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:: Language

Sicilian (Lu Sicilianu, Italian: Lingua Siciliana) is the Romance language spoken in Sicily and southern Italy. Sicilian dialects (or dialects comprising the Italiano meridionale-estremo language group) are spoken on the island of Sicily (and all of its satellite islands); as well as in the southern and central sections of Calabria ("southern Calabro") [1]; and in the southern parts of Puglia [1], the Salento (the language is "Salentino"); and Campania ("Cilentano") [citation needed], on the Italian mainland. Ethnologue describes Sicilian as being "distinct enough from Standard Italian to be considered a separate language".

It is currently spoken by the 5,000,000 inhabitants of Sicily, plus a further (approximately) 5,000,000 Sicilians around the world [citation needed]. The latter are to be found in the countries which attracted large numbers of Sicilian immigrants during the course of the past century or so, especially the USA, Canada, Australia and Argentina.

In the past two or three decades, large numbers of Sicilians were also attracted to the industrial zones of northern Italy and indeed the rest of the EU, in particular, Germany.

As the table indicates, Sicilian is not recognised as an official language anywhere in the world, not even within Italy. There is currently no central body, in Sicily or elsewhere, that regulates the language in any way. The autonomous regional parliament of Sicily has legislated to encourage the teaching of Sicilian at all schools, but inroads into the education system have been extremely slow.

The alternate names of Sicilian are: Calabro-Sicilian, Sicilianu, Siculu. The term "Calabro-Sicilian" refers to the fact that a form of Sicilian, or a dialect closely related to Sicilian, is spoken in central and southern Calabria. Sicilianu is the name of the language in Sicilian.

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.

As a language, Sicilian has its own dialects. Ethnologue lists the following main groupings:

Western Sicilian (Palermo, Trapani, Central-Western Agrigentino)
Central Metafonetica
Southeast Metafonetica
Ennese (the province of Enna)
Eastern Nonmetafonetica (which includes the province of Catania, the second largest city in Sicily)
Messinese (the province of Messina)
Isole Eolie (the Aeolian islands)
Pantesco (the island of Pantelleria)
Southern Calabro (southern and central sections of Calabria)
Southern Pugliese (called "Salentino" is reportedly a dialect of Sicilian on the peninsular section of Puglia).

Sicilian is described as being "vigorous", although most Sicilians are described as being at least bilingual (obviously being fluent in Italian as the official language of Italy). It refers to the strong French influence in the language (elaborated on further below) and raises the prospect that it may be better classified as "Southern Romance" rather than "Italo-Western".

The fact that Sicily is the largest island in the middle of the Mediterranean and that virtually all the peoples of the Mediterranean (and beyond) have passed through her, be that as friend or foe, over the millennia, ensures that the Sicilian language is both rich and varied in its influences.

The language has inherited vocabulary and/or grammatical forms from all of the following: Greek, Latin, Arabic, French, Lombard, Provençal, German, Catalan, Spanish and of course Italian, not to mention prehistoric influences from the earliest settlers on the island.

The very earliest influences, visible in Sicilian to this day, exhibit both prehistoric Mediterranean elements and prehistoric Indo-European elements, and occasionally a cross-over of both.

Before the Roman conquest, Sicily was occupied by remnants of the autochthonic populations (Sicani, Elymi, Siculi, (the latter arriving between the first and second millennium BC), as well as by Phoenicians (from between the 10th and 8th century BC) and Greeks (from the 8th century BC). The Greek influence remains strongly visible, however, 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 Siculi were Indo-European, and their speech is likely to have been closely related to that of the Romans.

The following table provides the perfect illustration of the difficulty philologists face in tackling the various sub-strata of the Sicilian language. The examples are for the English word "twins".

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 autochthonic 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 the Greek language.

Many Sicilians are bilingual in both Italian and Sicilian, a separate Romance language, with Greek, Arabic, Catalan and Spanish influence. It is important to note that Sicilian is not a derivative of Italian. Although thought by some to be a dialect, Sicilianu is a distinct language, with a rich history and a sizeable vocabulary (at least 250,000 words), due to the influence of the different conquerors of, and settlers to, this land.

The Sicilian language, was the basis for the first Italian standard, although its use remained confined to an intellectual élite. This was a literary language in Sicily created under the auspices of Frederick II and his court of notaries, or Magna Curia, which, headed by Giacomo da Lentini also gave birth to the Scuola Siciliana, widely inspired by troubadour literature.

Its linguistic and poetic heritage was later assimilated into the Florentine by Dante Alighieri, the father of modern Italian who, in his De Vulgari Eloquentia (DVE claims that "In effect this vernacular seems to deserve a higher praise than the others, since all the poetry written by italians can be called Sicilian" (DVE, I, xii). It is in this language that appeared the first sonnet, whose invention is attributed to Giacomo da Lentini himself.

Sicilian dialects are also spoken in the southern and central sections of the Italian regions Calabria (Calabrese) and Puglia (Salentino); and had a significant influence on the Maltese Language, which was a part of the Kingdom of Sicily (in its various forms) until the late 18th century.

With the predominance of Italian in Italian schools, the media, etc., Sicilian is no longer the first language of many Sicilians. Indeed, in urban centers in particular, one is more likely to hear standard Italian spoken rather than Sicilian, especially among the young.

Sicilian generally uses the word ending [u] for singular masculine nouns and adjectives, and [a] for feminine. The plural is usually [i] for both masculine and feminine. By contrast, in Italian masculine nouns and adjectives that end in [o] in the singular pass to [i] in the plural, while the feminine counterparts pass from [a] to [e].

The "-LL-" sound (in words of Latin origin, for example) manifests itself in Sicilian as a voiced retroflex plosive with the tip of the tongue curled up and back, a sound which is not part of Standard Italian. In Sicilian, this sound is written simply as "-dd-" although the sound itself is not [d] but rather. For example, the Italian word bello is beddu in Sicilian.

In numerous villages, the Arbëreshë dialect of the Albanian language has been spoken since a wave of refugees settled there in the 15th century. While it is spoken within the household, Italian is the official language and modern Greek is chanted in the local Byzantine liturgy.

There are also several areas where dialects of the Lombard language of the Gallo-Italic family are spoken. Much of this population is also tri-lingual, being able to also speak one of the Sicilian dialects as well.


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