Tuesday, February 1, 2022


On the borders of Italy there are Italian speaking communities. The biggest -and more important historically- are in France (Nizza, Corsica and Savoia) and former Iugoslavia (actual Slovenia and Croatia), but there are also in Switzerland, Greece and Malta. The following are excerpts translated from the italian books written by Francesco Bruni (of the "Nuova Rivista di Letteratura italiana") and related to these 3 smaller communities (of Switzerland, Greece and Malta).

1919 "Irredentism" map showing Canton Ticino and Malta as italian speaking areas outside of the Kingdom of Italy. The green areas were claimed by Italian irredentists (note that Corfu in Greece was requested and added later by Fascism after 1922)

SWITZERLAND (Canton Ticino)

At the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century, the "Canton of Ticino" was in a depressed economic situation, enjoyed little consideration within the Swiss Confederation, was devoid of political importance. Open to German economic and ethnic penetration, the canton also lacked a university and institutes of higher culture.

Although quite isolated, some intellectuals sensitive to the culture of "Voice di Prezzolini" tried to react to the decline, and in 1912 he founded a weekly, the "L'Adula". It was a sign of the times that it was directed by two women, Teresa Bontempi and Rosa Colom-bi: in 1911 the "Women's Association of Culture" was born in Bellinzona. The magazine's incidence was limited, and its intellectual profile was not very high; however, the L'Adula put in explicit terms the problem of an Italian linguistic and cultural identity that had to be strengthened, if the overall situation of the Canton was to be improved, in short, he advanced the "persevering affirmation of our Italian soul"

Until 1920, the line of the magazine was alien to irredentist tendencies; these began to manifest themselves in 1921, as a result of the Fiume enterprise, which impressed the small circle of which the magazine was an expression, or more exactly Adolfo Carmine, a Bellinzonese converted to D'Annunzio and financier of the magazine "The spirit of Fiume".

The enthusiasm for the "Impresa di Fiume" of D'Annunzio made the magazine suspicious in the Canton and in the Swiss Confederation; and the support obtained from various people strengthened their isolation of Italian intellectuals (Prezzolini, Gentile, Borgese and others): the L'Adula now appeared to be an organ subservient to a foreign power. The isolation of the magazine would increase with the adhesion to the "March on Rome" and the sympathy for Mussolini's politics, until the "unequivocal irredentist orientation" did not induce the Swiss government to close it in 1935.

Moreover, the question now went beyond the problem of a group with very little political follow-up, and invaded the fascist foreign policy with Switzerland, conducted on the double track of respecting the rules of non-interference between states and acts of interference in the Swiss Confederation.

GREECE (Ionian islands)

After the treaty of Campoformio, the Ionian islands (Corfu, Zakynthos, Ithaca, Ce-falonia, Santa Maura, Passo, Cerigo: the Eptaneso) passed from the Republic of Venice to France, which would have abandoned them in 1799. The following year, the republic of the Heptanese, independent until 1807, when it fell under French rule; in 1809-14, however, the islands were occupied by England, to which the European order deriving from the Congress of Vienna and the Treaty of Paris assigned the privilege of exercising their protectorate there. Only in 1864 did the Ionian islands join the continental kingdom of Greece politically. During the not short period of the British protectorate and a few years later, Italian (and not just Venetian) remains the language of legislation and courts, in both civil and criminal matters, although English and Greek are gradually being added to it. In short, the transition to Greek was anything but immediate, also because the change of language was concomitant with a change of jurisprudence.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that Cefalonia was nearly all "venetian speaking" in 1797, but soon started to change its language in favor of Greek because of huge immigration from continental Greece.

In favor of the cause of Italian and Greek independence, as well as that of other oppressed nationalities, Niccolo Tommaseo invited the population of the Ionian islands to promote Greek to written and cultured customs, without thereby adopting Italophobic, linguistic or cultural attitudes; and precisely the experience, common to the Greeks no less than to the Italians, of peoples and languages deprived of strength, had to ensure the cultural friendship that, rightly, seemed desirable:

"...If the Italians were victorious and powerful, it might seem prudent to beware of them, and daring not to cure them, and excusable pride. But misfortune relieves you for them, and recommends them to you. You [Tommaseo apostrophes the Greek intellectuality of the islands that, in an effort to rebuild their cultural identity, showed signs of suffering from the long presence of the Italian] are neither so hailed nor happy enough to despise anyone. And the happy ones do not reject with impunity the covenant of misfortune and the sacred brotherhood of pain....

