How music is keeping one southern Italian dialect alive

April 28th, 2017 by The historic dialect of Southern Italy, spoken by the Griko people, is on the verge of extinction. However, it's still alive - largely thanks to the music associated with it. Also known as Salentino-Calabrian Greek, Griko or Italiot Greek is an umbrella-term for two distinctive dialects: Griko, spoken in Salento, and Calabrian Greek, still present in Southern Calabria. Both dialects are usually referred to simply as 'Griko'. Partially intelligible with Modern Greek, its exact origins are unclear even to academics with expertise in the area. Historians and linguists have put forward several hypotheses, linking the dialects with Ancient Greece and Magna Grecia or with the Byzantine Empire, but none of these theories has been proven. But wherever its Greek-ness came from, Griko has also been heavily influenced by the Italian Language, and speakers use both the Greek and Latin alphabets. Read more: The Local

Why Italians are Giving up Italian

February 23rd, 2017 by As I stroll under the scorching sun in Nardò, a town in Puglia on the heel of Italy’s boot, I hear music from an open window. The melody sounds like the Lennon–McCartney classic “Yesterday,” but the lyrics are not in English — or Italian. Then I see a leaflet announcing courses in Neretino, a dialect spoken only in Nardò. But that’s not unusual: Each whitewashed village in this gorgeous region of olive groves and Baroque churches has its own tongue. And it’s not just in the deep, primitive Italian south where ancient languages are lovingly preserved and promoted. All of Italy is seeing a renewed interest in dialects, a revival linked to a national — and greater European — identity crisis. “It’s a matter of territorial belonging,” says Andrea Maniero, a linguistics expert and resident of Nardò, where everyone understands the local lingo even if they don’t speak it. “The ones most lured to learning it are the youth, who are fascinated by the old speech of their grandparents.” According to national statistics, half of all Italians prefer to speak in a dialect, whether it’s picturesque Napulitano (Neapolitan), Siculo (Sicilian), Francoprovenzale (an ancient Gallo-Romance language spoken in Alpine valleys), Fùrlan (Friulan, typical of the Friuli region in northeastern Italy) or Ladino (an old version of Latin) — just to name a few. In fact, Italy’s Union of Tourist Boards calculates that the country has some 11,000 dialects. The influence of Napulitano and Siculo is so strong that the iPhone offers them as language options. Read more: Ozy

Italian is under assault from rising number of Anglicisms, sloppy use of verbs and shrinking vocabulary, guardians of the language warn

January 19th, 2017 by The Italian language is under assault from a growing tide of English words, the abandoning of verb tenses and a shrinking vocabulary, and could be driven to extinction altogether, the head of the country’s most illustrious language institute has warned. The language of Dante and Petrarch is becoming vulgarised and made more simplistic as young people dispense with the subjunctive and future tenses and sprinkle their day-to-day language with Anglicisms, even where there are perfectly adequate Italian alternatives, according to the Accademia della Crusca, an academy that guards the purity of Italian, said. “There’s been a big increase in the number of foreign words and expressions and the trend will continue, above all with English words,” said Prof Claudio Marazzini, the president of the academy, which was founded in Florence in 1582. “We are heading towards a more meagre Italian.” Thousands of words are at risk of extinction through not being used anymore in daily discourse, he said. They include “accolito” (acolyte, henchman), “maliardo” (bewitching), “tremebondo” (tremulous, trembling), “zufolare” (to whistle), and “abbindolare” (to be taken for a ride, to be led by the nose). Read more: The Telegraph

How an eight-year-old boy invented a new word

February 25th, 2016 by A few weeks back, primary school teacher Margherita Aurora, in the small town of Copparo in central Italy, was intrigued when one of her students, Matteo, used an unfamiliar word in a written assignment. Matteo described a flower as "petaloso" ("full of petals"). The word doesn't officially exist in the Italian dictionary, but grammatically it makes sense as a combination of "petalo" ("petal") and the suffix "-oso" ("full of"). The assignment got Aurora thinking - could the eight-year-old Matteo have invented a new word? With his teacher's help, the student wrote to the Accademia della Crusca - the institution that oversees the use of the Italian language - to ask for their opinion. To their surprise, the pair got an encouraging reply. Read more: BBC News‎

Geeking Out on Primo Levi — and Elena Ferrante — With a Master Translator

February 22nd, 2016 by The great Italian writer Primo Levi is primarily known in this country for memoirs detailing his experiences in Auschwitz, his long journey home after the end of the war and his life as a chemist of Jewish descent in the quiet precincts of Piedmont. These books, published in America as “Survival in Auschwitz,” “The Reawakening” and “The Periodic Table,” give the impression that Levi was primarily a writer of Jewish trauma. He wasn’t. Or maybe it would be fair to say that he both was and wasn’t, but to limit him to this role in our literary culture is to belittle and distort the accomplishment of one of the great writers of the postwar years. Read more: Forward‎