THE SICILIAN LANGUAGE (DIALECT):

witness of a millennial multiculture, unique in the world.

 

Sicily’s history is reflected in its unique language, which still testifies that our Sicilian culture is the only one of its kind and that it is more appropriate to term it as a multiculture. The particularity of this ' sicilianity ' resides in the fact, that, in contrast to those countries with strong immigration, where the multicultural component is given by the simultaneous presence of different ethnical populations, in our case, each Sicilian represents a multicultural subject. Our language, in fact, unique in its kind, still possesses innumerable expressions and inflexions derived from the languages of the different people (Greek, Latin, Arab, French, German, Spanish, Catalan and Italian) who in the last two millennium occupied our island. One is attempt to conclude that  who speaks Sicilian, speaks, at least, six different languages!!

Despite this unique feature of our language, in Sicily, many Sicilians seem to feel <socially and culturally reduced > by speaking the dialect. Even more, a conference on the "Future of the Sicilian Dialect" hold some years ago in Catania, pointed out, without any doubt, that the Sicilian dialect is in the process of disappearing,  < stricken to die by the television>. This progressive dissolution of the use of our language represents, in my opinion, a cultural suicide.

The duty to ascertain (as it was shown by the conference in Catania) that the use of the dialect is seen "socially and culturally" reductive is a sign of unjustifiable historical-cultural ignorance. A pupil of the elementary school in Marsala (in western Sicily) wrote recently in a theme: "The dialect, as my mother speaks it, sounds as spoken by a mafioso". This approach between mafia and dialect, tells us a lot on the incipient disappearance of our dialect. Our young people, but also the less young, must realize that, speaking the Sicilian dialect, is a cultural, a multicultural event! Anything else than to be ashamed! Anything else than to feel socially and culturally reduced!

 

Brief signs on the origin of the Sicilian Language.

Even a superficial analysis, not necessarily scientific, on the origin of the Sicilian language, reveals its multicultural nature. I take the freedom to briefly recall the influence on the Sicilian language from the presence on our earth of those folks, who, in the last 2500 years, were dominating, more or less pacifically, our island.

 

The Greek influence (735-254 before Christ).

From the linguistic point of view, the Greek left an indelible imprint in our language. A lot of Greek expressions are still used, often unconsciously, by the majority of Sicilians, for instance:

cirasa (cherry), [Greek :kérasos];

casèntaru (worm) [:ges enteron ' (the earth's bowel)];

cuddura (bread's form) [Greek: kollira];

' ntamatu (amazed), [Greek :thauma '];

babbiari (to joke) [Greek :babazo];

allippatu (greasy of oil, dirty) [Greek :lipos].

Besides many names of city as

Trapani (form of scythe) [Greek :drepano], Palermo (porto, eternal) [Greek :pan ormos].

 

The Latin influence.

After the First Punica War, the Romans occupied Sicily and they remained on the island for more than 600 years (from the year 254 before Christ up to 410 after Christ). Initially the Romans' language, the Latin, didn't have easy life in Sicily, because Greek was preferred to the Latin. Besides those Latin expressions also found in the Italian language, the Sicilian preserve some Latin expressions that are not found in the in the Italian language, such as the following:

antura (a little while ago) [Latin :ante horam];

oggellannu (last year) [Latin: hodie east annus];

bifara (a kind of fig tree) [Latin :bifer];

muscaloru (fan for the flies) Latin: muscarium];

grasciu (fat, ' dirty ') [Latin :crassus]

 

The Barbarian influence on the Sicilian language actually insignificant.

During the Barbarian occupation (410 - 535 A.D.) Sicilians continued to speak and to write in Latin and Greek.

 

The Byzantine influence.

 In the year 535 d.Cs. the emperor Justinian made of Sicily a Byzantine province. Accordingly the Greek language regained its vigor and it remained the predominant language for the next three centuries.

 

The Arabic influence.

Toward the end of the Byzantine domination, Sicily was invaded and conquered, in a rather bloody way, from the Saracen Arabs (827d.C.) They remained for approximately 3 centuries. The Arabs introduced in Sicily the irrigation system, the plantations of lemons, oranges, pistachios, melons, papyrus etc. A lot of expressions in the agricultural field are derived from the Arab:

babaluci (snails) [Arab:. babaluci];

cafisu (cafiso: measure of oil) [Arabic :qafiz];

cùscusu (pasta's kind for the soup) [Arab: kouskousu];

dammusu (attic) [Arab: damús];

gebbia (water's shelter, tub) [Arabic :dijeb];

giuggiulena (seeds of sesamo) [Arabic :giulgiulan];

sciarriarisi (to quarrel) [Arabic :sciarr].

