Corsicans - Orientation

Identification. Corsicans are the native inhabitants of the Mediterranean island of Corsica, now part of France. Corsicans consider themselves a distinct ethnic group, a claim which is vigorously promoted by the Corsican nationalist movement.

Location. Corsica lies in the central Mediterranean Sea, 168 kilometers from Provence but only 81 kilometers from Tuscany, and separated from the Italian island of Sardinia to the south only by the 11-kilometer-wide straits of Bonifacio. Corsica is the most mountainous island of the Mediterranean. Its topography has a rugged beauty but poor soils: 40 percent of the land area is covered by the maquis, or macchia, a form of vegetation that signals land degradation in the Mediterranean region; 20 percent is covered by forests; and 25 percent is suitable for pasture. Only a small (and declining) portion of the island is cultivated. The lowland plains are the only highly productive agricultural areas; yet until the postwar era, these were malarial and little used. The Corsican landscape is characterized by three altitudinal zones: coastal, dominated by the low bushes of the maquis with a few oak and olive forests; mountain, where forests of chestnut, evergreens, oak, and beech are common; and subalpine, dominated by pine forests to the tree line, above which may be found natural pasture. Unlike most of the Mediterranean Islands, Corsica receives abundant precipitation, averaging 88 centimeters per year, most of which falls in the winter. In locales above 1,000 meters, precipitation normally falls in the form of snow from December until April.

Demography. The present population of Corsica is 240,000 inhabitants, and its population density, only 28 Persons per square kilometer, is one of the lowest in Europe. Since the turn of the century, Corsica has been steadily depleted of her people, and today the majority of all Corsicans (one-half to two-thirds, according to different estimates) live outside of Corsica, with Marseille being the largest Corsican town. Of the 360 communes on the island, 316 have a natural population decrease (deaths outnumbering births) Because of the exodus of the island's youth. Unemployment and underemployment are blamed for the high emigration levels, although the lack of higher education on the island is also an important factor. The economic consequences of this demographic decline are great, thus further contributing to the downward spiral of underdevelopment. During the 1960s, the island's population was boosted by the repatriation of French colonials from Algeria, and now 10 percent of Corsica's population are such "Pieds Noirs" immigrants. Immigration since then has included large numbers of North Africans, who do primarily low-status, menial jobs, as well as continental French, employed especially in high-status positions. Of the 240,000 island residents, only 166,600 (69.4 percent) are of Corsican origin (of whom 86 percent are island-born); 33,600 (14 percent) are of continental French origin; and 39,800 (16.6 percent) are of foreign origin.

Linguistic Affiliation. Standard French is the official Language in Corsica, and it is the language of education, the media, the workplace, the government, and upward mobility. The local language, however, is Corsican (Corsu), which is spoken as a native tongue by decreasing numbers of inhabitants (despite the efforts of nationalists to revive the Language). Corsican is of the Latin Family of languages and closest to the rural dialects of Tuscany, but it has no standard form and varies greatly.

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