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Venise après Venise: official languages in the Ionian Islands, 1797–18641

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2016

Peter Mackridge*
University of Oxford
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Even though the Ionian Islands (Heptanese) were removed from Venetian control in 1797, it was not until 1852 that Italian ceased to be used as an official language there. My article examines the official use of the three relevant languages (Italian, Greek and English), as laid down by statute and carried out in practice, and traces the stages leading to the final replacement of Italian with Greek for all official purposes. My study is based on the minutes of Ionian parliamentary debates and on despatches between the High Commissioner and the Colonial Office as well as constitutional documents and published Acts of Parliament.

Copyright © The Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham 2014



An early version of this article was first given as a lecture on 8 October 2012 at Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice. I would like to thank the following for providing me with valuable advice and with published and unpublished material during the preparation of this article: Eleni Angelomati-Tsougaraki, Dimitris Arvanitakis, Pietro Bortone, Eleni Calliga, Caterina Carpinato, Athanasia Glykofrydi-Leontsini, Robert Holland, Tzortzis Ikonomou, Alex Martin, Aliki Nikiforou and Katerina Tiktopoulou. I am particularly grateful to Anthony Hirst for inviting me to participate in a series of talks at the Durrell School in Corfu in May 2010, which provided the starting point for my research for this article, and to Anthony Seymour for initiating me into the arcane mysteries of the political history of the Ionian Islands under British protection and for generously providing me with transcriptions of various documents.


2 Gaetano Cozzi, among others, links together ‘the posthumous fortune of Venetian law and the fortune of the language whose voice it had been’ ( Cozzi, G., ‘Diritto veneto e lingua italiana nelle Isole Jonie nella prima metà dell’ottocento’, in Omaggio a Gianfranco Folena (Padua 1993) II, 1533-418Google Scholar [1534]).

3 According to Cortelazzo, M., ‘Vicende ¡storiche della lingua italiana a Corfù’, Lingua Nostra 8 (1947) 4450 Google Scholar, the majority of the population of Corfu town in the eighteenth century were bilingual in Greek and Italian/Venetian, and Italian continued to be spoken there by Jews until they were expelled by the Germans during World War II, and by Italian nationals until they were expelled by the Greek state immediately after the Occupation.

4 Arvanitakis, D., ‘Έισαγωγή’, in Arvanitakis, D. (ed.), Μουστοξύδης-Τνπάλδος, Αλληλογραφία (Athens 2005) 100 Google Scholar, 103.

5 My translation from Italian. For the original text see supplementary online material, 1 (http:/www.maneyon A transcription of one of the copies of this manuscript document, housed in the French state archives, is published in Nikiforou, A. D., Συνταγματικά κείμενα των Ιονίων Νήσων (Athens 2008) 663-71Google Scholar, with variant readings from other copies. On this copy the phrase ‘liberate dai Francesi’ has, for obvious reasons, been crossed out. The text was first published by Lunzi, E., Della Repubblica Settinsulare (Bologna 1863) 249 Google Scholar, but he seems to have tacitly ‘standardized’ the language. According to Nikiforou (ibid., 101-2) the ‘plan’ was in force from 24 May 1799 to October of the same year. It is not included in the collection of constitutional texts published in Anon. [ Manessi, N. B.], Le tre costituzioni (1800, 1803, 1817) delle Sette Isole Jonie (Corfu 1849)Google Scholar.

6 Cozzi, ‘Diritto veneto e lingua italiana’, 1538 (including quotation from 1800 constitution) and 1540.

7 According to Chiotis, P., Ιστορικά απομνημονεύματα Επτανήσου, VI (Zakynthos 1887) 430-2Google Scholar, the Report was written by the commission’s secretary, the Cephalonian physician and composer Giovanni Francesco Zulatti (sometimes spelled Zulati). He is named as ‘Segretario Redattore’ at the end of the Report and at the end of the text of the Constitution.

8 Costituzione della Repubblica Peninsulare (Corfu 1803) 13, 68. The English translation of these two passages is mine. For the original see supplementary online material, 2.

