This piece was not written by me, but by a Tumblr user, whose express permission I have obtained to share this on my blog.
I was hoping to finish this in time for the celebration of the International Mother Language Day, but ended up being late. Well, here I go anyway.
So, I already talked at length about the fact that, contrary to popular belief, all of the Italian dialects are not, in fact, dialects of the Italian language (those also exist, they are more or less regional variations of Standard Italian), but fully realized languages that evolved from Latin of their own accord, each with their own peculiar history and literature.
Despite having lost a lot of ground to Italian over the course of the last century, the Italian dialects all survive to this day, some struggling, some thriving and still counting several millions of speakers (yes, you read that right, check it out).
The Italian dialects can be as different from one another (and from Italian) as French is from Spanish, and they are often not mutually intelligible.
Here’s a map, courtesy of Wikipedia, that shows more or less all of them:
Here’s another map:
If you are in one of the colored areas and are fluent in at least one of the dialects pertaining to that area, you might be able to more or less understand what’s going on when people speak dialect at you. Or not.
In truth, a couple hundred km are enough to screw you up. Prepare for worst case scenario, is what I’m saying (and I’ll be honest, even in a best case scenario, you’ll probably end up wearing a space suit at a toga party).
Now, it occurs to me that, to the English speakers visiting or planning to visit our country, the above might sound a bit daunting.
Don’t worry, international friends! The Game of Dialects is played only by Italians against other Italians. You’re safe! People will actually make the effort to communicate with you! If all else fails, we will mime the words for you! In fact, you might eventually find yourself wishing that you could just shut us up!
Besides, not many people realize this, but a good number of Italian dialects have a surprisingly large amount of words in common with the English language.
Skeptic? I’ll give you an example.
Let’s say you’re in the Langhe, touring a lovely farmers’ market, and you see some sweet, sweet artichokes that look like they’re just begging to be put in a risotto. Well, how would you say artichoke in Piedmontese?
That’s right, it’s the exact same word! You’re basically already speaking Piedmontese! Isn’t it neat?
Of course, it’s not always that easy. You see, while the words may be the same, the meanings don’t always align perfectly.
Let’s go back to that lovely farmers’ market in the Langhe. As beautiful as those artichokes are, you may think that the price is a bit much. You may then comment in a deceptively disinterested tone: “soon car, sea artichoke.” * There’s a 95% probability that the vendor, moved to tears by the sound of his own mother language, will give you a generous discount. You may then take the adorable baby artichokes into your arms and start caressing them, soothingly murmuring “soon may. May, may.” ** in a slightly Gollum-like voice.
* “these artichokes are expensive”
** “they’re mine. Mine, mine.”
To those of you who don’t like artichokes, first of all: WHAT THE HELL?
And secondly, since I’m an extremely open minded person, here’s a totally plausible situation I made up just for you. Let’s say you’re buying milk, or delicious piedmontese ravioli, in the middle of a very crowded, very loud area of the market, and you need to signal to the seller that you want more than what he’s giving you. You may do so by enthusiastically shouting: “pee light!” *, “pee a new lot!” ** in their general direction.
* “more milk!”
** “more piedmontese ravioli!”
And that concludes your very first Piedmontese lesson. I think we all need time to process what I just wrote.
If my fellow Italian tumblr users would be so kind as to offer their collaboration, I’d like to end this with a little challenge!
How about we all translate the infamous Game of Thrones quote into our respective dialects? It might be fun to compare. I’d suggest using the standard Italian spelling (if possible) so that we can all more or less figure out the sound of what we’re reading.
I’ll go first:
ENGLISH – “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
ITALIAN – “Quando giochi al gioco del trono, o vinci o muori.”
PIEDMONTESE – “Quanch at’gieughi al gieugh adl tron, o t’gagni o t’meuiri.”