Calabrese refers to a group of language varieties spoken in the Calabria region at the southern tip of mainland Italy. Though descended from Latin, the rich history of immigration to the region has resulted in a strong influence on these varieties from several other languages including Greek, French, Spanish and Arabic. Throughout the Calabria region the language varies, with each village or community having a distinctive variety – the northernmost exhibiting similarities to neighbouring Neapolitan varieties and the southernmost to neighbouring Sicilian varieties. This dialect chain scenario makes it difficult to say whether Calabrese is one language or many – and if the latter how many.

Calabrese is not recognized as an official language of Italy. None of the varieties are supported by the government, taught in schools nor used as the primary language in media. Most speakers are bilingual in Standard Italian, and many young people choose to speak the more prestigious national variety over the less prestigious local varieties. While today there are millions of speakers of the different Calabrese varieties, there is nevertheless concern that they are being lost. Meanwhile, there is a resurgence of interest in Calabrese by some community members who celebrate the varieties by using them in folk art, music and poetry.

ELAT has recorded two varieties of Calabrese in Toronto – Cosentino and Santonofrese. Cosentino is a northern variety spoken in and near the city and province of Cosenza. Santonofrese is a southern variety spoken in and around the village of Sant’Onofrio in the province of Vibo Valentia. Both varieties are spoken by a few thousand people in Italy and several thousand more in the global diaspora (in particular parts of Europe, Argentina and Australia), including Toronto, which is home to one of the largest communities of people from Calabria outside of Italy.

The following two videos feature Toronto speakers of Cosentino and Santonofrese.


In addition to the Calabrese varieties, the Calabria region is home to several languages that are not part of the Romance continuum, such as Arbëreshëa language of Albanian roots that has been spoken in the region for about five centuries; and Grecanico or Greco di Calabria, a Hellenic dialect, which precedes any Latin varieties spoken in the regionAnother notable minority Romance language spoken in the region is Guardiolo, a variety of the Occitan language. These minority languages are recognized and protected under Italian law.

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