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Sicilian dialect - the language of the locals!

ALL THINGS SICILIAN

“C'e' acchi cosa di cchiu' beddu p'un populu d' 'a lingua di so' 'ntinati?”

(What could be more important to a people than the language of their forefathers?)

No matter how much you might prepare for your trip to Sicily by learning Italian words or buying a phrase book, you will probably never be ready to get to grips with Sicilian dialect.

As with most regions of Italy, Sicily has largely retained its dialect and many people still use it frequently. While it is not taught in schools, and is generally frowned upon by the middle/upper middle classes, Sicilian dialect continues to play a very important role in everyday life. Most people know quite a lot of words and proverbs, but if you visit the street markets in Palermo or Catania, or if you get off the beaten track in the Sicilian hinterland, you will hear a considerable amount of “dialetto stretto” (“pure” dialect).

Most Sicilians tend to use their native language to give more emphasis or warmth to what they are saying: punch lines of jokes are frequently in dialect, maternal love is often expressed with a “beddu” (beautiful) or a “duci” (sweetie) and anger often erupts in showers of molten dialect that seem to have a harshness and a depth of expression that Italian could never achieve.

While many words may seem similar to their Italian cousins (obviously Italian has had a large influence over the last 150 years), Sicilian dialect is really a language in itself and in no way derives from Italy’s official language.

On the contrary, it has a history that extends back beyond ancient Greek times. And much in the same way that the English language absorbed lexis and grammatical constructions from the waves of invaders that reached its shores, so Sicilian dialect has constantly evolved through the adoption of linguistic elements from, amongst others, Greek, Vulgar Latin, Arabic, French, Catalan, Spanish and Provencal. The resulting language is an etymologist’s paradise, a potpourri of influences and transformations that never ends.

...if you visit the street markets in Palermo or Catania, or if you get off the beaten track in the Sicilian hinterland, you will hear a considerable amount of “dialetto stretto” (“pure” dialect).

And for those of you with a passion for language here is a little “etymological quiz”: from which languages do the following Sicilian dialect words derive?

1. cirasa (IT cilegio, cherry)
2. cassata (typical Sicilian cake made from Ricotta cheese)
3. travaghiari (IT lavorare, to work)
4. vucceri (IT macellaio / carnezziere, butcher’s)
5. zibbibbu (grape variety still much in use in Sicily)
6. grasciu (IT grasso, dirt / grease)
7. pistiari (IT mangiare, to eat – though has a rather vulgar sense today)
8. accattari (IT comprare, to buy)
9. babbaluciu (IT lumaca , snail)
10. addumari (IT accendere / illuminare , to light)
11. antura (IT qualche tempo fa, a while ago)
12. aranciu (IT arancia, orange – it actually came into Sicilian before Italian!

Find the answers below.....





1. Greek - from Kerasos

2. Arabic - from Qashatah or Latin - from Caseata (something made from cheese)

3. French - from Travailler

4. French - from Boucher

5. Arabic - from Zabib

6. Latin - from Crassus

7. Greek - from Apestiein

8. French - from Acheter

9. Arabic - from Babus or Greek - from Boubalakion

10. Provencal - from Allumar

11. Latin - from Ante Oram - an hour ago

12. Spanish - from Naranja

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