Local Language: The Poggiorealese Dialect


Viva la nostra lingua. Iddiu la guardi! Amdtila, e ‘un circati ‘na matrigna. [Long live our language. May God protect it! Love it, and find for it a godmother] G. Meli

Dialect is the special language of a town or region with respect to the official language. It is the domestic speech of a town and can be called the vernacular, from the Latin vemaculus (native, of the town’s people). It is the particular language spoken by the people of one or more provinces, that due to the difference of a few vowel sounds, or expressions, or grammatical constructions, or endings, is distinct from the usage of the other provinces that speak the same language.

Dialect is not a corruption of another language. And our dialect therefore, is not a corruption of the Italian language, particularly since it preceded Italian and Italian resonates with Sicilian dialect. It is he the Volgate Sicilian that in diverse provinces, transformed by the people due to confusion and assimilation of the various languages of the different conquerors, in the different the regions explains the presence of different regional dialects, though its root is one and the same “e pluribus unum” forming the Sicilian Volgate which comes from the primeval or aboriginal peoples, inhabitants of Sicily on which the commonly spoken Latin had the greatest effect, that is the language spoken by the great mass of the military Romans who ruled the island. It was the Latin language of the non-cultured — of the people lacking phonetics, grammar, dictionaries; Latin, that is, of the plebeian class.

Settembrini affirms that in the dialects spoken in Sicily are found many Greek words and expressions (for many centuries Sicily was Greek), but overall Latin predominates: tire truncation of the final consonant was very common in spoken Latin, and having removed the final consonant, the vowel sound remained on which speech and song relied, since the vowel is the open and musical element of the word. In Sicilian dialects all words end with a vowel, which may be more or less distinctly emphasized, but is always vocalized, the dialect in close relation with the spoken Latin both in vocabulary and in grammar; here are a few examples;

Latin: servus = dialect: servu – fortis, forti – per fectus – perfottu – frater, frdti – praeceptum, precettu – soror, sdm – panis, pani – beatus, bidtu – caelum, celu – barbarus, babant – novus, nozni – lupus, liipu – finis, fini – manus, manu – cams, cam – vinum, virtu – scriptum, scrittu – casinum, casinu – bustum, bustu – aetas, eta… There are even clearer examples: liber, libbru – tabula, tavuln – charta, carta – carnificina, carnificina – camara, cdmmara – homo, dmu – esse, essiri – martis dies, martidia – jovies dies, giovidia – veneris dies, venneridin – dominica, duminica – toemina, fiininina – aprilis, aprili and so many others.

The more complete, more perfect Greek that we see in the classics lives on in a corrupted and impoverished form in modem Greek dialects, the Greek that was the ancient language of Athens, which after the time of Alexander became the literary language of the entire Nation. Italy has a single national literary language, but preserves in its speakers’ usage its many dialects, among which is Sicilian.

The tendency to level the various Sicilian dialects was apparent at the Court of Federico II where the national literary tradition began, in so far as this literary language, fundamentally Sicilian, but studiously divested of every vividness and opened to infiltration of various origins, quickly became the language of the high lyric of love in all of Italy. The poets who attempted to write this type of poetry, no matter what region they belonged to, had attempted not only to model their work on the examples of poetic material coming from the Swabian House, but also to use the language which by now was natural to this poetry. The Sicilian dialect was above all the other dialects, where De Sanctis writes: the language of Ciullo is not a Sicilian dialect, but it is already the uncertain Volgate mixed with local elements, still course material.

We are serious about not considering our common language, our Poggiorealese Sicilian, to be base or low. We are not embarrassed to speak it because speaking it does not degrade us: it is characteristically Sicilian and Poggiorealese. Our interest in protecting it is no mean sign of loving our country, of cultivating our mother tongue. Nations are distinguished by then-language, while it is a great sign of servility and of the decline of a civilization, and doubtless proof of little love towards one’s birthplace to neglect one’s own way of talking and its charms to speak and write, unnecessarily, in a foreign language.

When a people has lost then-country and freedom and is dispersed throughout the world, the language gives them a country; and when the thought and the sentiment of the greatness of the past returns, the language returns to its ancient roots. It is truly thus. When they are far away, in an alien land and they refuse to recognize the foreign way of speaking, the nostalgia for the fatherland assails whoever goes wandering and lost, the fortuitous and providential arrival to one’s ears of a voice that speaks with his own accent of his own dialect oh, it is a happy surprise, an inundation of joy that makes him feel that he is again in his own land.

Here in Sicily it is rare to find the same accent or even the same word used in two different provinces or two different towns; there is always at least a difference in the pronunciation. This diversity is often very revealing if we stop in those regions where the attachment that that people has for their very ancient indigenous language has not been corrupted by the foreign domination nor has the foreign languages imposed on the indigenous language or erased it.

