Monday, 23 January 2023

The Vegliot Dialect - The Krk Romance Language Extinct Since 1898

January the 23rd, 2023 - The Vegliot dialect, which is also often referred to as Vegliotic, is a now extinct Romance language once spoken on the island of Krk. The last speaker of the Vegliot dialect was Antonio Udina (Tuone Udaina), who passed away in June 1898. Little is known about the dialect named after the Italian name for Krk (Veglia).

We've explored many of the dialects, subdialects and indeed languages in their own right as some linguists consider them to be which are spoken across modern Croatia. From the Dubrovnik subdialect (Ragusan) in the extreme south of Dalmatia to Northwestern Kajkavian in areas like Zagorje, the ways in which people speak in this country deviate from what we know as standard Croatian language enormously. That goes without even mentioning much about old DalmatianZaratin, once widely spoken in and around Zadar, Istriot, or Istro-Venetian

A brief history of the Vegliot dialect

Of the now extinct languages once spoken on modern Croatian territory, we've looked into Istrian-Albanian, which became extinct in the nineteenth century after being introduced to parts of Istria by ethnic Albanians settled there by Venice who spoke in the Gheg (or Geg) variety of modern Albanian. Now we'll jump back into our linguistic time machine and head back into the island of Krk's past, during which the Vegliot dialect was spoken all the way until June 1898, when the last person to speak it died.

As mentioned above, the Vegliot dialect is named after the Italian name for Krk - Veglia, and its closest ''relative'' is believed to be Istro-Romanian, another Romance language once spoken more widely spoken across the Istrian peninsula, more precisely in the nothwestern parts near the Cicarija mountain range. There are two groups of speakers despite the fact that the language spoken by both is more or less absolutely identical, the Vlahi and the Cici, the former coming from the south side of the Ucka mountain, and the latter coming from the north side.

This language has been described as the smallest ethnolinguistic group in all of Europe, and without a lot more effort being put into preservation, the next few decades to come will almost certainly result in the complete extinction of the Istro-Romanians and their language.

A  Western Italian dialect of Dalmatic, the Vegliot dialect was once spoken by a group of Morlachs (pastoralists) who were engaged in herding. As each of these individuals passed away, the last remaining was speaker was the aforementioned Antonio Udina, who was often affectionately called Burbur.

Antonio Udina (Tuone Udaina)

Udina was born in 1823 on the island of Krk, and died on June the 10th, 1898, losing his life in a road mine explosion and taking the Vegliot dialect with him into the beyond. Nicknamed Burbur, Udina is deemed the last person to fluently speak in the Vegliot dialect, but he was in actual fact not a native speaker of this language. He had learned the dialect (or language, for argument's sake) from his parents who both hailed from the island of Krk and spoke it as their native tongue.

Well known Italian linguist Matteo Bartoli wrote a paper on Dalmatian/Dalmatic language(s) way back in 1897, in what was to be the final full year of Udina's life. At that time, Udina had not spoken in that language for around twenty years, and he had also suffered dental issues so severe they had affected the movements of his mouth and as such he speech, and on top of that - he was also deaf.

Despite being deemed the last speaker of the Vegliot dialect, he is not considered a reliable source in regard to this language owing to his health issues. That said, after Udina was killed in a road mine explosion, the Vegliot dialect also died and is unlikely to ever be heard again.

 

For more on the Croatian language and the many dialects and subdialects spoken across this small but diverse country, make sure to check out our lifestyle section. An edition on language is published every Monday.

Monday, 28 November 2022

Exploring Croatian - A Brief History of the Istro-Romanian Language

November the 28th, 2022 - Have you ever heard of any Balkan-Romance languages other than Romanian? Unless you happen to be a linguist, the term is probably somewhat alien to you, especially given the fact that the languages spoken across much of the region (but not all of it) are Slavic. Let's get better acquainted with the sparsely spoken Istro-Romanian language.

