Translator's notes


By Yorgos Soukoulis

In the Greek War of Independence, waged from 1821 to 1832 against the Ottoman Empire, many of the foremost freedom fighters were Arvanites. There was the legendary commander Markos Botsaris, and General Tzavelas, who was to become Prime Minister of Greece, the great Admiral Miaoulis, and General Kriezotis, commander of the forces of Euboea – to name a few. They spoke Arvanitika, one of the ten languages native to Greece that are listed today by Unesco as severely endangered. 

The deeds of the great Heroes of ’21, as these freedom fighters are called in Greece, are very present in people’s minds today. But as Yorgos Soukoulis’ Arvanitika poem Grounni! (Rise!) testifies, new generations have turned their backs on the ancient language, culture, and great Arvanitic deeds that are part of Greece’s heritage. The woman of Souli who asks the poet ‘Moua, pse me kharove?’ – Why did you forget me? – is one of the women who took part in the ‘Dance of Zalongo’, a mass suicide of Arvanite women and their children in 1803. Trapped in the mountains of Zalongo in northern Greece by the advancing Ottoman army, they jumped to their deaths. 

Arvanitika is a language that was once widely spoken in central Greece (particularly near Thebes and Athens), in the Peloponnese, and on Aegean islands such as Euboea, Salamis, and Hydra. The UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger ( identifies Arvanitika as severely endangered, a language now ‘spoken only by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may still understand the language, they typically do not speak it to their children’. 

Though Arvanitika has a long and colourful history, not much has ever been written in it. It is an oral language without a standardized writing system. Not much has been published: there is a New Testament dating from 1827, and there are a few tales, some songs, and some folk poetry, which is always in strict metre and rhyme, and limited to patriotic and bucolic themes. 

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