A NY Times “What in the World” piece by Gaia Pianigiani describes the results of Italy’s complex linguistic situation:
Say you’re shopping at a farmer’s market in Rome, and you’d like to pick up some nice, ripe watermelon. The signs at some stands call it “anguria”; others say “cocomero” or “melone d’acqua.”
Why so many different words for the same fruit? Because in their daily lives, many Italians don’t speak Italian.
That is, they don’t shop or chat or argue in standard Italian, the kind that is studied in school and heard on the news. They use one of the country’s hundreds of local dialects, each with its own quirks of pronunciation, inflection and vocabulary.
“You call it watermelon in New York, and that would be ‘anguria’ in Italian,” said Tino Mattiussi, a third-generation owner of a fruit and vegetable stand in the colorful Campo de’ Fiori market in central Rome. “But here, everyone knows it as ‘cocomero,’ so I wrote what people understand better.”
A few stands away, Mauro Ranucci had a different approach. “We advertise it as ‘anguria,’ as that is Italian,” he said firmly. “At least, that’s how people call it in the north.” When a southerner once asked him for a “melone d’acqua,” Mr. Ranucci said, it took him a minute to realize what he meant.
“We all speak Italian with strong regional connotations, even if the discrepancies are minor,” said Giovanni Ronco, vice director of the Italian Linguistic Atlas. “No other country has so many linguistic differences in such a limited space.”
There follows a brief discussion of relevant history. Oh, and if you were wondering, cocomero has antepenultimate stress: co-CO-mero. Thanks, Eric!