9 Venieris has the doubtful of honour being mentioned (as ‘ποστελνικοβενιεροδημιτράκιος’, i.e. the postelnic [minister of foreign affairs] Dimitrakis Venieris) in the anonymous satirical text that K. T. Dimaras named ‘O Ανώνυμος του 1789’ (see Dimaras, K. T., Νεοελληνικός Αιαφωτισμός, 4th edn (Athens 1985) 425 Google Scholar, 452). This would place Venieris in Bucharest at that time. His grammar of Modern Greek (Επιτομή γραμμα-πκής εξηγηθείσα εις την απλήν ρωμαϊκήν διάλεκτον με τηνμετάφρασινεις το ιταλικόν... (Trieste 1799)) was the first grammar of the modern language to have been published by a Greek; it was published at the expense of the Greek merchants of Trieste. The reason why the initiative for the Greek translation of the 1803 constitution came from Trieste is probably that this town was the sea-port of Austria, which had taken over Venice and its hinterland under the provisions of the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797.

10 Κατάστασις της Επτανήσου Πολιτείας (Trieste 1804) 3-4, 17, 74.

11 The satirist Andreas Laskaratos recalled, with obvious reference to the High Commissionership of Lord Nugent: ‘It must have been after 1830 that England began to change its policy in our islands, and, from being a mistress, she became something else. The English - governors and others - putting aside contempt, began to treat us politely and even to call us Hellenes ... a brave people... ‘ ( Laskaratos, A., Άπαντα, ed. Papageorgiou, A. and Moschovaki, A. (Athens 1959) I, 438 Google Scholar).

12 Statement by Robert William Hay, in House of Commons, Parliamentary Papers [henceforth P.P.], 1834, VI (570), ‘Select Committee on Military Expenditure...’, 69-71.

13 ‘Constitutional Chart of the United States of the Ionian Islands, as agreed on and passed unanimously by the Legislative Assembly, on the 2d of May 1817. Colonial Department, 17th March 1818’, P.P., 1818, XVII (132), 1-2.

14 The First Parliament lasted from 1818 to 1822.

15 All dates in this article are given in the Gregorian calendar unless two alternative dates are specified.

16 Πολίτευμα των Ενωμένων Επαρχιών των Ιωνικών Νήσων Į...Į μετηνεχθέν [...] εκ του αγγλικού εις το Νεοελληνικόν ιδίωμα παρά Π. Πετρίδου (Corfu 1818).

17 For more on the Greek translation of the 1817 Constitution see P. Mackridge, ‘Περί Βουλής και Γερου-σίας: о Πλάτων Πετρίδης και η «νεοελληνική» μετάφραση του Ιονίου Συντάγματος του 1817’ (forthcoming).

18 For instance Leontsinis, G. N., ‘Έλληνική γλώσσα και βρετανική πολιτική στα Επτάνησα’, in his book Ζητήματα επτανησιακής κοινωνικής ιστορίας (Athens 2005) 559-83Google Scholar [571].

19 It has been erroneously asserted (e.g. by Sfoini, A., ‘H διαμόρφωση της επίσημης γλώσσας των Ιονίων’, in ZΠανιόνιο Συνέδριο, Λευκάδα (26-30 Μαΐου 2002). Πρακτικά, I (Athens 2004) 395411 Google Scholar [404]) that the Greek edition of the government Gazette was discontinued from 1819 to 1830 inclusive. In fact, an incomplete set of the Greek edition (Εφημερίς τωγ Ενωμένων Επαρχιών των Ιωνικών Νήσων) from 1822 to 1829 is housed in the British National Archives (henceforth TNA) CO 136/264.

20 Legislative Assembly, 15 April 1823, TNA CO 136/220; cf. Primary Council, 13 April 1823, TNA CO 136/219.

21 The Act was published in Greek and Italian and reported in the Gazette no. 129, 3/15 June 1833, p. 9.

22 By an appropriate coincidence, it was Nugent that welcomed the newly appointed King Otto to Greek soil in Corfu on 18 January 1833.

23 Napier, C. J., The Colonies, Treating of their Value Generally, of the Ionian Islands Particularly and Including Strictures on the Administration of Sir Frederick Adam (London 1833) 119 Google Scholar (italics as in the original text). In his ‘Promemoria’ addressed in Italian to the Colonial Secretary in 1839, Andreas Moustoxydis, echoing Napier, wrote that ‘The citizen sees himself dragged before a tribunal, accused, defended, his property condemned, himself condemned in his liberty and his life, in a language of which he is ignorant, and by laws which have never been even translated to him’. In the same document, Moustoxydis writes that ‘those who have the monopoly of public affairs, the last relics of the Venetian school of education, only speak [...] the language of Harlequin and Pantaloon’ - not, be it noted, the language of Dante and Petrarch! He goes on to claim that ‘for not more than thirty, who stutter Italian, is the national dignity and the interests of nearly 200,000 men sacrificed!’ and that ‘the public Acts of the Ionian Government, with regard to their style and translation, are subjects of derision for any one who knows Greek and Italian’ (English translation quoted from P.P., 1840, XLVIII (401 ), ‘Ionian States. Memorial to the Secretary of State for the Colonial Department by the Cavaliere Mustoxidi’, 12 (henceforth Mustoxidi, ‘Memorial’)).

