Linguistic influences around Calabrian Dialects

In ancient times, the territories of Calabria were known as Ausonia, the ancient Greek name for lower Italy, after the name of a population settled between the rivers Liri and Volturno and then extended poetically to all Italy; Esperia, which meant “Western land”, from the Greeks perspective; Enotria, from the name of Enotro King of Arcadia, who occupied these lands. Italia, which was first used as a name for the southern part of modern Calabria, originated from Italo, the King of the Oenotri; Magna Graecia, that was the name given by the Romans to the coastal areas of Southern Italy, regions extensively populated by Greek settlers; Bruttium, after the Bruttians who inhabited the region; and finally under the Byzantine rule in VI sec a.C., Calabria, as we know it today.

Thanks to its geographical position, the region has always been during centuries an important hub for cultural and economic exchanges in the Mediterranean and therefore a ’bridge’ for different cultures. Its rich linguistic heritage serves as proof of how rich the history of this region is, for centuries a connection between East and West. Greeks, Saracens and Normans are populations that left still-visible traces of their visit in the Calabrian language. Or, perhaps one should say, “languages”…

In fact when we say Calabrian dialect we refer to a continuum made up of different groups of dialects that differ from province to province, from town to town and from one neighborhood to another. The dialects of Calabria have been extensively studied, catalogued and commented upon by German philologist Gerhard Rohlfs. From the mid-1920s to the mid-1970s, he traveled the region extensively and assembled a very extensive, multi-volume dictionary.

«Each word has its own history» – Gillieron

The primary root of the dialects is Latin. Southern and Central Calabrian dialects are strongly influenced by a Greek substratum. Nonetheless, the dialects have some influence from other languages, thanks to the periodic rule and influx of other cultures. As a result, French, Occitan and Spanish have left an imprint.

The southern part of Calabria preserved the higher number of greek words. But in every part of the region you can taste ciràsi or purtuàlli, cherries and oranges, called by Greeks keràsos and portokàlos. Or, to flavor dishes, you can use petrusìnu, the parsley, coming from the greek petrosèlinon. Catouju is another example (does it ring any bell? Check Sonia’s article about it!). The origin of this word is the greek catageios ο catàgaios, that means underground; in fact it is a characteristic of this place very much present in the Calabrian culture.

Diversely, geographical terms are Latin: térra (land), mári (sea), súli (sun), lúna (moon), véntu (wind), múnti (mountain). Of sure Latin origin are the words of the Christian religion: from latin we have chjésa (church), crúci (cross), míssa (mess). But the vast majority is used in the agro-pastoral sphere.

ágghju (garlic), ALLIUM

allívu (olive), OLIVAM

arátru (plow), ARATRUM

lápa, da APEM

aríganu (origan), ORIGANUM

cíciri (chickpeas), CICER

cipúja (onion), CEPULLAM

crápa (goat), CAPRAM

fárci (sickle), FALCEM

fícu (fig), FICUM

gajína (hen), da GALLINAM

xúmi (river), FLUMEN

xúri (flower), FLOREM

méli (honey), da MEL

palúmba (dove), PALUMBA

páni (bread), PANEM

pérzicu (peach), da PERSICU

pétra (stone), PETRAM

píru (pear), PIRUM

pórcu (pig), PORCUM

vúrpi (fox), da VULPEM

Under the Normans, the point of connection with French whose influence can be seen in the following words:

àccattári(buy), ACHETER

àjumári (light), ALLUMER

brócca (fork), BROCHE

buffétta (table), BUFFET

búggia (pocket), BOUGE

In the IX-XI centuries the Saracens started wars against the Byzantines along the coast of continental Italy. They were not only warriors but also merchants that took avantage of their political dominance to the benefit of their commercial traffic. From this comes that the vocabulary in the commercial field has undergone arab influence, an example is cantáru (quintal) from qantār.

Spanish influence started with Spanish rule from 1505 to 1707. Remainings of this period: màccatúri (tissue) from mocador, sgarrári (mistake) esgarrar, spagnári (be afraid) espanyara.


Francesca Politi – JUMP TEAM