Also known as « the Corsican language ». One would tend to think of its boundaries as being well-defined geographically, but being an island doesn’t always mean being isolated. Corsican is a very diverse language as it has many variations with different influences. Some of these have developed with the exile of many Corsicans: in Sardinia, for instance, where it is thought that the language is more often used than in Corsica itself.
But the Corsicans have also reached many other places on every continent: in all parts of Italy, in continental France as well as in France’s overseas territories and other former colonies (mainly in Africa, Asia and Australasia), in the rest of Europe, and in Northern and Latin America. In particular in Venezuela and Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to be from Corsican descent. In total, between one and two million potential speakers are thought to be living outside the island, not only able to understand and use the Corsican language to some extent, but also to quickly learn closely related languages, such as Italian of course, but also Spanish, Portuguese and many others.
Bilingualism with French has been discussed for a while now, with an ever growing support within the island, for a number of reasons. One of the main ones is that it opens people and communities to more connections, and another one is the will to reinforce a language and a culture that have always been the result of such openness. Nowadays, more and more people are learning Corsican, either to reinforce their ties with the Corsican culture and people, or simply out of curiosity.
Corsica’s central position in the Mediterranean have historically made the island a real melting pot, a meeting point for the children of many different cultures, from all the shores of the Mediterranean: Carthaginians, Etruscans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Pisans and Genoese for instance, have all made their contribution to Corsica’s history, culture, landscapes and language. External relations have always been strong, such as with the Ottoman empire, in the days of Sampiero Corso, or the British empire in the days of Pasquale Paoli, the latter having also been influenced by his earlier Neapolitan exile.
Its eventful history and its rugged landscapes; made from steep mountain ridges, isolated valleys, deadly mountain streams as well as clear water tropical-like beaches, surrounded by palm trees, but also by storms that sometimes seem to come straight out of Greek mythology; have allowed its language to preserve many ancient words.
The Corsican language is one of the closest languages to Latin – even closer than Italian, the language spoken in Rome nowadays. Many Latin words were left nearly unaltered in the Corsican language, thus making it an exceptional tool for linguists, while at the same time allowing its speakers not only to more easily bridge the gap between it and Latin languages; or Latin-influenced languages, such as English; but also with languages from further away, to which it can be related in terms of sounds, structure and its preservation of ancient features, that have already disappeared from the main Western European languages.
In addition to being very close to the Roman era’s lingua franca, Corsican has also preserved many words dating back from before Latin was used. These words’ precise origins are sometimes still being discussed, as historical evidence gets more and more scarce as we go back in time.
Corsican songs, lyrics, as well as singing style, with its particular way of harmonising voices, also bears witness to an ancient time. Many listeners are surprised by their original, as well as their universal character, which is one of the most permanent features in the history of the island: from the crossroads of the ancient world to an international holiday destination, through the visits of Genoese explorers, British aristocrats, Roman writers and Scottish globe-trotters, as well as its early liberation during the Second World War – transforming the island in an air base for their American allies; Corsica has always attracted many, and triggered a lot of attention and debate among both its detractors and its lovers.