It is necessary to trace back to historical changes brought about by the influence of the different foreign rulers to whom the island has been subject, in particular the Greek and the Roman. (Very many Sicilian words are based on Greek words, and if we add to this the vestiges of the very ancient primitive cities and very interesting archeological monuments, the phrase is rather justified: “Whoever wants to see Greece comes to Sicily.”)

The relationship with the continent and the numerous continental colonies and extra-continental immigrations onto the Island have necessarily changed the Sicilian dialect through the linguistic influences of Arabic, French, Spanish, the effects of past foreign domination.

This Sicilian dialect therefore can be called a true linguistic variety, also because to it are added the orthographic modifications made by lawyers, commentators and interpreters of documents: modified still more by the poetic license of the important and numerous gallery of dialectal poets.

In many localities, especially the western part of the island, we can enjoy the dialect precisely as it was written and sung at court in the year 300; the dialect that even had its influence over on the Italian continent. This dialect is that Volgate that remained after the disappearance of elongated Latin from which much has been taken.

Though today there is the necessity for relationships with authorities, offices, commerce, radio, and the press, which causes us to use the national language, this is not degrading for us, nor does it put us in a state of inferiority with respect to the continent; rather it obliges us to integrate our dialectic with Italian. This work of integration is good for us in so far as it obliges us to pay special attention to translation and correction, in order to better use the Italian way of speaking which sounds so sweet.

Whoever respects their own traditions and remembers the basis and the soul of our dialect, practically the origin of the national language, will make his own the words used by Antonino Gallo in his “Introduction to the Literature of the Meli”: don’t believe that the Italian language disdains the manner of the Dialect that was its father.

And in truth our dialect is not lacking in a flourish of Dictionaries, among which the most important are: the D’Amico, the Mortillaro, the Valla, the Scobar, the Traina; it is noble and harmonious, by using the expression of Burnacci emerge the names of the illustrious poets:

Antonio Veneziano (the Sicilian Petrarch), Pietro Fullone, Cieco di Gangi, Domenico Tempio, Vitelli, Stefano Sala, said by Pitre: the most famous of the illiterate poets:

Carlo Amore, Alessio Valore, Vincenzo De Simone, Martino Palma, Giovanni Meli, who flies like an eagle above all the others:

Giuseppe Nicolosi Scandurra, Giovanni Girgenti, Giovanni Formisano, Guglielmino, Padalino, Saro Platania, Vito Mercadante, Nino Martoglio, Alessio Di Giovanni of everlasting fame, and a hundred others, so rich is the Sicilian dialect in Poets!

And the soul of our Sicul language has a chain of Writers: De Roberto, Pirandello, Cesareo, Ragusa Molet of translators, humorous poems in terza rirna, Discourses, Dialogues by Saint Gregory. We should rather congratulate ourselves that this Dialect, so rich in classical literary patrimony, can be found, through a careful and highly patriotic study, to be truly unique in all the Island in its most fundamental and perfect expression, for phonetic and morphologic unity which came about around 300, when used in the court and at the apex of the Swabian Court, and therefore, before it’s decline under the Anjovins.

A decline that however does not make it any the less prestigious given the presence of its genial poets, over whom Meli flew like an eagle, who specified the phonology and rendered perfect its descriptive virtuosity’, in the sweetness of its terms of endearment.

This study would reach a true glottologic-linguistic triumph that, in the words of D.A.

Di Giacomo: would be very advantageous if adopted not only by students, but also by poets, the latter who are most likely to mistreat it, corrupting it at times because they ignore its orthography. Giorgio Picciotto has published a timely and important proposal for the compiling of the Sicilian orthography, a work already begun with true passion and authoritative competence.

If, as we hope, it will be completed, it will surely draw the approval and the enthusiasm of the Sicilian people, especially from the intellectuals.

It is precisely the orthography used by Meli which best embodies, without stint, the sounds of Sicilian while at the same time succeeding in elevating our dialect, making it appear simple, agile, sweetly rendering incomparable expressions with it, so that Meli is meritoriously recognized as the greatest representative of the Sicilian soul, of her traditions, of her virtues, of her fire, this, our greatest poet is well described as the national poet of Sicily.

And for so many foreign rulers, as mentioned above, who imposed themselves on Sicily and on our Sicilian dialect, which has undergone interjections of words, yet even so has remained faithful to her traditions, has made a treasury of the Greek and Roman invasions, as in the architecture so in the perfection of our dialect. The orthography of Meli presents nothing of the Carthaginian, the Arabic, the French, Spanish, the intrinsic virtue of the true Sicilian dialect, recognized and admired by the Italian Classicists, with Dante and Petrarch in the lead, has not allowed itself to be corrupted by centuries or by invaders: the foreign vocabulary has always remained foreign, this is its merit:

Ne straniero vocabolo corrompe

No foreign word corrupts

Vintrinseca virtu d’una favella.

Tire intrinsic virtue of a tongue.

