General data on the language

Arvanites are those whose mother tongue is Arvanitika (name in Greek - Áñâáíßôåò)/ Arberichte (name in their language); most linguists use the word Albanian for that language, but the community loathes its use, and it is therefore advisable that this sensitivity be taken into consideration unless researchers and/or human and minority rights activists do not mind alienating the very community they are studying. Likewise, they call themselves Arvanites (in Greek) and Arberor (in their language); but in Northwestern Greece, in their language, they use the term Shqiptar (the same used by Albanians of Albania), a term strongly disliked by the other Arvanites, who also resent being called Albanians.

Nevertheless, Arvanitika belongs to the linguistic family of Albanian, and it has evolved from one of the two linguistic groups of Albanian, the South Albanian Tosk (the other is the North Albanian Gheg). Arvanitika has a dialectical richness: there are three different groups of dialects spoken, one in Thrace, one in Northwestern Greece (near the Albanian border), and one in Central and Southern Greece. The latter, which includes the vast majority of speakers of Arvanitika in Greece, has by itself a great dialectical variety which makes some of these dialects to be, or to be perceived by the speakers as, mutually unintelligible (Nakratzas, 1992:86; Trudgill et al., 1975:44; Tsitsipis, 1983:297; Williams, 1992:85). Along with Vlachs, Macedonians, and Roma, Arvanites in Greece argue whether they should use the Greek or the Latin alphabet to write their language, which has rarely been written (Gerou, 1994a; Kazazis, 1994).

Most Arvanites have traditionally lived in Central and Southern Greece: in most departments of the regions of Continental Greece (Sterea Ellada) and the Peloponnese (including especially most islands corresponding to these areas) and the Cyclades island of Andros. Arvanites also live near the Albanian border, in most departments of Epirus and in the Florina and Kastoria departments of Macedonia; also, in the border (with Turkey) department of Evros (in Thrace) and in the Salonica department (where they settled along with other Orthodox refugees from Eastern Thrace, in the 1920’s). Like the rest of the population, since the 1950s, Arvanites have been emigrating from their villages to the cities and especially to the capital Athens, which, incidentally, was a mainly Albanian (Arvanite) small town in the early 1800’s, before becoming the Greek state’s capital (Nakratzas, 1992:87-8). It appears that urbanization has been leading to the loss of the use of the language, which has been surviving more in the traditional villages.

There have not been any official statistics on this as well as on any other minority group in Greece since 1951 (and the statistics before then are generally considered unreliable, reflecting mostly only those with a strong ethnic consciousness). Today, the best estimate for the people who speak the language and/or have an Arvanite consciousness is that they number around 200,000. Trudgill (1983:128) gives an estimate of 140,000 for the speakers in Attica and Beotia, a figure also mentioned in Hill (1990:135). For the Arvanites in the Northwest, a figure of 30,000 is given by Ciampi (1985:87), who also puts the figure for the total group at 156,000-201,000. Some members of the community give much higher figures, around 1,600,000 (Kormoss, 1994:1; and Gerou, 1994b:2): this figure may correspond to all Greeks who have some Arvanite ancestry, but certainly not to the current speakers and those with a similar consciousness. Like all other minority languages, except Turkish, Arvanitika has no legal status in Greece and is not taught at any level of the educational system.

Moreover, there are no media in Arvanitika, though in some Attica radio stations some Arvanitika songs can be heard. Arvanites are Orthodox Christians (many belong to the Old-Calendarist ‘Genuine Orthodox’ Church); their church services are held in Greek, with some rare exceptions of Gospel reading in Arvanitika at Easter. Even Arvanite cultural activities appear to be limited. Tsitsipis has reported only occasional folklore festivals, music and poetry contests (Tsitsipis, 1983 & 1994). Since the 1980’s, there has been a creation of Arvanite cultural associations and publication of a magazine and some books on Arvanite culture (very little though published in the language). In some areas, Easter Gospel is read in Arvanitika (Gerou, 1994a). Perhaps the most significant -for the large public- venture is the release of the CD -with an attached explanatory booklet- Arvanitic Songs (FM Records, 1994).

