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The Sicilian Dialect

Sicilian dialect belongs to Romance languages group as all other Italian dialects. However, centuries of foreign occupation have exposed it to linguistic influences from several different sources, including Albanian, Arabic, French, Greek, Norman, Spanish languages, and northern Italian dialects.

The grammatical structure of Sicilian dialect is somewhat different from standard Italian: the future tense is always absent and it’s replaced by expressions like “I have to do something”. The simple past (a literary form in standard Italian) is used in place of past perfect in everyday speech. Pronunciation is difficult, and it’s commonly claimed that only Sicilians can pronounce the double “d” regularly replacing the standard Italian double “l” (as in the typical exclamation “Bedda Matri!” commonly used to express irritation).

Sicilian is also coloured with a rich range of metaphors and proverbs coming from different cultures. The English saying “All things in moderation”, in Sicilian reads Nun essiri duci sinno ti mancianu, nun essiri amaru sinno ti futtinu (Don’t be too sweet lest you be eaten, don’t be too sour lest you be shunned). The Sicilian version of the English proverb “Make the most of what you’ve got” is Camina chi pantofuli fino a quannu nun hai i scarpi (Walk in your slippers until you find your shoes).

Sicilians are also known for their epithets, which are used as insults of varying gravity in a range of situations. The more frequent and diffused Sicilian insult is figgh’i buttana (“son of a bitch”, which is a serious offence, given the importance Sicilian attribute to their mothers). If you consider someone careless or absent-minded, you refer to them as stunati; if there’s an excess of drink involved, it’s most likely that they’re scribbi di patata - literally, taken over by the “spirit of the potato”, a reference to the distillation of some alcoholic drink from that vegetable. If you want to curse someone, you refer to them as having u mal’occhio (the evil eye), and if you really want to slander a Sicilian man, call him arruso - meaning “omosexual” (serious offence jeering at the boasted sexual potency, exclusively female-oriented, of Sicilian men - or refer to him as cornuto (with horns), meaning that he is a cuckold. While not an exclusively Sicilian insult, it suggests the worst loss of honour a Sicilina man can face - so beware of the man at whom you direct it!

Negotiating in Sicilian

Elder people chatting in dialect

Speakig Sicilian

Seniors chatting in the Sicilian dialect

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