Calabria (center and southern provinces)
|4.7 million (2002)|
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Sicilian (sicilianu; in Italian: Siciliano; also known as Siculo (siculu) or Calabro-Sicilian) is a Romance language spoken on the island of Sicily and its satellite islands. It is also spoken in southern Calabria (where it is called Southern Calabro), specifically in the province of Reggio Calabria, whose dialect is viewed as being part of the continuum of the Sicilian language. Central Calabria, the southern parts of Apulia, Salento (where it is known as Salentino), and Campania, on the Italian peninsula, where it is called Cilentano are viewed as being part of the broader Far Southern Italian language group (in Italian: Italiano meridionale estremo).
Ethnologue (see below for more detail) describes Sicilian as being "distinct enough from Standard Italian to be considered a separate language" and is recognized as a "minority language" by UNESCO. It has been referred to as a language by the Sicilian region. It has the oldest literary tradition of the modern Italian languages.
- 1 Status
- 2 Ethnologue report on Sicilian
- 3 History
- 3.1 Early influences
- 3.2 Stratification
- 3.3 Pre-classical period
- 3.4 Greek influences
- 3.5 Germanic influences
- 3.6 Arabic influence
- 3.7 Linguistic developments in the Middle Ages
- 3.8 Norman and French influence
- 3.9 Other Gallic influences
- 3.10 Sicilian School of Poetry
- 3.11 Catalan influence
- 3.12 Spanish period to the modern age
- 4 Distinguishing features of Sicilian
- 5 Examples of the written language
- 6 Influences on the Italian language
- 7 Language situation today
- 8 Other words/phrases
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Sicilian is currently spoken by the majority of the inhabitants of Sicily and by emigrant populations around the world, the latter are found in the countries which attracted large numbers of Sicilian immigrants during the course of the past century or so, especially the United States, Canada, Australia and Argentina. In the past four or five decades, large numbers of Sicilians were also attracted to the industrial zones of northern Italy and areas of the European Union, especially Germany.
It is not used as an official language anywhere, even within Sicily. Currently the government does not regulate the language in any way. However, in recent years the non-profit organisation Cadèmia Siciliana has created an orthographic proposal to help normalise the written form of the language. Furthermore, since its inception in 1951, the Centro di studi filologici e linguistici siciliani in Palermo has been researching and publishing descriptive information on the Sicilian language.
The autonomous regional parliament of Sicily has legislated Regional Law No 9/2011 to encourage the teaching of Sicilian at all schools, but inroads into the education system have been slow. CSFLS has created a textbook "Dialektos" to comply with the law however it does not provide an orthography to write the language. Although within Sicily it is only taught as part of dialectology courses, outside of Italy, Sicilian language has been taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Manouba University. Also since 2009 it has been taught at the Italian Charities of America in New York City, on the 15th of May, 2018 the Sicilian region once again mandated the teaching of Sicilian in schools and referred to the language as a language in official communication.
The language is officially recognized in the municipal statutes of Sicilian towns, such as Caltagirone and Grammichele, in which the "inalienable historical and cultural value of the Sicilian language" is proclaimed. Further, the Sicilian language would be protected and promoted under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML). However, Italy has signed this treaty, but the Italian Parliament has not ratified it, it is not included in Italian Law no. 482/1999, although some other minority languages of Sicily are.
The Sicilian language is spoken in various Sicilian American communities in both the United States and Canada (especially in Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton), and is preserved and taught through family association, church organizations and societies, as well as social and ethnic historical clubs, and even in Internet social groups.
Ethnologue report on Sicilian
Alternative names of Sicilian are Calabro-Sicilian, Sicilianu, and Siculu. The term Calabro-Sicilian refers to the fact that a form of Sicilian, is spoken in southern Calabria, in particular, in the province of Reggio Calabria. Sicilianu is the name of the language in Sicily itself.
The term "Siculu" describes one of the larger prehistoric groups living in Sicily (the Sicels or Siculi) before the arrival of Greeks in the 8th century BC (see below). It can also be used as an adjective to qualify, or further elaborate on, the origins of a person, for example: Siculo-American (siculu-miricanu) or Siculo-Australian.
- Western Sicilian (in Palermo as Palermitano, Trapani as Trapanese, Central-Western Agrigentino)
- Central Metafonetica (in the central part of Sicily that includes some areas of the Provinces of Caltanissetta, Messina, Enna, Palermo and Agrigento)
- Southeast Metafonetica (in the Province of Ragusa and the adjoining area within the Province of Syracuse)
- Ennese (in the province of Enna)
- Eastern Nonmetafonetica (in the area including the province of Catania as Catanese, the second largest city in Sicily, and the adjoining area within the Province of Syracuse)
- Messinese (in the province of Messina, the third largest city in Sicily)
- Isole Eolie (in the Aeolian Islands)
- Pantesco (on the island of Pantelleria)
- Reggino (in the Metropolitan City of Reggio Calabria, especially on the Scilla-Bova line, and excluding the areas of Locri and Rosarno which represent the first isogloss which divide Sicilian from the continental varieties).