24 Nugent to Goderich, 1 Jan. 1833, TNA CO 136/65.

25 In fact the 1817 Constitution (Ch. VI, Sect. III, Art. VII) stipulated that new codes of civil and criminal law should be adopted within three years.

26 Nugent’s speech is reported in the Extraordinary Gazette, 7 March 1833. Even though the speech was delivered in Italian, it was published only in English and Greek.

27 Goderich to Nugent, 10 Feb. 1833, TNA CO 136/322.

28 This document, drawn up in Italian and accompanied by an English translation (from which I quote), is to be found in TNA CO 136/65.

29 Legislative Assembly, 9 March 1833, TNA CO 136/227. For the original see supplementary online material, 3.

30 Legislative Assembly, 19 March 1833, ibid.

31 Stanley to Nugent, 25 April 1833, TNA CO 136/322. Stanley, perhaps disingenuously, uses as a chief argument against the introduction of Greek into the law the difficulty of finding or forming the technical vocabulary in the version of Greek spoken in the Ionian Islands rather than in the form of the language being developed for legal purposes in the newly independent Greek state. Nugent made this point in his reply: ‘A neighbouring country, Greece, still in a state of civilization far inferior to the Ionian Islands, is yet much beyond them in this point. The technical terms used in the legal Proceedings in that country appear to answer every purpose, including that of being generally understood’ (Nugent to Stanley, 30 May 1833, TNA CO 136/65).

32 Despatches normally took about four weeks to travel between London and Corfu. As we have seen in the previous note, Nugent’s reply to Stanley’s despatch of 25 April is dated 30 May.

33 Tsitselis, I. A., Κεψαλληνιακά σνμμικτα, I (Athens 1904) 9-13Google Scholar.

34 Legislative Assembly, 17 May 1833, TNA CO 136/227. For the original see supplementary online material, 4. The Proceedings of the Assembly in 1833 and 1836 were recorded in Italian; extracts are quoted in this article in my own English translation. On at least two occasions Anninos is mentioned in the minutes as having spoken in Greek during debates on ecclesiastical matters, though his words are reported in Italian (Legislative Assembly, 29 April and 7 May 1833, ibid.).

35 Legislative Assembly, 17 May 1833, ibid. For the original see supplementary online material, 5.

36 Legislative Assembly, 13 May 1833, ibid. For the original see supplementary online material, 6.

37 Ibid.

38 Legislative Assembly, 17 May 1833, ibid. For the original see supplementary online material, 7.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 Papadopoulos, T. I., Ιονική βφλιογραφίά: 16ος-19ος m. (Athens 1998) I, 318-19Google Scholar.

42 The 32nd Act of the Fifth Parliament ( 11 August 1834) provided for the adoption of a provisional penal code and for its translation into Greek. The provisional code was printed in English and Italian: Penal Laws for the United States of the Jonian Islands: Adopted Provisionally in Conformity with the XXXII Act of the Fifth Parliament / Leggi penali per gli Stati Uniti delle Isole Jonie transitoriamente a termini dell’ Atto XXXII del Quinto Parlamento. The provisional code was published and put into effect by an Act of Government of 22 September 1834, but the promised Greek translation never materialized. See various documents in TNA CO 136/206. One of these shows that the text of the criminal code was already being discussed by a committee as early as 1829.

43 Published in the Gazette no. 248, 14/26 September 1835.

44 Legislative Assembly, 18 May 1833, TNA CO 136/227.

45 Legislative Assembly, 15 January 1836, TNA CO 136/234. For the original see supplementary online material, 8.

46 Another provocative action by the Senate was the publication of a Resolution concerning the administration of public education, in which it was stipulated that all acts and correspondence of the General Commission of Public Education, as well as all reports sent to it, should be in Italian, ‘since this is the only language used officially in every other branch of public administration in these States’ (Resolution of Senate, 7 February 1835, Article 19, published in the Gazette no. 216, 2/14 February 1835; for the original see supplementary online material, 9.). See also Legislative Assembly, 15 January 1836, TNA CO 136/234.

