An article about me and italicissima recently appeared in Omnimilanolibri, which is the book blog for the Milanese newspaper Omnimilano. For those of you who requested an English translation of the article, here it is:
The tendency to nasalize vowels as in penso (I think) and tempo (time), the use of interrogative cosa (what) to mean perché (why) — Cosa piangi (What are you crying)? — and expressions such as metter giù la tavola (put down the table) for apparecchiare (to set the table) and curare (to take care of) for sorvegliare (to watch over), and that’s not all. There are many peculiarities in Milanese and Lombard, which is considered one of the more suitable dialects for literature, together with Tuscan. Of course, that’s “if you’re talking about comprehensibility; otherwise Roman and Neapolitan, in books as in film, would be appropriate for ‘representing’ Italy.” Traci Andrighetti has had a true and proper obsession, for decades, for the rich and complex history of the Italian language. And from overseas, she never stops working with it, first and foremost on her website, italicissima, and also in writing, translating and studying “dialect speech.” This subject is rather relevant according to ISTAT (the Italian National Institute of Statistics), which depicts an Italy in which 16% of the population from 6 years of age and up speaks only in dialect, while 45.5% speaks exclusively Italian and 32.5% speaks a mixture of dialect and Italian.
Andrighetti also studies the use of dialect and Italian in literature and in the spread of our nation’s culture, and she affirms without a doubt that it’s in the mystery novel that the ample variety of dialects finds its maximum and most useful expression. In fact, those who use them generously are “contemporary mystery novelists like Andrea Camilleri, Gabriella Genisi, Marco Malvaldi and many other of their colleagues in the genre,” she explains, “and they’re right to do so: it’s much more entertaining to read, for example in Camilleri’s Sicilian Italian, about un picciotto che ammazza a quarcheduno con una lupara (a young man who kills someone with a shotgun) than about un giovanotto che uccide qualcuno con un fucile (a young man who kills someone with a shotgun) in standard Italian.” Returning to our Lombard, it’s more correct to call it a Northern dialect given the extension of the territory in which it’s used, and there are numerous elements that distinguish it from the nearby Veneto or Piedmontese or Emiliano. Pace (peace) and passo (step), whose similarities could be theorized with metaphors from other times, are in Lombard tied by “vocalic quantity oppositions:” paas (pace) and pass (passo). To color the language spoken in a large slice of the Po Valley plain, as in English and in other Germanic languages, idiomatic phrasal verbs are inserted: trà (Ital. tirare; Eng. to pull or to draw), trà via (Ital. buttare; Eng. to throw away), trà su (Ital. vomitare; Eng. bring up, as in vomit), trà föra (Ital. togliere; Eng. to take out). Local dialect forms, then, further enrich the language, even confusing those who aren’t familiar with them: Bustocco, a western variety of Lombard spoken in Busto Arsizio, is evocative of Sicilian, Traci sustains, with the presence of the atonal final “u” in its masculine nouns and adjectives. For example, the word gatto (cat) in Milanese is gatt but in Bustocco it’s gatu.
“Communal” localisms aside, the Lombard dialect is differentiated between eastern and western, primarily in terms of phonology. For example, the word cavallo, or cavàll in Western Lombard, becomes cahàll or even caàll in Eastern Lombard, which also lacks the plurals of feminine nouns: vaca (Ital. vacca; Eng. cow) becomes vac. Apart from horses and cows, one can generally confirm that “Eastern Lombard adopted some popular and rural elements, while Western Lombard, above all the Milanese variety, remained more faithful to the literary models of Latin and Italian.” If the divisions exist even within Lombardy, just imagine how many there are along the whole boot. Andrighetti describes them with a single example, and it’s difficult to disagree with her. “Rüegg, a Swiss academic, was the first to study regional Italian. In a 1956 survey, he asked 124 Italians from 54 different provinces to provide the dominant term for 242 common notions. The only case in which all of them responded with the same word was for ‘caffè forte’ or ‘espresso.’ Rüegg concluded that standard Italian was still weak almost a century after unification.”