Because Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and many peoples have passed through it (Phoenicians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Ostrogoths, Byzantine Greeks, Moors, Normans, Swabians, Spaniards, Austrians, Italians), Sicilian displays the rich and varied influence of several languages on its lexical stock and grammar. Such languages include Greek, Latin, Arabic, Norman, Lombard, Occitan, Germanic languages, Catalan, French and Spanish, and the influence from the island's pre-Indo-European inhabitants. The very earliest influences, visible in Sicilian to this day, exhibit both prehistoric Mediterranean elements and prehistoric Indo-European elements, and occasionally a blending of both.
Before the Roman conquest (3rd century BC), Sicily was occupied by various populations. The earliest of these populations were the Sicani, considered to be autochthonous. The Sicels (or Siculi or Siculians) arrived between the second and first millennia BC), and Elymians arrived during this same period. These aboriginal populations in turn were followed by Phoenicians (between the 10th and 8th centuries BC) and Greeks (from the 8th century BC).
The Greek-language influence remains strongly visible, while the influences from the other groups are less obvious. What can be stated with certainty is that there remain pre-Indo-European words in Sicilian of an ancient Mediterranean origin, but one cannot be more precise than that. Of the three main prehistoric groups, only the Sicels were known to be Indo-European with a degree of certainty, and their speech is likely to have been closely related to that of the Romans.
The following table, listing words for "twins", illustrates the difficulty linguists face in tackling the various sub-strata of the Sicilian language.
|ièmiddi, ièddimi||Ancient Greek||δίδυμοι dídymoi|
A similar qualifier can be applied to many of the words that appear in this article. Sometimes we may know that a particular word has a prehistoric derivation, but we do not know whether the Sicilians have inherited it directly from the indigenous populations, or whether it has come to them via another route. Similarly, we might know that a particular word has a Greek origin but we do not know from which Greek period the Sicilians first used it (pre-Roman occupation or during its Byzantine period), or once again, whether the particular word may even have come to Sicily via another route. For instance, by the time the Romans had occupied Sicily during the 3rd century BC, the Latin language had made its own borrowings from Greek.
The words with a prehistoric Mediterranean derivation often refer to plants native to the Mediterranean region or to other natural features. Bearing in mind the qualifiers mentioned above (alternative sources are provided where known), examples of such words include:
- alastra (a thorny, prickly plant native to the Mediterranean region; but also Greek kèlastron and may in fact have penetrated Sicilian via one of the Gaulish languages)
- ammarrari "to dam or block a canal or running water" (but also Spanish embarrar – to muddy)
- calancuni "ripples caused by a fast running river"
- calanna "landslide of rocks"
- racioppu "stalk or stem, e.g. of a fruit" (ancient Mediterranean word rak)
- timpa "crag, cliff" (Greek tymba, Latin tumba and Catalan timba).
There are also Sicilian words with an ancient Indo-European origin that do not appear to have come to the language via any of the major language groups normally associated with Sicilian, i.e. they have been independently derived from a very early Indo-European source. The Sicels are a possible source of such words, but there is also the possibility of a cross-over between ancient Mediterranean words and introduced Indo-European forms. Some examples of Sicilian words with an ancient Indo-European origin:
- dudda "mulberry" (similar to Indo-European *roudho; Welsh rhudd "red, crimson")
- scrozzu "not well developed" (similar to Lithuanian su-skurdes with a similar meaning and Old High German scurz "short")
- sfunnacata "multitude, vast number" (from Indo-European *und / *fund "water").
The following Sicilian words are of a Greek origin (including some examples where it is unclear whether the word is derived directly from Greek, or via Latin):
- babbiari – "to fool around" (from babazo, which also gives the Sicilian words: babbazzu and babbu – stupid; but Latin babulus and Spanish babieca)
- bucali – "pitcher" (from baukalion)
- bùmmulu – "water receptacle" (from bombylos; but Latin bombyla) 
- cartedda – "basket" (from kártallos; but Latin cartellum)
- carusu – "boy" (from kouros; but Latin carus – dear, Sanskrit caruh – amiable)
- casèntaru – "earthworm" (from gâs ènteron)
- cirasa – "cherry" (from kerasos; but Latin cerasum)
- cona – "icon, image, metaphor" (from eikòna; but Latin icona)
- cuddura – "[type of bread]" (from kollyra; but Latin collyra)
- grasta – "flower pot" (from gastra; but Latin gastra)
- naca – "cradle" (from nàke)
- ntamari – "to stun, amaze" (from thambèo)
- pistiari – "to eat" (from esthìo)
- tuppiàri – "to knock" (from typto)
From 476 to 535, the Ostrogoths ruled Sicily, although their presence apparently did not impact the Sicilian language, the few Germanic influences to be found in Sicilian do not appear to originate from this period. One exception might be abbanniari or vanniari "to hawk goods, proclaim publicly", from Gothic bandujan – to give a signal. Also possible is schimmenti "diagonal" from Gothic slimbs "slanting". Other sources of Germanic influences include the Hohenstaufen rule of the 13th century, words of Germanic origin contained within the speech of 11th century Normans and Lombard settlers, and the short period of Austrian rule in the 18th century.