We've explored many of the dialects, subdialects and indeed languages in their own right as some linguists consider them to be which are spoken across modern Croatia. From the Dubrovnik subdialect (Ragusan) in the extreme south of Dalmatia to Northwestern Kajkavian in areas like Zagorje, the ways in which people speak in this country deviate from what we know as standard Croatian language enormously. That goes without even mentioning much about old Dalmatian, Zaratin, once widely spoken in and around Zadar, Istriot, or Istro-Venetian

Istria in particular is full of culture, and its rather complex historic relationship with Italy and in particular with the formerly powerful Venice has a lot to answer for in this regard. That brings us to a language that actually has nothing to do with Venetian, and is only spoken by people who call themselves Rumeni or sometimes Rumeri. It can only now be heard in very few rather obscure locations and with less than an estimated 500 speakers of it left, the Istro-Romanian language is deemed to be seriously endangered by UNESCO's Red Book of Endangered Languages.

Who are the Istro-Romanian people?

The Istro-Romanians are an ethnic group from the Istrian peninsula (but they aren't necessarily native) and they once inhabited much of it, including parts of the island of Krk. It's important to note that the term ''Istro-Romanian'' itself is a little controversial to many, and most people who identify as such do not use the term, preferring instead to use the names taken from their villages. Those hamlets and small settlements are Letaj, Zankovci, the wider Brdo area, Zeljane, Nova Vas, Jesenovik, Kostrcani and Susnjevica.

Many of them left to begin their lives in either larger Croatian cities or indeed in other countries as the industrialisation of Istria in the then Yugoslavia progressed at a rather rapid pace. Following Istrian modernisation which had enormous amounts of resources pumped into it by the state, the number of Istro-Romanian people began to dwindle rather significantly, until they could only really be found in a handful of settlements.

The origins of the Istro-Romanian people are disputed, with some claiming they came from Romania, and others claiming that they arrived originally from Serbia. Regardless, they have been present in Istria for centuries and despite efforts from both the Romanian and Croatian governments to preserve their culture and language - the Istro-Romanian people are still not classed as a national minitory under current Croatian law.

Back to the Istro-Romanian language

Like many dying languages, the Istro-Romanian language was once much more widely spoken across the Istrian peninsula, more precisely in the nothwestern parts near the Cicarija mountain range. There are two groups of speakers despite the fact that the language spoken by both is more or less absolutely identical, the Vlahi and the Cici, the former coming from the south side of the Ucka mountain, and the latter coming from the north side.

Back in 1921, when the then Italian census was being carried out, 1,644 people claimed they were speakers of the Istro-Romanian language, with that figure having been deemed to actually be around 3,000 about 5 years later. Fast forward to 1998, the number of people who could speak it was estimated to stand at a mere 170 individuals, most of them being bi or trilingual (along with Croatian and Italian).

The thing that will be sticking out like a sore thumb to anyone who knows anything about language families - the fact that this is called a Balkan-Romance language. While it is classified as such, the Istro-Romanian language has definitely seen a significant amount of influence from an array of other languages, with approximately half of the words used drawing their origins from standard Croatian as we know it today. It also draws a few from Venetian, Slovenian, Old Church Slavonic and about 25% or so from Latin.

Istro-Romanian is very similar to Romanian, and to anyone who doesn't speak either but is familiar with the sound, they could easily be confused. Both the Istro-Romanian language and Romanian itself belong to the Balkan-Romance family of languages, having initially descended from what is known as Proto-Romanian. That said, some loanwords will be obvious to anyone familiar with Dalmatian, suggesting that this ethnic group lived on the Dalmatian coast (close to the Velebit mountain range, judging by the words used) before settling in Istria.

Most of the people who belong to this ethnic group were very poor peasants and had little to no access to formal education until the 20th century, meaning that there is unfortunately very little literature in the Istro-Romanian language to be found, with the first book written entirely in it having been published way back in 1905. Never used in the media, with the number of people who speak it declining at an alarming rate and with Croatian (and indeed Italian) having swamped Istria linguistically, it's unlikely you'll ever hear it spoken. Some who belong to this ethnic group who live in the diaspora can speak it, but that is also on a downward trajectory.