47 Ibid. For the original see supplementary online material, 10.

48 The Message is attached to Douglas’s despatch to Glenelg, 26 January 1836. In the despatch itself Douglas was even more explicit in his misrepresentation of the provisions of the 23r Act, which, he claimed, provided that ‘Greek should be the language of the Tribunals, without any exception’. These documents are housed in TNA CO 136/80.

49 Legislative Assembly, 15 January 1836, TNA CO 136/234.

50 Ibid. For the original see supplementary online material, 11.

51 Legislative Assembly, 19 January 1836, ibid.

52 As usual, the text of this Act was published in Greek and Italian (first in the Gazette no. 262, 1/13 February 1836). For the Italian text see supplementary online material, 12.

53 The adjudicators awarded the prize to the authors of two dictionaries but recommended that they amalgamate their dictionaries and publish them as one, which they did ( Vlandis, S., ‘H ελληνική γλώσσα εν Επτα-νήσω’,ΔελήοντηςΐστορικήςκαιΕθνολογικήςΕταψείαςτηςΕλλάδος,ιΐΕνν series, l (1928) 139-42Google Scholar). The result was Λεξικόν νομοτεχνικόν ιταλοελληνικόν [...] Ανδρέου Βλαντή Λευκαδίου και Ιωάννου Οικονομίδου Κυπρίου. Εξετασθέν, κριθεν, επιθεωρηθέν και επιδοκιμασθέν κατά το 2.°” άρθρον της ΝΖ’. πράξεως της πέμπτης Βουλής των Ηνωμένων Επικρατειών των Ιονίων Νήσων (Corfu 1840) [Italian title: Dizionario tecnicolegale italiano-greco....].

54 A ‘Progetto di Codice Civile’, largely based on the French Civil Code with some rectifications based on the Neapolitan code, had already been drafted by Girolamo Santorio, Principal Secretary of the Supreme Council of Justice, in 1835 and was discussed by a committee in the same year. Likewise, Santorio drafted a ‘Progetto di Codice Commerciale’ on a similar basis in 1835, which was discussed in committee the following year. The texts of these progetti are in TNA CO 163/229 and 231 respectively. It is likely that these formed the basis for the final versions of the respective codes, but this question is beyond the remit of my article. The discussion of the draft codes continued into 1837: see TNA CO 136/230 and 233. However, despite Douglas’s undertaking on 7 March 1837 that the Projects of the Civil and Commercial Codes would be submitted to the Assembly during the current session (which ended in June of that year), it was regretfully announced at the end of June that the codes had not been completed (Extraordinary Gazette, 7 March 1837 and 18/30 June 1837). In 1839 Douglas, claiming that the matter of the codes was the most important undertaking with which he had been associated during his whole career, again urged the Assembly to approve the codes, which (he rightly says) had been in preparation for ten years (Extraordinary Gazette, 5 March 1839; cf. n. 42 above).

55 Each of the three Ionian codes was published in a separate volume in Corfu in 1841 during the High Commissionership of Sir Howard Douglas: Codice civile degli Stati Uniti delle Isole jonie; Codice penale degli Stati Uniti delle hole jonie; Codice di commercio degli Stati Uniti delle hole jonie.

56 Πολιτικός κώδηξ του Ηνωμένου Κράτους τωνΙονίων Νήσων; Ποινικός κώδηξ του Ηνωμένου Κράτους των Ιονίων Νήσων; Εμπορικός κώδηξ του Ηνωμένου Κράτους των Ιονίων Νήσων (all Corfu 1851).

57 Douglas to Glenelg, 26 January 1836, TNA CO 136/80.

58 Douglas to Glenelg, 28 January and 26 April 1836, ibid. According to Chapter VI, Section II, Article IV of the 1817 Constitution two members of the Supreme Council of Justice were appointees of the British monarch and, although they could be either British or Ionian subjects, in practice both of them were usually British.

59 Legislative Assembly, 20 January 1836, TNA CO 136/234. The reason why the Assembly accepted Douglas’s amendments was probably that otherwise the Act would not have been approved by the Senate.

60 Douglas to Glenelg, 28 July 1836, TNA CO 136/81.

61 Quoted in Kirkwall, Viscount (ed.), Four Years in the Ionian Islands: Their Political and Social Condition: With a History of the British Protectorate (London 1864) I, 149-50Google Scholar.