In 535, Justinian I made Sicily a Byzantine province, which returned the Greek language to a position of prestige, at least on an official level. At this point in time the island can be considered a border zone with high levels of bilingualism. Latinisation was mostly concentrated in western Sicily, whereas Eastern Sicily remained predominantly Greek. As the power of the Byzantine Empire waned, Sicily was progressively conquered by Saracens from Tunisia or North Africa (Ifriqiya), from the mid 9th to mid 10th centuries, and remained there long enough to develop a distinctive local variety of Arabic, Tunisian Arabic, Siculo-Arabic (at present extinct in Sicily but surviving in the Maltese language). Its influence is noticeable in around 300 Sicilian words, most of which relate to agriculture and related activities, this is understandable because of the Arab Agricultural Revolution; the Saracens introduced to Sicily their advanced irrigation and farming techniques and a new range of crops, nearly all of which remain endemic to the island to this day.
Some words of Arabic origin:
- azzizzari – "to embellish" (عزيز ʿazīz "precious, beautiful")
- babbaluciu – "snail" (from babus; from Tunisian baboucha but Greek βουβαλάκιον)
- burnia – "jar" (برنية burniya; but Latin hirnea)
- cafisu – "measure for liquids" (from Tunisian قفيز qāfiz)
- cassata – "Sicilian ricotta cake" (قشطة qishṭah, chiefly North African; but Latin caseata – something made from cheese)
- gèbbia – artificial pond to store water for irrigation ( from Tunisian جابية jābiya)
- giuggiulena – "sesame seed" (from Tunisian Jiljlen or giulgiulan)
- mafia – "swagger, boldness/bravado" (from mahyas "aggressive boasting, bragging", or from مرفوض marfud "rejected")
- ràisi – "leader" (رئيس raʾīs)
- saia – "canal" (from ساقية sāqiya)
- zaffarana – "saffron, type of plant whose flowers are used for medicinal purposes and in Sicilian cooking" (from زعفران zafrān)
- zagara – "blossom" (زهرة zahrah)
- zibbibbu – "type of dried grape" (زبيب zabīb)
- zuccu – "market" (from سوق sūq; but Aragonese soccu and Spanish zoque)
- Bibbirria, the northern gate of Agrigento (باب الرياح bāb al-riyāḥ "Gate of the Winds").
Throughout the Islamic epoch of Sicilian history, a significant Greek-speaking population remained on the island and continued to use the Greek language, or most certainly a variant of Greek influenced by Tunisian Arabic. What is less clear is the extent to which a Latin-speaking population survived on the island. While a form of Vulgar Latin clearly survived in isolated communities during the Islamic epoch, there is much debate as to the influence it had (if any) on the development of the Sicilian language, following the re-Latinisation of Sicily (discussed in the next section).
Linguistic developments in the Middle Ages
By 1000 AD, the whole of what is today southern Italy, including Sicily, was a complex mix of small states and principalities, languages and religions, the whole of Sicily was controlled by Saracens, at the elite level, but the general population remained a mix of Muslims and Greek or Siculo-Arabic speaking Catholic Christians. There were also a component of immigrants from North Africa (Ifriqiya), the far south of the Italian peninsula was part of the Byzantine empire although many communities were reasonably independent of Constantinople. The principality of Salerno was controlled by Lombards (or Langobards), who had also started to make some incursions into Byzantine territory and had managed to establish some isolated independent city-states, it was into this climate that the Normans thrust themselves with increasing numbers during the first half of the 11th century.
Norman and French influence
When the two most famous of Southern Italy's Norman adventurers, Roger of Hauteville and his brother, Robert Guiscard, began their conquest of Sicily in 1061, they already controlled the far south of Italy (Apulia and Calabria). It took Roger 30 years to complete the conquest of Sicily (Robert died in 1085); in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of Sicily, the revitalization of Latin in Sicily had begun, and a great number of Norman and Norman-French words would be absorbed :
- accattari – "to buy" from Norman French acater (French acheter), but there are different varieties of this Latin etymon in the Romania cf. Old Provençal acatar "buy"
- ammucciari – "to hide" (Old Norman French muchier, Norman French muchi / mucher, Old French mucier; but Greek mùkhos)
- bucceri (vucceri) – "butcher" (from OF bouchier)
- custureri – "tailor" (OF cousturier; Modern French couturier)
- firranti – "grey" (from Old French ferrant)
- foḍḍi – "mad" (OF fol > French fou)
- giugnettu – "July" (OF juignet)
- ladiu or laiu – "ugly" (OF laid)
- largasìa – "generosity" (largesse; but also Spanish largueza)
- puseri – "thumb" (OF pochier)
- racina – "grape" (OF, F raisin)
- raggia – "anger" (OF, F rage)
- trippari – "to hop, skip" (Norman French triper)
Other Gallic influences
The Northern Italian influence is of particular interest. Even to the present day, Gallo-Italic of Sicily exists in the areas where the Northern Italian colonies were the strongest, namely Novara, Nicosia, Sperlinga, Aidone and Piazza Armerina. The Siculo-Gallic dialect did not survive in other major Italian colonies, such as Randazzo, Bronte and Paternò (although they influenced the local Sicilian vernacular). The Gallo-Italic influence was also felt on the Sicilian language itself, as follows:
- sòggiru – father-in-law (from suoxer)
- cugnatu – brother-in-law (from cognau)
- figghiozzu – godson (from figlioz)
- orbu and orvu – blind (from orb)
- arricintari – to rinse (from rexentar)
- unni – where (from ond)
- the names of the days of the week:
- luni – Monday (from lunes)
- marti – Tuesday (from martes)
- mèrcuri – Wednesday (from mèrcor)
- jovi – Thursday (from juovia)
- vènniri – Friday (from vènner)
The origins of another Romance influence, that of Old Occitan, had three possible sources:
- As mentioned above, the number of actual Normans in Sicily is unlikely to have ever been significant. They were boosted by mercenaries from southern Italy, but it is possible also that mercenaries came from as far away as southern France. The Normans made San Fratello a garrison town in the early years of the occupation of the northeastern corner of Sicily. To this day (in ever decreasing numbers) a Siculo-Gallic dialect is spoken in San Fratello that is clearly influenced by Old Occitan, which leads to the conclusion that a significant number in the garrison came from that part of France, this may well explain the dialect spoken only in San Fratello, but it does not wholly explain the diffusion of many Occitan words into the Sicilian language. On that point, there are two other possibilities:
- Some Occitan words may have entered the language during the regency of Margaret of Navarre between 1166 and 1171, when her son, William II of Sicily, succeeded to the throne at the age of 12. Her closest advisers, entourage and administrators were from the south of France, and many Occitan words entered the language during this period.
