Abruzzese, capisci?

Neapolitan Dialect: Can Catalan, French, Spanish, and Latin speakers understand it?
Ecolinguist posted this video to YouTube, writing:

This video features the Neapolitan Dialect spoken in Abruzzo, Italy. Claudio de Domenico is an Abruzzese speaker and we made this video to see if Catalan, French, Spanish, and Latin speakers can understand the Abruzzese dialect?

The Latin speaker is American; even though he’s of Abruzzese descent, he doesn’t know the dialect (and he speaks Latin in a very pleasing classical pronunciation). It’s pure delight for those of us who enjoy Romance dialects, and it even discusses etymologies! (Via Slavomír Čéplö/bulbul at Facebook.)

Comments

  1. I’d like to know what it sounds like for standard Italian speakers. Is it a matter of taking a few days to get used to it, or is it like learning a new language?

    P.S. That Latin speaker is a bit of an internet star, with lots of Latin instruction videos. He speaks with a very precise Classical pronunciation.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    Jamme, jamme ‘ncoppa, jamme jà,
    Jamme, jamme ‘ncoppa, jamme jà,
    funiculì, funiculà, funiculì, funiculà,
    ‘ncoppa, jamme jà, funiculì, funiculà!

    (Sorry, couldn’t help myself. It’s just so singable.)

    The Neapolitan orthography used there is interesting. The ë is reminiscent of Albanian. Is there a tradition in writing Italian dialects of using ë for /ə/? Did the Albanians nick it from the Italians?

    (We’ve discussed the third word – and its feminine counterpart – here. I got it!)

  3. David Marjanović says:

    The Albanian letter inventory was designed to fit on the existing typewriters, which were all more or less designed for French, so ë was one of not very many options. Notably, y was not one, because it was assigned to /y/.

    That’s also why ç is allowed but the other three shibilants have to make do with digraphs (after x was somehow assigned to the rather rare /dz/).

  4. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    @Y: What the guy says is immediately intelligible to this Italian; not even seconds, let alone days, are needed to get used to it. And I come from pretty much as far from Abruzzo as you can in the peninsula. I’m pretty sure the Frenchman, who lives in Sardinia and undoubtedly speaks Italian, is also understanding everything this way.

    I’m not sure to what extent this is because Abruzzese, as the northernmost Neapolitan dialect, has always been close to Tuscan on a dialect continuum; and to what extent it’s because the speaker’s Abruzzese, and perhaps every speaker’s today, is heavily influenced by standard Italian.

    Probably intentionally, the words for head and child are very distant from Italian and I don’t think I’d stand any chance of guessing their meaning in isolation. But his overall speech can be turned into Italian pretty much word for word. In fact, I suspect those are precisely the only words that are not immediately transparent. To be honest, it sounds rather like a heavily dialectal Italian.

  5. The Latin speaker is also fluent in Italian. (His name is Luke Ranieri and his videos are fantastic. He has a lot of content, of which spoken Latin is the major part but by no means everything that he does.) I imagine it would be extremely difficult to find someone who speaks Latin fluently and never leveraged that to learn Italian as well. The Catalan speaker has studied Italian for at least six months, according to her channel. She says on her channel that she doesn’t speak it too well yet but she understands almost everything she watches in Italian. So it’s only a fair test of the differences between the languages for the Spanish speaker, I suspect.

  6. Roberto Batisti says:

    I agree with Giacomo Ponzetto — this is easily intelligible even to somebody with a very different dialectal background, and it is probably a relatively Italianized version. But I suspect that it isn’t even one of the most divergent varieties to begin with. Further down the Adriatic coast there are much more phonetically peculiar dialects, with some crazy diphthongs and vowel breakings. Even though the basic structure is pretty much the same, something like Northern Pugliese would pose more of a challenge.

    @ David E.: ë is indeed the most common transcription for the Neapolitan schwa in dialectological spellings. Local speakers tend to use dotless , the etymological vowel, or an apostrophe.

    @ David M.: wonderful origin story for Albanian orthography, thank you! I was aware of the time and intellectual climate when it was created, but had not thought of the very concrete dependence on French typewriter layout.

