Wicked Good Italian Dialects

A recent visit to my father’s hometown of Abbadia San Salvatore in Siena gave me interesting insight into the concept of dialect. Family had taken me to a local restaurant, and the cousins who’d since moved out of town ordered “una latina di Coca Cola” or a can of Coke. Those relatives who still resided in town similarly ordered Cokes, but pronounced it much differently, dropping the hard C sound entirely, instead asking for “O’a-Ola.” As any native Bostonian knows, dropping a letter (like an R) gives the English language a certain flair all its own, and certainly gives the listener an indication of your proud heritage.


A map of Italian dialects (click on image for larger version – courtesy zingarate.com)

As a native of Buffalo, where the words “merry,” “Mary,” and “marry” are pronounced the same way, and where “pop” means “soda,” and the word “hot” and “cod” take on a nasally, back of the throat twang, it’s clear to me that my husband, Jamie, who hails from north of Boston, speaks differently. When he says the word “pattern,” I must rely on context to determine whether he’s saying “Patton,” “pattin’,” or “patent.” When I first met my husband’s mom at the Cape, she suggested, “Go put ya shahts on [for the beach],” I merely stared back at her, confounded. Jamie translated, “Gina, my mom’s asking you to change into your bathing suit,” so I smiled and nodded, and she and I have gotten along swimmingly since then. The same is likely true for many Bostonians and their extended families. Their backgrounds – whether they were born in Boston or in Italy, or whether residing in the North End or Braintree – determine their particular pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary. But just like Nonna’s minestrone, it’s the variety of the flavors that makes the mixture so delightful!

The factors that typically influence the development of dialects in a region or country include: geographical location (people living in close proximity to each other, as well as people living in isolation from others); socio-economic conditions; complex colonial history; movement of ancestry; strong regional loyalties; and the cultural influence of nearby communities. In such regions or countries, a dialect that is commonly used in the media (as in entertainment and news programming,) may be very different from the dialect used in official government business, in schools curricula, and in everyday street language. For example, a Boston news anchor may articulate the English language differently than a meter reader in Quincy. Either way, they both get their points across, perhaps one more colorfully than the other.

There are two major groups of Italian dialects -Northern and Southern, divided by the Spezia-Remini line. The northern groups are either: a) based in Veneto and speak a Venetic dialect; or b) of the Gallo-Italic group that encompasses most of the rest of the region, and is influenced by Celtic speech. As for the rest of the boot, the most common Italian dialects include: Tuscan (most of Tuscany); Abruzzese, Pugliese, Umbrian (near Tuscany); Laziale, Central Marchigiano (in and around Rome); those common to the southern part of Italy (like Napolitano); or those indicative of the outermost regions of the south, including Calabrese, Apulian, and Sardinian dialects. The rich variety speaks to the turmoil that Italy endured on the way to its unification in 1861. Only an official republic since 1946, Italy’s cultural pride is highly regional to this day. Where the Tuscan dialect is considered the national language or the “lingua italiana,” perhaps because the area is considered the birthplace of Italian literature (as in Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio,) still, different regions proudly embrace the differences that distinguish their manner of speaking from others in their country, much like Bostonians.

There are many other countries with multiple dialects of the same language, including Spain (10 recognized dialects), India (400 languages, and an estimated 2000 dialects), Asia (Japan has dozens, and China has at least 200 dialects), and many more all over the world. Dialects add color and diversity to language, and infuse flavor into one’s culture. After all, wouldn’t you rather have a “wicked good” cannoli than just a good cannoli?


A Thriller Audiobook That Hits You Like Bleach

It’s audiobook month, and I must recommend Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants.  I implore you, vigilant reader, do not read the written word this time, but rather listen to the thriller master’s symphony of words via audiobook.

The first novel in Follett’s ‘Century’ trilogy, Fall of Giants, which debuted at #1 on The New York Times’ hardcover fiction bestseller list in 2010, follows the destinies of five interrelated families – one American, one Russian, one German, one English and one Welsh – through the First World War and the Russian Revolution.  Intense, fast-paced, rich in detail, mood, and setting, the novel traps you inside the web that these families intricately weave.

The lilt and cadence of every dialect and accent will transport you, whether to Wales, or to Buffalo, NY, or to the battlefields of Russia, or onward. This historical thriller audiobook hits you like bleach!  (After falling in love with the sing-song Welsh dialect, I couldn’t help but seek out some Welsh slang:  “hits you like bleach” means “stimulates your senses.”)

Hurry, because the second installment in the trilogy is due out in September.  Entitled, Winter of the World , the second book thrusts Follett’s five original families and their offspring into the intense drama of the Third Reich, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the beginning of the Cold War. Again, stick with the audiobook.

A best-selling author and a true master of suspense, Ken Follett, has been cranking out mega lush thrillers for decades, like Eye of the Needle, Code to Zero, and The Pillars of the Earth (also a TV mini-series), among many others.  Check out his website for a list of books, as well as excerpts and video clips.  Ken Follett аффтар жжот. (Russian for “the author rules!”)

Why not check out Follett’s “Masterclass” for lessons on outlining, researching, and writing your own novel, as well as tips for publishing it.  If you’ve always had an idea for your own thriller, it couldn’t hurt to be schooled by a master.

Any suggestions for favorite audiobooks?  Was it the author’s words or the performance that made it so great?  I’d love to hear what you think!