- The Sicilian School of poetry was strongly influenced by the Occitan of the troubadour tradition. This element is deeply embedded in Sicilian culture: for example, the tradition of Sicilian puppetry (opira dî puppi) and the tradition of the cantastorii (literally sing stories). Occitan troubadours were active during the reign of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, and some Occitan words would have passed into the Sicilian language via this route.
Some examples of Sicilian words derived from Occitan:
- addumari – to light, to turn something on (from allumar)
- aggrifari – to kidnap, abduct (from grifar; but also German greiffen)
- banna – side, place (from banda)
- burgisi – landowners, citizens (from borges)
- lascu – sparse, thin, infrequent (from lasc)
- paraggiu – equal (from paratge).
Sicilian School of Poetry
It was during the reign of Frederick II (or Frederick I of Sicily) between 1198 and 1250, with his patronage of the Sicilian School, that Sicilian became the first of the modern Italic languages to be used as a literary language, the influence of the school and the use of Sicilian itself as a poetic language was acknowledged by the two great Tuscan writers of the early Renaissance period, Dante and Petrarch. The influence of the Sicilian language should not be underestimated in the eventual formulation of a lingua franca that was to become modern Italian, the victory of the Angevin army over the Sicilians at Benevento in 1266 not only marked the end of the 136-year Norman-Swabian reign in Sicily but also effectively ensured that the centre of literary influence would eventually move from Sicily to Tuscany. While Sicilian, as both an official and a literary language, would continue to exist for another two centuries, the language would soon follow the fortunes of the kingdom itself in terms of prestige and influence.
As a side note, there are some Germanic influences in the Sicilian language, and many of these date back to the time of the Swabian kings (amongst whom Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor enjoyed the longest reign). It should be noted that some of the words below are "reintroductions" of Latin words (also found in modern Italian) that had been Germanicized at some point (e.g. "Vastare" in Latin to "guastare" in modern Italian). Words that probably originate from this era include:
- arbitriari – to work in the fields (from arbeit; but other possible Latin derivations)
- vardari – to watch over (from wardon)
- guddefi – forest, woods (from wald, note resemblance to Anglo-Saxon wudu)
- guzzuniari – to wag, as in a tail (from hutsen)
- lancedda – terracotta jug for holding water (from Old High German lagella)
- sparagnari – to save money (from Old High German sparen)
Following the Sicilian Vespers of 1282, the kingdom was to come under the influence of the Crown of Aragon, and so the Catalan language (and the closely related Aragonese) would add a new layer of vocabulary in the succeeding century. For the whole of the 14th century, both Catalan and Sicilian were the official languages of the royal court. Sicilian was also used to record the proceedings of the Parliament of Sicily (one of the oldest parliaments in Europe) and for other official purposes. While it is often difficult to determine whether a word has come to us directly from Catalan (as opposed to Provençal or Spanish), the following are likely to be such examples:
- addunarisi – to notice, realise (from adonar-se)
- affruntarisi – to be embarrassed (from afrontar-se)
- arruciari – to moisten, soak (from arruixar)
- criscimonia – growth, development (from creiximoni)
- muccaturi – handkerchief (from mocador; but French muchoir)
- priàrisi – to be pleased (from prear-se)
- taliàri – to look at somebody/something. (from talaiar; but Arab tali'a).
Spanish period to the modern age
By the time the crowns of Castille and Aragon were united in the late 15th century, the Italianisation of written Sicilian in the parliamentary and court records had commenced. By 1543 this process was virtually complete, with the Tuscan dialect of Italian becoming the lingua franca of the Italian peninsula and supplanting written Sicilian.
Spanish rule had hastened this process in two important ways:
- Unlike the Aragonese, almost immediately the Spanish placed viceroys on the Sicilian throne. In a sense, the diminishing prestige of the Sicilian kingdom reflected the decline of Sicilian from an official, written language to eventually a spoken language amongst predominantly an illiterate population.
- The expulsion of all Jews from Spanish dominions ca. 1492 altered the population of Sicily. Not only did the population decline, many of whom were involved in important educated industries, but some of these Jewish families had been in Sicily for around 1,500 years, and Sicilian was their native language which they used in their schools, thus the seeds of a possible broad-based education system utilising books written in Sicilian was lost.
