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Documentation of Arbresh needed in AL, USA

Date Submitted: 22-May-2009
From: Isabel Brown
Subject: Documentation of Arbresh needed in AL, USA
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Notice: A colleague of mine in the College of Computer Sciences, Dr. Michael Doran ( is faced with the following dilemma involving the
endangered language of Arbresh. I copy his entire message to me rather than
paraphrasing it so that you would get a full feel of the situation. I am
sure that among you, your faculty, and/or your students there is someone
absolutely ready to tackle this poignant issue. What follows is form Dr.
Michael Doran:

My grandparents came from a small town in Sicily, Piana degli Albanesi, but
were not Sicilian or Italian. Their culture was Arbresh dating back to the
1400's. Even after almost 400 years in Sicily they kept their religion,
culture, only married within the culture, and had a distinct language based
on Albanian. It is very Slavic and has little in common with Italian. Even
after coming to the US in the 1800's and early 1900's they maintained their
culture forming societies based on their hometown, often only married those
in the culture and kept the language. The largest groups settled in New
Orleans. In fact there are more Arbresh in NOLA than in the towns back in
Sicily. Now over 100 years later the NOLA groups are not pure bred anymore
and the language is not spoken. I found an article that speaks about how the
language is dying even back in Sicily.

Here's where my family comes in....
My mother and aunt are pure bred 2nd generation Arbresh. Both my
grandparents were pure bred Arbresh born in Piana. My mother and aunt speak
the language as part of normal conversation. In fact they speak it more than
they do English now that they are in an assisted living home. Growing up as
a kid and living with them and my grandparents I learned enough Arbresh to
survive and know when I was in trouble. As my mother and aunt are aging,
mother is 84 and Aunt Anna is 90, I have moved them to an assisted living
home here in Mobile. In fact, the staff tells me how they mumble strange
sounds all the time, however, they are speaking to each other in Arbresh so
no one knows what they are talking about. In my family they are the last
pure bred Arbresh and the last that can really speak the language. In NOLA
now there are few pure bred left especially by my generation and fewer if
any that can really speak the language. Even though my mother and aunt are
still in relatively good health I know they will not live forever and
reading this article really made me realize how tragic their death will be
since it will also mark a lose of connection to a 600 year Arbresh history
and language and the migration of that culture to NOLA and the US.

Here's my question......
Would anyone be interested in studying and working with my mother and aunt
to capture attributes of the Arbresh language and culture. I know all the
stories and can speak choppy bits and pieces but they are fluent. The big
problem as the article points out is that it is not a documented written
language. No one in my family not even my grandparents could write it. My
grandparents only learned to read and write English after they came to the
US. Not only is this interesting to me from a family point but also it
appears to be a valid language and culture research area.
Thanks for your consideration and I would love to chat with you or anyone
else interested in this research.