Now our Poggiorealese dialect is easily read and explained, not presenting abstruseness, insurmountable difficulties, deformation, vulgarity nor long-winded speech and lends itself with facility to translation into the Italian language. I don’t believe I’m mistaken if I affirm that the words in the Poggiorealese dialect are written and pronounced with the same orthography of Meli, I say:

precisely with the orthography and phonetics used by our great Poet Laureate, though I’m certainly not referring to his highest, incomparable poetic flights. Rather we can make a comparison with those Sicilian regions, especially of the North Sicul or of some interior towns, in order to demonstrate my theory.


Here are some examples: I’ll indicate the phonetics with an accent.

In the town of PIAZZA: ggh’e mes tut, l’om l tau-fageggh ddargh ch’vo passa.

ITALIAN: vi si e messo tutto, l’uomo e tale, fategli largo perche vuole passare.

POGGIOREALESE: Si cci misi tuttu, I’dmu e tdli,faitigi largu cchi voli passari.

SAN FRATELLO: Na h’ glu viegn p’rco ciu d’elica; n fr’io n’mu pez mottr e m’affraunt d’niescer cu la un’dozza n’testa.

ITALIAN: non vengo perche pioviggina; il ferraiuolo non lo posso mdossare e mi vergogno di uscire con la veste rivolta sulla testa.

POGGIOREALESE: ‘Un vegnu picchi chhtviddichia, lu firridlu u’ mi lu pozzu mettiri e mi vridgnu di nesciri cu la vesta n testa.

CAMMARATA: coss non dorm no, ma caud cazza, con ca da fe ‘nt n’ann fa ‘nt nent.

ITALIAN: questi non dorme no, ma caldo avanza, e quello che deve fare in un anno lo fa in poco.

POGGIOREALESE: Chistii ‘un ddrmi nd, ma chvudu avanza; e chiddm ch’avi a fari ‘nta u dnnu, lu fa ‘nta pocu.

NICOSIA: ‘U scarparu se campa arriera ‘a sporta e sduna: Cunzima scarp’ Nuddu ghie guaciava. Se gira c’ a’ sortu. Ghie cuparittu una ca ‘na mazza e ghiu dissu: Tien zza sta mazza: chiu che ghie dumand’ te duna.

ITALIAN: Lo scarparo si prese di nuovo la sporta ed ando per i paesi: accomodiamo scarpe! Nessuno si affacciava. Si rivolse alia sorte. Gli comparve una donna con una mazza e gli disse: Prendi questa mazza, quello che domanderai ti fara.

POGGIOREALESE: Lu scarpdru si pigghidu di ndvu la coffa e si nni ju pi li paisi: Cunzdmu scdrpi! Niuldu s  affacciava. Si vutdu cu la sdrti: cci cumpanu ‘na dnna cu ‘na mazza e cci dissi: pigghiati sta mazza, chiddu chi ci dumdnnirdi ti fara.

SPERLINGA: Simpru sintia diru di ma patru: I Siciliani fiinu u Vespru Sicilianu pi tutta a Sicilia; ma i Sprringhisci nun vossuno e si ‘ncuidittunu intra,

ITALIAN: Sempre sentivo dire da mio padre: I Siciliani fecero il Vespro Siciliano per tutta la Sicilia; ma gli Sperlinghesi non vollero e si rinchiusero dentro.

POGGIOREALESE: Sempri sintia diri a me patri: Li Siciliani ficim lu Vespru Sicilianu pi tutta la Sicilia, ma li Sprilinghisi nun nivosiru e si ‘nchiuderu dintra.

I believe the brief comparison shown above is sufficient to demonstrate how the Poggiorealese Sicilian dialect is not far from being the most pure and the most similar to the Italian, and how it is formed by the same words used by Meli. And to compare it to Italian grammatical perfection, I believe it is necessary to present (as in a picture) some norms as a guide, following which I will present some examples in our dialect, which come from both the poetic and the prose sides of the language. Thus will clearly be demonstrated what I have written, carefully gathering the words and by establishing their genuine pronunciation which comes out of the mouths of our people, with regard to both the phonology and the phonetics. I tried to specify the subtle differences that at times are noted in the same word, according to how it is pronounced in different locations on the same Island, and even in the same province, for example: the word cavallo [horse] here is pronounced cavaddm, elsewhere: cavaddu; the word borsa [purse] is pronounced here as xnirza, elsewhere is pronounced iirza or bbiirza. Elsewhere in Sicily, to say father, one says ad patri; for mother a a matri; here, instead these are pronounced a lu patri – a la main. The attention to the spelling is interesting.

[** Translator’s note: Beginning on page 244 in the original Italian volume, Father Aloisio continues his discussion on Poggiorealese grammatical structure and how it compares to both Italian and Sicilian. This is followed by a whole section on expressions, poetry and prose written in Poggiorealese. If this material is of interest to you, I recommend consulting the original Italian text.]

[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: https://www.amazon.com/History-Poggioreale-Sicily-1640-1956/dp/1072403374/ ]