Spanish rule lasted over three centuries (not counting the Aragonese and Bourbon periods on either side) and had a significant influence on the Sicilian vocabulary. The following words are of Spanish derivation:
- arricugghirisi – to return home; (from recogerse; but Catalan recollir-se)
- balanza – scales (from balanza)
- fileccia – arrow (from flecha)
- làstima – lament, annoyance (from lástima)
- pinzèddu – brush (from pincel)
- ricivu – receipt (from recibo)
- spagnari – to be frightened ( cross over of Sic. appagnari with Sp. espantarse)
- spatari – to impede or disarm someone of his sword (Sic. spata and Sp. espadar)
- sulità or sulitati – solitude (from soledad)}
Since the Italian Unification (the Risorgimento of 1860–1861), the Sicilian language has been significantly influenced by (Tuscan) Italian. During the Fascist period it became obligatory that Italian be taught and spoken in all schools, whereas up to that point, Sicilian had been used extensively in schools, this process has quickened since World War II due to improving educational standards and the impact of mass media, such that increasingly, even within the family home, Sicilian is not necessarily the language of choice. The Sicilian Regional Assembly voted to make the teaching of Sicilian a part of the school curriculum at primary school level, but as of 2007 only a fraction of schools teach Sicilian. There is also little in the way of mass media offered in Sicilian. The combination of these factors means that the Sicilian language continues to adopt Italian vocabulary and grammatical forms to such an extent that many Sicilians themselves cannot distinguish between correct and incorrect Sicilian language usage.
Distinguishing features of Sicilian
Sicilian has a number of consonant sounds that, although not unique to Sicilian, certainly set it apart from the other major Romance languages. The most unusual sounds include, but are not limited to, the retroflex consonants.
- ḌḌ— The -ll- sound (in words of Latin origin, for example) manifests itself in Sicilian as a voiced retroflex stop with the tip of the tongue curled up and back, a sound rare in the Romance languages. Traditionally in Sicilian Latin, this sound was written as ÐÐ, and in more contemporary usage -dd- has been used, also often found written ddh or ddr. In the Cadèmia Siciliana orthographical proposal as well as the Vocabulario Siciliano descriptive orthography the letter ḍḍ is used, the sound itself is not /d/ but rather [ɖ]. For example, the Italian word bello [ˈbɛllo] is beḍḍu [ˈbɛɖʊ] in Sicilian. This sound [ɖ] also evolved from Latin -ll- in Sardinian, to an extent in Asturian, elsewhere in Southern Italy, and in many northwestern Tuscan dialects.
- DR, TR — The Sicilian pronunciation of the digraphs -dr- and -tr- as [ɖːɾ] and [ʈɾ].
- RR — The consonant cluster -rr-, depending on the variety of Sicilian, can be a strongly trilled [ɾː] or a voiced retroflex sibilant (/ʐ/ according to IPA notation). At the beginning of a word, the single letter -r- is similarly always pronounced double, though this is not indicated orthographically. This phenomenon, however, does not include words that include an 'r' resulting from rhotacism (renti from denti) or assimilation (ranni from granni). This innovation is also found under slightly different circumstances in Polish, where it is spelled rz, and in some Northern Norwegian dialects, where speakers vary between /ʐ/ and [ɹ̝].
- STR — The trigraph -str- in Sicilian is [ʂːɾ] (/ʂː/). The t is not pronounced at all and there is a faint whistle between the s and the r. An example of this trigraph is the shr sound heard in English shred.
- Latin FL — The other unique Sicilian sound is found in those words that have been derived from Latin words containing -fl-. In standard literary Sicilian, the sound is rendered as ci (representing the voiceless palatal fricative /ç/), e.g. ciumi [ˈçuːmɪ], but can also be found in written form as hi, sci, x or çi.
- Sicilian vowel system. Unlike the seven vowels of Vulgar Latin and many modern Romance languages, the Sicilian vowel system only includes five: a /a/, è /ɛ/, i /i/, ò /ɔ/, u /u/. This results in the unstressed vowel o of Latin becoming an unstressed u [ʊ] in Sicilian. This causes the vowel u to have a far greater presence than the vowel o in Sicilian, whereas the opposite is true in other Romance languages such as Spanish and Italian (notwithstanding the conservative nature of Sicilian, which retains the vowel u of the Latin stems -us and -um). Likewise, the unstressed vowel e of Latin becomes unstressed vowel i [ɪ] in Sicilian. As a result, the vowel i has a much greater presence than vowel e in Sicilian. In addition, one will never find a Sicilian word ending in the unaccented vowels e or o, with the exception of monosyllabic conjunctions. Due to the influence of Italian in the media after World War II, as well as the recent influx of English terminology related to technology and globalization, there is an increasing number of words entering the Sicilian lexicon that do not adhere to the Sicilian vowel system.
- Consonantal lenition — A further range of consonantal sound shifts occurred between the Vulgar Latin introduced to the island following Norman rule and the subsequent development of the Sicilian language. These sound shifts include: Latin -nd- to Sicilian -nn-; Latin -mb- to Sicilian -mm-; Latin -pl- to Sicilian -chi-; and Latin -li- to Sicilian -gghi-.