Many names of cities testify the long presence of the Arabs, as

Caltagirone, Caltabellota, Calatabiano, Calatafimi with the Arabic element ' qalah ' or ' qalet ' (castle), and Misilmeri (the emir's castle) [Arab: ' manzil al-amir].

 

The influence of the Normans.

In the year 1064, Roger I invaded Sicily and defeated the Arabs, who meanwhile had strated to defeat each other. With the Norman a lot of frank-Provenzal expressions enter in the Sicilian language, such as:

ammuntuari (to name) [French: mentaure];

burgisi (owner) [French: borgés];

picciottu (young fellow, salesclerk) [French: puchot];

muntata (climbed) < [franceses: montada].

 

The influence of the SVEVIs and STAUFFER.

At the death of William II, the last Norman monarch, the crown of Sicily passed to Constance, aunt of William II and wife of the king Henry of Hohenstauffen. Up to the advent of Frederick II, some German barons commanded Sicily for almost twenty years. Although brief, this period left some imprint of German in the Sicilian:

arrancari (to move with worry) [ted. rank, Gothic wranks];

guastedda (round bread) [German. Wastel];

sparagnari( to save up) [German. sparen];

 

The influence of the ANGIOINI.

A chaotic period followed to the death of Frederick II (1250 after Christ). For 11 years the crown passed to the child of the king of England, Edmondo of Lancaster, who was dismissed by the new French pope that entrusted the kingdom to Charles of Anjou, brother of the king of France. Although of brief duration (1266 up to 1282), the period of the Angioins helped consolidating the French language introduced by the Nomans earlier on:

ammucciari (to hide) [French: mucer];

custureri (tailor) [< French: costurier];

giugnettu (July) [French: jugnet];

scippu (theft) [French: chiper];

runfuliari (to snore) [French: ronfler};

travagghiari (to work) [French:. travailler];

vucceri (butcher) [French: boucher].

 

          The Spanish and Catalan influence.

A popular revolt ( I Vespri Siciliani (1282), <the Sicilian Vespers>) chased Charles of Anjou, but Sicily remained in the hands of a ' foreigner ', Peter of Aragon, who had supported the revolt and the rebels. The Spaniards governed Sicily for almost 500 years. Their language melted in harmonious way with that Sicilian:

abbuccari (to fall, to turn upside-down) [Spanish: abocar];

curtigghiu (courtyard) [sp. cortijo];

lastima (complaint, worry, bother) [Spanish: làstima];

pignata pot) [Spanish: piñada];

scupetta (hunting rifle, ' lupara ') [Spanish: escopeta];

zita (fiancée) [Spanish: (appointment)];

sgarrari (to be wrong) [Catalan: esgarrar];

nzirtari (to guess) [Catalan: encertar].

 

          These few, but meaningful, examples will help to demonstrate that our language represents something of really unique in the world. The Sicilian dialect, which is indeed a language itself since it possesses a grammar and a body of literature, is, therefore, a patrimony to be considered multicultural and to be safeguarded. Speaking Sicilian, it is by no means an event that leads to a social and cultural reduction.

I would like to stimulate all Sicilians to speak and to take care of our dialect. In particular, the scholastic authorities and the Sicilian politicians must undertake the initiative to re-valuate, to defend and to divulge this multicultural patrimony.

Together with laws and initiatives aimed to facilitate the growth of the ‘clean’ economy, to fight the juvenile unemployment and to struggle the crime, the Sicilian rebirth must pass through the re-valuation, the appreciation and the acceptance of our history and our culture.

There is a need for a common effort to avoid for the future that Sicilians feel ashamed for being born or ‘related’ to Sicily.

 

Leoluca Criscione,

Emigrant  from Corleone in Switzerland.

 

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Carmela Damante e Sergio Gregorio (Basel, Switzerland) for their helpful contribution and Leoluca Marcello (Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA) for reviewing  the manuscript.