History of the community and the language

The first Christian Albanian migrations to what is today Greek territory took place as early as the XI-XII centuries (Trudgill, 1975:5; Banfi, 1994:19), although the main ones most often mentioned in the bibliography happened in the XIV-XV centuries, when Albanians were invited to settle in depopulated areas by their Byzantine, Catalan or Florentine rulers (Tsitsipis, 1994:1; Trudgill, 1975:5; Nakratzas, 1992:20-24 & 78-90; Banfi, 1994:19). According to some authors, they were also fleeing forced Islamization by the Turks in what is today Albania (Katsanis, 1994:1). So, some have estimated that, when the Ottomans conquered the whole Greek territory in the XV century, some 45% of it was populated by Albanians (Trudgill, 1975:6). Another wave of Muslim Albanian migrations took place during the Ottoman period, mainly in the XVIII century (Trudgill, 1975:6; Banfi, 1994:19). All these Albanians are the ancestors of modern-day Arvanites in Central and Southern Greece.

Very little is known about the Albanian presence in Thrace; it was probably a spill-over of the many migrations mentioned above. Anyhow, there were many Albanians in Eastern Thrace and in the adjacent Western Thrace department of Evros. The former, as Christians, were relocated in Greece during the compulsory exchange of Christians and Muslims between modern-day Turkey and Greece in the 1920’s: many settled in the Salonica department.

As for the Arvanites of Epirus and Western Macedonia, they are considered to be part of the modern Albanian nation (Banfi, 1994:20), something which perhaps explains their self-identification as Shqiptars rather than Arberor. When frontiers were drawn up in the early XX century, some Christian and Muslim Albanians were left in Greek territory, just as some Greeks were left in Albanian territory. An important part of these Albanians, the Muslim Chams, fled Greece towards the end of World War II, as many had collaborated with the occupying forces and were, as a result, persecuted by Greek resistance.

When the modern Greek state was formed, the Albanian-speaking population and its language were called Albanian, even if those Christian Albanians were considered an integral part of the Greek nation and had played a decisive role in the War of Independence between 1821-1828 (Bartholdy, 1993; Bickford-Smith, 1993: 47; Embeirikos, 1994; Vakalopoulos, 1994:243-249). However, the policy of the new Greek state was to Hellenize all the non-Greek speaking Orthodox populations within its, then limited, territory as well as in the territories of Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace and Asia Minor still under Ottoman rule, which were though considered as part of Greek irredenta; the other Balkan countries (Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, and later Albania) had also followed similar policies. As elsewhere in Europe, army and education were the most effective mechanisms of Hellenization, assisted by the judiciary system ready to denounce and punish all forms of behavior inconsistent with the state’s nationalist culture (Kitromilidis, 1990:38; Kollias, 1994).

It is noteworthy to point out though, that, before the definite development of modern Albanian nationalism, there were efforts in the 1870’s to include most Albanians under Ottoman rule in a Greek-Albanian kingdom (Castellan, 1991:333; Vakalopoulos, 1994: 243-249), just as others appealed to them for their inclusion in an Albanian-Vlach Macedonian state (Berard, 1987:292-333). The Albanians’ fear of an eventual assimilation by the Greeks led to the failure of the former effort.