Like the Greeks, of the Ionian islands or of the continent, so the Italians had known long centuries of enslavement; and the common pain could, according to Tommaseo, bring together the two peoples, both strangers to spirits of conquest and dominion. The inevitable phase of linguistic nationalism that accompanies the standardization of a language later frustrated Tommaseo's hope, and in the process of time the fascist aggression against Greece certainly did not contribute to the cause of Italian; the fact is that after the Second World War the acute need to learn foreign languages, Italian tourism in Greece and, by no means negligible, the good number of Greek students enrolled in Italian universities, have brought Italian back to a good diffusion.


In the scenario of the conflict between England and Napoleon's France, a British protectorate had established, shortly before the Ionian islands, in Malta, the island of the Knights of St. John which had been part of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies until , on 12 June 1798, Napoleon, launched in the enterprise of Egypt, had not put an end to their long domination. The French presence, however, had lasted less than three months, since the Maltese had rebelled against a "nation so opposed not only to the Christian religion, which is the prime curb of the government, but also to public tranquility" and they had asked for help from Ferdinand IV, king of the Two Sicilies. Since he had not been able to to help them adequately, "for the troubles that exist in Italy, and in his kingdom of Naples", the Maltese wrote to him on 7 February 1799 asking him, in the same message, for permission to

"...have recourse to a power allied to your Majesty, which is His British Majesty, whose team nevertheless keeps the French blocked, in order to obtain from it a special protection, and valid cooperation, in an affair of such importance..."

The king of Naples agreed and an English naval team blocked the island until the French capitulation (5 September 1800). Since then Malta passed, like the Ionian islands, under English influence. In Malta, where the mother tongue, a variety of Arabic, enjoyed less prestige than Greek in the Ionian islands, Italian had been the language of high uses for centuries and, in particular, as in the Ionian islands, it was the language of law and of the courts, therefore of lawyers and judges. It is not excessive to say that the political history of Malta and the smaller islands, first and foremost cultural, runs, for a good part of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, on the line of the conflict between an Italophile and an Anglophile party, respectively the anti-reformist party (later National Party), and the Reform Party; it is also necessary to consider the role of the Catholic religion, which together with Italian represented a cornerstone of the identity of Malta (as in the Catholic Ticino, where Germanism meant not only the influence of the German language and capital, but also the entry of a Protestant orientation).

We cannot dwell on a fascinating historical event, almost unknown in Italian studies of Italian studies, which has been reconstructed in some valuable recent treatises, and which should lead us to examine even the most ancient phases of Maltese linguistic history. In this session I will limit myself to mentioning that in an issue of "Mediterranean Magazine", an English newspaper published in Malta to be distributed also in other Mediterranean countries, we read about the intention to also publish articles in Italian, "which is the current language in the Mediterranean" . It is a testimony of 1842; and again in 1883 a captain Cooper Kirton, resident in Malta, wrote in Italian that "it is spoken over the whole of the Mediterranean", so it can be said that the language stood up for a long time, and victoriously, to the penetration of English.

In 1932, when English had by now overtaken Italian, and Maltese was also gaining prestige, it was still asserted that it was difficult to replace basic Italian law in Rome with a law in English or Maltese, although just two years later such a replacement was imposed; but now, since trilingualism is onerous, Maltese also gained space together with English. British politics also stirred the specter of irredentism, which was, in truth, very little represented in Malta; and even the fascist foreign policy pursued for a long time the end of good relations with England. Already compromised since 1934, the Italian's hardships received the decisive blow from the Second World War and from the bombings that the island suffered from the Italian air force. As in Greece, so in Malta the Italian recovered, in different conditions, after the wounds of the conflict were re-marginalized