Corfiot Italians - Italkian With Venetian/Apulian Influences

Italkian With Venetian/Apulian Influences

The upper class of the Jewish community of Corfu speaks a Venetian dialect with some modifications (due to the influence of the Greek) called Italkian.

The Venetian of the Corfiote Jews accordingly differs from the same venetian dialect as spoken by non-Jews in the same town. A characteristic of this dialect is the formation in "ò" of the plural of nouns ending in "à", a formation which originated in the Hebrew ending, simplified, according to the Italian laws of phonology, into "ò", e.g., the Italianized plural of "berakah" is "berakhò" (for "berakot"); hence "novità", "novitò"; "cittò", "cittò." There has presumably been no Jewish literature in this dialect, since Venice herself very early adopted pure Italian as her official language, and all documents of the Corfu Jewish community were written in that language, which served as well in Hebrew schools as the means of translating the Bible.

Permanent residence was found in Corfu even by the Apulian Jews, who brought from the Italian coast their vernacular and a few specimens, still preserved, of their literature. The dialect from Apulia is still spoken by the under class of the Jewish community. Two Apulian love-songs, seemingly original, exist in manuscript, of which one is an independent composition of a rather scurrilous purport, while in the second each stanza is preceded by one of a religious Hebrew poem on a quite different subject. Both are written in Hebrew characters, as is a semioriginal composition containing the rules for the Passover supper, of which the following paragraph (with Italian words retransliterated) may be cited:

"Pigiamu la cu li doi signali, e la spartimu a menzu, edizzimu: Comu spartimu chista, cussi spardiu lu Mari Ruviu, e passàra li padri nostri intra di issu e fizzi cun issi e . Cussì cu fazza cu nùi; chistu annu accà, l'annu che veni à la terra di omini liberi.—Menza mintimu sotto la tovaggia pir, e l'altva menza infra li doi, pir cu farrimu."

The simple past tense ("vitti", "vidisti", "vitti") is the only one in use among the Apulian Jews, who agree in this respect with the Apulians of the Italian coast; they differ from the latter, however, in forming the future, which is expressed by means of the auxiliary "anzu" (= "I have"), as on the Continent, and a following infinitive, which is always, as in modern Greek, resolved. Such resolution occurs quite frequently in the area of Bari (with the particles "mu" or "mi"), but not as regularly as in Corfu, where with the exception of the substantivized forms "lu manzari", "lu mbiviri", and a few others, the unresolved infinitive is absolutely unknown. So to-day "dirò", "aggiu diri" and "aggiu mu dicu" occur on the Continent, but only "anzu cu dicu", in Corfu.

This dialect has brought all borrowed words under its own laws of accidence; but its original vocabulary has been hopelessly impoverished and deprived of its finest elements. A Corfiote Jew visiting any part of Apulia would find difficulty in understanding the spoken vernacular or the songs of the natives, although the grammatical structure is exactly the same as that of his own dialect.

The Jews can boast of having preserved the oldest text in the Apulian dialect, a collection of translations of Hebrew dirges dating from the thirteenth century and now in the British Museum (MS. Or. 6276). It contains many obsolete terms which are very close to the Latin and many of the older and fuller grammatical forms. Among its points of interest are words and phrases such as "tamen sollicitatevi" (="mind"), "etiam Ribbi Ismahel", "lu coriu" (="skin"), "di la carni sua", "la ostia" (="army"), and "di li cieli." In the fourteenth century the decay of Apulian in Corfu had so far advanced that readers were no longer able to pronounce correctly the words of this Hebrew manuscript or to grasp their meanings. Vowel-points were accordingly inserted, but very inaccurately; and later an incompetent scribe incorrectly substituted "duzzini" (= "dozens"), "douzelli" (= "young men"), "macchina" (= "machine") for "magina" (= "image"), and attempted to erase the superlative termination of "grandissima." It was perhaps owing to the influence of the Venetian Veneto da mar that he spared all the simple futures; but in four or five places where the pronoun of the first person was erased the substituted words have so thoroughly obliterated the original readings that it is impossible to discover what was the old form of the peculiar "joni" which is now used side by side with "jò."

In actuality today, there are less than one hundred Corfiote Jews in the island of Corfu, subsequent to the Nazi deportations during World War II.

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