The result of the Hellenization policy -which was to take a very oppressive turn during the Metaxas dictatorship (1936-1940)- was that Albanian Greeks, especially after the emergence of Albanian nationalism and of the Albanian state, felt that they had to ‘constantly prove their Greekness.’ Hence, their very conservative political behavior: they had traditionally been royalists and, in large numbers, adhered to the Old Calendarist Orthodox Christian Church, which -when the split in the Greek Church over the introduction of the new calendar took place in the 1920’s- was originally supported by the royalist forces. Moreover, and more important for the survival of their language, they have distanced themselves from the Albanians to the extent that most consider today offending to be called Albanians: they have preferred the term Arvanite (Arberor in their own language) for the people and Arvanitika (Arberichte) for the language, as opposed to Albanian (Shqiptar for the people and Shqip for the language) that Albanians use for themselves and their language -with the exception of the Arvanites of Northwestern Greece, as mentioned above. This attitude may also explain the efforts of some intellectuals of the Arvanite community to trace Arvanites’ and Arvanitika’s roots back to the prehistoric inhabitants of Greece, the Pelasgians and their language, so as to claim indigenous status (Williams, 1992:87; Gerou, 1994b; Thomopoulos, 1912).

Trudgill (1994) has shown that, in Greece, as minority languages are all alien (Abstand) to Greek, the use of different names for them (Arvanitika rather than Albanian, Vlach rather than Romanian, Slav rather than Macedonian) has contributed to denying their heteronomy (i.e. their dependence on the corresponding standard language) and increasing their autonomy (by assigning them the status of autonomous languages). As a result, the minority language’s vulnerability grew significantly, as well as the dissociation of the speakers’ ethnic (Arvanite, Vlach, Slavophone) identities from the corresponding national identities (Albanian, Romanian, Macedonian) which have developed in the respective modern nation-states. Today, Arvanite ethnic identity is perceived by many members of the community as distinct from that of the other Greeks who have Greek as their mother tongue but as fully compatible with Greek national identity (likewise for many Vlachs and Macedonians). A similar phenomenon has helped weaken the links between Pomaks in Greece (speaking a Bulgarian-based language) and Bulgarians, and the consequent Pomaks’ assimilation into the Turkish ethnic and, by now, national identity in Western Thrace, an assimilation here detrimental to Greece’s homogenization and anti-minority policies. In another Balkan context, such attitude helped distance the literary Macedonian language standardized by Yugoslav authorities in the late 1940s from Bulgarian to which the previously spoken dialects in Yugoslav Macedonia were heteronomous.

If Hellenization was a significant factor for the weakening of the use of Arvanitika, urbanization was another. Arvanitika had survived until recently in many homogeneous villages where most people had been using the language regularly. Those, though, who moved to the cities soon abandoned the use of the language as it was unintelligible to most other city dwellers and was even perecived as a sign of backwardness; on the other hand, the children had no way of learning the language as neither was it taught at school nor was it used regularly by family members -often grand parents- at home (Moraitis, 1994).

Current situation of the community and the language

Almost all information about the present concerns the bulk of the Arvanite community in Central and Southern Greece. The other two communities are hardly mentioned in the literature and have also been ignored in the 1987 European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL) visit to the Arvanite community in Greece, an oversight which led to at least one indirect protest letter by the Tychero municipality (Kazazis, 1994); nevertheless, a 1994 second visit by the EBLUL was again limited to the Central Greece Arvanite villages.

Almost all speakers of Arvanitika are today bilingual, i.e. they also speak Greek, usually fluently for the younger generations (Trudgill, 1975:53). It is widely agreed that Arvanitika today have been influenced significantly by the linguistic environment in which they have evolved, sometimes for centuries, without any contact with the Albanian communities of modern day Albania. So, it has acquired a separate (Ausbau) status from Albanian, in fact with dialectical richness; nevertheless, at least partial mutual intelligibility between Arvanite and Albanian exists (Trudgill, 1994:14). Indeed, the recent (in the early 1990’s) arrival of hundreds of thousands, mainly illegal, Albanian immigrants in Greece has led to a successful test of that mutual intelligibility, when many settled in Arvanitika villages (it is also noteworthy that in these villages we have seen the two most serious incidents of beatings of Albanian immigrants).

A comparison with standard Albanian shows that Arvanitika has suffered reduction and simplification. Reduction here means loss of: Albanian vocabulary (often replaced by Greek words duly adapted phonetically and morphologically); prepositions (sometimes replaced by Greek ones); verbal tenses; and forms. While simplification consists of loss of case forms, connecting particles and invariable verbal forms (Trudgill, 1983:115-123).