  7. As a fluent Italian speaker I find the Abruzzese in this video fairly easy to understand. But I have had lots of exposure to the similar Neapolitan dialect in media, music and real life, as have most Italians so it is hard to be completely objective. I also speak Castilian and had no trouble understanding the Catalan speaker. My sense is that modern spoken Catalan is about as close to modern Castilian as Abruzzese is to standard Italian.

  8. Johanna Bishop says:

    I’m not even a native speaker – I’ve just lived in Tuscany since ’98 – and I understand all of this just fine without reading the subtitles. But the guy is making an effort to speak very clearly and slowly. I haven’t had enough exposure to Abruzzese to compare well, but I can never catch more than a word here and there when someone is speaking more southerly Neapolitan at a normal pace, and I doubt this would be much different.

    Funny about the ë: lately I’ve been reading a lot of online arguments about using schwa as a gender-neutral ending, and while its supporters often cite Neapolitan as a reason why they find it more natural and pronounceable than other solutions, they always write it ə. And spell it out as schwa rather than scevà.

  9. Roberto Batisti says:

    Funny about the ë: lately I’ve been reading a lot of online arguments about using schwa as a gender-neutral ending, and while its supporters often cite Neapolitan as a reason why they find it more natural and pronounceable than other solutions, they always write it ə. And spell it out as schwa rather than scevà

    Yes, it’s true. By the way, I find “it is already found in Neapolitan” quite a weak argument in favour of gender-neutral schwa:
    – it is not of much help to Italians who don’t have /ə/ in their local languages;
    – /ə/ should be well-known to present-day Italian speakers as phoneme of English (and French, and German, etc.), which for all the deficiencies of ESL teaching in Italy is at least a mandatory school subject, differently from Neapolitan.
    – I do not think that gender-neutral ə is supposed to be actually pronounced [ə]. I see it as an orthographic convention to avoid choosing between masculine and feminine endings, much like the asterisk. In fact, I prefer the latter precisely because it does not suggest an actual phonetic realization. But I’d choose schwa over the other contender, namely -u (apparently chosen because it is the only vowel that does not correspond to a grammatical ending in Italian, but makes sentences look like a parody of Sardinian).

    But then, I think that the whole debate about ‘gender-neutral’ endings is fundamentally misguided (grammatical ‘gender’ is not biological nor social gender). When I want to use inclusive and non-sexist language — and I do want to use it! — I prefer other strategies that do not do violence to the phonology and morphosyntax of the language.

    “scevà” is a spelling I’d expect to find in old(ish) linguistics textbooks. Even in linguistic literature one mostly encounters “schwa” nowadays, and I confirm that it is the only spelling used when the discussion is about gender-neutral language. The real debate is, ironically, if it should be lo schwa or la schwa…

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    I prefer other strategies that do not do violence to the phonology and morphosyntax of the language.

    I’m still taken aback by the horrid American “Latinx”, though gamely prepared to swallow my purist objections if that’s the form preferred by actual Latinces.

  11. But then, I think that the whole debate about ‘gender-neutral’ endings is fundamentally misguided (grammatical ‘gender’ is not biological nor social gender). When I want to use inclusive and non-sexist language — and I do want to use it! — I prefer other strategies that do not do violence to the phonology and morphosyntax of the language.

    Strongly agree.

    I’m still taken aback by the horrid American “Latinx”, though gamely prepared to swallow my purist objections if that’s the form preferred by actual Latinces.

    Only about a quarter of the people referred to had even heard of the term in the most recent poll I’ve seen, and only a tiny minority (~5%) actually used it. This is one of those things pushed by steely-eyed activists rather than demanded by the masses.

  12. David Eddyshaw says:

    While I naturally sympathise with steely-eyed activists, I feel that in this case it is best to accept the false consciousness of the masses at this point in the global struggle. But once we have completed our long march through the institutions …

  13. Johanna Bishop says:

    I do not think that gender-neutral ə is supposed to be actually pronounced [ə]

    I’m almost sure I heard Vera Gheno talk about its pronounceability (while pronouncing it), but that was a while ago and I could be misremembering. The whole gender-neutral ending thing is a huge mess and I’m glad that in Italian it’s not really my circus or monkeys. I just wish one of the solutions would become the majority norm on my mailing lists so I could go with the flow instead of always dithering.