62 The regular (as opposed to sporadic) publication of parliamentary minutes in printed form was introduced at the same time as the introduction of Greek into the debates and the written record. The fact that these two measures were decided upon simultaneously was probably not coincidental, since both of them promoted greater transparency.

63 Πρακτικά των Συνεδριάσεων της Ευγενεστάτης Νομοθετικής Σννελεύσεως του Ηνωμένου Κράτους των Ιονίων Νήσων κατά την Τετάρτην Συνάθροισιν της Ογδόης Γερουσίας (Corfu 1849) 9. The English translation of this and the following extracts is my own. For the original see supplementary online material, 13. According to N. I. Pantazopoulos (Έθνικό φρόνημα, γλώσσα και δίκαιο στο Ιόνιο Κράτος πριν την ενσωμάτωση’, in Moschona, P. (ed.), To Ιόνιο Κράτος 1815-1864. Πρακτικά του Διεθνούς Συμποσίου Ιστορίας (Κέρκυρα, 21-24 Μαΐου 1988) (Athens 1997) 359-83Google Scholar [3641), the representative in question was Konstantinos Volterras Martinengos of Zakynthos.

64 Πρακτικά των Συνεδριάσεων, 18. For the original see supplementary online material, 14.

65 This Act was published in Greek, English and Italian (Gazette no. 26, 18/30 June 1849). One of the provisions of the Act was that Greek was to replace Italian as the language of instruction in schools controlled by the state.

66 Anon. [Idromenos, M. S.], Σύνταγμα του Ιονίου Κράτους των 1817 ως νυν υπάρχει μετερρυθμισμένον, μεταφρασθεν εκ του ιταλικού πρωτοτύπου (Corfu 1855)Google Scholar.

67 The text of Ward’s speech was published in the Extraordinary Gazette, 3 March 1852. By contrast, the informal farewell words addressed to the Ionians by the last High Commissioner, Sir Henry Storks, on 2 June 1864 were in Italian (The Times, 14 June 1864).

68 P.P., 1853-3, LXII (226), Ionian Islands..., Ward to Grey, 5 March 1852.

69 Tommaseo, N., II secondo esilio (Milan 1862) 167 Google Scholar, quoted in Carpinato, C., ‘Il supplizio d’un italiano in Corfu: un caso di intolleranza etnica nell’Eptaneso della seconda metà dell’Ottocento e la fallita mediazione di Dionisios Solomos’, in Giraudo, G. and Pavan, A. (ed.), Integrazione, assimilazione, esclusione e reazione etnica (Oradea [Romania] 2013), II, 272-93Google Scholar [279-80].

70 Tommaseo, N., Il supplizio d’un Italiano in Corfu (Venice 2008 Google Scholar [1st edn, Florence 1855]). Among other things, Tommaseo wrote that ‘the code will be translated into a Greek that will be for the Greeks harder than Latin for the Italians’, and that ‘the peasant of Greece will learn the legal jargon by dint of lost cases’ (ibid., 193). For Tommaseo’s interest in the two interconnected language questions of the Ionian Islands see T. Ikonomou, ‘Le Isole Ionie, la Grecia e il Supplizio’, ibid., 277-340 [303].

71 Pantazopoulos, Έθνικό φρόνημα, γλώσσα και δίκαιο’, 382. Troianos, S. N. (‘O Ιόνιος Πολιτικός Κώδικας στην ελληνική νομική φιλολογία’, in Moschona, (ed.), То Ιόνιο Κράτος 181 S-l864, 506-14Google Scholar [5051) notes that because the Greek translation of the Ionian codes was never ratified by law, the Italian original remained the authentic text for purposes of interpretation.

72 Anon. [Idromenos, M. S.], Ηεθνική γλώσσα εις την Επτάνησον (Corfu 1849) 4 Google Scholar.

73 Mustoxidi, ‘Memorial’, 12. Moustoxydis is referring to the fact that the Legislative Assembly asked the Senate ‘to transmit to it a project of law to give effect to Article 6 of the Constitution regarding the Greek language’, whereupon the Senate decided to draw up a reply ‘to make the Assembly realize that at present it was not worth [non essere il caso] presenting the requested project, in view of what was decreed by the 57th Act of the 5th Parliament’ (Senate, 13 March 1839, TNA CO 136/238); for the original see supplementary online material, 15.

74 See Glykofrydi-Leontsini, A., Νεοελληνική φιλοσοφία: Πρόσωπα και θέματα (Athens 1993) 242 Google Scholar.

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