- Rhotacism — This transformation is characterized by the substitution of d by r. In Sicilian this is produced by a single flap of the tongue against the upper alveolar ridge, and this actually sounds like a kind of d sound, this phenomenon is known as rhotacism, that is, the substitution of r for another consonant, and it is commonly found both in Eastern Sicilian and Western Sicilian. It can occur internally, or it can affect initial d. Examples : Pedi (foot) is pronounced -peri-; Madonna ( The Virgin Mary) is pronounced -Maronna-; Diri (to say) is pronounced -riri-. This is found elsewhere in Southern Italy, especially in Neapolitan.
Gemination and contractions
Rarely indicated in writing, spoken Sicilian exhibits syntactic gemination or dubbramentu, which means that the first consonant of a word is lengthened when it is preceded by a vowel in the preceding word, e.g. è bonu [ˌɛbˈbɔːnʊ].
The letter j at the start of a word can have three separate sounds, depending on what precedes the word, for instance, in jornu (day), the j is pronounced [j] as in English y, [ˈjɔɾnʊ]. However, after a nasal consonant, it is pronounced [ɡ] as in un jornu, [uŋˈɡɔɾnʊ]. Tri jorna (three days) is pronounced [ˌʈ͡ʂiɡˈɡjɔɾna], the j becoming [ɡj] (like English gu in "argue"), after a vowel.
Another difference between the written and spoken languages is the extent to which contractions will occur in everyday speech, thus a common expression such as avemu a accattari... (we have to go and buy...) will generally be reduced to amâ 'ccattari when talking to family and friends.
The circumflex is commonly used in denoting a wide range of contractions in the written language, in particular, the joining of simple prepositions and the definite article. Examples: di lu = dû (of the), a lu = ô (to the), pi lu = pû (for the), nta lu = ntô (in the), etc.
Gender and the formation of plurals
Generally speaking, Sicilian has the same ending for feminine nouns (and their adjectives) as most Romance languages, that being the /a/, for example: casa (house), porta (door), carta (paper), but there are exceptions to this rule, for example, soru (sister), ficu (fig). The ending for masculine nouns is /u/, for example: omu (man), libbru (book), nomu (name). The ending i can be either masculine or feminine.
Unlike standard Italian, Sicilian uses one letter, i, to denote the plural for both masculine and feminine nouns, for example: casi (houses), porti (doors), tàuli (tables). There are also many exceptions to this rule which are not always shared by Italian, for example: libbra (books), jorna (days), jòcura (games), vrazza (arms), jardìna (gardens), scrittura (writers), signa (signs), etc., while the following three common nouns are invariable in the plural: manu (hand/hands), ficu (fig/figs) and soru (sister/sisters).
Omission of initial Latin "i"
In the vast majority of instances where the originating Latin word has had an initial "i", the Sicilian has dropped it completely. This can also happen occasionally where there was once an initial "e", and to a lesser extent "a" and "o". Examples: mpurtanti "important", gnuranti "ignorant", nimicu "enemy", ntirissanti "interesting", llustrari "to illustrate", mmàggini "image", cona "icon", Miricanu "American".
Verb "to have"
Aviri is also used to denote obligation (e.g. avi a jiri [ˌaːvjaɡˈɡiːɾi] '[he/she] has to go').
It is also used to form the future tense, as Sicilian, for the most part, no longer has a synthetic future tense, for example: avi a cantari '[he/she] will sing' ([ˌaːvjakkanˈtaːɾɪ] or [ˌaːwakkanˈdaːɾɪ], depending on the dialect).
Verb "to go" and the periphrastic future
As in English, and most Romance languages, Sicilian may use the verb jiri, to go, to signify the act of being about to do something. Vaiu a cantari (pronounced [ˌvaːjwakkanˈtaːɾɪ]) "I'm going to sing", literally "I go to sing." In this way, jiri + a + infinitive can also be a way to form the simple future construction.
Tenses and moods
The main conjugations in Sicilian are illustrated below with the verb èssiri, "to be".
|Infinitive||èssiri / siri|
|Gerund||essennu / sennu|
|Present||sugnu||si'||esti / e'||semu||siti||sunnu / su'|
|Present||sia||si' / fussi||sia||siamu||siati||sianu|
1. The synthetic future is rarely used, and as Camilleri explains, continues its decline towards complete disuse; instead, the following methods are used to express the future:
- use of the present indicative, usually preceded by an adverb of time:
- Stasira vaiu ô tiatru — "This evening I go to the theatre"; or, using a similar English construction, "This evening I am going to the theatre"
- Dumani ti scrivu — "Tomorrow I [will] write to you."
- use of a compound form consisting of the appropriate conjugation of aviri a ("have to") in combination with the infinitive form of the verb in question:
- Stasira haju a gghìri/ìri ô tiatru — "This evening I will [/must] go to the theatre."
- Dumani t'haju a scrìviri — "Tomorrow I will [/must] write to you."
- In speech, the contracted forms of aviri often come into play:
- haju a → /hâ/hê; hai a → hâ, havi a → havâ, avemu a → hamâ; aviti a → hatâ
- Dumani t'hâ scrìviri — "Tomorrow I will [/must] write to you".
