Last updated on August 3rd, 2023 at 12:29 pm
The Language in Medieval Corfu
The historical route of Corfu has influenced the way of life and the culture of the island’s inhabitants.
The language could not, therefore, be an exception. The linguistic idiom that was influenced and shaped during Venetian domination is what we now call the Corfiot dialect.
Until about 1500 CE, the population of the island was mixed. We had the Greek descendants of the ancient Corinthians who constituted about 60% of the population. On the other side, the Venetian nobles lived mainly in the city of Corfu.
Because of these conditions on the island, a mixed language called Veneto was spoken. It was a mix of Greek and Italian as the Venetians spoke. Slightly different than the Italians in southern Italy.
Later and shortly after 1500 CE, a large wave of immigration began with Greek refugees from the Peloponnese, Crete, and Cyprus, who still spoke a language close to ancient Greek.
Immigration took place at the time when these areas fell into the hands of the Ottomans. When Corfu was under Venetian domination.
This resulted in a dramatic change in the constitution of the population in favor of the Greek element. This caused the reduction of the Latin that was limited to certain parts of the city.
Also because of this event, the Orthodox Christian faith was permanently overwhelmed. That helped end the efforts to convert to Catholicism been attempted from time to time by many conquerors, especially by the Andegavs when they had the island under their sovereignty, around 1300 CE
The Catholics of course existed and still exist in significant numbers in Corfu. They constitute the second doctrine of the population. But the Corfiot linguistic idiom evolved following the Greek grammar and syntactic while incorporating too many Italian words. Since of course the Greeks first added Greek endings to these words!
This process created the Corfiot dialect. A Greek language with Italian-Greek words that follow Greek grammar and syntax.
Let’s not forget also the special accent of the Corfiot dialect. A much more singing-like, that is the result of its comradeship with the Italians.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, the use of Italian words was so extensive. The locals could talk with each other without being understood by the rest of the Greeks.
But this has changed over the years.
Now the Italian words used at that time, after the death of the older, are almost forgotten. They are not used anymore but constitute a museum part of the linguistic evolution on the island.
Before being forgotten, however, many managed to pass through the rest of Greece and integrate into our language. This is obvious by studying these words and their origin.
This is a phenomenon that happens in all living languages of the world. As the English language has 30% of the words having Greek roots, also in the Greek language, we have words of Italian, Slavic, and Turkish origin.
Of course, the Corfiot linguistic idiom is part of our historical culture and a sign of the Corfiot identity. Efforts should be made not to be forgotten by recording and keeping these words in books that we would call museums of language or using them in various events that happen on the island.
And this is what happens in the well-known Petegoletsa. They are theatrical performances of the road and are played during Halloween. The Petegoletsa contains dialogs full of these words.
These performances help maintain the tradition. The inhabitants of Corfu, of course, do not use these words anymore. Although they know them very well.
Most of these words now sound very funny and make people laugh, we invoke them when we want to laugh at something.
So, if you ever find yourself in Corfu and get to watch either the Petegoletsa or some other theatrical show do not even think that this is the language spoken in Corfu today!.
Below we will try to present a large list of these words and expressions along with their meaning.
We want to record the words used by our ancestors for historical reasons. Also due to our respect for tradition.
We can not deny that we have fun while listening to them, they are really beautiful and original words, remnants of a medieval Greek-Italian lingual salad.
The list includes just a few characteristic Corfiot words with Italian origin and roots from about 5.000 words of this kind in total, but for an English-speaking person, it makes no sense to add them here…
However, if you wish to get an idea have a look at the Greek page here.