    And thanks for the confirmation about “scevà”! I figured it was outdated but wasn’t certain if the outdating was recent or not (i.e., if it had been helped into its grave by all the schwa discussions lately).

  14. Roberto Batisti says:

    Latinx

    Oh, yes, I forgot about that one!
    The -x is yet another option in Italian as well. For some reason, people seem especially fond of using it in the pronouns qualcunx ‘somebody’, nessunx ‘nobody’, which I refuse to pronounce (in my head) anything other than [kwalˈkuŋks] [nesˈsuŋks].

  15. I found the Latin guy a little disappointing, mainly because he pronounces the final “m” as a simple “m” when in fact it should be treated merely as a marker that the preceding vowel is nasal (that’s a slight oversimplification—various allophonic effects could also occur if there was a following consonant—but that’s mainly what happened). It’s especially bad when the following word begins with a vowel, because then he should be running that nasal final vowel (the one marked by the final “m”) into the following vowel, in the same way that adjacent vowels get merged from one word to the next in Italian. It’s clear that he knows that Latin had that feature, because he does do it when a word ends in a non-nasal vowel (i.e. a vowel not followed by m) and the next word begins with a vowel. But he doesn’t do it with the final -m words—he just pronounces the “m” instead.

    But I guess there’s really no one alive today who is ever going to speak Latin with a genuine Classical Roman accent.

  16. Arguably, the heptasyllabic “African-American” does violence to the (phrase- and discourse-level) phonology of English, in a way that e.g. black doesn’t. Yet it works, however awkwardly.

    I can make some guesses why Latinx caught on while the more harmonious Latine did not. In any case, there you have it.

  17. But it hasn’t “caught on” except among the determinedly radical. I hope it goes away. And I don’t think the mild awkwardness (mainly length) of “African-American” is at all comparable.

  18. Roberto Batisti says:

    @ Chris:
    He has a very nasal voice; maybe he occasionally overdoes the final -m as a way to distinguish his -Vm# from his -V#?

    @ Y:
    I’m not a native speaker, but how is “African-American” not perfectly well-formed in English?

  19. On Latinx, here’s a recent Washington Post article on its lack of widespread acceptance. As a thorough-going Anglo I am reluctant to express an opinion for fear of upsetting the righteous, but this author’s name makes me think he knows what he’s talking about.

  20. Roberto: It’s perfectly well-formed, just very long. If you need to use it more than once in a sentence, it’ll collapse under its own weight.
    I’m not a native speaker either, but to me African-American has a feel of a term invented by bureaucrats (as opposed to Latinx which feels like a term invented by radicals). For better or worse.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is schwa in Israeli Hebrew [ʃva], or is it homophonous with “Sheba”, as in (“Queen of”)?

    (If the latter, I feel that there ought to be some dreadful linguistic pun waiting to be made there, but my ingenuity is not up to it.)

  22. PlasticPaddy says:

    @rb, y
    What I find awkward about hybrid-nation terms is that the most common use is to put people in a drawer. If an African American is saying that he or she takes pride in a sympathy or identification with Africa or Africans (or more probably, with received information about Africa or Africans), then he or she is entitled to the label. But I imagine the label is mostly applied (I am not saying anyone applying it has other than the best intentions) to people without reference to their cultural identification or sympathies.

  23. Speaking of unpronounceable coinages, don’t forget Latin@, and the late unlamented trans*.

  24. Trond Engen says:

    Latinx feels like it was invented as a joke on the awkwardness of de-gendered terms. The problem in English is the fact that gendered terms were introduced from Spanish in the first place. For most ethno- and demonyms from the hispanophone world, English is perfectly capable of removing the gender suffix and produce e.g. Cuban or Mexican. Filipine would work just as nicely. Latin is probably taken, but Latin-American is fine. Or maybe Latin-American-American.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    ¡Derechos lingüísticos para todes!

