La briscola in cinque

Marco Malvaldi (b. 1974, Pisa) is my absolute favorite new linguistic discovery. A chemist by profession, Malvaldi writes colorful and engaging mysteries in what his publisher Sellerio describes as “toscanaccio (nasty Tuscan),” which is essentially the vernacular of Tuscany, and specifically that of his native Pisa.

Malvaldi’s first novel, La briscola in cinque (Briscola for Five Players) (2007), is set in the imaginary Tuscan seaside resort town of Pineta and features as protagonist Massimo Viviani, a moody ex-mathematician who became a “barrista (It. barista; Eng. barman)” after buying the BarLume with lottery winnings. When the police refuse to believe a drunken teen who uses the phone at BarLume to report finding a young woman’s body in a nearby trash bin, Massimo becomes involved in the murder and reluctantly uses his intellect to help a surly, dim-witted Calabrian police inspector to solve the crime. To Massimo’s further dismay, a comical group of crotchety elderly regulars at his bar, one of whom is his grandfather Ampelio, deepen his involvement in the investigation with their chronic gossip and meddlesome antics.

To mirror contemporary Italian linguistic practices, Malvaldi uses dialect to depict the speech of these elderly men in the novel. It is important to note that some of the lexical and morphosyntactic features of this speech may also consist of the regional Italian of Tuscany. But because standard Italian was derived from a Tuscan dialect, it’s difficult to distinguish between dialect and regional Italian in the Tuscan context.


The majority of the Tuscan features of Malvaldi’s writing are morphosyntactic rather than lexical in nature. The following quote by Ampelio illustrates a number of these features in boldface type:

“Con la tu’ mamma che mi rompe ‘oglioni tutti i giorni per ir mangiare e le sigarette, e la tu’ nonna che è sempre lì anche lei che prima mi dice ‘un ne mangia’ di gelato, e dopo fritto pranzo e cena!
(With your mother who breaks my balls everyday about [the] eating and cigarettes, and your grandmother who’s always there too and first tells me not to eat any gelato, and after a fried lunch and dinner!)”

The morphosyntactic items in the above quote represent the loss of gender and number in possessives (the neutral tu’ instead of the feminine singular tua); the loss of “c” after a vowel (rompe ‘oglioni instead of rompe coglioni); the substitution of “r” for “l” (ir instead of il); the loss of “n” between two vowels as well as the substitution of “u” for “o” (‘un instead of non); and the loss of the final –re of infinitives (mangia’ instead of mangiare).


There are very few Tuscan lexical elements in La briscola in cinque. All of the following terms are from the Tuscan dialect with the probable exception of de’, which appears to be a regionalism:

chiorba (It. testa; Eng. head):
“…quando torno stai tranquillo che mi fa una chiorba come un coòmero col delitto
(…when I get back rest assured that she will make me a head like a watermelon about the crime; i.e., she will talk my head off).” Pilade Del Tacca, age 74

de’ (an abbreviation of the Tuscan exclamation decco; It. ed ecco; Eng. and here, i.e., hey):
“Chiedo scusa alla gente che m’ascorta da casa ma de’, ogni tanto ti devi anche sfoga’
(I apologize to the people who are listening to me from home, but hey, every now and then you have to vent too).” a TV psychic

ganzo (It. cosa bella; Eng. great thing):
“Lo sai qual è il ganzo? Il ganzo di tutta la faccenda, caro Massimo, è che il paese ne sa già di più di quello che sa il commissario
(Do you know what the great thing is? The great thing about this whole matter, dear Massimo, is that the town knows more about it than what the police inspector knows).” Pilade Del Tacca, age 74

ire (It. andare; Eng. to go) / garbare (It. piacere; Eng. to like):
“No, le donne sono ite tutte alla sagra di beneficienza del prete, ma a me don Graziano mi garba solo quando dorme
(No, the women all went to the priest’s charity festival, but I only like don Graziano when he’s sleeping).” Ampelio Viviani, age 82

pischelle (It. ragazze; Eng. girls):
“Sì, però quando ci sono gli attori delle soap c’è sempre un branco di pischelle urlanti she stanno fuori…
(Yes, but when the soap actors are there, there’s always a flock of screaming girls outside…).” Davide, a nightclub bouncer

nini (It. tesoro; Eng. treasure, i.e. honey):
“Guarda nini, le carte parlan chiaro e scusa se te lo dìo, ma lui proprio ‘un ti vole ma nemmeno vicino sai?
(Look honey, the cards speak clearly and forgive me for telling you this, but he really doesn’t want you, not even nearby, you know?).” a TV psychic

Note: If you’ve ever spoken Italian with a native Florentine, then you’ve probably noticed that the letter “c” is aspirated and sounds like an “h” when it appears after a vowel (for example, instead of la casa a Florentine would say la hasa). This phenomenon, known as the “gorgia toscana (Tuscan gorgia or Tuscan throat),” is not uniform to all Tuscan speech, as Malvaldi’s novel indicates. As we see from the above quotes of Ampelio, Pilade and the TV psychic, the “c” is not aspirated in Pisa but rather disappears completely, resulting in lexemes such as ‘oglioni (It. coglioni; Eng. balls, i.e., testacles), coòmero (It. cocomero; Eng. watermelon) and dìo (It. dico; Eng. I’m telling).

Because Malvaldi uses very few Tuscan lexemes and relies predominantly on morphosyntactic features to Tuscanize his text, this is a very easy, not to mention entertaining read for anyone looking for an introduction to the use of dialect in contemporary Italian literature.

In Translation: There are no translations of Malvaldi to date, but the German translation rights to his work have been sold.

On Facebook: Marco Malvaldi has a Facebook page, but it doesn’t look like he contributes to the discussion among his fans. I hope this means that he’s busy writing the fourth (and, regrettably, final) novel in the Pineta series. By the way, the second and third novels in this series are Il gioco delle tre carte (The Three Card Trick) and Il re dei giochi (King of the Game), respectively.


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