This language has been described as the smallest ethnolinguistic group in all of Europe, and without a lot more effort being put into preservation, the next few decades to come will almost certainly result in the complete extinction of the Istro-Romanians and their language.

For more on the Croatian language, dialects, subdialects and history, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Monday, 7 November 2022

Dalmatian-Venetian Languages - A Brief History of the Zaratin Dialect

November the 7th, 2022 - Have you ever heard of the Zaratin dialect (Zaratinski dijalekt)? Unless you're a linguist or you just happen to be from the part of the wider Zadar area which spoke it, it isn't likely.

For such a small country geographically speaking, there are so many dialects, subdialects and even ways of speech which border on a language of their own spoken across Croatia. There are words specific not only to certain areas, but in many cases to specific islands, and in some cases, to specific places on those same specific islands. Having looked into the main dialects which make up the standard Croatian language as we know it today, Shtokavian, Kajkavian and Chakavian, as well as old Dalmatian and Ragusan (the Dubrovnik subdialect), let's get a little bit more obscure and delve a little into the Zaratin dialect from Zadar (or should I say Zara, given that we're talking about the Venetians).

The Zaratin dialect came to be from mixing Venetian speech with both the Croatian and Jadertine languages and was used by Italians from Zadar for centuries. The horrors which played out across Europe during World War Two are often blamed for kickstarting the beginning of the end for the Zaratin dialect, more specifically the bombing of the City of Zadar.

This tragic event saw a huge number of Zadar locals leave this part of Dalmatia and seek refuge and better lives elsewhere. Most of those people were actually Italians from Zadar who spoke in the Zaratin dialect, and censuses taken during the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth show that a significant number of locals living in Zadar spoke in the Zaratin dialect (then listed as Italian for all intents and purposes) - over 60 percent to be more precise.

There were of course other dialects spoken in Zadar, most of which were heavily influenced by the Venetians and as such their language. As stated, up until the outbreak of the Second World War, the Italian influence in Zadar was strong and ethnic Italians living in Zadar were numerous, and as such their various ways of speaking. Following the bombing of Zadar and the aforementioned exodus of around 20,000 or so Italian Zadar residents, the Zaratin dialect (and others) suffered a decline in the amount of people left there who spoke it. The tragedy for this dialect didn't stop there, as Italian property was either handed over to relatives or confiscated by the state in Yugoslavia, and the ethnic Croatian influence began to grow, replacing the traces of the ethnic Italians from Zadar.

By the time the war ended and the 1950s rolled around, a heavily damaged Zadar was reconstructed by Croats, and the standard Croatian language began to gain a stronghold. The demise of the Zaratin dialect was then in full force. In this day and age, with many local dialects and subdialects across the Republic of Croatia unfortunately dying with the very last generations to speak them, very few elderly people in Zadar still speak in the Zaratin dialect and have it as their mother tongue.

While not all of them spoke in just the Zaratin dialect, the Dalmatian Italians were once a fundamental part of the way life was woven in Zadar and across the rest of Dalmatia, and it seems that even today the true amount of Italian Dalmatians is unclear, with just a few hundred individuals declaring themselves ethnic Italians in official censuses. It has been more or less accepted that the census carried out in Croatia back in 2001 underestimated the sheer number of Italian Dalmatians there are, as many people simply chose not to express their actual ethnic identity for a variety of reasons, from disputes over property ownership rights to not having adequate representation or protection as a minority.

Today, there are numerous Dalmatian Italian Associations, and the one in Zadar is called the Italian Community of Zadar (Comunita Italiana di Zara), which boasts 500 members and was founded back in 1991. It is responsible for launching the first Italian courses after Italian schools were all shut down in 1953.

If you want to hear the Zaratin dialect, one song which was once very popular and is worth listening to is El muto zaratin (Zadarski mulac), written back at the end of the nineteenth century by Luigi Bauch.

For more on Croatian language and history, make sure to keep up with our dedicated lifestyle section.

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