    /ə/ should be well-known to present-day Italian speakers as phoneme of English (and French, and German, etc.), which for all the deficiencies of ESL teaching in Italy is at least a mandatory school subject

    The English one is not well taught even in German-speaking places, or at least wasn’t lo these onescore years ago. The French one is different: being rounded (and probably not even central), learning to distinguish it from /œ/ and /ø/ takes a while. The German one is definitely not a phoneme, but the unstressed allophone of /ɛ/ – and you can get away with just pronouncing it as [ɛ] whenever it isn’t supposed to disappear altogether, because that’s what’s done in Standard German in Austria and Bavaria. Other than that, the most common pronunciation seems to be [ɵ], again very similar to /œ/ and /øː/.

    I do not think that gender-neutral ə is supposed to be actually pronounced [ə]. I see it as an orthographic convention to avoid choosing between masculine and feminine endings, much like the asterisk. In fact, I prefer the latter precisely because it does not suggest an actual phonetic realization.

    But you’ll have to pronounce it at some point, if only while reading aloud.

    In German, people have started to pronounce the originally purely graphic solutions -In(nen), -.in(n.en), -*in(nen) and _in(nen) with a pause, i.e. a glottal stop. (Any umlaut from the feminine forms is kept.) Discussion in German here.

    I think that’s why Latin@ hasn’t caught on more.

  26. PlasticPaddy: I think the implication is “Americans of African origin”, without reference to cultural affiliation. In any case, let people call themselves whatever they feel like.

    Where I do sincerely cringe is when people, out of sheer habit, use “African-American” to refer to Africans who have never set foot in the U.S. or have had any connection to it.

    As to whether Latinx will catch on or not, it’s too soon to say. It took a while for African-American to take hold, too. These are early days for gender-neutral language in general, everywhere.

  27. Roberto Batisti says:

    @David Marjanović: yes, it’s true that the English, French and German (not to mention Catalan, etc.) schwas all have different phonetic realizations, that’s why I called it a phoneme (the Neapolitan one is usually [ɜ]). They are all neutral(ized)/central(ized) vowels, and at any rate would be perceived as such by Italian speakers.
    I wasn’t aware that Standard German schwa is best analysed as an allophone of /ɛ/, but I happily defer to your native judgement.

    One further reason against using Neapolitan as an argument for gender-neutral schwa is that in those dialects masculine and feminine forms are very often distinguished by umlaut, produced by those very final vowels before they merged to /ə/. So e.g. russu > /ˈrussə/ ‘red’ (m.), russa > /ˈrossə/ ‘red’ (f.). There are examples of this phenomenon also in the Abruzzese of the Ecolinguist video (m. cattulëchë, f. cattolëchë).

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ha! Just like Welsh (e.g. gwyn “white”, feminine gwen.)

  29. African-American was coined by parallelism with Irish-American, Italian-American, etc., at a time when those terms were quite common, used to emphasize that whatever the heritage (a mere adjective) of various people in the US might be, the underlying noun was “American.” The move to use African American was primarily driven by black people themselves, not by others unaware of what anyone’s sympathy might be, let alone by bureaucrats. Jesse Jackson was a primary proponent of using this term. To the degree the question is about why “African” was chosen, you have to recognize that black people in the US generally can’t point to any finer distinction in terms of their pre-slavery heritage.

  30. Is schwa in Israeli Hebrew [ʃva], or is it homophonous with “Sheba”, as in (“Queen of”)?

    Yes. The Queen of Sheba is malkat Shva.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    the Neapolitan one is usually [ɜ]

    Huh, interesting.

    I happily defer to your native judgement

    Admittedly I’m blissfully unaware of the literature on this topic, but I can’t see a reason to interpret it as a separate phoneme. The closest thing to a reason would be the fact that its historical origin is a merger of all surviving wholly unstressed vowels.

    russa > /ˈrossə/ ‘red’ (f.)

    Huh, that’s exactly the origin of [o] in Northwest Germanic – with the intriguing difference that it was, somehow, more or less instantly phonemicized, so that the morphological alternations began to be ironed out very early, giving us lots of wulf ~ wolf doublets and good old hlewagastiz holtijaz (…but still loh “hole”, pl. luhhir in early OHG).

  32. Malkat Shva should be ə de vivre’s sock puppet.

  33. John Cowan says:

    Mark Shoulson, WHO SHOULD BE HERE, says [ʃvɐ] for the Hebrew vowel mark, which can be pronounced [ə] or not at all, depending, and [ʃwɑ] as the name of the letter ə and its sound.

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