On the other hand, Arvanitika is threatened with extinction. In the early 1970’s, more than 80% of the inhabitants of Arvanite villages in the Attica & Beotia departments were found to be fluent speakers of Arvanitika, though the loss of the language was more pronounced in the villages close to Athens than elsewhere; at the same time, however, the actual use of the language was more limited (Trudgill, 1975:56-61). Moreover, there has been a rather widespread indifference among Arvanites, as well as Vlachs and Macedonian, about the fate of their mother tongues, along with self-deprecation: they have been led by the dominant unilingual Greek culture to -usually sincerely- believe that these languages are deficient, lack proper grammatical structure, have a poor vocabulary (Trudgill, 1994:14; Tsitsipis, 1994:4). So, gradually, Arvanites have switched from bilingualism to a subordination of Arvanitika to Greek; and, sometimes, young people discourage their parents from speaking the language (especially in public). It is probably a correct estimate, although no studies equivalent to that of the 1970s exist, that the language is used today by middle aged people (interchanged with Greek) and by elderly people (in most contexts) and much less by the younger generation (usually when addressing older people, in strict family context, or, sometimes, too, to make fun of non-speakers) (Tsitsipis, 1994; Trudgill, 1983:114-5). Moreover, in the Peloponnese, it seems that the users are predominantly elderly people (Williams, 1992:85-6). Experts, therefore, agree that Arvanitika in Greece is threatened with extinction more than the equivalent Arberichte language of Southern Italy, as the latter country is more tolerant and does not feel threatened by plurilingualism (Hamp, 1978; Tsitsipis, 1983).

Since the 1980s, some efforts to preserve Arvanite culture have been made. A congress was held in 1985. Four cultural associations have been created: the Arvanitikos Syndesmos Hellados (the Arvanite League of Greece) which has been publishing, since 1983, the bimonthly Besa (in Greek); the Kentro Arvanitikou Politismou (Center for Arvanite Culture); the Arvanitikos Syllogos Ano Liosion (Arvanite Association of Ano Liosia); and the Syllogos Arvaniton Corinthias (Association of Arvanites of Corinthia). Books on Arvanite culture have been published. Church reading and chanting in some Arvanite villages has been reported (Williams, 1992:87). Finally, we had the release of a CD with Arvanite music mentioned above. Overall, though, this movement is weaker than similar ones among Vlachs and Macedonians (and certainly among officially recognized Turks).

One reason for such a slow movement is the apparent hostility of the Greek state to such ‘revivals’ among Arvanites, Vlachs, and Macedonians, which is indicated by police disruption of festivals (in Macedonia), and harassment of musicians who play and sing songs in minority languages; as well as by the tolerance -by the state and particularly its judiciary- of public calls, printed in the press, to use violence against those musicians; likewise, human and minority rights activists have been the object of similar threats (Stohos, 20/7/1994 and in previous issues, where even the European Union’s Euromosaic project -to report on the status of the linguistic minorities in the EU- was attacked). Such hostile environment makes even the scholars’ work look suspicious: for example, Arvanites have reacted with incredulity and suspicion to scholars’ assertions that their language can be written (Tsitsipis, 1983:296-7; Trudgill, 1983:129; Williams, 1992:88). Moreover, the EBLUL’s first visit to the community was violently attacked by some community members (Williams, 1992:88) as well as in state-sponsored publications (Lazarou et al., 1993:191-193).

Likewise, Arvanitika has never been included in the educational curricula of the modern Greek state. On the contrary, its use has been strongly discouraged at schools (and in the army) through physical punishment, humiliation, or, in recent years, simple incitation of the Arvanitika users (Williams, 1992:86; Trudgill, 1983:130-1). Such attitudes have led many Arvanite (as well as Vlach, and Macedonian) parents to discourage their children from learning their mother tongue so as to avoid similar discrimination and suffering (Trudgill, 1983:130).