Language, identity and militantism in contemporary Corsica. An investigation from a tradition of improvised singing called “chjam’è rispondi”

Author: Giovanni, Ragni (Università di Corsica Pasquale Paoli)
Speakers: Giovanni, Ragni (Università di Corsica Pasquale Paoli)
Topic: Language Revitalization
COMELA 2022 Colloquium


Corsica has for centuries been an interesting political laboratory for the independence of which J.J. Rousseau drew up a draft Constitution (1768), and it is still characterised today by certain socio-political as well as linguistic-cultural dynamics of relevant interest. Sharing at least seven centuries of history with the pre-unification Italian states (the Republics of Pisa and Genoa above all), this heritage is still very much present, albeit lacerated, in contemporary island culture. Central element: the Corsican language. Strongly opposed since the French annexation (1769) and accompanied by a progressive policy of assimilation to the French continental whole (of which, let us remember, Corsica constitutes a geographic anomaly within metropolitan France), this represents the core of a series of implications of a purely identity nature.

The contribution presented here intends, through the study of a tradition of improvised singing in the Corsican language, locally known as ‘ chjama è rispondi’, which is still alive – despite being highly marginalised – to highlight the multiple implications that the persistence of this practice conveys. In fact, in a context of profound ‘linguistic conflict’, where a language and a culture (French) are perceived as ‘dominant’ in certain cases, chjama è rispondi takes shape as an instrument of linguistic appropriation and refinement, through which one can reaffirm one’s belonging to a land, to a people, in the terms in use today in the globalised world, such as ‘identity’. The very role of the improviser, who has become a linguistic specialist, is invested with new meanings and an unprecedented standing on today’s Corsican scene.

How, then, can a specific savoir-faire such as that of sung improvisation trigger processes of identification and militantism within contemporary Corsican society?

Keywords: Corsica, Linguistic Anthropology, History, Cultural dynamics, FrenchIdentity