- 1) The present conditional, which is replaced by either:
- i) the present indicative:
- Cci chiamu si tu mi duni lu sò nùmmaru — "I [would] call her if you [would] give me her number", or
- ii) the imperfect subjunctive:
- Cci chiamassi si tu mi dassi lu sò nùmmaru — "I'd call her if you would give me her number"; and
- i) the present indicative:
- 2) the past conditional, which is replaced by the pluperfect subjunctive:
- Cci avissi jutu si tu m'avissi dittu [/diciutu] unni esti / e — "I'd have gone if you would have told me where it is"
- Note that in a hypothetical statement, both tenses are replaced by the imperfect and pluperfect subjunctive:
- Si fussi riccu m'accattassi nu palazzu — "If I were rich I would buy a palace"
- S'avissi travagghiatu nun avissi patutu la misèria — "If I had worked I wouldn't have suffered the misery".
3. The 2nd-person singular (polite) utilises the older form of the present subjunctive, for example parrassi, which has the effect of softening it somewhat into a request rather than an instruction. The 2nd-person singular and plural forms of the imperative are identical to the present indicative, with the exception of the 2nd-person singular -ari verbs, where the ending is the same as for the 3rd person singular, for example parra.
Examples of the written language
Extract from Antonio Veneziano
Celia, Lib. 2
|Non è xhiamma ordinaria, no, la mia,||No, la mia non è fiamma ordinaria,||No, mine is no ordinary flame,|
|è xhiamma chi sul'iu tegnu e rizettu,||è una fiamma che sol'io possiedo e controllo,||it's a flame that only I possess and control,|
|xhiamma pura e celesti, ch'ardi 'n mia;||una fiamma pura e celeste che dientro di me cresce;||a pure celestial flame that in me grows;|
|per gran misteriu e cu stupendu effettu.||da un grande mistero e con stupendo effetto.||by a great mystery and with great effect.|
|Amuri, 'ntentu a fari idulatria,||l'Amore, desiderante d'adorare icone,||Love, wanting to worship idols,|
|s'ha novamenti sazerdoti elettu;||è diventato sacerdote un'altra volta;||has once again become a high priest;|
|tu, sculpita 'ntra st'alma, sìa la dia;||tu, scolpita dentro quest'anima, sei la dea;||you, sculpted in this soul, are the goddess;|
|sacrifiziu lu cori, ara stu pettu.||il mio cuore è la vittima, il mio seno è l'altare.||my heart is the victim, my breast is the altar.|
(sourced directly from Arba Sicula Volume II, 1980)
Extract from Giovanni Meli
Don Chisciotti e Sanciu Panza (Cantu quintu)
|Stracanciatu di notti soli jiri;||Disguised he roams at night alone;|
|S'ammuccia ntra purtuni e cantuneri;||Hiding in any nook and cranny;|
|cu vacabunni ci mustra piaciri;||he enjoys the company of vagabonds;|
|poi lu so sbiu sunnu li sumeri,||however, donkeys are his real diversion,|
|li pruteggi e li pigghia a ben vuliri,||he protects them and looks after all their needs,|
|li tratta pri parenti e amici veri;||treating them as real family and friends;|
|siccomu ancora è n'amicu viraci||since he remains a true friend|
|di li bizzarri, capricciusi e audaci.||of all who are bizarre, capricious and bold.|
Extract from Nino Martoglio
Briscula 'n Cumpagni
(~1900; trans: A game of Briscula amongst friends)
|— Càrricu, mancu? Cca cc'è 'n sei di spati!...||— Nemmeno un carico? Qui c'è un sei di spade!...||— A high card perhaps? Here's the six of spades!...|
|— E chi schifiu è, di sta manera?||— Ma che schifo, in questo modo?||— What is this rubbish you're playing?|
|Don Peppi Nnappa, d'accussì jucati?||Signor Peppe Nappa, ma giocate così?||Who taught you to play this game?|
|— Massari e scecchi tutta 'a tistera,||— Messere e asino con tutti i finimenti,||— My dear gentlemen and donkeys with all your finery,|
|comu vi l'haju a diri, a vastunati,||come ve lo devo dire, forse a bastonate,||as I have repeatedly told you till I'm blue in the face,|
|ca mancu haju sali di salera!||che non ho nemmeno il sale per la saliera!||I ain't got nothing that's even worth a pinch a salt!|
Influences on the Italian language
As one of the most-spoken languages of Italy, Sicilian has notably influenced the Italian lexicon; in fact, there are several Sicilian words that are nowadays part of the Italian language; they usually refer to things closely associated to Sicilian culture, with some notable exceptions:
- arancino (from arancinu): arancino, a Sicilian cuisine specialty;
- canestrato (from ncannistratu): a cheese typical of Sicily;
- cannolo (from cannolu): cannolo, a Sicilian pastry;
- cannolicchio (from cannulicchiu): razor-clam;
- carnezzeria (from carnizzaria): butcher's shop;
- caruso (from carusu): boy;
- cassata: cassata, a Sicilian pastry;
- cirneco (from cirnecu): a small breed of dogs common in Sicily;
- cosca: a small group of criminals affiliated to the Sicilian mafia;
- curatolo (from curatulu): watchman in a farm, with a yearly contract;
- dammuso (from dammusu): stony habitation typical of the island of Pantelleria;
- intrallazzo (from ntrallazzu): illegal exchange of goods or favours, but in a wider sense also cheat, intrigue;
- marranzano (from marranzanu): Jew's harp;
- marrobbio (from marrubbiu): quick variation of sea level produced by a store of water in the coasts as a consequence of either wind action or an atmospheric depression;
- minchia: penis in its original meaning, but also stupid person, is also widely used as interjection to show either astonishment or rage;
- picciotto (from picciottu): young man, but also the lowest grade in the Mafia hierarchy;
- pizzino (from pizzinu): small piece of paper;
- pizzo (from pizzu): literally meaning beak in Sicilian, it is protection money paid to the Mafia; it comes from the saying fari vagnari a pizzu (to wet one's beak).
