaller, with around only 2000 inhabitants.

Once, the two areas were much larger: in the 16th century, the Greek area in Calabria took in about 25 villages, while in Puglia Greek was spoken in the 15th century covering the whole Salento coastal strip between Mardo and Gallipoli in the west up to the edge of Malendugno-Otranto in the east. Outside this area it appears that Greek was also spoken at Taviano and Alliste.

Both dialects are slowly getting extinct. Younger people hardly speak it anymore and a shift to South Italian is proceeding rapidly.


Some Greek linguists consider Griko to be a Modern Greek dialect and often call it Katoitaliotikà (Κατωιταλιώτικα, 'Southern Italian') or Grekanika (Γρεκάνικα). Not so, the dialect comes directly from Ancient Greek and particularly from the Doric Greek once spoken extensively in the region. Griko and modern Greek are partially mutually intelligible. The dialect has evolved and in many cases, the final '-s' has been lost (i.e. gaidaros (donkey) becomes gadaro in Griko. Moreover, a future tense does not exist in this dialect; it is replaced by the present tense.


* On the northern coast of the Sea of Azov in southern Ukraine and Russia, Rumeíka (Ρωμαίικα) or Mariupolitan Greek is a Greek dialect still spoken in 17 villages.

[1] Valeria Baldissera: Il dialetto grico del Salento: elementi balcanici e contatto linguistico - 2013. See here.

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