Last updated on October 29th, 2019 at 12:18 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, and the linguistic idiom that has been influenced and shaped during Venetian domination is what we now call Corfiot dialect.
Until about 1500 AD, the population of the island was mixed, we had the Greek descendants of the ancient Corinthians which inhabited mainly the villages and constituted about 60% of the population and on the other side the Venetian nobles who lived mainly in the city of Corfu.
Because of these conditions until then on the island, people spoke a mixed language called Veneto and it was a mix of Greek and Italian as the Venetians spoke, slightly different from Italian in southern Italy.
Later and shortly after 1500 AD, a large wave of immigration began with Greek refugees mainly from the Peloponnese, Crete, and Cyprus, who still spoke ancient Greek.
The movement took place at the time when these areas fell into the hands of the Ottomans, and Corfu was under the Venetian domination.
This resulted in a dramatic change in the constitution of the population in favor of the Greek element and 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 with the definitive ending of the efforts to convert to Catholicism which had been attempted from time to time by many conquerors and especially by the Andegavs when they had the island under their sovereignty around 1300 AD
The Catholics of course existed and still exist in significant numbers in Corfu and 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 thought, 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 Italian.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, the use of Italian words was so extensive that the locals could talk with each other without being understood by the rest of the Greeks.
This has changed over the years.
Now the Italian words used at the time, with the death of the older locals, are almost forgotten, they are hardly used at all and simply constitute a museum part of the linguistic evolution on the island.
Before they were forgotten, however, many managed to pass through the rest of Greece and integrate into our language, it can be seen by studying these words and find 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 with Italian, Slavic, and Turkish origin.
Of course, the Corfiot linguistic idiom is part of our historical culture and a sign of the Corfiot identity and efforts should be made not to be forgotten either by recording and keeping these words in books that we would call them museums of language or using them in various events that happen on the island.
And this is what happens in the well-known Pétogoletsa, which are improvised theatrical performances of the road and are played mainly during the Halloween, and the Pétegoletsa are written with texts full of these words.
These performances help maintain the tradition, the inhabitants of Corfu, of course, do not use them 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 Pétegoletsa or some other theatrical show, do not even think that this is the language spoken in Corfu today!.
Below we will try to give as much as possible a list of these words and expressions along with their meaning.
We want to record the words used by our ancestors for historical reasons but also due to our respect in tradition, we can not deny that we have fun while listening to them, they are really beautiful and original words, they are remnants of a medieval Greek-Italian lingual salad.
The list includes just a few characteristic Greek words with Italian origin and root from the about 5.000 words of this kind in total, but for an English speaking person, it makes no sense to add them to the English article…
However if you wish to get an idea just have a look at the Greek page here.