Arvanitika - Classification


Arvanitika was brought to southern Greece during the late Middle Ages by settlers from what is today Albania. Arvanitika is also closely related to Arbëresh, the dialect of Albanian in Italy, which largely goes back to Arvanite settlers from Greece. Italian Arbëresh has retained some words borrowed from Greek (for instance haristis 'thank you', from ευχαριστώ; dhrom 'road', from δρόμος; Ne 'yes', from ναι, in certain villages). Italo-Arbëresh and Graeco-Arvanitika have a mutually intelligible vocabulary base, the unintelligible elements of the two dialects stem from the usage of Italian or Greek modernisms in the absence of native ones.

While linguistic scholarship unanimously describes Arvanitika as a dialect of Albanian many Arvanites are reported to dislike the use of the name "Albanian" to designate it, as it carries the connotation of Albanian nationality and is thus felt to call their Greek identity into question.

Owing to its special social circumstances and ethnolinguistic identity, Arvanitika is currently listed as a separate entry ("Arvanitika Albanian", code "aat") in the draft international ISO 639-3 catalogue of language names, where it is categorised as part of an Albanian "macrolanguage". Similarly, the Ethnologue lists a separate sub-entry for "Albanian, Arvanitika", along with parallel entries for Gheg Albanian, Tosk Albanian and Arbëresh. There is no entry for Arvanitika in parts 1 and 2 of the international ISO 639 standard of language codes, which only has a single entry for Albanian (codes "alb", "sqi", or "sq").

Sociolinguistic work has described Arvanitika within the conceptual framework of "ausbausprachen" and "abstandssprachen". In terms of "abstand" (objective difference of the linguistic systems), linguists' assessment of the degree of mutual intelligibility between Arvanitika and Standard Tosk range from fairly high to only partial (Ethnologue). The Ethnologue also mentions that mutual intelligibility may even be problematic between different subdialects within Arvanitika. Mutual intelligibility between Standard Tosk and Arvanitika is higher than that between the two main dialect groups within Albanian, Tosk and Gheg. See below for a sample text in the three language forms. Trudgill (2004: 5) sums up that "inguistically, there is no doubt that is a variety of Albanian".

In terms of "ausbau" (sociolinguistic "upgrading" towards an autonomous standard language), the strongest indicator of autonomy is the existence of a separate writing system, the Greek-based Arvanitic alphabet. A very similar system was formerly in use also by other Tosk Albanian speakers between the 16th and 18th century. However, this script is very rarely used in practice today, as Arvanitika is almost exclusively a spoken language confined to the private sphere. There is also some disagreement amongst Arvanites (as with the Aromanians) as to whether the Latin alphabet should be used to write their language. Spoken Arvanitika is internally richly diversified into sub-dialects, and no further standardization towards a common (spoken or written) Standard Arvanitika has taken place. At the same time, Arvanites do not use Standard Albanian as their standard language either, as they are generally not literate in the Latin-based standard Albanian orthography, and are not reported to use spoken-language media in Standard Albanian. In this sense, then, Arvanitika is not functionally subordinated to Standard Albanian as a dachsprache ("roof language"), in the way dialects of a national language within the same country usually are.

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