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When O's Become U's - Welcome to Sicily

One of Yabla’s current offerings is about Sicily. The Giuseppe Pitrè videos are peppered with phrases in the Sicilian dialect. As a matter of fact, although we call it a dialect, it’s actually a language all its own.


The Italian State was born only in 1861. Textbooks began being uniformly published in the Italian language as late as 1928. Before that, different regions in what later became Italy had wildly different ways of expressing themselves, and in many cases still do.


Even now there are still plenty of people, mostly pensionati (retirees) by now, who have had only minimal schooling and never learned Italian, let alone to read and write. If they had children, the children became bilingual in order to both go to school and be able to communicate with their parents. So these languages are still alive, thanks also to folk traditions of theater and poetry, such as the ones described in the above-mentioned videos.


When you’re learning the language, it's hard enough to follow someone speaking Italian, let alone someone speaking in dialect, as in the Pitrè videos. Remember, though: You don’t need to actually learn Sicilian or any other regional language. But being in the know about some of a dialect's characteristics can enable you to enjoy the differences (and understand something) rather than being overwhelmed by them. Italy's linguistic diversity is part of what makes the country so interesting.


From these Pitrè videos, you’ll notice for example, that the “o” in Italian often becomes “u” in Sicilian. The “e” often  becomes “ie.”


Signuri mei, vi cuntu di Giufà [Signori miei, vi racconto di Giufà],

My gentlemen, I'll tell you about Giufà,

ca una ni pienza e milli ni fa [che una ne pensa e mille ne fa].

who thinks of one thing and does a thousand of them.

Captions 30-31, Dottor Pitrè - e le sue storie - Part 4

 Play Caption


Vai Giuseppe, curri [corri]! Curri [corri], fratello!

Go Giuseppe, run! Hurry up, brother!

Caption 51, Dottor Pitrè - e le sue storie - Part 2

 Play Caption


In the examples above, the pronunciation is decidedly different, but the words are the same as or similar to Italian.


Sometimes, though, vocabulary changes completely, or almost completely. One Sicilian word that comes to mind is picciotto (young man or boy). Just picking out that one word (and variants of it) can allow you to feel like you're in the know.


E ddu picciotto, un avennu né piccioli [E quel ragazzo, non avendo nemmeno soldi]

And that young man, having no money even

pi manciari, ci rissi [per mangiare, gli disse]:

for food, told him,

se, cietto ca mi vogghiu mettiri in 'sta scummissa [sì, certo che voglio fare questa scommessa]!

"Yes, of course I want to make a bet!"

Captions 39-41, Dottor Pitrè - e le sue storie - Part 4

 Play Caption


When the boy speaks, you’ll notice that, as mentioned above, the “e” in certo (of course) becomes “ie.” In addition, the “r” disappears altogether and it becomes cietto.

The more you listen to Italians speaking, the more you'll notice regional differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and syntax, as well as in general inflection. It can be fun to guess where someone is from!

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Caption 41, 40, 39, 31, 30

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