- quaquaraquà: person devoid of value, nonentity; (onomatopoeia?; "the duck wants a say")
- scasare (from scasari): to leave en masse (means literally to move home);
- stidda (it.: stella): lower Mafia organization.
Language situation today
Sicilian is estimated to have 5,000,000 speakers. However, it remains very much a home language spoken among peers and close associates. Regional Italian has encroached on Sicilian, most evidently in the speech of the younger generations.
In terms of the written language, in Sicily it is mainly restricted to poetry and theatre.
The education system does not support the language, despite recent legislative changes, as mentioned previously. Local universities do not carry courses in Sicilian, or where they do it is described as dialettologia, that is, the study of dialects.
Outside Sicily, there is an extensive Sicilian diaspora living in several major cities across South and North America, as well as other parts of Europe and Australia, where Sicilian has been preserved to varying degrees.
The movie La Terra Trema (1948) is in Sicilian, using many local, non-professional actors.
|to make a good impression||fà[ci]ri na beḍḍa fiùra||['fari nab'bɛɖːa fj'ura]|
|the other side||dabbanna||[ɖːa' bbanna]|
|he who pays before seeing the goods gets cheated
(literally "who pays before, eat smelly fish")
|cu paja prima, mancia li pisci fitùsi||[ku'paja 'prima 'maŋtʃa li'piʃʃɪ fɪˈtusɪ]|
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- Ruffino, Giovanni (2001) Sicilia, Editori Laterza, Bari, p. 10
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- This etymology is based on the books Mafioso by Gaia Servadio; The Sicilian Mafia by Diego Gambetta; and Cosa Nostra by John Dickie
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- CNRTL : etymology of acheter (French)
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- Bonner, J K (2001) Introduction to Sicilian Grammar, Legas, New York, p. 54
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- Bonner, J K (2001) Introduction to Sicilian Grammar, Legas, New York, p. 54-5
- Camilleri, Salvatore (1998) Vocabolario Italiano Siciliano, Edizioni Greco, Catania, p.460
- Bonner, J K (2001) Introduction to Sicilian Grammar, Legas, New York, p. 149-50
- Bonner, J K (2001) Introduction to Sicilian Grammar, Legas, New York, p. 45
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- Meli, Giovanni (2002) Don Chisciotti and Sanciu Panza, traduciutu di Gaetanu Cipolla, Legas (edizzioni bilinguali: sicilianu e ngrisi)
- Meli 1995.
- Martoglio, Nino, The Poetry of Nino Martoglio, traduciutu di Gaetanu Cipolla, Legas (edizzioni bilinguali: sicilianu e ngrisi)
- Peppe Nappa is a character of the Commedia dell'arte, similar to Pulcinella o Arlecchino.
- Zingarelli, Nicola (2006). Lo Zingarelli 2007. Vocabolario della lingua italiana. Con CD-ROM (in Italian). Zanichelli
- "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". unesco.org.
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- Arba Sicula, name of the bi-lingual annual journal produced by the organisation of the same name, the latest issue is for 2017, a bi-annual newsletter is also produced entitled Sicilia Parra
- Abulafia, The end of Muslim Sicily cit.
- Alio, Jacqueline (2018). Sicilian Studies: A Guide and Syllabus for Educators. Trinacria. ISBN 978-1943-63918-2.
- Arba Sicula Volume II, 1980 (bilingual: Sicilian and English)
- Bonner, J. K. "Kirk" (2001). Introduction to Sicilian Grammar. Legas. ISBN 1-881901-41-6.
- Camilleri, Salvatore (1998). Vocabolario Italiano Siciliano. Edizioni Greco.
- Centro di Studi Filologici e Linguistici Siciliani (1977–2002) Vocabolario Siciliano, 5 volumi a cura di Giorgio Piccitto, Catania-Palermo (the orthography used in this article is substantially based on the Piccitto volumes).
- Cipolla, Gaetano (2004). "U sicilianu è na lingua o un dialettu? / Is Sicilian a Language?". Arba Sicula. XXV (1&2): 138–175.
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- A. Nef, Géographie religieuse et continuité temporelle dans la Sicile normande (XIe-XIIe siècles): le cas des évêchés, in P. Henriet (ed.), À la recherche de légitimités chrétiennes – Représentations de l’espace et du temps dans l’Espagne médiévale (IXe-XIIIe siècles) (Madrid 2001), Lyon 2003
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- Privitera, Joseph (2001). "I Nurmanni in Sicilia Pt II / The Normans in Sicily Pt II". Arba Sicula. XXII (1&2): 148–157.
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- Runciman, Steven (1958). The Sicilian Vespers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43774-1.
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